ARC Asks: Robin Hobb and Jody Houser
Adapting a celebrated fantasy series into a comic
Editor’s Note: It’s Wednesday so that means it’s time for the seventh issue of Amazing Journey, the new comics section of ARC Worlds.
The Amazing Journey column will touch on a comics-related topic, such as writing the first issue of a series, what it’s like to run a comic book store, working with artists, and how writing comics is different from writing prose.
Amazing Journey back issues
Today, I am excited to present an ARC Asks interview1 with fantasy legend Robin Hobb and New York Times bestselling comics writer Jody Houser. They’re here to talk about the new six-issue Assassin’s Apprentice comic series coming out next month from Dark Horse Comics!
With art by Ryan Kelly, colors by Jordie Bellaire, letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, and covers by Anna Steinbauer, Dark Horse has assembled an all-star team to bring this classic fantasy story to the world of comics.
Until recently, Fitz was only known as “boy.” The illegitimate son of a powerful noble, Fitz is taken in by his uncle, Prince Verity, who prepares the boy for a journey to the capital to meet his royal grandfather. But Fitz is not a normal child. An ancient power stirs inside him, something that will change the destiny of the Six Duchies forever!
Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series, spanning 16 books, is one of the seminal works of fantasy of the past 30 years. It begins with Assassin’s Apprentice, book 1 of the Farseer Trilogy, which was released in 1995, in which we meet our protagonist, FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the King-in-Waiting of the Six Duchies, when he is only a six-year old boy. Over five separate series, we follow Fitz’s life as he grows up at court and travels across the the Six Duchies and beyond. We also venture into the wider world with two intertwining sister series, the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles, set to the south.
Stay tuned after the interview for a preview of issue one and the cover of issue 2!
Robin, seeing as how you’ve written Fitz over a long period of his life (and for 25 years of your life), how has it been returning to Assassin’s Apprentice and Fitz as the young scared boy we meet in the first few chapters?
Robin: Fitz is never far from me, with all the various editions we have gone through. Throughout the years, it has always been a great pleasure to see how various artists see him, from Michael Whelan on the first US cover to John Howe on the UK covers, and Jackie Morris and so many others in different editions. And now as a graphic novel. I am very impressed with how art in a panel can convey so much of the story.
Jody, how do you approach adapting an existing work to comics? You’ve adapted comics from movies and books, but also adapted works into comics where it’s more of a related story and not a direct adaptation (i.e. telling new Stranger Things stories that are complimenting the plot of the show). Is your process/approach any different?
Jody: When working on a direct adaptation like this, I do my best to focus on the specific story that’s being adapted. In the case of a novel, such as both Assassin’s Apprentice and Thrawn, it’s very much about seeing how to streamline the story as needed from prose to a visual medium. You obviously don’t want to hide all of the art behind big chunks of text! So you have to balance keeping true to the core of the story while also making it work in the new medium.
What was your collaboration process in creating the comic?
Robin: I always feel it is important to make room for the other person’s creativity when working with another artist or writer. So I try to put my hands in my pockets and watch what happens. I’ll only step in when I see an error that readers may object to, such as “no, Regal cannot be blonde.” But other than that, I really enjoy watching their ideas of the characters unfold. So, in all honesty, my role was mostly to be “hands off” and watch the story be adapted.
Jody: This is where the editors are key! Brett Israel and Sanjay Dharawat are the ones who coordinate the communication between the members of the creative team, and with Robin. They make sure that everyone is on the same page, and that the work is getting done on time and to the best of everyone’s ability, providing guidance as needed. Great editors are essential in projects like this, when there are so many moving parts. At the heart of it, their job is to make sure that the story being told is the best version possible.
How do you balance creating a work that is its own thing, that people who have never read the book series are going to pick up and read at their local comic book shop, with creating something that longtime readers of the series will enjoy?
Jody: It really helps that we’re starting at the beginning of the story. Ideally, it will be as easy for someone to pick up from issue #1 as it would be for them to start reading the first chapter of the first novel. Neither should require any foreknowledge.
Some of the unique parts of the book are its solo first-person narrative through nine books and its chapter-opening epigraphs. Were you able to work those into the comic via narrative captions?
Robin: Again, Jody. My role was to look at sketches and rough drafts and say, “Yes, I like that.” As I mentioned before, I didn’t really interfere unless there was something that directly contradicted the original book and I knew would distress long time readers of the books. Like when they made Nighteyes a cat . . . kidding, of course.
Jody: While we obviously want to show as much of the story visually in a comic, we do use narrative captions to preserve some of the elements of the older Fitz narrating and the epigraphs. It’s such a traditional element of comics that I think it works quite well. [Ed.: See the preview below for proof of that!]
Jody, how was it working with Ryan Kelly again?
Jody: I worked with Ryan Kelly on Stranger Things: Into The Fire, which had a strong fantasy elements here and there, in the vein of Return to Oz. Getting to work with him again on a full-on fantasy epic and seeing how her brings the world to life is really wonderful.
Robin, how was it writing a comic book after writing prose for so many years?
Robin: Again, that was all Jody. When I saw how she was handling it, I was astonished at how much of the original dialogue, etc was worked in. I am certain I could not have done it as well as she did. It’s a very particular skill set, I believe. I will stick to novels and short stories and leave the comic books to the pros.
What’s one thing existing fans of the series will enjoy and what’s one thing readers new to this world will latch on to in the first issue?
Robin: I think existing readers will enjoy seeing images of Fitz as a small boy and reliving that part of the story. And I think new readers will have a wonderful foundation in the first issue for all that will come afterwards.
Jody: I think getting to see the world so beautifully drawn (and colored by Jordie Bellaire!) will give existing fans a chance to revisit the story in a new way. And I hope new fans will want to follow Fitz wherever his new life is leading him...
Thank you Robin and Jody for stopping by ARC Worlds!
And without further ado, here is a two-page preview of Assassin’s Apprentice #1!
Assassin’s Apprentice #1 will be available at comics shops on December 14, 2022. To secure your copy, find your local shop here and get your order in by November 21.
And, if you’re interested in signed copies of the first three issues, you can grab those from The Signed Page here.
Issue 2 will hit comic shops on January 11, 2023.
Fitz begins to settle into his new life in Buckkeep, though even here among new friends, stares and whispers haunt his every step. But the power growing within him is stirring, and Fitz will learn to have to control the ancient forces of his blood, or face certain destruction!
Update: Issue 3 cover and solicit revealed! First image of the Fool revealed!
Issue 3 will hit comic shops on February 8, 2023.
With Burrich's harsh lesson still fresh in his mind, Fitz keeps his head down, doing his best to hide the power within him. But the nobles of Buckkeep have their own plans for the boy, and if Fitz doesn't learn to adjust to his new life quickly, he might not survive for long.
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