American Gods is having a moment. Neil Gaiman originally published the novel in 2001 and fans have been following the television adaptation for years as it bounced from network to network before settling on Starz. And just when the television show was poised to give eager audiences a new way to experience the work, Dark Horse Comics announced their own comic book adaptation of the novel.
Following the original source material closely, the comics present readers with an entirely new way to look at American Gods. P. Craig Russell masterfully adapts Neil Gaiman’s words, lifting lines directly from the novel to fit concisely in each issue of the comic book. He certainly puts letterer Rick Parker and artist Scott Hampton through the ringer with how much character development and exposition they can stuff into each issue.
We were fortunate enough to be able to speak with Scott Hampton about his work on American Gods, as well as talking to David Mack about the variant covers he creates for the series. Hampton’s explanation of what a page looks like when he gets it is fascinating and Mack’s experience listening to the audiobook had a definite effect on the covers he’s produced, among other interesting tidbits of information.
Read on for the entire interview and don’t forget to pick up American Gods #6, out today, wherever you get your comics!
How did you get involved with the American Gods comic?
David Mack: Exactly one year ago today (July 21, 2016), I was doing a signing for Fight Club here at the Dark Horse booth and the editor, Daniel Chabon, came up to me and said, “I noticed you were doing some prints and other stuff with Neil Gaiman. I’ve got this project, would you be interested in doing covers for American Gods?” So, he mentioned it right here while I was signing and I was like, “Count me in!”
Scott Hampton: That’s perfect! One year ago today, right here.
DM: One year later, here we are.
Scott, how did you get involved?
SH: Craig Russell contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in doing it.
Just that easy?
SH: Yeah, yeah. Well, no, it wasn’t quite that easy. At that point, we were talking to a number of publishers. When Dark Horse won the publishing rights, there was some talk about possibly talking to some other artists. Ultimately, they may have called some other people, but I ended up getting it. I’m not sure quite why, but it wasn’t just, “It’s done.”
Had you read the book before starting work on this project?
SH: No, I had not.
DM: Once Chabon asked, once he told me about that and we confirmed that I was doing the covers, I got the audio of the book. I love audiobooks because I can get work done and I can listen to stuff. When I’m working, I put on commentaries, like film commentaries I can listen to or documentaries or interviews. So it keeps you engaged with humanity, but you don’t have to look at it and you can actually do your work.
DM: I loved listening to the audio of American Gods and I was doing it, maybe appropriately enough, while traveling. So most of the time, I was listening to it, it was just iPod in my ears when I was on a bicycle, an airplane, in a car, with other people listening to it at the same time, sharing the same headphones.
DM: I would use it to fall asleep in hotel rooms at night. So I’d be like, “Okay, that was a big day, I’m just going to chill out, listen to American Gods in my ear until I just fall asleep.” And that’s how I’d fall asleep the whole time.
SH: That’s excellent.
DM: Because of that, I was getting it in kind of a dreamy state of where I was sleeping through some chapters, replaying them the next day, putting it back – missing some orders, but putting it together – relistening to things several times. It was a dreamy way to inhale it.
Did that inspire any of your work at all?
DM: While I was doing that, I was tinkering with ideas. Making layouts, making lists of what characters I wanted to do and what attributes visually those characters would have while I was listening to it.
Scott, what does the script look like when you get it? Because the pages are packed.
SH: The script is the page. What I get is the lettered page from Rick Parker, the letterer, and that came from Craig to him as a rough on the page itself, with all the letters of every word written by Craig in the balloons. The balloons are ellipsed and the number of the ellipse is put off to the side for the letterer, just in case he needs that. We are talking serious detail when it comes to how Craig is thinking about the visual storytelling.
SH: Then the rest of the layout is mostly cartoony looking Harvey Kurtzman-esque looking layouts. What’s funny is, on occasion, Craig can’t help himself. He’s like any artist, you do layouts long enough, you can’t help but noodle it a little bit and you find yourself drawing a little bit and I always just feel like, “Craig, I’m sorry to do it man, but if you’re going to do the work, I will let you. I’m sorry, I’ll paint that up!”
What’s been the biggest challenge in adapting American Gods?
SH: Craig can answer that one best because he’s the one actually doing that, but I think the adaptation – the biggest thing is what to leave out. There’s a moment where a character, Wednesday, meets Shadow at a hotel room door and Shadow sees that there’s a woman in the bed with him. They have a conversation the next morning about that and it’s an interesting bit of character play for Wednesday.
SH: Craig omitted that from that moment, he may bring it back up later, he may feel like there is another time when Wednesday’s charm offensive can be mentioned, so that’s the thing. It’s like what to omit, when to bring it back in, those kinds of things I think are very, very important.
SH: Past that, it’s just the pacing. There’s a lot of exposition, there’s a lot of slowburn to this book, and then it really takes off like a rocket. It’s not perfect for a 22-page floppy every month because people are going to go, “Wow, when is this thing going to kick in?”
SH: Well, if it were just in your hands as a trade paperback for nine issues, it wouldn’t be a problem. That’s not to say that people should just wait for the trade, buy the comics! Absolutely! It’s fun to get those little pieces, just understand that it’s going to actually go faster and be more involved once it gets to about the seventh issue.
David, did you have any challenges in adapting covers at all?
DM: Yeah, you know with a cover you’re trying to crystalize one single image. So I start out with a whole bunch of different ones that I think are cool and I have to narrow it down. Really what my job is is to engage the people who aren’t already going to buy it and know it’s coming out and order it, to make sure they see it from across the room, to make sure it stands out from all the other things on the shelf, and hopefully make them walk towards it and pick it up. So I look at it that way. And sometimes that’s a part of my choice in what I choose for the image to be.
DM: I might go, “Oh I think this is a really cool image to do!” But I think well, I’m going to simplify it to a certain degree and go in this direction because I think that’s what’s going to engage people not only close up, but also from a distance and not only large, but also from a tiny image that they might see online in order to make them click it and make it bigger. So I think in those terms, in terms of what is really the function of the cover in terms of grabbing people’s attention and making them pick it up and open it.
Have you read the book since you started adapting it for comics?
SH: I have read most of it, but I’ve also sort of skipped pieces so I can keep it fresh.
Have either of you watched the television show?
Are you planning to watch it at all?
SH: I’ll watch it when I’m done.
DM: I’ve seen the first three episodes, I love it. I totally want to see it, so the next chance I get to watch all of it – I think the first season’s all out and I want to watch it all as soon as I can. I feel very engaged in the project. Seeing the tv show, seeing what Craig is doing, seeing what Scott is doing, every little bit and part of it that I get, I think of it as a continuum of the story and feel happy to be engaged. I feel inspired and engaged.
SH: It’s so multifaceted.
Were there any difficulties with the ‘Made in America’ stories that have been done by other artists? I love the idea of bringing in separate artists to do some of the work – especially that very first ‘Made in America’ segment in the first issue.
SH: Craig, of course, is going to grab that one for himself because he’s a selfish guy – no, I’m kidding! Craig set that up initially and chose that 4-pager for himself to do to say, “Look, there’s going to be this variety. We’re going to have these moments where another voice is going to come in.” And I just love it.
SH: The people he’s got going, Colleen Doran, Walt Simonson, all of these people, Glenn Fabry is doing one of them, he’s doing a beautiful job. That adds that extra texture as David was mentioning. It’s impossible to snare it. It’s like trying to herd cats. There’s no way you can take the story and just confine it and say, “Here it is, this is the definitive idea.” It exists in its own dreamscape.
SH: You kind of have to just believe that it all exists together. There are things that are going to deny its own continuity. The Buffalo Man that Glenn Fabry came up with is not the one that is in the comic, they’re slightly different. And that’s good. That way everyone is kept on their toes, no one is thinking, “We’re locking this in.” Instead, their imagination is in play as well, their version of what Shadow looks like is not obviated by mine. You know? I think it’s nice to have a certain amount of flexibility.