Early this year Chris Ryall, editor-in-chief at IDW Comics got in touch with me. He was familiar with my writing and he listened to The Canon, where he heard me mention I loved Jim Thompson. It turned out IDW had just secured the right to Thompson's masterpiece, The Killer Inside Me, and Chris wanted to know if I would be interested in adapting the book into a comic.
I grew up on comics. I've been reading comics as long as I can remember; I read funny animal books and superhero books, I devoured the black and white books of the 80s boom and I was all in on the alternative comics of the 90s. Comics today are at as exciting a place as they ever have been, and in any given month you can read a scifi comic or a romance comic, a crime comic or a superhero book. The diversity on the stands is intoxicating (and a little overwhelming. I've turned into the dreaded Trade Waiter). The idea of being a part of this - of having a comic book with MY NAME ON IT! - was overwhelming and exciting and more than a little terrifying. So I said yes.
You have to understand: The Killer Inside Me is one of the greatest crime novels ever written. It's Thompson at his best, muscular but poetic in his peculiar middle of nowhere Americana style. A first person narrative told by a psychopath, The Killer Inside Me is a book that burrows into you, largely thanks to the language used by Lou Ford, deputy sheriff of Central City, Texas and ticking time bomb of murder. The book has been adapted twice - once pretty well by director Burt Kennedy, with Stacy Keach as Lou Ford and once much more problematically by Michael Winterbottom, with Casey Affleck in the role - but more than that it has become the basis for a whole genre of anti-hero killer narratives. Lou Ford casts a big shadow.
Here's how the process worked: I took the book and cut it up into five sections, based on chapters (this fell apart as soon as I started the second issue, by the way). Ed Brubaker was kind enough to send me some of his scripts so I could get a look at how he does it. Then I began trying to transcribe what Thompson had written as faithfully as possible into a comic book script. I sent the first issue in and my editor, Denton Tipton, returned it with notes that boiled down to: "This is great but you have about five thousand words too many in here."
See, you get no words in a comic book. Growing up on Stan Lee and Chris Claremont I see comic panels as crammed with text, but that doesn't fly today. You should have five to six panels a page and each panel should have about forty words in it. Tops. You should have twenty five words in each word balloon. So I set to hacking Thompson's beautiful prose to death.
When I first got the assignment there was no artist on board. Soon Vic Malhotra joined the team, though. Vic's specialty is crime stuff and this period, so he was an inspired choice. Best of all: Vic loves the book. I wasn't sure if the artist I would work with would even read the book, let alone care about it, but Vic is totally into Thompson. There are times where I just feel like the Oiuja board connecting Vic and the spirit of Thompson, and I get so excited when I get pages from Vic, because he so often has improved what I have adapted immensely. Seriously, Vic Malhotra is the absolute star of this comic, and I'm just here supporting him and Jim Thompson.
Getting those pages is a joy - Vic always takes these talky panels I write and finds a way to blow them up, to make them exciting and interesting and to build tension into a page that's just two dudes verbally sparring. Then the book goes to Jason Millet, who does the colors and I have to tell you - he's incredible. Vic's work is evocative and great and once Jason is finished with a page it's just next level. He's great at setting moods in very subtle ways, and when I am forced to end a scene in the middle of a page he's uncanny at delineating the change with a simple and small adjustment of his palette. Next in the process: Christa Miesner's lettering. This is a talky book (and working with Vic for the last few issues has, I think, given us an understanding that allows us to cram even more words in!) and Christa's work is vital in making sure the storytelling works. And the final piece of the puzzle are the covers. Each issue has two - a regular versiob by Vic and a variant by Robert Hack. I love the variants - they're all done in the style of dime store paperbacks. It's a terrific team, and I'm honored to work with them. Hell, I feel like I work FOR them.
Issue one is available now; if your local comic shop doesn't have it you can find it on Comixology. It's a five issue series and it'll be collected as a trade when it's all said and done. I'm really proud of the book, and I'm really happy with the experience of working with these people. I hope you dig it as well.
A note: this is a pulp/noir story from 1952. There's some retrograde shit in there. We pulled no punches (literally). It isn't for everybody.