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Chuck Dixon & Andie Tong Reveal the Secrets of Adapting Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time: Eye of the World

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Eye of the World comicsYou can’t talk about epic fantasy literature without tipping your hat to Robert Jordan (a.k.a. James Oliver Rigney, Jr.), who wrote the mega-bestselling series The Wheel of Time. Originally slated to encompass six novels, this complex and engaging tale, centering on the struggle of good versus the forces of the Dark One, will clock in at an amazing 14 novels by 2012.

Robert Jordan’s fertile universe has now expanded into games and a possible movie, and it was only a matter of time (ha) before it was translated into the visual world of comics. Dynamite Entertainment took up the challenge in 2010, creating its popular comic book series, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World, with veteran writer Chuck Dixon at the helm. As part of Dynamite Month, we interviewed Dixon and returning artist Andie Tong about the ups and downs of adapting Wheel of Time! Plus, we’ve got an exclusive five-page preview of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World #14, with art by Marcio Fiorito (Andie Tong returns as of issue #19, due out this December!).

TFAW.com: As a veteran comics writer who has worked on everything from Batman, to The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, and now Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World, how do you approach the process of writing?

Chuck Dixon: Well, like most writers, the bulk of the work is done in my head. I’m working all the time! The time spent at the keyboard getting it down is actually the smallest portion of my schedule.

But that’s the part I enjoy most, organizing my thoughts and laying down the words. The “big picture” aspect of outlining and plotting is like work. But describing the actions, supplying voices for the characters and blocking it all out—that’s the part I get lost in.

Wheel of Time Eye of The World #14 Page 1TFAW.com: What’s it like adapting a dense, well-loved novel like Eye of the World?

CD: It’s intimidating and challenging. I have to keep in mind the millions of fans this series has, as well as staying true to Robert Jordan’s vision and his marvelous cast of characters. My job is not that of an auteur. I’m there to translate the novels into the language of comics. That means thinking first in strictly visual terms at first and deciding how to pace out Jordan’s text. And I use only Jordan’s text unless I absolutely have to create a new caption or segue.

TFAW.com: Have you updated the book at all in the process?

CD: Again, I’m the invisible hand here. It’s not my story to tell–it’s only my story to present in graphic novel form. That said, I have had a few opportunities to expand action scenes. Action in prose and action in comics are presented differently and require me to open my toolbox and make them as dramatic as I can so the artists can really go to town. There’s not really anything I don’t like. Jordan was not writing for comics, obviously, so I sometimes have to telescope a scene so we don’t have repetitive visuals–or expand on one, if there’s an opportunity for some eye candy. But that’s what they pay me for.

TFAW.com: Can you bring new readers up to speed on Wheel of Time: Eye of the World?

CD: Ba’alzamon, the ultimate baddest of the bad guys, begins a campaign of terror against our heroes. Especially Rand. He finds them through their dreams and things get ugly. Nynaeve rejoins the group and brings her own brand of action along with her. And the group is split into three parts after fleeing from Shadar Logoth and the journey to find each other again provides a lot of suspense.

TFAW.com: What’s your experience been like working for Dynamite?

CD: I’ve known Nick [Barrucci, Dynamite Entertainment President] forever. He’s a stand-up guy and is always, always, absolutely honest and real. So, I know where I stand and I know I’m in a good place. That’s way more than I can say about a lot of comic outfits. Dynamite is good people.

Wheel of Time Eye of The World #14 Page 2TFAW.com: Who are your influences?

CD: Too many to count! As Nietzsche said, “a writer uses his own and his friends’ intellects.” I’m a compulsive reader and go through phases with certain authors. Lately I’ve been getting a lot from P.G. Wodehouse and Little Lulu comics.

TFAW.com: What advice to you have for people trying to break into the comics industry?

CD: Persistence. Just keep charging that hill. If you have a burning desire to tell stories, and won’t be happy unless that’s how you make your way in life, then you have to stick to it no matter how high the rejection pile reaches. I know it’s the hardest thing in the world to do; get up after you’ve been knocked down and your ego’s been gored. But you’re never going to prove them all wrong if you walk away.

TFAW.com: What other projects are you working on now?

CD: I’m currently working on G.I. Joe and Snake Eyes and Transformers: Infestation for IDW, as well as scripts for The Simpsons for Bongo. I have a story in SpongeBob SquarePants #5, also from Bongo. I have a short story in an upcoming Lone Ranger anthology I’m excited about, and I’m writing a sequel to my SEAL Team 6 novel for Dynamite that will be out before Christmas.

TFAW.com: Hi Andie! You’re back, starting with issue #19, after a seven-issue break. What brought you back to WOT: Eye of the World?

Andie Tong: I’m a big fan of Wheel of Time. So I never really left. When I first started reading the novels, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if this was turned into a comic!” Now I’ve actually been given the opportunity to work on it. So it’s pretty much been a dream come true for me. If I could, I would love to be able complete the entire series. All 14 novels! Heh. It’s wishful thinking on my part, but one can always dream. I love fantasy, sword, dragons. and sorcery. So this project’s been perfect for me at the moment.

Wheel of Time Eye of The World #14 Page 3I unexpectedly ended up taking some time off to sort some family matters out, and when it came time to get back into it, it took me awhile to get started. It was around this time also that I decided to transition from drawing my pages traditionally to a full digital process. It took me a bit longer to adjust then I’d originally foreseen, so my editor wisely suggested I continued my tenure on WOT after the seven-issue break just to catch things up a bit.

TFAW.com: How did you go about creating the look of Eye of the World?

AT: A huge part of it would have been while reading the novels. With the very descriptive texts of Mr. Jordan, I couldn’t help but conjure up images, scenery, and the characters that populate the world of WOT. In addition, It was inevitable that I would be influenced by all the other fantasy-type media that had gone on before. Artwork by famous fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta and John Howe were an inspiration. Movies like Fire and Ice, Willow, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy are all huge influences.

The other part, of course, was beyond my control. Since I came on board drawing WOT from issue seven onwards, the main characters had already been long established by [previous artist] Chase Conley. The great thing is that both Chase and myself share similar visions for the characters of WOT. So in this particular situation, drawing characters designed by another artist has been pretty smooth and also done with great pleasure.

TFAW.com: With so many characters in play, how do you give each of them his or her own personality?

AT: I must admit, I don’t draw faces very well. I still have a long way to go, and I think that faces are probably one of the hardest things to master. Besides that, there are so many facial expressions people can have. I probably have only learned happy, sad, and angry. Oh, and curious. You know, the one with the one raised eyebrow.

Wheel of Time Eye of The World #14 Page 4So I try to use different tactics when it comes to giving each character its own unique personality. Different hair, shape of their face, body size, stance, height, and eyes. Even the clothes they wear help me establish the characters I’m drawing. I feel that the hair and eyes, though, are the most important. With the hair alone, you can create a few different characters with roughly the same face. Its a cheat way of creating different characters in comics. (Shhhh . . . ) Somehow manga and anime has managed to do that for years. So in a sense, I’ve borrowed that technique. If a character ever got a haircut however, I’d be pretty much stuffed!

When it came to drawing the character of Min from WOT, I tried to make sure she had a unique feature that would set her apart from the rest, knowing that she would be going through some changes in her appearance later on in the storyline. She will, I hope, be recognizable even with a different haircut and attire. What did I do? I gave her dimples. Uhhmm . . . thinking about it more now, though, maybe I should have given that one a bit more thought. I did toy with the idea of giving her a beauty spot on her cheek or something, but because there are strict guidelines to adhere to the description of the novels, and I thought maybe adding things like a birth mark or a mole might be vetoed by the editors.

TFAW.com: Two years ago, we got a peek at some of the concept art for this project by Chase Conley. How did you alter them, if at all?

AT: As I mentioned earlier, I’m a big fan of what Chase did with the characters. So I didn’t really have to do much with the designs. I just gave each character more embellishments and accessories. I love accessories! I gave each character more pouches to carry, pocket knives to sheath, more buckles, and more belts. After all, these characters are on an adventure-filled journey, they would need to have the extra pocket space, right? Surely. Heh. So other then that, Chase’s designs were quite solid, and I didn’t think they needed much alteration.

TFAW.com: What’s your favorite part of drawing Eye of the World?

Wheel of Time Eye of The World #14 Page 5AT: Naturally, I enjoy drawing the main characters. If I didn’t, it would’ve been a real problem, since they appear in almost every single page of the book! Heh. Apart from that is being able to draw, create, and somewhat design the creatures and monsters of the world. Because I’ve read a few novels ahead, I know how many more cool creatures are yet to pop up in the series to come. For example, I’m really looking forward to tackling the Raken, the Darkhounds, the Grolm, and the like.

Another part is drawing the scenery. I love drawing organic subjects. Trees, hills, rivers, mountains. The fact that I don’t have to use a ruler for any of these subjects is a bonus. I love the fact that I have the freedom to create breathtaking imaginary scenery. Throwing a rock there, a tree there, a waterfall here. Furthermore, with the environment being a fantasy world, I can make things up that are impossible in our world, but completely viable in the world of WOT.

TFAW.com: Looking at your art, there’s a feeling of joy that comes through, as well as a sense of humor. Do you ever have to tamp that down to suit the story?

AT: I think as an artist I have to be somewhat sensible and sensitive to the subject matter and plot. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’d tamp it down, but more tailor it to suit the scene. I love drawing and I love WOT. So I think the joy will come through my artwork no matter what scene is required.

TFAW.com: Like Chuck, you’ve had a fair amount of experience in superhero comics, as well as fantasy. Do you have a preference?

AT: I like both equally. I’ve grown up reading all genres of comics. Both have very different aspects to enjoy. Dragons, monsters, sword, and sorcery on one hand; fantastical-powered beings, both female and male, on the other. What’s not to like? It’s every kid’s dream as an aspiring artist. The first thing anyone thinks of when you think of an artist would be someone that draws portraits, scenery, and still life. For the most part, when I was growing up, a lot of young artists were groomed for that path. So when an artist gets to draw these fantastical beings, it’s something an artist should never take for granted.

Wheel of Time Eye of The World #19The best part, though, for drawing both genres, is being able to conceptualize the extras. Humble inconsequential John and Jane Doe. Make them up: big, small, fat, thin, short, or tall. Sometimes when I enter a project, the main antagonist and protagonist are already designed. So I have no say with these designs, and I just have to stick with it. So when it comes time to drawing background people, that’s when I can be creative and go wild. Although it takes time, I love drawing crowds. If only time wasn’t such a constraint in this industry eh?

TFAW.com: What types of comics would you like to tackle next?

AT: More Wheel of Time definitely. If time permits, I would actually like to tackle an original idea for a children’s illustrated storybook. After working with HarperCollins for almost four years, and even though I worked on established licenced characters, I have had a taste for illustrating children’s books. I’d really like to do more. I’ve got a few ideas brewing, so it’s just a matter of finding the time to execute the plan. Outside of those, I would love to tackle a creator-owned title. Something in horror. Have we had enough zombies yet?

Our thanks to Chuck and Andie for taking us behind the scenes of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World comics! Pre-order every issue here and save 20-35%. Plus, don’t forget: this month, all of Dynamite’s October-catalog pre-orders are a whopping 35% off. Get cracking, comics fans!

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Written by Elisabeth@TFAW

Elisabeth has been reading comics since we was a wee girl. She's obsessed with John Byrne, Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and making the perfect scrambled eggs. Follow her on @Twitter to get bonus conversations with her cat!