George R.R. Martin spoke with William Christensen, publisher and editor in chief of Avatar Press, to promote their new collaborative comic book effort, In the House of the Worm. He also discussed his history with comics fandom, how the success of the Game of Thrones TV show has changed his experiences as a fan, and weighed in on Marvel vs. DC.
The first issue of In the House of the Worm is debuting here at Comic-Con, while Avatar’s previous Martin adaptation, Skin Trade, is (appropriately?) now collected in trade format. Signed editions of both will be available at Avatar’s booth in the Exhibition Hall. Hit the jump for my In the House of the Worm Comic-Con panel recap.
In the House of the Worm is a comic adaptation of a novella Martin wrote in the early ’80s. The novella was inspired by the work of Jack Vance, whom Martin cites as one of his favorite science fiction novelists since childhood — “He was doing great work into his 90s and I hope to emulate him,” Martin said. He described the story as set in a world where the sun is going out and people have descended into the earth. “It’s a very decadent society; they’re eating worms and having meaningless sex.” Despite the challenges of adapting a story set nearly entirely in pitch blackness into a visual medium, Martin said he was pleased with the art by Ivan Rodriguez. The text adaptation is by John Joseph Miller.
Skin Trade, meanwhile, is based off another novella Martin wrote in the late ’80s for Dark Harvest’s Night Visions series. Martin described it as “a horror story mixed with a noir hardboiled detective story — a hardboiled detective werewolf story!” It originally appeared in the same volume as three short stories by Stephen King — a fact that excited Martin at the time and then, he said, caused anxiety when Martin initially blew his deadline. He chucked, acknowledging this tendency with his deadlines.
Martin spoke in great detail about his history as a fan of comics — and with comics fandom. “I am the first comic fan,” he said, recalling attending a comic convention in New York in 1964. “Thirty people showed up. My badge said No. 1 because I was the first to show up.”
He described growing up Bayonne, New Jersey: “My world was five blocks long. My lifelong desire was to experience more than those five blocks. Comics and sci-fi took me to other places.” The purpose of fiction, Martin said, is to fulfill vicarious experience, quoting his own Song of Ice and Fire: “The reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” Martin related this to his own (reading) life: “I’ve climbed mountains and I’ve loved thousands of beautiful women.”
Martin recalled reaching a point where “I decided I was too old and sophisticated and stopped buying comics — for about a year or two.” Then he stumbled across a copy of Fantastic Four #4 and was rehooked. “The Fantastic Four in 1961 was such a revelation to me because they were nothing like the Justice League at the time,” he said. “They had real conflict. The Marvel characters had a depth that the more traditional DC characters did not. Spider-Man was constantly having self-doubt. He was a great hero but he still couldn’t get laid.”
One aspect of comic book writing he did not embrace, Martin said, was their tendency to bring every character back from the dead — including Wonder Man. He referenced the joke about Uncle Ben being the only character who stays dead. “Death should hurt,” he said, admitting that he had some fears that audiences would react negatively to Ned Stark’s death on the Game of Thrones TV show — as they had to the death of Linda Hamilton’s character on Beauty and the Beast, for which Martin wrote, when she left the show. “Ratings plummeted.” Obviously that didn’t happen with Game of Thrones: “I don’t know if the modern audience is more bloody than the audience of 1989…” Martin said. Either way, however, he stood by his handling of major deaths. “I want my readers to feel emotion.”
Martin’s start as a writer could be traced back to his fan letters to The Avengers and other comics. He remembered writing to praise the introduction of Wonder Man in Avengers #9. “He’s really a plant sent to destroy the Avengers, but when the time comes he can’t bring himself to do it. So he rebels against his masters and dies heroically. I’ve been stealing that ever since,” Martin joked.
Later he moved on to writing for fanzines because he read them and thought, “Even I can do better than that!” When asked why he still likes to go to even very small conventions, he quoted his wife, who he met at a con: “At last my people! I have found you!” However, he added, “I have to admit there’s a dark side to the popularity of the [Game of Thrones] show. In the last few years I’ve become a celebrity. It does sadden me that I can’t walk the floor at Comic Con” without being bombarded, he said.
Martin admitted to experiencing “anxiety when you turn a work over for adaptation. You’re taking your kid to school for the first time — will they have a great experience or will the place turn out to be run by child molesters who will sell the kids for experiments?” (“That’s probably a worst-case scenario,” laughed Christensen.) However, Martin said he was pleased with how his work has been adapted, both in the context of the Avatar Press comics and Game of Thrones. “The best adaptations, they add something to it. Each of these mediums is different. Images not only bring the story to life but add something.”
Martin was equally egalitarian toward short form versus long form works. “I don’t think of the forms as that different,” he said, acknowledging that some writers view them as requiring entirely separate approaches. “Me, I just start writing a story, and when it’s done I look at the word count and say, ‘Oh, I wrote a novella!’ And sometimes,” he added with a chuckle, “I look at it and say, ‘Oh, I’m writing a giant seven-book series.'”
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