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First of the Illustrated

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Last of the Mohicans, the first entry in Marvel Comics’ Marvel Illustrated line has debuted to rave reviews. BF turned to Roy Thomas, the writer responsible for adapting James Fenimore Cooper’s classic, to find out where the series is headed.

BROKEN FRONTIER: This isn't the first time Marvel have launched a line of adaptations of classic novels. I remember with some fondness the original Marvel Classics Comics line in the 70s (that also adapted The Last of the Mohicans). Could you tell us a little about the genesis of the new Marvel Illustrated line and its aims?

ROY THOMAS: I'm afraid I wasn't in on any of the meetings, so I don't know much about the genesis of the new line—except that of course it would be good for Marvel to inaugurate a line of adaptations of classic works of literature that could eventually be sold as graphic novels in bookstores.

BF: How did you become involved with the project? Did the critical success of the recent completion of your Dracula adaptation factor into the equation and Marvel's decision to launch the line?

RT: You'd have to ask Ralph Macchio, the editor, whom I've known for three decades, why he chose me... though perhaps STOKER'S DRACULA had something to do with it. But then, Ralph was the assistant editor of SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN years ago, so had a connection with adaptations I did in the late 1970s... maybe even with UNKNOWN WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION, for all I know. He knows that I try to be faithful to the original author, far more so than some adaptations... let alone any movies made from such books.

BF: How were the initial three novels to be adapted (The Last of the Mohicans, Treasure Island and Man in the Iron Mask) chosen?

RT: Sorry, but I have no idea. I wasn't privy to the process. I was a bit surprised, I'll admit, that THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK precedes THE THREE MUSKETEERS, which takes place three decades earlier... but maybe the fact that the "iron mask" was the partial inspiration for Dr. Doom had something to do with it. Still, I think they are all three good choices. They were early choices of the original CLASSIC COMICS of the 1940s that grew into CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED, as well... but Marvel is not slavishly following CI's lead.

BF: The initial adaptations have a very "Boy's Own" action feel to them and are all historical pieces with plenty of scope for suiting the comic strip form. If these prove to be a success would you (or Marvel) be keen to tackle other genres? Perhaps even classic novels without the high adventure of The Last of the Mohicans or Treasure Island?

RT: Sure! In fact, the fourth book is a bit "off-trail" in that area—though I'll have to let Ralph tell you what it is, if he wishes to. Hey, I'm even up for adapting JANE EYRE!

BF: As a librarian myself I'm always very excited by developments like the Marvel Illustrated line. I don't want to imply the two groups are mutually exclusive but there's great potential here to bring new readers to the comics medium and conversely introduce comics readers to classic literature. Is there a defined target audience for the project?

RT: Again, others made that decision—but I agree with you about the potential to introduce comics readers to the classics—and vice versa! I myself was inspired to read THE ILIAD by reading the CI version, and it became my favorite work of literature.

BF: How did you approach adapting The Last of the Mohicans into the comics medium? What were the particular challenges of fitting the structure of the novel into six serialised monthly parts?

RT: There's much more to the novel than could be fit easily into 130 pages (the length of 6 issues' worth of adaptation), but I tried to fit in the main action. And I worked very hard to keep as much of James Fenimore Cooper's language as I could—and still make it accessible to a modern reader. I found MOHICANS the hardest of them... far more so than TREASURE ISLAND... it took twice or even three times as long to do as I'd thought. But good things don't necessarily come easily.

BF: There have been adaptations of The Last of the Mohicans that can, at best, be described as very loosely based on the novel (the 1992 movie springs immediately to mind!). The new Marvel line looks to be very faithful to the original source material. Is there anything though that, out of necessity for space, you've had to condense, alter or leave out that's been frustrating?

RT: Only in the backup DEERSLAYER feature, where I could only adapt a sequence of that book into 36 pages. But that was never intended to be an adaptation of the entire novel. There are always good scenes you'd love to leave in that have to be dropped in favor of something else that's more important—but that was true even in Conan!

BF: The Last of the Mohicans is a very violent novel. There are scenes that you never forget once you've read it, including the massacre of Munro's forces that begins with a baby's head being smashed against a rock, a ritual murder of a tribe member for cowardice and plenty of references to scalping. How difficult has it been to depict these scenes while staying within the remit of a "Parental Advisory"-coded book?

RT: I just describe the scenes as Cooper has them—and the editor has to decide

how violent the artist can/should make them. Writing about something is, of course, a bit different from showing it... but we're trying to be faithful to the spirit, and even the words, of the original, to the extent that we can. But you're right about that one particularly violent scene, which is based on an actual historical incident.

BF: Could you tell us a little about what Steve Kurth has brought to the book? From the few preview pages I've seen the art looks gorgeous, especially the landscape, which is practically a character in itself in the novel.

RT: Steve's had a hard task—because there are things in Cooper's novel that it's hard to picture... maybe easier for him to write about.

But Steve and I communicated to try to work out the scenes, and he brings to them the kind of excitement one wants to find in a modern comic, in a Marvel comic, and at the same time is true to the story. If you've seen the early pages all drawn, written, and colored, I think you'll agree that this is a beautiful rendition of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS... and I hope that all the other adaptations will be equally successful from the standpoint of quality.

After that—well, it's up to the public to decide if they will support this new Marvel Illustrated line. I hope it does—for this is both a noble and an exciting experiment, one well worth the doing. I'm proud and grateful to be associated with it.

BF: From the advance solicitations Marvel Illustrated: The Last of the Mohicans appears to be actually adapting two novels as there's also a Hawk-Eye tale adapting the earliest story of Natty Bumppo's life. Will this be an ongoing backup throughout the run?

RT: Yes, the DEERLSLAYER will take up 6 pages in each of the 6 issues of LAST OF THE MOHICANS.

BF: Are there any other projects you're working on at the moment that you'd like to tell us about?

RT: A BLACK KNIGHT one-shot that's part of an ARCANA series... Ask editor Mark Panaccia about it. I've always loved that character created in 1955 by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely. Of course, I also edit my magazine ALTER EGO every month, and have a couple of book projects in the works, as well.

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