Q&A: Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel

Back in February, in the 2007 Cybils Graphic Novels category, we were pleased to announce that Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel was the winner for Elementary and Middle Grade readers. Well, a few months down the line, we're just plain chuffed to present a full-length interview with the winning authors and illustrators: Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano, and Paolo Lamanna.

The 2007 Graphic Novels judges said: "The comics format proves a good match for Eoin Colfer's tale of war
between fairies and an obsessed young genius, already popular around
the world in novel form." Naturally, we were eager to find out more about the process of creating this winning graphic novel. Read on!

Andrew Donkin: Firstly, can I say that we were all delighted to hear that we had won the Cybil graphic novel category. It put big smiles on all our faces.

Eoin Colfer: Yes, it was lovely. A big thank you to everyone who voted for us.

What kind of response has the graphic novel adaptation received from readers?

Andrew Donkin: I’m happy to say that it seems to have gone down very well with both Artemis fans (of which there are many) and comic readers too.

Eoin Colfer: The graphic novel has gone down a storm with the fans–for many it is their first graphic novel and they have become instant fanatics.

Giovanni Rigano: Even better than I’ve expected. Readers are very receptive when they find a work done with passion. And they found this passion in the graphic novel as much as in the novel. It sometimes happens that adaptations in comics are considered only as derivative products, such as a T-shirt or a gadget. This is not the case. We all love this medium and I hope we did a job fully respectful of its potential.

Paolo Lamanna: We had a great response during the fairs and the promotional conferences of the graphic novel as well. We just had the launch of the Italian publication in a big bookshop in Milan.

Have previous Artemis Fowl fans been pleased?

AD: I hope so. Everyone involved in the project was very aware that we were being trusted with a much-loved set of characters and stories.

EC: The majority love it, though some do say the characters look a little different than they imagined, but that was unavoidable, I think.

GR: Hopefully, yes. Adapting a successful novel such as Artemis Fowl means, I know and never forget, to impose my point of view among the readers’ ones. So, when people say that even though not everything is like they pictured it, now they cannot imagine it differently, I think that finally I did a good job.

Have you heard of anyone who has gotten hooked on the series because of the graphic novel?

EC: I have met hundreds of people who came to the series through the graphic novel. It is a great way for reluctant readers to start their reading careers.

AD: Yes, it’s a perfect door into Artemis’s universe. Books and graphic novels obviously have a big crossover audience, but at the edges they attack quite different people too.

GR: Sometimes yes. It happened that people told me they approached the graphic novel attracted by the aesthetic side of it, and that makes me just as proud as knowing about all the readers who already knew the novels and enjoyed this adaptation. 

Where did the original idea to turn Artemis Fowl into a graphic novel come from?

GR: Don’t really know, I wasn’t there. Probably Artemis himself, and then he made Eoin and Andrew think it was their own idea. Smart little boy!

AD: Eoin and I have known each other for several years. We were both big comic fans when we were growing up and both read a lot of comics today. We would meet at various social do's and talk about how "someone" should ask us to write a graphic novel one day. That "someone" became Hyperion.

EC: I wanted to get involved in comics for years before the offer came along. I kept mentioning that I would love to do it with Andrew until Hyperion eventually gave in and let us get to work.

AD: And it’s been a great team and a very happy ship.

How did the project begin to take shape, and how did the various contributors get involved in the project?

EC: Andrew and I met in a pub in Ireland and set out our goals for the book. It was a long meeting that seemed to go on for several days, but at the end of it we had a rough draft for our novel, plus several others.

AD: I got involved because I knew Eoin, and he knew I loved comics. I'd written things like Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight for DC Comics in the past as well as writing over forty children’s books of my own.

GR: Once upon a time I’d been asked by a manager at Disney if I knew Artemis' novels and enjoyed them (just a couple of books at that time). My answer was "yes, of course" & "yes, a lot." He told me then about the possibility of turning it into a graphic novel, and that made me enthusiastic. So I started studying the two books, made a proposition of style for the adaptation with many sketches and submitted them back. Finally, Hyperion called me saying I'd been chosen for the adaptation.

Paolo came on board quite suddenly. We had already worked together before and he's really professional and talented, so I didn't have any doubt about carrying on our cooperation.

What were some of the challenges of adapting a full-length novel into graphic novel format?

AD: Basically there were two big challenges: 1. Not to mess it up. Eoin's books have a lovely lightness of touch and it was important, I thought, to make sure we kept the same humor and charm that Eoin has and that had made them a success in the first place. 2. Being comic fans and longtime readers, we wanted to make the Artemis graphic novel a really good piece of comics storytelling and a really good graphic novel in its own right.

EC: I wanted the fans to be happy with the adaptation but also to create a rounded work that was not too slavish to the novel. Books and comics are different types of medium and have to be presented differently.

GR: For sure the biggest challenge for me was visualizing the characters. They're so vivid in the novel's pages that I was a bit afraid to approach them at first. I remember I spent three days looking at the white paper with the first novel at my side, thinking about all the possibilities and input I received and waiting until all the pieces were combined together, before doing the first sketches. My parents probably thought I was sleeping at my desk!

PL: From the point of view of the color, we wanted a look that was modern and in line with the "style" of Artemis Fowl, but that could also be adapted to all the scenes and the technologies of the world of the trolls and the fairies and its atmospheres and creatures.
Moreover, it had to suit and highlight Giovanni's inks and to give the reader a fluid reading.

One of the aspects of Artemis Fowl that the Cybils judges enjoyed was the coloring, and how much the color palette reflected the moods of the scenes and characters. What type of preparation did the artists undertake to come up with the distinct look of the art?

GR: In fact I always consider coloring a very important component of the whole artwork. That's why I take great care, making lots of thumbnails in colour by myself and speaking with Paolo about the kind of mood and chromatic line I would expect for all the sequences. Sometimes we spend a lot of time on the telephone, discussing where the light comes from in a particular scene or what kind of color will represent better a certain ambiance.

PL: I am really happy to know that the judges enjoyed and appreciated my part of the job!
Sometimes the colorist can be a bit forgotten. With Artemis Fowl, the coloring was very specific and very precise. Things like the character’s LEP uniforms were worked out down to the last detail.

It was great because in the main, I had a lot of freedom to interpret the scenes and the sequences how I wanted to, and really use the potential that was there for the coloring to add to the atmosphere in each scene. I took my inspiration for the coloring from my favorite movies, anime, and other comics.

How closely did the artists work with the writer in this process?

AD: We all worked very closely together. We met frequently to sit down and work on the storyboards (thumbnails) together. It was a great pleasure to work with Giovanni like this and quite unusual to be able to do so. Eoin and I had to make several trips to Lake Como in Italy where Giovanni lives and sit with him in a bar on the edge of the lake having cold beer and Italian ice cream. We suffered such a pitiful existence just to make the graphic novel better.

GR: Yes, pitiful. I wouldn't dare to do more than 2 or 3 graphic novels each year this way. That's not healthy.

EC: I remember this dark time in my life with fondness. But in all honesty, Giovanni and Paolo did most of the work on the colors. I just said stuff like Wow! and Fab!

To elaborate on the previous question, what process led to the visual appearance of places in the graphic novel? For instance, the Fowl manor didn't seem to quite match the description in the text–were the artists inspired by a real house somewhere? Why did it look the way it did?

EC: Giovanni is an artist and very creative in his own right and we were happy for him to deviate from the book if we felt it added to the graphic novel. In this instance I felt that his Fowl Manor was more suitable to the look of the graphic novel than mine.

GR: For Fowl Manor I researched some Irish castles on the internet, and bought several books and two travel guides to Ireland. The clerk in the bookshop told me "have a good trip" when I left! Then I selected the parts I found most interesting, took the description in the book, checked its function in the story and mixed it all together. The result is a manor that does not match exactly with a specific element, but that considers all of them in a different way.

PL: I was lucky. By the time I came to color Giovanni's inks he had already done lots of research. I just had to borrow it!

Like the book, the graphic novel includes narration from both Artemis and Holly. Were there specific challenges involved with having dual narrators in a graphic novel?

AD: It was important to keep in mind that many people would be reading the graphic novel who had not read the prose book, so we needed to make sure it was clear who was narrating what at all times. It could have been confusing, but I hope we avoided that. The other challenge of course is telling the story visually and picking the turning points in the novel that do this. Sometimes it's not always the moments you'd expect. And very often a small visual can tell a lot of story.

EC: The books are written from two and sometimes three perspectives so we wanted to keep the same technique for the graphic novel; to this end we had to set a different style for each narrator so that the multiple-narrator technique would not become confusing.

Did you ever consider dropping to one point of view, or working from dialogue and action only rather than including the narrative passages?

EC: No, we never considered that. Different reactions to the same situation are an important part of the story.

AD: Yes, those passages are really key to the enjoyment that Eoin's readers get out of his writing. If you cut those and just had the dialogue and action then you would lose an awful lot of the humor and the characters.

Do you plan on continuing the Artemis Fowl series in graphic novel format?

AD: We are more than halfway through the second volume, Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident.

EC: What? Are we? No-one told me. I was planning to retire.

What can you tell us about your plans for upcoming projects?

AD: The second Artemis is on its way, and following that, the same team will be starting work on the graphic novel of Eoin's The Supernaturalist. Eoin and I are also planning to write some original comics stuff, but it's too early to say more.

EC: We have many ideas to discuss over Italian ice-cream. It may look to our wives and partners as though we are on holidays–but we are actually working.

GR: The Supernaturalist, yes. I've already begun to study it and did some sketches. I will really enjoy working on it!

PL: At the moment, I’m coloring the artwork for the second Artemis Fowl graphic novel, The Arctic Incident, as well as two comic books for the French market.

The Cybils want to extend an enormous thanks to all four authors and illustrators, with particular gratitude to Andrew Donkin for making this Q&A possible. Thank you, grazie, and go raibh maith agat! For more information, be sure to visit the websites of Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, and Giovanni Rigano.