Mike Perkins - Breathing Life into Stephen King's The Stand

Mike Perkins on The Stand

When Stephen King teamed up with Marvel last year to produce comic books set in the world of his Dark Tower novels, the sales of those comics topped the charts and were collected in one of the highest selling hardcover books of the year, bringing new readers into comic shops by the droves.

So it's no surprise that an adaptation of The Stand, arguably King's most popular novel ever, is expected to do well when the comic book series starts in September. And for Mike Perkins, the artist who's drawing The Stand, the idea of all those new eyes looking at his work is a little overwhelming.

"It's both daunting and exciting," Perkins said. "It better be good if it's their first experience with comics. That's what pushes you forward. That's what pushes you to make yourself better. Everything has to be perfect. Everything has to be the work of your career at that point. "

The Stand tells the story of a battle between good and evil after a superflu developed by the military wipes out most of humanity. The new comic series will launch on September 10th when Marvel releases The Stand: Captain Trips #1, the first issue in a five-issue volume. By the time the comic series retells the entire epic novel, which was originally released in 1978 but re-released in an "uncut" version in 1990, there will be six volumes of comics for a total 30 issues.

Working on The Stand for that long marks a turning point in the career of Perkins, who'd previously been sharing art duties with Steve Epting on the Captain America title that made headlines when the lead character died last year. "This is what I've been looking for, really," the British artist said of the approximately three years he'll be working on The Stand. "A nice long run on something that I've developed on my own."

When Perkins first got the job, he drew six pages from a script by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the writer on the series. Those six pages had to be submitted to Stephen King for approval before anything could move forward. "I was hoping he'd like what I'd done, so it was a relief when he said he liked them," the artist said. "And what was great was when he said the way I drew Frannie was exactly the way he'd pictured her. That was really cool."

Perkins said he hadn't read The Stand before he was offered the job by Marvel, but after picking up the uncut version of the book, he couldn't put it down "It's a riveting read," he said. "So I was sold on it."

As he read the novel, Perkins said he would often put down the book to do sketches or make notes referencing King's descriptions of the characters. "When I was reading the book, whenever a character was introduced, I'd underline it. And I had notes in the back," he said. "So I'd put each character's name and what page I could find their description. Now I can still go back to it and say, OK, this character was introduced in the comic; where was he introduced in the book? And I can go back and see the character description so I can follow the book straight-up."

The artist said he's adjusted his clean, realistic style very little as he approaches the setting and characters in The Stand, which starts out by introducing all the characters just as the virus is released. "In that first issue, you're introduced to a lot of the characters," he said. "So really, there's the crash at the garage, and you see Larry and go into Larry's backstory. And you see Frannie talking to her boyfriend about being pregnant. So all these different characters are introduced."

While Perkins said he enjoys drawing the more visually interesting characters like Randall Flagg and the Trashcan Man, he likes Larry Underwood the best out of everyone in The Stand. "He's one of my favorite characters in the book because he really wants to do the right thing, but he just doesn't think he's good enough," he said. "I think Larry's one of the characters you can really associate with."

Perkins said he talked Marvel into giving the first issue an extra page -- one more than the usual 22 pages per issue -- so he could emphasize how devastating the Captain Trips virus is. "It's going to be 23 pages, because I wanted a full page for one of the moments in the comic. It was the first look at the flu victim. I was reading the script and I said to Roberto and [editor] Bill [Rosemann], this really needs to be an image on its own. The first time they open the door and see the woman with the dead baby -- this really needs to be there and thrown in people's faces. It's kind of a disgusting image," the artist said with a laugh.

In fact, the artist said he was thrilled when he showed the image to his wife and got a look of total disgust from her. "I smiled and said, 'Great!' That's just the reaction I want! There's just mucus everywhere. Flies all around," he laughed. (click through the images above for the page Perkins is talking about)

But the artist said he realizes there's more to the comic than just the horror of King's imagined superflu, citing the rebuilding of society as the part of the book that interested him the most when he was reading it. "It's a study of society. After the flu wipes everything out, it's almost like a thesis on how a society develops," Perkins said. "Should you have guns? What do you do for law and order? How should you run a small community? It's getting bigger every day. What do you do when somebody's drunk in the street? I like that aspect of [the book] as well, that it's just a study of society."

While Perkins is well-known for his use of shadows on the often superhero-themed comics he's done in the past, he said he's going for a very realistic look in The Stand and is using a lot of photo references, since much of The Stand takes place at well-known American sites. "When I was at the New York convention, I was going around taking photos everywhere," he said. "I took photos of all these areas. And luckily, one of the entrances to Lincoln Tunnel is right by Javits Center. So I took plenty of photos of that. I'm looking forward to that sequence in Lincoln Tunnel.

"I think the thing is, with the Lincoln Tunnel, a lot of it is Larry's imagination," he said. "Because it's so dark in there, with the electricity not working. So it's going to be interesting to get that terror across on the page. That's why I'm really looking forward to that."

Perkins said he's striving to make his work on the series good enough so that nobody ever thinks they can do The Stand better. "It has to be the definitive version of the novel, because you don't want somebody, 10 years down the road, going, 'I'm going to do the real adaptation of The Stand,'" he said. "You look at The Dark Tower (illustrated by Jae Lee), and you know that nobody is going to look at that and say, 'Oh, that's not the definitive version.' I want this to be the definitive version of The Stand."


Preview: The Stand Preview Book

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