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Prose to Comics: Kurt Hassler on Graphic Novel Adaptations

Kurt Hassler

One of the tough things about writing articles about things I love is the pieces that end up on the cutting-room floor. When I was putting together the SLJ article It’s a Novel! It’s a Comic! It’s—Both? I interviewed Kurt Hassler, managing director and publisher of Yen Press, about adapting popular works such as James Patterson’s Maximum Ride and Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire into graphic novels. Yen has a good track record, and Kurt has some interesting things to say, so I’m going to run the interview in full here—and tomorrow, we will hear more from Kurt on the topic of manga and light novels.

Maximum RideWhat types of graphic adaptations have been most successful for you? Is there a particular type of book, in terms of genre, storyline, characters, or anything else, that you look for?

The simple answer to this one is that our most successful adaptations inevitably come from franchises with a dedicated fan base. Getting to experience a new spin on a beloved story is always a treat for readers, and the responses we get are always gratifying. While we don’t necessarily set out to do adaptations with a certain genre in mind, fantasy and science fiction (particularly YA oriented) tend to come up time and again, but I think that tends to primarily have to do with the fact that they are very visually oriented for the most part and lend themselves quite nicely to the medium of graphic novels.

Interview with the VampireI know some of your graphic novels have been straight adaptations, while others have been original stories set in the world of the book—Interview with the Vampire, for instance, was told from a different point of view from the original novel. How do you decide which way to go? Is one type of book more successful than the other?

I think that the material itself tends to dictate which way we want to lean when it comes to how to adapt. Putting a slightly different spin on the story—like in the case of Interview with the Vampire—is always interesting and appealing, and that character in particular really cried out for her own perspective which is why we wanted to pursue it from that angle. For longer series, though, just doing a straight adaptation can be very appealing because you have such a wealth of material to work with. I can’t necessarily say that one works better than the other as both have their merits.

Soulless 1Are your graphic adaptations intended for a different audience from the originals, in terms of age but also reading tastes?

Initially the goal is always to make sure that the existing audiences are satisfied, but we also very much want to appeal to graphic novel and manga fans who may not necessarily be familiar with those series from the outset. A good example of this would be something like Soulless, our adaptation of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, which was adapted and illustrated by the amazing Rem. Certainly, that franchise has any number of eager fans, but we definitely found that manga readers who weren’t necessarily familiar with the novels were becoming engrossed by the manga. That’s always an ideal scenario.

The Mortal InstrumentsHow involved were the original authors with the graphic adaptations?

Individual authors tend to decide how involved they want to be with projects. Some are very content to let our very talented illustrators and editors take the lead and shape the vision of the graphic adaptations, just reviewing things here and there and offering tweaks. Others choose to dive right in and want to work closely on the character designs and how the stories are being adapted for a new medium—which scenes are being cut, which are being expanded. Both approaches definitely have their merits. It’s really about satisfying the author’s comfort level with the process and insuring that what we produce is something they adore.

Reindeer BoyIs there an adaptation that you are particularly fond of, or that you wish more people would read?

I’m incredibly proud of all our adaptations and the level of enthusiasm that goes into them. What’s really notable, though, is how many of them are handled by new talent and watching them grow over time. Cassandra Jean, who handled the art and adaptation for Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children graphic novels and who is now working on the adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, is one who particularly comes to mind. It’s all gorgeous work, and I’d have to recommend her stuff to anyone, and if I can give it a plug, her original story Reindeer Boy is definitely one more people should check out – especially around the holidays!

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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