Interview: Daniel Abraham
by Drew Bittner
Review by Drew Bittner
Date: 31 March 2008 /
Novelist Daniel Abraham has won critical acclaim with the first two installments of his Long Price series, A Shadow In Summer and A Betrayal In Winter. He's also co-written Hunter's Run with George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. But now, we're talking with him and artist Eric Battle about Wild Cards: The Hard Call, a miniseries published by the Dabel Bros. SFRevu: Daniel, first off, how did you get the green light to inaugurate this comic book? Did you pitch the story or develop it in collaboration with others?
Daniel Abraham: George R.R. Martin is really the overarching personality behind Wild Cards. I've adapted some of his previous work into comic book scripts, so he'd seen my work in that arena, and I live nearby so I'm easily tracked down and beaten if I get behind schedule. I think both of those worked in my favor.
The story itself is one that George and I worked out together. We both love [Kurt] Busiek's Astro City, and the idea of a Wild Cards comic book series -- that could tell smaller stories than fit gracefully into the great big mosaic novels of the books -- was appealing to both of us. I brought the initial set up, then we worked up an outline for the full six-issue run.
SFRevu: There are some major differences between writing prose and writing comics. How have you liked this new medium? What's been your biggest challenge in terms of writing comics?
Daniel: It's like going through the mirror. Comic books take all -- well, not all, but a lot -- of the dead solid rules of prose and invert them. In prose -- genre prose at least -- you're always trying to keep the narrator out of the way and let the action of the story come through without someone's voice getting in the way. In comics, you have the action right there in pictures, so you get to have a really strong narrative voice.
In prose, some of the most exciting, engaging scenes are people talking to each other. In comics, that means page after page of pictures of heads -- dull as dirt. Figuring out what the new rules are and then breaking years of carefully built habits was brain-breaking.
SFRevu: What can you tell us about Wild Cards: The Hard Call?
Daniel: It's a stand-alone, six-issue story set in the Wild Cards universe. It's a complete, self-contained story -- you wouldn't need to know anything about the books or the backstory to pick it up and make sense of it.
SFRevu: Does this story tie in directly with any of the stories from Inside Straight (the new Wild Cards mosaic novel)? Do you bring in established characters or are they all new?
Daniel: It doesn't tie in directly with Inside Straight (apart from a couple small references to Joker Plague, Drummer Boy's band), but it does use Croyd Crenson, "The Sleeper." Croyd is sort of the Batman of this universe. He's iconic Wild Cards. He's old school. And he hasn't retired like the Turtle or . . . well, I don't want to put out spoilers for folks who haven't read John Miller's (novel) Dead Man's Hand, but Fortunato's not really available either. He's perfect for identifying this as the Wild Cards world.
You may see glimpses of familiar faces, but for the most part, everyone else is new.
SFRevu: Who are the character in the middle of the story, and what struggles do they face?
Daniel: There are a couple of interwoven plot lines going on in the books. The great big comic book action ones involve Croyd hunting down a masked killer while the cops try to hunt down Croyd. And there's a newly made joker who might or might not have been abducted. The main character -- Alex -- is the center of it all. He's the smaller, more personal story.
That's the one I like the best.
The Wild Cards world is set up perfectly to tell a survivor's guilt story. Here's a kid who survived an outbreak. Most of his friends are dead. The ones that aren't have been horribly disfigured. And he got the brass ring. His story is about trying to answer the question of why he deserves to be an ace when all the people he knows and loves were killed or broken.
SFRevu: Do you see the comic book as an opportunity to expand the Wild Cards world? What kinds of stories do you have in mind, if this miniseries continues?
Daniel: I think it's a chance to explore something we haven't done in the books. Wild Cards was cutting edge when it first came out. It was in the same school as (DC Comics') Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. Gritty, dark, bleak comics.
And Wild Cards was dark and bleak right along with them. It was a more mature art form. And it took over. Now you have things like Identity Crisis in the mainstream comics. But if you look at the cutting edge now -- Kurt Busiek's Astro City, Brian Wood's Demo -- what you're seeing is a maturation past darkness and into a kind of deeper compassion. I think the comic books can be a testing ground for how the Wild Cards universe can find its own edges and grow out past them.
Of course it's a shared universe. Other writers may have other visions. All you get right now is mine.
SFRevu: Is the comic book your baby or is there a plan to rotate this assignment among various Wild Cards writers?
Daniel: It's a rotating thing. I know there are several writers in the consortium who have experience and interest in taking their swings.
The next series after Hard Call is going to be by Melinda Snodgrass. I've seen some of the preliminary outlines, and it's going to be a courtroom drama set in the Wild Cards universe.
Back before she was a writer, Melinda was a lawyer, and some of the things she's doing with looking at what law has to contend with in a universe with superwpowers is going to be fascinating. Plus she's got a great mystery and a lovely human story to wrap it all around.
SFRevu: Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
Daniel: I haven't actually met Eric (Battle, the miniseries artist), but I think his work on this has been freaking brilliant. I happen to know he got picked partly on his skill with facial expression, and there's a panel in the first book where Croyd is smiling with a threat behind it that absolutely justified everyone's faith in him. Seriously, he's great.
SFRevu would like to thank Daniel Abraham for the interview. Watch for our review of Wild Cards: The Hard Call coming soon!