P. Craig Russell - Adapting Coraline and More

P. Craig Russell - Coraline and More

It’s hard to think of a genre that P. Craig Russell hasn’t interpreted in comics. From Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales to Mozart’s operas to Michael Moorecock’s tales of Elric, Russell’s unique combination of prose and pictures has made him one of the most popular and acclaimed artists around. His latest work is an adaptation of Coraline, the dark fantasy novel by his frequent collaborator, Neil Gaiman. Russell stopped by to talk with us about his history of adaptations, his collaborations with Gaiman, and the recent film and book looking back at his career.

Newsarama: Craig, Coraline is unique among your adaptations in that it already has a few visual interpretations – Dave's art in the book itself, and the upcoming animated interpretation. What were the challenges in getting those interpretations out of your head when doing the book, particularly Dave's stuff, which is right there in the manuscript?

P. Craig Russell: I hadn't seen any of the work-in-progress art from the Coraline animation while I was working on my interpretation so that was no problem. Dave McKean's (sp?) style is so different from mine that that wasn't a concern either. But I did edit out those pages with his drawings when I xeroxed the entire book on 11x17" pages prior to my scripting...just in case.

NRAMA: How long did it take you to do the book, and how much freedom did you have in terms of length? I think the adaptation might actually be a little longer than the book...

PCR: About two years from start to finish. I was asked to do about a 200 page book. With my title page sequence it came out to 192 pages (Newsarama Note: The prose version of Coraline in hardcover is 208 pages in softcover, 176 in hardcover). Even then there were scenes I dropped or seriously abridged. If it doesn't read as if anything is missing then I've done my job.

NRAMA: What were your favorite sequences to work on, and what appeals to you most about the story?

PCR: I loved the scenes in the attic , the 'other', evil attic with it's piles of trash. Fun to draw. Likewise the very creepy basement. I loved drawing and giving some sort of expressive life to the other mother's severed, very animated hand. And of course the scenes set in the woods. Any excuse to draw trees.

NRAMA: You’ve adapted Gaiman, Bradbury, Howard, Moorcock, Wilde, Kipling and most major composers…and probably many more. You might very well be at the point where you could be declared "King of Comic Adaptations." What's the appeal of doing adaptations, and what are some works you would like to adapt in the future?

PCR: The appeal of an adaptation is in starting a piece secure that there's literary worth in the source material. If it fails, I can't blame it on that. I've always been fascinated by the challenge , the puzzle-solving challenge of taking a piece apart line by line and reassembling it into an entirely different art form.

Also, I headed in the direction of adaptations because most of the stories offered by the mainstream publishers were the same old superhero clichés. I'm perfectly happy doing a written for comics script when it's as well written as Gaiman's Sandman #50. I'd do nothing but originals if they were all as good as that.

NRAMA: Well, you have adapted Neil’s work many times – what is it about his material that draws you back to it again and again?

PCR: See the answer to the last question. It's the beautiful writing. It also helps that Neil has a huge following so I know all the effort I put into the work will actually be seen. I've done plenty of work that left me feeling I'd thrown it down a well. Doesn't happen with Neil's stories.

Two of our collaborations have been original scripts (Sandman# 50, and “Death and Venice”). The others, One Life Furnished in Early Moorcock, Murder Mysteries, Coraline, and the upcoming The Dream Hunters, have been adaptations of his short stories or novels.

NRAMA: Will the documentary Sound into Image: The Art of P. Craig Russell be playing anywhere soon?

PCR: The documentary will premiere at the upcoming Mid-Ohio Con (October 4-5). It will be available on DVD at the con and then, wherever.

I just saw it for the first time last week. It's kind of excruciating watching yourself on film but, objectively, I think Wayne Harold did a terrific job, especially compared to some other comic-related documentaries I've seen.

NRAMA: What was it like looking back at your work in the retrospective volume from last year, and what path would you like to see your career take in the coming years?

PCR: The Art of P. Craig Russell book (from Desperado) was a blast to put together. I just tried to include all the sorts of material I would want to see in an “Art Of” book for any artist whose work I wanted to see.

It was fun to work with pure design and not have to worry about producing new art, although I did do about a half dozen new pieces just for the book. I had 39 years of material to play with although by the end I was getting pretty tired of the “festival of me.” Hard to tell after a certain point what the “good'” stuff is, but (it’s) easier to edit out extraneous material.

NRAMA: What are some other projects you're currently working on?

PCR: I'm almost finished with Gaiman's The Dream Hunters. (There’s) 123 pages in the four-issue adaptation. I originally designed it as a 120-page single book, but soon after the powers that be declared they wanted it to run as a series first.

Luckily, the breaks came at just the right moments in the stories and with the addition of “splash” pages it came out ok. The extra splash pages will be dropped from the collection and probably run in the back with sketchbook material.

Lovern Kindzierski has colored the first issue already, and I think it's the most impressive work he's done to date. Due to its Japanese fairy tale origins, I studied a lot of Japanese art, not to actually try to imitate 19th century Japanese woodblock art but to get a certain 'feel' for the piece. Lovern's coloring reflects that, too.

As to future plans, I have a few projects such as the remaining two Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde to finish…plus some other things I don't want to announce until I get closer to doing them.

Russell’s adaptation of Coraline is in stores now.

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