MI6 caught up with Young Bond author Charlie Higson
to talk about the new SilverFin graphic novel...
Charlie Higson Interview - SilverFin Graphic
28th January 2009
How did the concept for the graphic novel
come about and how long has it been in the pipeline?
Right from the start IFP wanted to do as much as possible with
the Young Bond franchise.
They felt that this was their new baby – separate
from the adult James Bond, which is dominated by the films. Although,
of course, the centenary year celebrations have done a huge amount
to put Fleming clearly back in the spotlight. Rights are very important
these days and IFP felt that they needed to make sure that they
had full control over the visual rights from the offset. They wanted
to define and ‘brand’ the look of the books, and of
course, the look of Young Bond himself.
Before I give the impression
that this was all very dry and dusty and corporate, I must
stress that we also thought that it would be pretty cool
to have some pictures. As soon as the first book was finished
we looked at the work of several different designers, illustrators
and comics books artists to find the right person to visualise
the world of Young Bond (henceforth known as YB). They
all pitched in with some interesting ideas and some very
varied looks, for me, though, Kev Walker's work was head
and shoulders above everyone else’s and it was just
the feel I wanted. I was extremely happy when he agreed
board and illustrate the main characters and locations
in SilverFin. It wasn't a given that he would do it. It
was a lot of work and a potentially long term commitment.
The funny thing was – when I was writing the books
I had no clear idea of what YB looked like. He was just ‘Bond’.
But as soon as Kev drew him that immediately became the
only image I have of the boy.
I've always been a huge
fan of comics and when I saw Kev’s finished work
I thought it would be brilliant to so some comics. These
decisions are not down to me, however. IFP look after all
aspect of the literary Bond, but luckily (although I can’t
speak for them) they were thinking along similar lines.
They wanted to do as much as possible with YB.
Above: SilverFin Graphic Novel cover
Now Amazon UK
Unfortunately graphic novels have not really
caught on here in the way they have in the US and Japan. Apart
from Asterix and Tintin, comics for kids aren’t treated
with much respect here and they don’t get shelf space in
the kids’ sections of bookshops. Luckily, every now and
then British publishers have a go at trying to shake things up
and when IFP announced that they would like to do a YB graphic
novel publishers were fighting over it. The team at Puffin did
an amazing pitch in a super slick modern office where they all
dressed up like the henchmen of a Bond villain – complete
with matching suits, dark glasses and fluffy white cat. I didn't
have the heart to tell them that we had just come from another
publisher where the pitch had been handled by a real life Blofeld
- a descendant of the Blofeld who Fleming knew at Eton! In the
end it just seemed to make sense to keep everything under one
roof. Penguin already had the Fleming novels and Young Bond,
and they are a great organization. Everyone agreed that Kev was
the only man for the job. Kev was keen and off we went. That
meeting seems a very long time ago now! The book was delayed
because Kev put so much work into it, it just kept getting better
and better and all involved wanted the finished book to be perfect.
Which it is.
How much writing and rewriting did you have
to do to adapt the story?
At the start we discussed with Kev the best way to proceed. He
said he didn't think we needed to get a comic writer in and he
would rather do the adaptation himself. He has worked for many
years in the field and reckoned he knew the best way to tell a
story in a comic. As I knew the book inside out (and the world
of Young Bond) and as I have also dabbled in comics myself in the
past - I did a couple of things for a British comic called Viz
years ago - we decided to keep it a small team. The main thing
I wanted to do was get the dialogue and exposition down to an absolute
minimum and have it work visually.
Kev based his initial adaptation on the
abridged audio book of SilverFin (about a third the length
of the actual novel). I think the audio books have been
extremely well edited. Kev further simplified things and
condensed the story based on what he thought was important.
Once he had produced thumbnails of the whole thing and
a rough ‘script’ we were all able to respond
and work together towards the next stage. I had my say,
IFP and the Fleming family had theirs and the (excellent)
team at Puffin obviously had a big input. There were also
considerations based on numbers of pages, size, paper,
etc. The main thing was when everyone saw Kev’s initial
plans the general consensus was ‘we’re going
to need a bigger boat!’. We all felt it would be
great to give Kev the space to really go to town on it.
The only real changes from the book were in simplifying
some of the details and back-story. Why is Meatpacker there?
What is Hellebore up to? What happed to Alfie Kely? And
inevitably some of the details of school life have gone,
even though lots of kids found this area quite interesting.
What are some of the key differences writing for a comic
strip and a novel?
You can’t get across as much information in a comic – plot
information that is, obviously a comic allows you to put in a
huge amount of visual information, and pictures go a long way
to telling the story. It’s the details that you lose. Nobody
wants to see acres of dense text on the page. It would have been
nice to have the comic even longer and really add some depth,
but that wasn’t economically viable. In the end, it’s
probably not really ideal to adapt a novel, and maybe we could
have gone further with it and made the adaptation more radical,
as if were doing a Hollywood number on it. But we felt that the
kids who liked the book would not want too much to be changed.
So we stayed pretty faithful to the source material. We have
talked about how in future it might be cool to do an original
story for a comic and start with the visuals – what would
be fun to draw, would look good, what would be the best type
of story for a comic? But who knows what we’ll do and where
we’ll go with this? It depends how successful the book
is and how IFP and Puffin would like to proceed. As I say, graphic
novels are still a niche thing in the UK at the moment. I hope
it does do well. I think the book is fantastic and deserves to
be a massive hit. Kev has done a brilliant job. I’d have
loved to own something like this when I was a kid. I'm very proud
When creating the original imagery for SilverFin and Blood
Fever, how closely did you work together, was it much different
to the graphic novel collaboration?
I would draw up a list of key characters and ‘scenes’.
Kev would read the relevant passages from the books and draw
some initial sketches. I’d send back my comments and then
we’d have a massive row! We both have quite strong opinions.
Actually, most characters came together very quickly, but there
were always one or two on each book that were tricky. Kev’s
vision wasn’t always the same as mine and drawing kids
is particularly difficult. Our discussions were always very constructive,
and the final images are now how I see all the characters. The
thing is when two people care a great deal about something and
are passionate about it there will always be disagreements.
Do you hope to attract a different set of Young Bond fans
with the SilverFin graphic novel?
Our hope is to get comic book
fans interested as well. Kev already has a following and a high
profile in the comics worlds, and
we really wanted to create something that stood up in its own
right and was more than just a book adaptation. We also, obviously,
wanted to get Bond fans of all type interested. So, come one,
What do you think is the winning formula for Young Bond
and how do you think fans will react to this new concept?
Brilliant books written by a top-flight author, of course! OK, maybe I’m
not the person to ask this question of, but… I have tried all along to
make them proper books. As engrossing and serious as any adult books. I wanted
to create a quality product with a long shelf life. I wanted depth. I wanted
to have the readers lose themselves in this world. I don’t patronise the
kids and I try to put in as many Bondian elements as I am able without it becoming
cheesy. Each book is as much an adventure for the reader as it is for Bond. And
they are all different, whilst obviously sticking to the Bond formula. It’s
very interesting to see how all the kids have different favourites. I have tried
to follow Fleming’s rules as much as possible. Do proper research, create
a convincing background, write about things your are passionate about, create
a believable world with authentic detail and that gives you the leeway to go
off into more fantastic areas without losing the reader. It’s the same
with the GN - we didn't want to make any compromises. It had to first and foremost
be a great comic – and it needed to be a quality product, not something
toshed out for a quick buck. I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.
Are there plans for further graphic novels, or will SilverFin
be a one off event?
We have to see what the reaction is and what
the sales are like. It takes a lot of time to do one of these
books and it’s
not cheap. It’s the same with the films, if they stopped
making money they’d stop making the films. As much as they
do it for love – in the end it’s a business. I’d
love to see a series of GNs, and some original stories in there,
but I'm not sure Kev is quite ready to devote the rest of his
life to YB! The final decision rests with IFP and Puffin – and
the reading public. But fingers crossed.
Thanks to Charlie Higson and Puffin Books.