Tim Hunter, the teenaged wizard from Neil Gaiman’s beloved Books of Magic series, is returning this week with a new direction that both revamps the character for new audiences and picks up his past for existing fans.
Launched as part of Vertigo’s current Sandman Universe revival, the new Books of Magic is being created by veteran artist Tom Fowler and comic book newcomer Kat Howard, a fantasy prose author chosen by Gaiman for the project.
The Tim Hunter of the new Books of Magic is very much like the old one — a spectacled young Brit who’s secretly destined to become the most powerful magician in the universe. (And lest any new reader wonder why he resembles another well-known young magician, Tim Hunter’s original debut pre-dates Harry Potter by several years.)
According to Howard, she’s picking up elements of Gaiman’s Books of Magic story while also updating Tim for new audiences, bringing him into the modern day. And although she’s incorporating Sandman Universe characters into the story, she’ll also be adding some new concepts — including an exploration of what the “Books of Magic” really are.
Newsarama talked to Howard and Fowler to find out more about their new Books of Magic as the first issue is due from Vertigo this week.
Newsarama: Kat, when you were initially approached to create this series, what were your initial reactions and thoughts?
Kat Howard: I was kind of stunned. Writing comics for DC Vertigo was a dream goal for me career-wise on its own, and having that in combination with a chance to work on Books of Magic as part of the Sandman Universe? Then once I got over being stunned, I was determined to fling my whole self at this story, and give it - and the readers - the absolute most I can.
Nrama: Because there’s already been so many stories about Tim Hunter, how are you approaching this project? We’ve seen a hint of where he is now, but would you call it a reboot with a sort of new version of Tim, or are you kind of picking up his story somehow?
Howard: It's not a full reboot. There are things from Neil's previous run on the story that we're taking as having happened, but we've also brought the story up into the current time and we're picking things up from there. So there are definitely elements that readers who are familiar with Tim and the Books of Magic will recognize, but it's also meant to be a good jumping-on point for new readers as well.
Nrama: So as we meet Tim Hunter, what’s his status?
Howard: He's a pretty normal 13-year-old boy who just so happens to also be an immensely powerful magician who might someday destroy the universe.
Nrama: So that’s established by now. But what new challenge is he faced with to kick off the story?
Howard: Tim's got a whole range of challenges to deal with, from a bully at school who enjoys making his life miserable to a cult that wants to kill him.
Nrama: Tom, what was your initial thought when you got the job?
Tom Fowler: I reeeeeeeeeeally need the money.
Also, the original Books of Magic mini was one of my favorite books. Certainly one of my favorite Neil Gaiman books. It introduced me to DC’s magical universe in the same way that Cosmic Odyssey (another favorite of mine) introduced me to DC’s cosmic universe. They were both major building blocks for me.
But mostly the money thing.
Nrama: Tom, for people who aren’t familiar with your art, how would you describe your style? Or maybe, could you name any influences?
Fowler: I don’t tend to think about style very much. In art, and especially in comics where the story is the most important thing, I think you should just draw. "Developing your style” just feels like a hollow pursuit.
I'd like to think I’ve learned - either positively or negatively - from all the art I’ve absorbed in my life, whether that’s comics, illustration, art history, or movies, TV, etcetera… The sources I find myself going back to the most often, though, are people like EC comics artists Jack Davis and Wally Wood (and, really, all of them), Giraud’s Blueberry work, Albert Uderzo, Harry Hargreaves, Alan Davis, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Rien Poortvliet, Cam Kennedy… Honestly, if you asked me tomorrow I'd probably give you a different list.
Beyond that, I just work to the job and slide the scale between being more structured and “realistic” or more elastic and bouncy. Books of Magic requires and bit more grounding for the concept of magic to really pop, so I’m working more in that end of the spectrum, but as we move into other realms that could change.
Nrama: Any specific challenges to drawing this story? Or favorite elements or characters?
Fowler: I’ve been drawing a lot of British teens swarming around school corridors and classrooms. Keeping your energy up while inking in your ninth background kid in their fourth panel appearance on a page of eight panels can get a bit challenging. I love drawing Hettie with all of her wild, squinty-eyed energy, and the subtle expressions that Tim makes.
But mostly, I’m here for YoYo. It turns out I love drawing owls.
Nrama: Kat, you said this isn’t exactly a reboot, but it kind of updates Tim’s status for the modern day. It looks like this series also touches upon some of the magical characters in the DC Universe who first interacted with him in the original run?
Howard: It does! Readers of the original run may well recognize Tim's new teacher, and I expect other familiar characters will show up along the way.
Nrama: Any other familiar characters you can tease now that we’re about to read issue #1?
Howard: One of the really cool parts of working on this project is that it's part of a Sandman Universe. So I got to bring in one of my very favorite characters from Sandman, and you'll meet her in this issue.
Nrama: How do you think your background as a writer of fantasy stories prepared you for this? Has it helped shape some of your ideas about this already-existing concept?
Howard: I’ve always been very interested in the idea of magic, and how having magic would change a person - what are the benefits and what are the consequences? I also love the idea of putting magic in a very modern, everyday setting, and so I think both of those things helped me think about how to write Tim and his interactions with his world as he learns to use his power.
Nrama: How have you two enjoyed working together on Books of Magic?
Fowler: It’s been great! For a number of personal reasons, I set out a lot of hurdles for Molly Mahan [DC Vertigo editor] to jump over before I would take this book. One of them, because Kat hadn’t really done any work in comics before, was reading all the scripts that were finished before saying "yes." I am always getting offers from editors to work on things with writers from outside comics. “We thought you’d be the perfect guy to show them the ropes...” kind of offers, and I always bristle at them. Unless I’m getting paid extra for it, I seldom want to have to teach a writer how to comic.
So I grumbled as much to Molly and she sent me Kat’s first two scripts. The first was the seven-page story for the Sandman Universe preview anthology. Comics shorts are tough, and Kat nailed it! There was a great pace and payoff, and still enough room for me to play and draw out the tension or impact. After that I was fully on board.
Since then Kat’s been a joy to work with. Always very receptive to my suggestions and notes on how to refocus a scene to pull out the drama or comedy of it, and I’ve really enjoyed puzzling out some challenges she’s thrown at me to show.
Nrama: And Kat, what has Tom brought to the story?
Howard: Full out brilliant art. His work is so great, and he's really bringing everything to the page here. I feel incredibly lucky to be working with him.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell readers about Books of Magic?
Howard: One of the things we're going to learn is what the “Books of Magic” actually are! I'm pretty excited about that, and the places Tim goes to on his quest to find them.
Fowler: Owls are neat, libraries are hard to draw, and Jordan Boyd’s colors are going to knock your socks off.