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Butcher’s Tale

Bestselling prose author Jim Butcher talks about the ongoing success of the graphic-novel adaptations of his Dresden Files series, starring Chicago’s favorite wizard police consultant.

The graphic novel adaptations of your Dresden Files series are really great. How did they come about?
Appropriately enough, at Comic Con. I was there doing a book signing. The Dabel Brothers had read the books and enjoyed them. They showed up at my signing and said, “Hey, we’d like to talk to you about doing a graphic novel,” and they showed me some stuff they’d done. I said, “Yeah, all right, let’s do this,” and we eventually worked things out. 

You’ve now spent the past 10 years with Harry. How do you feel about him now, after all that time?
Well, see, for me it hasn’t been 10 years with Harry; it’s been 15 years with Harry. For everybody else, it’s been 10 years. I started the first Storm Front in ’96, I think. So I’ve been working on these a lot longer than that. The way these things usually work out is by the time I get done writing a Dresden book, I’m pretty sick of the guy. Which might account for the way things get finished off in the books from time to time! [Laughs] But then after that, I’ll go work on a different project and I’ll be happy working on that, and by the time I’m done with that project, it’s like, Oh, okay, it’s back over to Dresden again. I’m comfortable now! Back in the saddle with Dresden! It’s good to be back! Then we’ll get going again.
The latest adaptation, Fool Moon, was the second novel in the series. Does it feel odd to be revisiting that book after all this time?
Not really. For me, it’s all kind of happening at the same time because the books, more or less, what’s going to happen in them is in my head already and has been for a while, so it’s not too big a deal. I can focus on that part of the series and try to keep in mind everything that’s going on there.
Fool Moon is the werewolf book. It’s a little bit bloodier, more violent than many of the Dresden Files books, which I think actually makes it well suited to the graphic novel format. I don’t think we’re going to get completely visceral with it, in the literal sense of “visceral,” but it should be a lot of fun in terms of how we can present the action in this. I think this book more than any other was actually an animated movie in my head while I was writing it. Originally I thought I was going to write a “Who’s the werewolf?” mystery, but when I started researching werewolves, I realized what I needed to write was a “Which werewolf did it?” mystery. There were many different ones running around. Hopefully that will be the sort of thing that readers will enjoy.
Do you plan to adapt the entire series as graphic novels?
Yes, so far. I’m willing to keep going. So hopefully it’ll turn out and it’ll have the same kind of longevity and long-term audience that’s built up as the prose series has.
Do you have an end point in mind for all the Harry Dresden books?
There’s going to be 20-ish of the Case Files that we’ve had so far, and then I want to cap the whole thing off with an apocalyptic trilogy—because who doesn’t love apocalyptic trilogies?
How do you and your cowriter on Fool Moon, Mark Powers, work together?
Mark will read the book and then he’ll go through and figure out which parts of the book probably aren’t going to fit into the comic. When you go to the graphic novel format, there are some minor storylines and so on that are just not going to get the same kind of page time that the main story of the book is going to. Mark has been doing that professionally for a while and he’s better at writing a graphic novel script than I am. So he’ll put it together and send it to me. I read it and go over it and see if there’s anything I have a problem with, and if there is, I can make a big stink about it. But so far, there hasn’t been. If anything, I think he’s been a little bit too faithful to the books! I’ll say, “We can totally get rid of this part or that part; that’s not necessary at all!” And he’ll say, “Oh, no, we’ve got to cover it.” And I say, “Okay...” [Laughs] Then once the script is done, once I look at it and I’m okay with it, the scripts and the art are both gone over by a panelist of fans—predictably, fanatical fans, and I give them a hard time about being a little crazy sometimes. They seem to enjoy it. They go over it and they double-check for the fanatical fan things. It’s like, “No, you’ve got his ring on the wrong finger! It’s actually over here.” Or “This should be set up like this. His hair wasn’t like this until we get to this part of the series.” It’s like, okay, right, whatever. You guys are right! Wow. I did not think about that. Because the fans totally know the material better than I do, which is only right. As the guy putting it together, I’ll write the book and I’ll write a draft or two drafts and then I’ll go to the readers and I’ll fix it up again, and then it goes to the editor and I make revisions for the editor, then the line editor and the copy editor. I do slight revisions for them and by the time the book’s done, I’ve seen, like, 11 or 12 slightly different versions of the same book. Once you do that for 13 books in a series, then that’s a lot of closely related books that are floating in your head. So it’s vital that there are some fans there who can read it and go, “Wait, this is not being consistent.” When I’m working on my prose books, they will catch many things like that, the little details. It can help me with the graphic novel series as well.
When do you plan to release the third book in the Dresden Files series,Grave Peril?
I’m not sure. We haven’t started on scripts for Grave Peril yet. We’re doing another independent graphic novel project between, sort of like Welcome to the Jungle, where I’m putting together an original part of the story that actually fits into the story line and is going to be between Fool Moon and Grave Peril. It’ll be a case that Dresden’s on. I’ve already written the outline and put the story together. Mark’s going to write the script. I’m going to go through and edit it and add in some snarky humor and commentary and so on. That’ll be the next project.
Do you have an artist chosen for it already?
I don’t know who it’s going to be yet. That’s one of those things that’s still in the future. At least for me, the graphic novel industry seems to move with bewildering speed! I’m from the novel industry, which actually works at, like, this glacial scale. You can get something done and it’s possible you won’t see it published for a year or 18 months. It can take that long till it appears in stores. A graphic novel, it’s like, “Okay, we’re finishing this now and we’re going to be selling it a month and a half from now.” How can you work that fast? That quickly? Oh, my goodness! It must be with the internets!
Does this standalone book have a title you can reveal, or are there any other tidbits you can give away at this point?
Well, I think I can say that Dresden gets himself involved in a duel between a couple of supernatural entities. There are innocents who are getting caught in the middle of their competition and Dresden being Dresden, he can’t just turn around and watch that happen without doing anything. So he gets himself involved. The title of the piece is Goblin, Ghoul. We’ll see how it turns out. It’s a good story. It might even be a little darker than your average Dresden story.
Speaking of artwork, Chase Conley’s artwork on Fool Moon is fantastic. Did you work closely together?
You know, I was a little bit neutral on Chase’s art when we saw his audition piece. I was looking at it going, hmmm…. Because it was very nonstandard compared to what I think of when I think of graphic novel art. But the fans loved it. And I thought, Okay this book isn’t for me; it’s for the fans. They were very strong; they were universally approving of him. Everybody that I had shown stuff to loved it. So I thought, Okay, let’s give this a shot because I’ve learned with the wisdom of age sometimes I’m not always right. So I thought maybe this was one of those times. And as Chase has been working, being able to see the difference between having a colorist get involved and what a huge difference it makes in the art, when you’re talking about black-and-white line art versus after the colorist has gotten to it and how much depth and tone are added. All of a sudden, these images I thought were a little too simplistic—it’s like, wait a minute, this is happening because Chase knows what he’s doing as a professional artist and I don’t because I’m not a professional artist. Seeing the finished work, I was more and more pleased with it and I was more and more pleased with his ability to convey emotion and tone in ways other than just the expression on a character’s face. So I’ve been really pleased with how it’s been going and fans are reacting well to it, too.
How much were you a fan of comics and graphic novels before you started working on these adaptations?
I started reading comic books when I was seven years old on a vacation in Acapulco. I got too sunburned to go outside for one of the days I was there. I had to stay inside. In the hotel lobby, the only books they had in English were comic books, so I picked up a copy of Daredevil, Batman, an issue of Thor, and an Iron Man. That was when I got started. After that, I read comics whenever I could. When I was 13, I got my first part-time job and I thought, Okay, now I can get ALL the comic books! I think they were about 75 cents apiece at that time. I worked this summer camp where I was a wrangler on the horses; on the weekends I’d come back with my buddy and we’d both go to the comic book store and basically buy every title that Marvel was putting out that was not G.I. Joe or a Transformers book. I didn’t follow those. But all the actual superheroes, we’d buy all those. Then we’d go and eat at the nearest restaurant and sit and be reading comic books the whole time.
Are you still a fan?
I don’t follow them as closely as I used to, but that was where I got started. And that was why when Marvel said, “Hey, would you like to write a Spider-Man book?” I was able to say, “Yeah!” [NOTE: Butcher the book Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours for Pocket Books.] I’ve followed Spider-Man long enough that I consider myself a big fan. I know what’s going on there. I got a similar offer where there were some other superheroes whose books I hadn’t read—I got an offer to come and write them and I said, “You know what, I have not been a fan of those guys, and the fans are going to be able to tell, because readers are not stupid people.” Especially when you get into the nerd community. Those of us who love the comics, they’re generally smart guys and they’re going to know. “Oh, man, they’re doing this storyline with Batman again? They did that in 1969! And in 1982! And in 1994!” So I didn’t have the necessary depth on the bench to handle those stories. But for Spider-Man, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I can do Spider-Man.”
Have you noticed new fans of Harry Dresden coming in with these graphic adaptations? Are they introducing you to a new audience?
Whenever you go to a different medium, it has varying effects. There are some people who will see it and think, “Oh, this is awesome! What is this doing in books? I would much prefer to see this in graphic novels. Why aren’t you writing more graphic novels instead of books?” When the TV show was on, it was much the same thing. “Oh, this is so much better as a TV show!” Or vice versa. I think whenever a story or character jumps mediums to do something, there’s always a splash when they land and some of the waves are good and some of them are not so good. Pretty much all you can do from the creative end is do the best you can to get it to work in the new medium and ride it out. It has been fun. If for nothing else, I can always point to my fans and say, “Go look at Welcome to the Jungle. That’s what these characters look like in my head. I was working really closely with Ardian Syaf when I did these and there were multiple drafts that went back and forth, and these are really what these characters look like in my head. That’s been the best part of the whole thing. It’s like, “Ah! Cool! Look there! That’s what I keep seeing in my brain!”