In the Limelight

Eisner-nominated writer-artist John K. Snyder III is perhaps best known for his ’80s action-adventure comic, Fashion in Action – which was recently reproduced in a new collection. Over the years, Snyder has also worked on Grendel and Doctor Mid-Nite with writer Matt Wagner, as well as adaptations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Secret Agent for Classics Illustrated. 

During an earlier interview, Snyder announced a new graphic novel adaptation of renowned crime novelist Lawrence Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die. This story follows Matthew Scudder, an ex-cop turned unlicensed detective, living and working in the crime-ridden city of New York in the 1980s. IDW Publishing is producing this new adaptation, which is currently available for preorder and on sale June 26, 2018. Ahead of this release, Scoop had the opportunity to speak with Snyder about Eight Million Ways to Die. 

Scoop: What inspired you to tackle this pulp noir classic?
John K. Snyder III (JKS): I had been working on a number of covers for IDW and was planning to work on a full-length painted series or graphic novel with a mystery/noir theme. After some discussions with Ted Adams, he suggested Lawrence Blocks Matthew Scudder as a possible character to adapt. After further discussions with Ted and Chris Ryall, Tom Waltz came on board as my esteemed editor, and we began from there.

Scoop: In addition to leading this adaption, you penciled, inked, and colored the entire 144-page graphic novel. What was involved in this process?
JKS: Eight Million Ways to Die is a departure in technique from my previous painted projects with my first extensive use of photoshop. All of the work is still rendered on board in pencil, ink, watercolor, all kinds of mixed media – no stylus or paint programs – but in many instances, using the computer to combine a number of layers of the stages of the scanned physical art and then applying color alterations to get to the final rendering and mood of the page. In some ways it felt like old cel animation with different layers all shot together for the final frame. I’d say it was an unconventional approach compared to some, but it worked for me. I’m continuing to streamline the process in my future work, but there’s no getting around it, it still takes time! Our book’s letterer, Frank Cvetkovic, did an excellent job of getting the captions and dialogue to flow throughout, which was key to the final results. 

Scoop: This is the first graphic novel adaptation of Block’s work and his character, Matthew Scudder. Are you planning on adapting any more of Block’s novels starring Scudder?
JKS: Having been immersed in Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series while working on this adaptation, I’ve seriously considered how to continue the adaptations, after all, there are 16 additional novels to work from. And I do have a specific follow-up and structure in mind, but we’ll have to wait and see how we do with this initial volume first. One mystery at a time!

Scoop: Also, why start with book five (Eight Million Ways to Die) in the series as opposed to say book one – Sins of the Fathers?
JKS: Eight Million Ways to Die is the most critically-renowned and well-known of the series. Eight Million is also the turning point in the series, and it just seemed like a natural that it was the first book to adapt. It’s important to note Scudder ages in real time along with the novels. He’s in his early 40s in Eight Million Ways to Die (1982), and his early 70s by the time of the most recent novel in the series, A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011). For further adaptations, there’s the ability to jump ahead or back in the course of the decades of Scudder’s life and career from this pivotal novel. I should also say it is a powerful standalone work and can be enjoyed by readers meeting Matthew Scudder for the first time as well.

Scoop: What can seasoned fans of Block’s work and Scudder expect from this adaption?
JKS: I would like to think I’ve caught the essence of Block’s work as adapted for the comic format. Respecting Block’s original novel as the definitive version, I hope our adaptation of Eight Million Ways to Die will be enjoyed as a welcome companion to this classic work for both long-time fans and new fans as well.

Scoop: Eight Million Ways to Die is an adaptation starring a well established character. What was your writing process while working on Eight Million Ways to Die and bringing Scudder and his world to life in this new medium?
JKS: This question could be extended into an interview all of its own ‒ but briefly, as with my adaptations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Secret Agent, I try to keep the original writing of the author as exact as possible. It’s a long process of going through scenes and dialogue to get to what key elements I feel best represents the work in transition from prose to the comic page, and staying within the limitations of the length available for the graphic novel. It’s a challenge, but I will say a very enjoyable and creative challenge working on such a powerful work by Lawrence Block. It was an honor to have the opportunity to do so. 

Scoop: Eight Million Ways to Die was released in the ’80s and heavily features the themes of that era. Was there any particular reason you were drawn to working on another ’80s-inspired comic?
JKS: The book was originally published in 1982, so we wanted to keep it there. It’s a happy coincidence that this is a particular period of time that I’m very fond of and it was a formative one for me. It was interesting to revisit with the perspective of present times.

Scoop: What inspired the art style of Eight Million Ways to Die?
JKS: It’s essentially my style going back to my work on the Doctor Mid-Nite series (DC Comics). I was also inspired by the hyper-dramatic tone of old mystery paperback art. The case at hand has to be solved while Scudder’s drinking has taken him to a potentially fatal stage of alcoholism. He has reached a point where time is running out on all sides. So his perception of the world has become distorted and I wanted to project that through a seedy and highly stylized setting. I should also note that Lawrence is very detailed in his descriptions of locations, which was very helpful in searching out practical reference material for the settings throughout New York City.

Scoop: What advice do you have for those interested in adapting a novel into a graphic novel?
JKS: I think a good, simple rule to follow that I once read was adapt, don’t adopt. Be willing to let go of scenes and characters to get to the heart of the material you’re adapting. Perhaps keep in mind that it’s not a movie, nor a prose novel. It’s a comic book, or graphic novel if you prefer, and be conscious of what works in this format, the strength of combining still images and prose with page-to-page continuity.

Scoop: What projects are you currently working on?
JKS: Right now, all of my focus is on helping to get the word out and promoting this book. As for what will follow, I can’t quite say yet, but perhaps soon!

Scoop: Do you have any upcoming convention appearances planned?
JKS: Currently I’m already looking forward to attending my favorite convention, the Baltimore Comic-Con, this coming September 28-30!