MI6 caught up with Young Bond author Charlie Higson to talk about the new SilverFin graphic novel...

Charlie Higson Interview - SilverFin Graphic Novel
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 to come on 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 art

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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 of it.

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, come all!


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.

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