Adapting Shakespeare for Comics

As I suggested in the post announcing Family Ties, I really struggled with Shakespeare in school which meant writing an update of King Lear was a bit intimidating. So much so, in fact, that before starting, I bought a book called No Fear Shakespeare.
These books are great. I wish they’d been around when I was in high school. If so, I probably would have gotten an A in my AP literature class instead of… well… the embarrassing grade I actually brought home.
Anyway, these No Fear books are different than the yellow Cliff Notes booklets you may remember. As readers flip through the book, they can either read the original play on the left hand page or the “plain English” translation on the right. It’s a great way to read Shakespeare if you can convince yourself to use that right hand page as little as possible. In the end, the play wasn’t nearly as difficult as I remembered. And after several read-throughs, I sat down to begin planning the adaptation.
And this is where the trouble began…
While I was intent on leaving the plot and character arcs largely intact, I had a really hard time deciding how I was going to update the setting and the circumstances. After all, Lear deals with a family fighting over an aging king’s kingdom. While family issues are timeless, how was I going to write a modern re-telling that made sense? Some of the family infighting revolves around control of knights — not exactly something that translates to modern times easily.
For a while, I considered writing Family Ties as a superhero book. Yes, another superhero title for the comic book shelf. In the end, that felt like a cop-out. I liked the idea — still like it, actually — but I didn’t like that it was the easy way out. I wasn’t going to write it because I was dying to write a creator-owned superhero book — I was going to write it because it was an easy way to explain away some of the problems I was having. That didn’t seem like the best thing to do.
But then, my wife and I were watching a documentary about organized crime and inspiration struck. Amazingly, the hierarchy in a crime family is almost an exact parallel to the family dynamic in Lear. And while I wasn’t dying to do my own superhero book, I looooove gangster movies and have always wanted do a crime book of my own. Not only that, I knew I wanted to do another book with Noel, and his art is a great fit for a crime book. (Tumor, anyone?)
So after months of hitting my head against the wall, the details quickly began falling into place.
Lear became a crime boss.
His madness became dementia.
His kingdom became a criminal empire.
His knights became the soldiers in his crew.
His power-hungry daughters became captains within the organization.
His idealistic son became a young man hoping to make a life for himself outside of the family business.
Just like that, I finally had an answer for all those people who continued to ask, “I loved Broadcast, man. What’s next?”

Animation

The New Year already brought exciting new plans, prospects and projects – including the intended publication of my next book at NBM in September: ‘Science: a Discovery in Science’. This calls for a new wave of Promotion when the time comes, and this time we’ll include some YouTube videos about the book. I could just video myself, but this seems a great opportunity to make an animation.

I’ve been wanting to learn animation but never got the time and besides, it’s my brother’s expertise. I have two brothers and we equally divided the Visual Media: Paul does documentary, Maarten does animation and I do comics. We never really ventured onto each others territory, but now I’m planning to. And who knows, maybe my brothers will start making graphic novels now.

I’m way at the beginning of this project, and this is the first thing I drew:

 

Now I just need to get it moving.

About ten years ago, I did a little bit of animation when I learned how to make animated GIFs – now an almost obsolete format but I hope it still runs on this blog. This is what I made:

It was for a site called animationbattle.com, and the characters getting their ass kicked were made by other animators – I even think two of them were made by my brothers. I don’t remember who “won” the animationbattle, but I definitely plan on making my comeback now!

What’s Next?

“I loved Broadcast, man. What’s next?”
I’ve heard that from comic fans a lot over the last few years.
Response to that first book was more than I ever could have hoped for. Reviews were great, fans enjoyed the work — Noel and I were thrilled. But as I started to hear that question again and again — I’ll admit, my nerves began getting the best of me. The Broadcast was my first published work. Noel had already developed a following of his own, but I was a relative unknown. Readers went into that book without any preconceived notions about me. But with a follow-up? A follow-up to a critical success? That would be different. That would bring something I hadn’t had on the first book: expectations. And expectations can be a very scary thing.
So that’s probably why it’s taken this new project some time to come to fruition. Noel and I have been busy, of course. He illustrated a brilliant comic called Foster. I wrote a short Batman piece for DC and published a kids’ series on Amazon’s kindle called The Librarian. We even did a short together in Dark Horse’s Once Upon a Time Machine anthology. That said, we were both knew eventually we were going to collaborate on another full-length graphic novel — we just wanted to make sure this new project was a worthy follow-up to the first.
Family Ties is about an aging Alaskan crime boss with dementia who is looking to secure his family’s future by dividing his empire amongst his three heirs. His cold-hearted daughters jump at the chance to take their spot at the head of the table, but his idealistic son refuses the inheritance. Fueled by his anger, the old man disowns his son only to realize he’s made a tragic mistake when his daughters use their newfound power and influence against him.
Sound familiar? It should — it is a retelling of William Shakespeare’s classic, King Lear.
In school, I struggled with Shakespeare like most kids — probably more than most, actually — but King Lear always resonated with me as a timeless story that was ripe for an update. Family issues are just as common today, after all.
Noel and I are still finishing up, but I’m going to do my best to get in here and post about the production of Family Ties; the struggles that come from trying to adapt Shakespeare; and how a family tragedy helped inform the book when, strangely enough, a member of my family was diagnosed with dementia shortly after I began writing the book.
In the meantime, if you enjoyed The Broadcast, I hope you’ll take a few minutes this week to tell your local comics retailer about Family Ties. It’s available in January’s Previews and is spotlighted on page 320.