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Interview with Author Peter David and Stephen King's Historian Robin Furth on Journey to the Dark Tower

The Dark Tower: Treachery was released with a midnight signing and celebration. When you started the series, did you expect it would get this kind of reaction?

Peter David: If by reaction you mean critical reaction, I was confident that we were putting out a quality book. The work that Robin, Jae, and Richard have done is superb. So I was reasonably sure that we’d get positive notices. In terms of actual audience numbers, I honestly had no idea what to expect. It was, after all, not a superhero title. I knew if we could pull in the Stephen King fans, we’d have a ball game. The point at which I finally became confident of the audience interest was when I showed up at one of the Marvel midnight openings to launch the very first issue of Dark Tower. It was at Midtown Comics at Times Square, it was February, midnight (of course), and an arctic wind was blasting down the street, rendering it practically subzero. Yet well over a hundred people showed up to stand there, freezing, in order to be part of the event. And I thought, “Okay. We’ve got something here.”

Robin Furth: To tell you the truth, I had no idea what to expect! When the series began, I was new to comics, so I really had to keep my head down and plow forward so that I could learn as much about this new medium as possible. I wanted so much to do a good job and to please Stephen King and all the longtime Dark Towerfans. Bringing Mid-World to a new readership felt like a big responsibility, but I’m so glad that readers have enjoyed the story. That is a reward in itself.

How do you two work together on these books? Has it been a different or strange creative process compared to how you’ve worked in the past?

RF: Once again, because I was new to comics, I didn’t know what to expect! However, I really like working collaboratively, since I feel that—with so many different imaginations working together—the final product is so much richer. I also feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with such an accomplished and experienced team. Peter, Jae, and Richard have been creating comics for years, so it’s amazing to be able to watch them work. I’ve learned a heck of a lot this way. I’ve also learned a lot from the editors at Marvel, who are always an equal part in the creative team.

The process we go through is still basically the same as when we started, although now we’re moving into much less charted territory. My job on The Gunslinger Born was to take Stephen King’s novel and transform it into a detailed, seven issue, scene-by-scene story. (Originally, I broke the story into eight comic books, but when the editors at Marvel thought we should make it more compact, I managed to cut back to seven.) As you know, transforming such a big book into graphic novel format is really a process of translation. In order to capture Mid-World for new readers, I had to streamline the original tale, but I also had to incorporate scenes from earlier Dark Tower novels. By the time readers of the original books make it to Wizard and Glass (Book IV of the series), they already have a deep understanding of Roland’s world. Hence, in order to give the graphic novel the depth of the original story, I had to incorporate scenes from The Gunslinger, and occasionally from the later novels. For example, the falconry lesson which occurs at the beginning of The Gunslinger Born actually comes from The Gunslinger, not Wizard and Glass.

My seven issue story arc was then passed on to Jae Lee. Jae’s job was to take my scene-by-scene story and break it down into individual pages and panels. Hence that page-turning visual pace is really the result of Jae’s careful planning. Jae’s fantastic pencils then went to Richard Isanove, who created the incredible color palette which gives Mid-World its moody ambiance. Jae’s pencils also went to Peter, whose job it was (and is!) to write the words that accompany Jae and Richard’s jewel-like art, and which bring the Dark Tower story to life for the audience. Peter’s dialogue and captions are very subtle and capture the story’s nuances. They really weave a spell for readers.

PD:It’s been somewhat different, yes. I’ve never worked off someone else’s plot, which was then broken down visually by an artist, and asked to produce dialogue which tied it all together. It’s sort of the classic “Marvel style,” except usually the same writer produces both plot and dialogue, and that’s not the case here.

RF: I suppose that, for me at least, the biggest difference betweenThe Gunslinger Born and the next two story arcs (The Long Road Home and Treachery), is that while Gunslinger Bornwas a translation of an existing novel, the next two arcs are really the stories that I’ve been weaving since I first started working with Steve King on the Dark Tower back in 2000/2001. As you know, I began working as Steve’s research assistant just before he returned to Mid-World to finish the last three novels of the series. My primary job was to create a huge dictionary/encyclopedia, so that Steve could easily locate all the characters/places/events and even languages which he plays with in the novels. Hence, I’ve been collecting Mid-World folklore, and the details of Roland’s young life, for about eight years!

For both Long Road Home and Treachery, I spent a lot of time daydreaming. Thanks to my Concordance, I knew many of the things that happened to Roland on his way back to Gilead and the things that happened to him once he returned to Gilead. My job then was to tie it all together and to imagine a coherent sequence of events that felt lively and real to me. As always, these tales got Steve King’s approval, and then they went to Jae, who (once more) took my scene-by-scene descriptions and broke the tales down into pages and panels. Jae’s art then went to Peter so that he could write his fantastic dialogue, which weaves together the art and the story in a dynamic and thoughtful way. As always, at every stage of the journey we—as a team—can have round-table (or perhaps I should say round-computer!) discussions about what we’re doing. That’s a way to make sure that we’re all on the same page and to assure that we’re remaining true to our original goal.

In these graphic novels, you focus on an early period of time in the entire series. Why did this time frame get chosen?

RF: Actually, it was Stephen King who decided that we should deal with Roland’s early life. He wanted us to start with Roland’s coming-of-age test, progress through the events of Wizard and Glass, and then go all the way forward to the Battle of Jericho Hill. So Jericho Hill, here we come!

What do you think of Roland at this point in his journey? How do you see yourself shaping the character’s changes and growth in the future?

PD: I think we’re seeing everything that made Roland a young man being stripped away from him, bit by bit. The hopefulness of youth, the optimism, a lack of belief in one’s own mortality. Bit by bit, the things he’s experienced, ranging from his mother’s duplicity to the death of Susan, are forging him through fire and blood into the gunslinger we see in the beginning of King’s first book. I also think that his obsession with the mystic globe referred to as Maerlyn’s grapefruit is more than just an addiction. I think he’s looking for answers, trying to make sense of it all and, even more, confront those who are behind it so that he can demand answers or—even better—seek retribution.

RF: This is going to sound strange, but I really feel I know Roland very well. In Wizard and Glass, I got to know the young Roland, and then as I traveled with him from Eluria (found in the story “The Little Sisters of Eluria”) through Tull and the Mohaine Desert (The Gunslinger), and then all the way to the Dark Tower. In his introduction to my Concordance, Steve jokingly called me Roland’s biographer. (He called me Roland’s Boswell, as in James Boswell, biographer of Samuel Johnson!) And in many ways, that’s what I feel like. As Steve was writing the final three novels of the series, I was taking the manuscripts and documenting every tiny piece of information. At that point, I started to dream about Roland’s world. I even caught a glimpse of him in my writing room, if you want to know the truth.

I suppose, in the end, I feel less that I’m writing Roland than that I’m following him and trying to document his life as truthfully as I can. As long as Steve King feels okay about it, I figure I’m on the right track!

Knowing the fates of the three members of the ka-tet, and the dark paths each of them will end up going down, how do you go about writing them in this series?

RF: Have you ever tried to tell the life story of a family member or of a friend who has passed on? That’s a little bit what writing these stories is like. I know what is going to happen to each of them, yet I can also time travel in my imagination and return to their various old adventures. I think that, as we move closer to the Battle of Jericho Hill, it will get harder to write because it’s always hard to write about societies collapsing and about tragedies occurring. (Though I won’t tell what those tragedies are!) However, the great thing about fiction is that no character really dies. All you have to do is go back to the beginning of the book and they are alive again! Too bad life isn’t more like art, at least in that respect.

PD: I think that Alain and Bert are polar opposites, one of them quiet and thoughtful, the other quick on the trigger finger and impatient. And between the two of them is Roland, steadfast, determined, the leader by nature and circumstance. Which is why it’s so painful for them to see what he’s going through, and also so disturbing. He is their emotional center. If he spins out of control, then the center cannot hold. If the center doesn’t hold, then slip the dogs of war.

Has it been difficult to work within the constraints of this series and to make sure that everything within matches the books' continuity?

RF: Funny you should ask this question. The reason Stephen King hired me back in 2000/2001—and the reason I wrote the Concordance—was to make sure that he avoided any continuity problems. Hence, continuity has been my major focus since Steve first returned to his computer to write Wolves of the Calla. I still encounter the occasional bugbear—for example, I think a lot of fans worry about the true identity of the nasty wizard Marten Broadcloak/Walter O’Dim.

In the earlier novels, Steve King tells us that John Farson, and perhaps even the Crimson King himself, are but other names and faces that belong to Walter O’Dim. However, in The Dark Tower, he tells us very clearly that Walter, John Farson, and the Crimson King are actually separate individuals. As a writer, I had to make a decision about which version of Walter’s identity we should use in the series. I decided to go with the most recent version of the tale, since that felt the most up to date and since it also opened up the most possibilities in terms of plot. I know that some fans are still a little concerned about this choice, but there we go! To make matters more confusing (but also more exciting), I’ve recently learned a few more interesting things about Walter’s identity/history from Stephen King himself. So who knows, maybe we’ll be finding out more information about this ancient trickster!

PD: Robin’s been great at making sure that everything hews to what’s been established.

The entire series is gorgeously illustrated. How did the creative team determine the look and feel of this series?

RF: The look and feel really came from Jae and Richard. They deserve full credit for it!

How many sagas in this graphic novel do you envision doing?

PD: As many as they’ll let me.

RF:We’re going for a full 30 issues—that’s five different story arcs.

Where would you like to take the series in the future?

RF: All the way to Jericho Hill. I won’t tell too much more because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

PD: It’s not a matter of where we’ll take it. We know where it’s going: To the battle of Jericho Hill, the last stand of the gunfighters. It’s the journey there that will make it interesting.

What is the process of working with Stephen King like on these books?

RF: Steve has been incredibly supportive. He’s also really good about getting back to me when I have questions about plot or characterization. Sometimes, as I’m following a story thread to its ultimate conclusion, I find that I start swimming in deep water and need to run an idea by Steve. After all, I want to make sure I stick with his original vision. So far, his comments have always been the same—run with it!

PD: King has been nothing but supportive of the entire process, guiding us every step of the way. Ultimately, as much as we want the fans to like the work, we’re all doing it to satisfy an audience of one: Stephen King. If he’s happy with what we’ve produced, we’re good with it.

Treachery delves a lot into the background details of the characters and stories of The Dark Tower. Was it exciting to flesh out the series this way?

PD: Yes.

RF: It has been very exciting. I’ve always loved Cuthbert, Alain, and all the others, and I’ve always wanted to spend more time in Gilead. Perhaps the most exciting part, though, has been to bring Aileen into the story. As longtime Dark Tower fans know, she only gets a mention in the original series. However, I really wanted to get that female gunslingerenergy into the story and so expanded her part. That female gunslinger energy is there in the books in the form of Susannah Dean, so I thought it would be great to create a parallel experience in the graphic novels. The first time Jae sent me a sketch of Aileen, I was over the moon. She looked exactly like I’d imagined her.

What’s next for the series?

RF: A lot! I won’t ruin the story for you though. Just wait and see!

-- John Hogan