Biff Bam Pop Exclusive Interview: Andy Burns Talks Stephen King’s The Dark Tower with Robin Furth, Part Two

If you haven’t had a chance to read part 1 of my interview with Robin Furth, plotter for Marvel Comics’ The Dark Tower series (the first 30 issue arc of which was recently compiled in The Dark Tower Omnibus), you can find it here. On that note, on to part two!

Andy Burns: How closely did you work with Peter David, who scripted the series? Could you give a little insight into how you two collaborated?

Robin Furth: Peter is a fantastic writer, so it has been great working with him. I’m always amazed by his tight, powerful scripts.  It takes a tremendous amount of skill to create dialogue and captions that tell so much in such a short space, but are also full of wit, insight, and humor. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him.

The Dark Tower comics are really a collaborative project for all of us who are involved.  We’ve done them for quite a while now, so we’ve developed a system that works for us.  Basically, I adapt the material from Stephen King’s novels. Most of the time that means transforming scenes from Steve’s novels into our storyline, but sometimes it means recreating parts of Roland’s journey from adventures Roland mentions briefly in the original books. (Luckily, while I was writing the Dark Tower Concordance, I created lists of Roland’s youthful adventures.)

Once I’m finished, my stories go to the team. If anybody sees problems, they send up a flag and I rewrite.  For example, in The Long Road Home Peter was concerned that Roland spent too much time unconscious, so I rewrote sections of the story so that even unconscious, Roland was tough to handle! If everybody gives the thumbs-up to the story, it then goes to the penciler who breaks my detailed scene-by-scene tale into panels and pages.

Using the novels, the art, and my storyline, Peter then develops his fantastic scripts. Like the plot and the art, Peter’s scripts go to the team so that we can read them. Once everything is ready, Peter’s script goes to the letterer. Meanwhile, once the pencils and inks are done they go to Richard Isanove for his beautiful coloring.

Andy Burns: I know Mr. King is a big comic book fan, so I would imagine he was quite excited about seeing The Dark Tower in the medium. How involved was he in determining plot direction and tone for the series?

Robin Furth: When we started the series Steve King laid out his master plan for the first 30 issue arc.  He wanted us to begin with Roland’s coming-of-age battle against Cort, and then he wanted us to record Roland’s adventures in Hambry and his tragic love affair with Susan Delgado.  From there, he wanted us to go all the way to the Battle of Jericho Hill.  During that first meeting between Steve and Marvel I took copious notes, especially when Steve was explaining how he envisioned things like the gunslingers’ last stand against Farson.

Each comic book has to be approved by Steve, and whenever I’m unsure of a particular plot twist, I try to run it by him just to make sure that everything is OK. When we were ready to begin our second 30 issue run, Steve wanted us to return to the original novels.  I thought that perhaps we could cover The Little Sisters of Eluria and The Gunslinger, since these follow perfectly from the events recounted in The Battle of Jericho Hill.  Steve liked the idea, so we went for it.

Andy Burns: There’s a very clear trajectory that’s covered within the five books that make up The Dark Tower Omnibus. I’m wondering how the depth and scope of this first series was developed? How did the team determine where to start and end?  

Robin Furth: As I mentioned, Steve King really wanted us to begin with Roland’s coming-of-age battle and follow Roland’s adventures all the way to the Battle of Jericho Hill, so the trajectory was his brainchild. From the novels, from my discussions with Steve, and from my Concordance notes, I knew the basic story of Roland’s youthful adventures.  At the back of my Concordance I had created a timeline for Mid-World which included a detailed breakdown of Roland’s early life, and that breakdown was incredibly helpful when it came time to work on the comics.

As you know, The Gunslinger Born was an adaptation of Wizard and Glass.  Streamlining that large, dense novel to fit into seven comics was incredibly hard work.  After the conclusion of Roland’s Hambry adventures, it felt natural to move from there into the story of our tet’s journey back to Gilead (The Long Road Home).  While we were discussing Roland’s adventures, one of the Marvel editors mentioned that it would be interesting to have Roland’s tet-mates play a bigger role in the story.  That was something I’d always thought too (I have always loved Cuthbert and Alain), so in many ways, Cuthbert, Alain, and even Sheemie are the heroes of The Long Road Home.  When I started Treachery, I really felt it was a shame that new readers weren’t going to meet the strong female character found in the original novels, a woman named Susannah Dean.  So, to balance the tragic figure of Roland’s mother I proposed inserting Cort’s niece, Aileen Ritter.  (And by the way, Aileen does appear in the original novels, albeit briefly.)  After Treachery, we really had to move on to the next big events of Roland’s life, namely The Fall of Gilead and The Battle of Jericho Hill.

Andy Burns: Working on the Dark Tower comics seems to have really give you the chance to work a few different creative muscles. There’s the plotting of the series, but then there’s all the amazing ancillary content that’s compiled in the Compendium (which is really a beautiful book), which contains your prose, storytelling contributions. What was your process like in working in those two different styles – does one come easier or than the other? Vice versa?

Robin Furth: Thanks! To tell the truth, plotting the comics and telling the individual tales feed each other.  Sometimes the job feels so big it’s daunting.  I feel like I’m climbing a really tall mountain and fear I won’t make the top, but most of the time the journey is exhilarating, despite the anxiety.  And when I make it to the top of the hill and can pause, I have these spectacular views over Mid-World’s landscape. What a treat!

Andy Burns: Looking back on that mammoth first 30 issue series, what were the hardest parts of doing the actual work? Alternately, do you have any favourite moments of accomplishment?

Robin Furth: Wow—that’s a hard question!  Condensing Wizard and Glass was really tough. I had to keep cutting subplots I loved, just because I couldn’t fit them.  Another really difficult task was killing off so many of Roland’s companions. Every time somebody had to die, I cried.

As for my favorite moments—there have been many.  Here are just a few: Seeing the faces of all my Mid-World friends for the first time. Seeing Jae and Richard’s illustration of Roland’s coming of age battle against Cort. (The image of Cort charging Roland sent chills down my spine. It was like I’d seen that image in a dream.)  Reading Peter’s first scripts and seeing the lettered copy of the first comic, and realizing that the whole thing was really happening.  Looking at the first inked pages of The Gunslinger Born with Steve King.  Getting together with the whole Dark Tower crew at the NYCC for the launch of the series and being marched onto the stage by storm troopers!  Laughing with Peter, Ralph, Jae, Richard, and the other editors over bloopers. (Luckily, we caught them early!) And, of course, traveling with Roland.  I’ve spent about a decade of my life with our wandering gunslinger, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

Andy Burns: I wanted to ask you the same question I asked Bev Vincent, author of The Road To The Dark Tower, when I interviewed him last year. It seems as though, for those of us that love The Dark Tower, we REALLY love it. As someone who has spent so much time in that world, what do you think it is about Roland and Mid-World that resonates so strongly with readers? 

Robin Furth: You know, I’ve thought about this question a lot myself.  I think that Roland’s world is close to ours in so many ways. We all fear the end of the world—by fire or by ice, as Robert Frost would say, or by nuclear bomb or germ warfare—yet in Roland’s world, that horrific catastrophe has already happened. Much of his world has been destroyed, yet there is still hope for redemption.  Roland is the ultimate existential hero, both the man with no name and a kind of Arthurian knight.  There really is something in the Dark Tower novels to appeal to everyone, whether they love sci-fi or fantasy or tales of apocalypse or even gangster stories!

Andy Burns: Finally, is there anything you’re currently reading that you think Biff Bam Pop readers should be checking out?

Robin Furth: Wow!  I’m about to read Steve King’s collection of stories, Full Dark, No Stars. I’m really looking forward to it! I’m also reading Freak Angels, which is great!  If you haven’t seen Neil Gaiman’s episode of Dr. Who entitled The Doctor’s Wife, it is a MUST SEE for Tardis lovers everywhere. As for oldies but goodies, I recently finished Alfred Bester’s sci-fi classic The Stars My Destination, and Patricia PcKillip’s The Riddle Master’s Game.  About a month ago I gave one of my nieces a stack of comics including Sandman and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, so I reread them first. I am still blown away by those works!  Have you ever read Fantastic Four Presents: Franklin Richards Son of a Genius, both Lab Brat and Collected Chaos? If you like laugh-out-loud funny, these are fantastic.  I’ll also always make a grab for the Hellblazer comics!  So basically, read, read, read!  Read whatever makes you happy, scares you, makes your heart beat faster!  Read old and new, respected books and way-out stuff.  In happy times, books are great companions, and during tough times, they are a tremendous solace. I have always felt so bad for people who don’t like to read.  Books expand our inner horizons and make us see the world as a big place, full of possibilities.

Andy Burns: It would be absolutely ridiculous if I didn’t end by saying thank you for your time…and long days and pleasant nights, Robin. 

Robin Furth: And may your days be long upon the earth! Thanks so much! I really enjoyed our chat.

Thanks so much to Robin Furth for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop, and to James Viscardi at Marvel Comics for helping make it happen. You can order The Dark Tower Omnibus here and Robin’s The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance here

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