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Saturday, 19 February 2011

Fallen Heroes interview: Martin Conaghan

As you know, we reviewed the first issue of the comic adaption of Fallen Heroes recently.
Today and tomorrow, we'll be presenting a couple of interviews about the book, first up is one with the comic writer Martin Conaghan. Come back tomorrow for the interview with creator Barry Nugent.

How did you get involved in this project?

After I had finished work on Burke & Hare for Insomnia Publications, Nic Wilkinson - who was working as creative director - approached me and asked if I would be interested in taking a look at a novel that the company had secured an adaptation agreement for. I didn't agree to do anything until I had read the book - and when I did, I knew I wanted to work on the graphic novel adaptation of Fallen Heroes. Of course, it's fairly well-documented that Insomnia Publications went to the wall, and Barry was keen to continue with the project, since I had already written 44 pages of script and several pages of art had already been produced by Steve Penfold and coloured by Gat Melvin. So, we decided to approach a few publishers, but after waiting around on decisions rom many of them, we took the step to publish it under our own steam as individual issues before compiling it in collected volumes.

Had you read the novel before coming on board?

I hadn't read it, but I had heard of it - and I was intruiged by the concept. It's not normally the kind of fiction that draws me in - but it has elements from lots of genres that I like; science-fiction, action/adventure, political intrigue and suspense. So, it was a fairly easy decision for me to want to work on it.

How different was it adapting a novel as opposed to writing your own story, or even an historically factual book (Like Burke and Hare)?

With Burke and Hare, there was a conscious effort to get to the heart of the true story, to present the facts and to dispel all the myths and rumours that had been perpetuated about the subject matter. So, in a lot of ways, Burke and Hare wasn't at all like writing a graphic novel - it was more like creating a documentary for television or radio. With Fallen Heroes, it's pure story - the narrative strands are all there on the page. So, I sat down, read the book and I loved it. It's brimming with hoards of well-rounded characters, full of mystery
and subtle plot twists. In terms of adapting it, I have to be honest and say there's not a lot to it - I just note down all the parts that I like, and I try to structure them into a narrative that works well in comic format. Often, it's simply a case of taking Barry's original text and working my way through it - removing the prose that doesn't work in a comic, but which can serve well as panel descriptions for the artist. After that, I break it down into smaller chunks that flow easily, and make sure the reader's experience is in line with anyother comic on the market, with page-turns and split narratives.

How did you decided what stayed and what was left out?

This is ultimately the biggest challenge, because the book is quite lengthy for a first-time novel - so, I've had to drop whole segments that don't serve the comic format too well. Sometimes, there's sections of the book that can be summarised quite succinctly, either with some voice-over style narrative, or by using little Watchmen-esque back-matter pages that fill in the gaps in the reader's knowledge. That's something I'm planning to use a lot of as I write more chapters - photos, articles, newspaper clippings etc. that help the reader fill in the blanks that are expanded on at length in the novel.

Did Barry have a lot of input into your decisions?

Barry has left it entirely to me to decide what to keep in and leave out. We've actually never had any conversations beyond discussing what stuff we both like about the story and the characters. I think Barry
very much views it akin to handing his project over to a television production company, or a movie studio - as long as the essence of his original work is intact, he's happy. Similarly, he seems to enjoy the parts where I've taken a specific scene and produce my own take on it. The important thing with any adaptation is to try and stay true to the original work, but not to do a literal interpretation - we've all seen how that turned out with the Watchmen movie. Prose, comics and movies all have different narrative structures, and it's crazy to try and transplant one from the other and hope it will work in the same way and provide the same experience.

How long have you been working on this project (what I'm wondering is how does it compare, time-wise, to an original book- more or less time?)?

It's definitely much quicker to work on than starting from scratch - because all the material is there, waiting for me to chip away at it and pat it into a comic-book format. I think I said before that I see myself very much as a construction manager or a carpenter - where I take the very detailed plans drafted by an architect and figure out how to build his structure. It's my job to put the foundations in place, pour in the concrete and start assembling the basic structure - so that it starts taking on the shape of a house, with doors, windows

and rooms with walls and ceilings. Steve and Gat then work their magic- plastering the walls, laying floors, wiring up the electricity and plumbing - and decorating the place so that it's fit for habitation.

What are you writing next?

I'm working on a short story for the Bayou Arcana anthology, plus I'm still writing a sci-fi series called Historika for Markosia which should really start taking shape over the coming months, after a few false starts. I'm also considering going back to writing something historical, despite swearing never to do it again after the amount of work required on Burke and Hare.

Thanks to Martin for taking the time to answer our questions.
Don't forget that you can order it into any branch of Waterstones. It's also available on Amazon in both paperback and on the kindle and it's also available on the apple ibooks store

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