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Inside The Dark Tower

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The February 7 midnight debut of Stephen King's The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born #1 is fast approaching.  Marvel held a conference call with writer Robin Furth, who joined us from her home in England.

Marvel’s Jim McCann was our host today, and while editors John Barber, Nicole Boose, and Ralph Macchio were also in attendance, all attention was focused on Robin Furth and the insider information she was able to impart about the creative process behind this publishing event.

Furth is the world’s foremost expert on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  In fact, she is rumored to actually live in Mid-World.  She explained that her association with King started in 2000, right after his accident.  The first four books had already been published, and he needed someone – Robin – to write a complete concordance of the series.  Furth compiled a 2-volume concordance, now published as a single volume.  The last book in the Dark Tower series was Book 7, The Dark Tower, published in 2004.  The series is Stephen King’s magnum opus, the work he’s put the most time and effort into.  He started to write about Roland when he was in graduate school at the University of Maine.

Furth was asked to describe the major players in the first miniseries from Marvel.  She replied that the great thing about the beginning chosen by Marvel is that we get to see a very young Roland Deschain, before his world has collapsed.  We get to meet Roland’s father Steven, Walter (the man in black), Susan Delgado (a young romantic interest for Roland), and the scary baddies known as the Coffin Hunters.

She said that when the process started, and King and Marvel were discussing the transformation from the books to comics, that King mentioned Furth because she’s been an honorary citizen of Mid-World for so long.  She found it very exciting to learn how to write for comics, because she was unaccustomed to the kind of emphasis placed on action that she finds in them.

Ralph Macchio was then invited into the discussion, to talk about the midnight opening.  He said the excitement levels are very high, because the comic book gives fans their first peek ever at a visual form of their story.

McCann then threw the call open to the reporters.  Furth was asked how she decided what to bring into the comics from the books.  She noted that the first issue is based on Wizard and Glass, a 700-page book.  She said she had to get the book down to its essence, by transforming it in a way to appeal both to hardcore Dark Tower fans, as well as readers who are new to the series. 

She expressed a real admiration for the creative process at Marvel.  She explained that the creation of the stories has been highly collaborative, involving King, herself (story), Jae Lee (penciller), Richard Isanove (painter), Peter David (dialogue), editors Macchio, Nicole Boose, and John Barber, all working together to refine the story, the ideas, the action.  “And the final result is so polished,” Furth says.  “Everyone has had a chance to put in their best.”

Barber remembered how fascinating it was to watch Furth and King brainstorm about what this series could be, and how interesting it is to now see the finished product, with all the combinations of preexisting and new materials.

Furth was asked to give us a preview of where this story would take us.  She insisted that we bleep her any time she gave out unwanted spoilers, but that wasn’t necessary after all.  She told us there will be seven issues to cover Wizard and Glass, so the first story arc takes us to the end of that book, where Roland and friends have their big battle with the Coffin Hunters.  In the succeeding story arcs, Furth and the others will be asking where Roland and his friends go, and what adventures they have. There are 5 story arcs planned, Wizard and Glass being the first.  They are planning to lead to the last stand, on Jericho Hill.  Along the way, we’ll see Roland’s adventures as a young man, to see what road he takes to become that hardened gunslinger.  We’ll see him face revolution and mayhem and watch how Mid-World becomes this desolate place we see in the Dark Towersaga.

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As to the question of the introduction of new material, Furth explained that over the years, working on the concordances, she has collected all the stories of Roland’s youth.  The comic books draw from the stories that have been hinted at, or Roland has recounted.  There is some new material, but a lot of it comes from the folklore of the Dark Towersaga.

Furth was asked about the nature of Stephen King’s involvement in the creation of the comic books.  She explained that he sees all the material in advance, and he’s really pleased with these stories.  He did change some of the dialogue in the scripts, but he hasn’t made significant changes.  Peter David has nailed the voice of the Dark Tower saga.  When looking at some of the artwork with Furth, King said he feels that he is seeing his stories step onto the page.

King was deeply involved in this process from the beginning.  He has seen everything.  After all, the Dark Tower saga is his baby.  So everything goes to him, and Furth waits for him to take the red pen to it, but for the most part, he’s been really pleased and really supportive.  He has final say, because he’s the writer and it’s his world.  She said the whole team has had great discussions about continuity, as they strove to keep track of every detail.

In reply to a question about the ways in which the comic is distinctive from the novel, Furth laughingly explained that each issue contains original prose material.  She says she’s been really excited about creating Mid-World folktales, and expanding Mid-World mythology.  This original prose material is a special feature of the comics.  So, issue 1# has a story, written by Furth, called 'The Sacred Geography of Mid-World'.  Issue #2 features a story about Maerlyn’s Rainbow, and the dangerous magic sphere that causes Roland so much trouble.

When asked if the new material require an updated concordance, Furth said the concordance is really stressful because she’s so concerned that she’ll drop a detail.  She said she’s preparing for this by keeping track of everything, and that her writing space is consumed with stacks of notes.  Whether there is an updated concordance or not, Marvel will publish a Dark Tower Guidebook.   Furth and Jeff Youngquist will be working on that. 

When asked how she decided what to leave out, Furth expressed real regret that there wasn’t enough space to include all the characters.  For example, Susan Delgado’s aunt Cordelia, who played a big role in the book, isn’t in the comic book, just because of the need to cut the number of characters.  It’s the same with the Horseman’s Association.  There are lots of members in the book, but only a couple of them are needed for the comics.  The need to really focus the action means sticking to the major conflicts and the major battles that Roland faces, and the subplots tended to fall away.

Furth mentioned several times that the comic book format is so amazing for capturing the spirit of the stories.  She mentioned that the comic book world is new for her.  But in the Dark Tower series, comic books are always coming up, because King is such a big fan of comics.  Everyone on the call from Marvel agreed that the art for the comics is “inspired, just amazing looking stuff, really dynamic and really energetic.”

When asked how a visual adaptation to comics contrasts with a visual adaptation to movies, Furth said, “I’m not so sure we won’t see a movie or miniseries!”  However, she noted that comic books, unlike films, are so cool because you take them with you everywhere, and you can fall into them at any time.

As to the question of the appeal of the comics to people not acquainted with the Dark Tower saga, Furth noted that it’s almost a future version of our world.  The kind of corruption that Roland sees, the way the story begins with his test of manhood, the way his father tries to keep him safe by sending him to a place he thinks is really safe, and actually isn’t, shows a lot of similarities to what we go through in our own lives, where we have to learn the good aspects of the world and the bad, as we come of age.

Stephen King's The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born #1, hits stores on February 7th, has 48 pages loaded with content, including an exclusive story by Robin Furth.

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