The idea of a Graphic Novel may be new to some L’Amour readers. Can you explain to us,
what a graphic novel actually is?
Basically, it is a comic book. But a comic book that is 144 pages of story,with extremely high quality art,reproduced almost at the level of a “coffee table” or fine art book.
“Graphic” refers to the Graphic Arts and “Graphic Novel” was a term that was coined by comic book creators who wanted their work taken more seriously than the word “comic” implies. A Graphic Novel also suggests that it is different from a serialized comic book like Superman or Batman … it is not a series, the entire story is told in the one volume.
Why Law of the Desert Born? What makes this story right for adaptation into a Graphic Novel ?
The story is a good one to present in a visual medium. There are many aspects of the script that an audience can more effectively be shown … these are story points that I would like an audience to simply witness and then make up their own minds about. As the story evolves, they will see more and more evidence and their opinion about what is happening and why, can evolve as well.
The greatest part of prose writing (like books, short stories) is the partnership that grows up between the writer and the reader. The writer suggests details of a story and the reader’s imagination completes them. In a more literal medium like film, theater or comics, you try to create a similar effect using different methods. One of those methods is to show the audience evidence, the actions of characters, a clue, a line of dialog, that can be interpreted in different ways or will only become clear as the story goes on. They ask, “What is he up to …” and thus they are engaged. “Law of the Desert Born” has a lot of potential for this. To a great extent the question of “Whose story is it?” remains open for quite awhile and the audience has a choice of characters they can identify with.
There is also has a dark, sort of Film Noir tone that works well as a Graphic Novel. “Law of the Desert Born” has a lot of classic, sort of John Ford aspects, but it is still a new and different approach … an approach that we hope will get the attention of the comic book market as well and our regular L’Amour reader. We hope to do some much more traditional western Graphic Novels once this one is successful.
What do you think your father would say about you adapting his work?
Well, I began adapting his work when we were doing the Dramatized Audio series for Bantam Audio Publishing. I started because he asked me to. The audio version of “Law of the Desert Born,” which is the seed from which the Graphic Novel script grew, was done a couple of years after he passed away but the method that we used was a direct outgrowth of a variety of styles (for different types of stories) that we established when he was still alive.
With a movie or TV show, his feeling was very much that he had done his original version, and now it was someone else’s turn. Nothing is lost when an adaptation is done, one does not replace the other. Our goals (his and mine) were to stick with the basic aspects of a story and then allow the details to grow and change as the dramatic challenges of telling that story in a different medium, and the sensibility of different writers, required. Prose is not film, audio or comics. The shift between one medium and another forces the story to be recreated and can add a great deal of energy in the new medium … if it’s done right.
Louis LOVED trying new things. He moved to Hollywood to try working in Film and TV. He wrote some of the first TV shows that were shot outdoors. He wrote the pilot of the first Hawaiian detective series … “Hart of Honolulu.” He enjoyed shifting from Adventure and Crime stories to Westerns. He endorsed the Paperback Original when it was considered a low grade medium by the snooty hard cover publishers. Louis also was involved with some of the earliest “novelizations” of Hollywood movies, the books that came out after a film’s release to exploit it’s popularity. “Hondo” was one of these, as was “Kid Rodelo.” Both of these novels are based on the work of the movie screenwriter even though Louis had written the original short stories that the movies came from. How the West Was Won was a straight up novelization, from James Webb’s original script. More than anything Louis legitimized this exploitive medium, writing novelizations that are better remembered than the films they came from.
Dad started the Dramatized Audio program that Bantam produced because he didn’t want to be doing the Single Voice audio books that are an industry standard … he wanted to do something different. He had no problem shifting from the “literary” or “quality” magazines to the pulps if it got him greater circulation and more readers. While writing novels he tried writing both thrillers and science fiction. He even left behind a couple of chapters of a VERY creepy horror novel. In the 1950s, he allowed a comic book to be created from “To Tame a Land” … he encouraged experimentation.
You have done adaptations but has anyone ever created a Louis L’Amour story where Louis did not write the original?
No one has ever created a “new” Louis L’Amour work. We might consider that, if it seemed the right thing to do, but we haven’t so far and we have no plans to do so at this time.
I have edited all of Dad’s books since Haunted Mesa, a book I wished I’d had the experience to change or “fix” a bit more. It would have been great because it was the only time I was actually working with him. In every editing job I have done, I have always started with cuts, removing material where necessary before ever considering adding anything. Judicious removal can often snap a story into focus very nicely and contains no voice but that of the original author. Later, some stories took a fair amount of rewriting but I never rewrote until I felt the alternative was discarding the story completely. I’m pretty good at recreating his voice from several different eras. In many cases I can remember working on stories but, now, even I can’t find the spot where his work shifts into to mine or back again. My favorite of all his styles was that of the early to mid 1960s. So clean and unencumbered. A master at work.
In the editing and revising I have tried to perfect the execution in some cases but have never changed a plot. There are hundreds of beginnings and outlines that we will publish in the future that could have been expanded into full length works and “claimed” to have no author but Louis However, we didn’t choose to go that route and if we ever do, the additional writers will be clearly credited.
|The Short Story
The Dramatized Audio
Since there haven’t been “new” stories created, one way for a L’Amour fan to continue to enjoy similar work is through adaptations like this Graphic Novel, our Audio Dramas and, hopefully someday, more movies. Because they must be adapted to different mediums these works will all be somewhat different than Louis’s books. I hope that people enjoy the differences because they allow a fan to experience a story in a new and different way. A good adaptation can never replicate each individual person’s imagination of the original work. Those are as varied as there are different people in the world … but it can offer a new perspective, surprise you in new and different ways and create sort of an “alternate universe” for that story. One of the signs of a great song, is it’s ability to inspire “covers,” other bands doing it their way, a way that is new and interesting. Maybe it makes you just like the original more, maybe you like the new version … maybe you imagine you own alternative. A great story is the same way.
Some people think that Comic Books are for kids while others remember the Comics Code that tried, ineffectively, to police the content of Comic Books in the 1950s. How does “Law of the Desert Born” address issues of morals?
A lot of the concern in the ‘50s was the gory or scary aspects of Horror and Sci Fi Comic Books. That isn’t what our book is. Period. That said, I would always suggest that a parent who is concerned about the society’s influences on their children review everything first. Not to do so is shirking responsibility.
“Law of the Desert Born” is full of moral questions which are ripe for discussion. It is not full of clear cut answers. That’s the point of this particular book. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t lecture. Can it lead to positive moral lessons? Absolutely. That was also the point. But you have to be willing to think about it or talk about it.
The violence in “Law of the Desert Born” is less than many, or possibly most, similar works. This is not a story that asks the audience to forgive any act of violence or any of the characters but the course of the narrative is intended to alter your understanding of what people have done and why. It’s a subtle book and may require more than one reading. I hope people like that. I love a book I can read more than once and see different things each time.
It is very common in novels like Louis’ for the author to say something like, “Fuming, he cursed both his enemies and the heavens.” It is left to the reader to decide what “he” said. That approach doesn’t work in a more literal medium. I try to put words in the characters mouths that are things they would actually say. In stressful situations, when lives or honor are at stake, men do not say “oh drat!” or “golly.” The serious style of the storytelling in this book does not allow the cartoony approach of writing, “@#%&$!” In this case much of what more sensitive readers would consider to be “bad language” is in Spanish. I try to keep it to a minimum. It is there to accurately present the intensity of the story an the stress the characters are under, not just to try to sound like a Drill Sergeant or Football Coach. I still believe we have maintained the equivalent of a “PG” rating.
Comics is the art of visual efficiency, you have to say things in simple pictures. Two of our characters are a man and a woman who mean a lot to each other. They are pictured in a scene where they have obviously been in bed together the previous evening but are not at the moment. The images imply the relationship just as, “He swore.” implies bad language. Some of our more conservative fans won’t like it but, the way it is pictured, it would easily have been acceptable on network TV 30 years ago. The scene is there to make a point regarding another character and is paid off near the end of the story. Thus, in my opinion, it’s not gratuitous at all.
All of these aspects have been thought through and I have arrived at what seems to be the right answer, not for every reader but for the presentation of the story itself. If someone disagrees with it, that is their right and the decision was my fault and no one else’s.
Another misunderstanding is that comics are best for reluctant readers or people who need pictures to understand a story?
I hate to admit it but I sort of thought this myself … but that opinion was utterly out of ignorance. After doing a lot of reading and developing my perception to deal with how you get information out of a comic book, I have completely changed my mind.
At their best, and I hope we have done a good job, comics are a completely different sort of reading experience. You have to shift from pictures to dialog and back, extracting the story from two different visual mediums, words and illustration. Each should carry it’s own part of the story, what is in a picture should not appear in dialog and visa versa. So like life, or the movies, you “listen” (read the dialog) and observe (look at the pictures). What people say is not necessarily what they do or mean. What people are doing is not always obvious at first. It is actually a very sophisticated medium where you have to switch modes very rapidly. It can be hard if you have always been a prose reader, like me. Some people get it right away others struggle a bit.
Will projects like Law of the Desert Born help perpetuate the legacy of Louis L’Amour?
I have been in this business for almost 30 years. I have watched the masters of the great age of genre fiction, Westerns, Science Fiction, Mysteries, and Romance both succeed and die off. Once a writer has passed away, few survive very well. Their body of literary work is like a shark, it either swims or it drowns. No Louis L’Amour title has ever been out of print. That’s not an accident.
My mother and I have managed every detail of dad’s business, in her case since 1956, in my case since 1986. I’ve created several different generations of book covers, rewritten or supervised the writing and rewriting of every line of jacket copy. Constantly reaching out to a new audience is terribly important, without new readers you are dead, off the shelves, a memory to be found only in libraries. The publisher has to make money. They won’t keep a book available unless they do and they wont support the other things you need to do to stay current unless there is a profit. I hope that we will still be published in 20 years but we will have to remain both smart and lucky.
To attract people of new sensibilities and from different aspects of our culture is difficult, especially in a genre that people seem to feel has dwindling relevance. For a few years I ran a literary magazine that published new Western fiction. We closed it down at the height of it’s circulation (around 130,000) when we realized we couldn’t maintain it’s quality. We gave almost a million copies of Louis’s books to the US Armed Forces both to thank them for their service and to attract a wider ranging and younger audience. Both of those moves cost us money but they were things we had to try in order to keep our audience current.
I don’t know what effect the Graphic Novel of “Law of the Desert Born” will have but if we want to stay alive in this business, if we want to have publishers reprinting our books and if we want Louis’s name to live on, we have to continue to do new and different things of this sort.
How hard is it to create a project like “Law of the Desert Born”?
Creating a graphic novel is not quick, cheap or particularly profitable. I believe I have about two years of work in the script. The initial version created for Bantam Audio Publishing was written very quickly and has most of the qualities you see in the comic book but the process of perfecting it was long and arduous. Then the illustrations took over two years and months went into pre press work, preparing the art and making it look it’s best. The book was completely a labor of love for all of us.
It took me about seven years to get Bantam/Random House interested in the project. At first they didn’t think it would be good risk. Then the business changed a bit and a new group of people took over and they thought it would be worth trying.
The market for a book like this is fairly small, publishers only consider it viable because it is relatively easy to reach comics fans … they have a good network of conventions and websites. We are hoping to expand beyond that marketplace but we don’t expect it. If it was cheap, easy or highly profitable, we’d be working on another one right now rather than biting our fingernails praying the publisher makes enough money to justify another attempt.
Can I still buy “Law of the Desert Born” in a regular book store?
Yes. You can go to a Comic Book shop, a Book Store, an On-Line retailer or buy it as an E-Book. It is a beautiful book, around 500 illustrations on 144 pages. It is presented in a large format (8x12) on really fine paper. Take a look at it then check around and see if you can find anything like it, once you have held it in your hands you will see the value.
If you have questions for myself or Paul come on over to http://www.louislamour.com/community/bbs.htm and drop us a line with our names in the subject line. We scan through every few days and will try to get you an answer.