Interview with Philip Pullman: “I have always loved comics, and now I am writing one of them”
Philip Pulman tells Nicolette Jones about his new graphic novel, which takes place on the high seas, and why he is going to endow the nation with his ponytail. In May 2017, David Fickling Books publishes a new graphic novel in one volume Philip Pullman titled “The Adventures of John Blake: the Mystery of the Ghost Ship” with illustrations by Fred Fordham. However, those who are already impatient can read the novel in the weekly issues of The Phoenix comic starting May 13th. As a kid, Pulman was a big fan of comics. He liked the British The Eagle and Luck of the Legion, as well as the American comic books featuring Superman and Batman, which he discovered when his family lived in Australia in 1956. It was impossible to find the latter in Great Britain, since parents and teachers were frightened by the alarmist treatise of Fredrick Wertham’s 1954 Seduction of the Innocent, who called the comics one of the causes of juvenile crime. The Eagle was more relaxed because it was edited by the vicar, Rev. Marcus Morris. As a seasoned expert, Pulman read the editions of the debut year of this comic book (1951), sitting in the Bodleian library. “It’s amazing how different the world was: the British anniversary exhibition, social optimism, the ideas of the welfare state,” Pulman tells me while we chat over tea at its publisher’s Oxford office. Morris’s moralizing tone reminded Pullman of his grandfather the priest and his “Talking with Youth” – a lesson on how to be a good boy: “They call you a sucker if you help other people. But it’s better to be a sucker than a boor. ” Bright Starts: As a child, Pulman loved comics Photo: Clara Molden for the Telegraph This childhood love of comics prompted Pulman to agree when David Fikling, publisher of The Dark Beginners, decided to release a comic book called The DFC a few years ago. and asked Pulman to write for him. The author came up with a boy on a ghost ship and began to develop the story, and promoted it, week after week, and at first he liked it, but because of the deadline constantly hanging over his soul, he “felt almost like a slave on galleys”. When the comic sank safely, Pullman was unable to let his main character sink to the bottom with him. He wanted to save this story. He shared his enthusiasm with Eileen Meisel, executive producer of the Golden Compass, and hoped to bring John Blake to the screen with her. Pullman wrote a new version of the story, turning it into a script for the film – only the name and concept are preserved from the original. Nothing happened with the film (yet), but in 2012, from the ashes of “The DFC”, justifying its new name, “The Phoenix” revolted, which now has exceeded its 200th edition. David Fickling changed the approach, Pullman reworked and supplemented the text, and the comic also had a new illustrator. Pullman’s first stories for DFC were drawn by John Eggs, a big fan of manga. Pullman admired his skill, but he doubted the mango style of the drawing. Fred Fordham was used to painting in a more traditional manner, and Pullman realized that such a more realistic art would better suit his cinematic concept. Fordham took the script as the basis, but brought his vision to the book. The negotiations between the author and illustrator in the publisher’s office led to some changes: “The siren can be blonde,” “John can be higher.” As a result, Pulman felt that the images created by common efforts “came very close” to the way he imagined this story, and even exceeded his expectations. The page from the comic book “The Adventures of John Blake” Illustrations: Fred Fordham / David Fickling Books The first nine frames do not have any words at all, so we focus entirely on the figure, being in the middle of the ocean. In the first episode, devoted to the frightening encounter of a cargo ship with a mysterious schooner, there are few dialogues at all. A schooner is Mary Alice, a time-traveling ghost ship whose crew consists of a boy, John Blake, a Roman (who speaks Latin) and an English sailor, Dick Merrifield, who was enslaved to the Berber pirates in the 17th century. Pullman relishes historical facts, and points out that such events could actually happen. He also really likes the accuracy of Fordham’s drawings, and he highly appreciates the artist’s research work. The plot has several independent lines that “intersect over time.” One of them tells about Roger Blake from the Admiralty, whose image is inspired by Pulman’s interest in James Bond (in his imagination, the role of Roger is played by Dominic West). Pullman’s favorite bonds are Sean Connery and Daniel Craig (who, incidentally, played Lord Azriel in The Golden Compass).