By Sean T. Collins
Here amid the crowds, sights, sounds, and occasionally smells of Comic-Con International in San Diego, it's tempting to wish that 99% of your fellow con-goers disappeared, if only to make it easier to get a decent seat during the Cup o' Joe panel. But as Stephen King showed us in his seminal post-apocalyptic horror saga "The Stand," wiping out humanity can be a lot more complex—and horrifying—than that.
When a government-made plague mows down nearly everyone on earth, the few survivors must band together either to survive, and it's up to writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to bring this conflict of Biblical proportions to life in the pages of Marvel's upcoming adaptation, beginning in September with the first of several limited series, THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS. We asked the writer about his King-fan background, his favorite moments in the book, and why THE STAND will make lovers of great storytelling stand up and take notice.
Marvel.com: For those who aren't familiar with it, what's the scoop on the story of "The Stand"?
To me, it's King's big, messy, American epic about, well, everything
—which begins, of course, with 99.4% of the world's population dying from a "super-flu." That's the first third of the novel. From there, you see the survivors—among the best characters King has created—being drawn towards two mythic figures: the kind-hearted Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg, aka the Dark Man, the Walking Dude. This leads, of course, to humanity's last stand—Good versus Evil—with salvation or damnation hanging in the balance.
Marvel.com: Were you a big King fan in general or "Stand" fan in particular before this assignment? What is it about his work, and this book in particular, that appeals to you?
When I was younger, in my teens, I had more time to read and I was a Stephen King fanatic. Hardcore. I was the guy who bought the hardcover on the day it was released and devoured the book in two or three days, reading non-stop. But then, as I got older, I found I had less and less time to read—my absorption-rate slowed down, too—and though I kept buying
Stephen King's books, and putting them on my shelves, I was less compulsive about reading them. I have since returned to the fold, and just finished "Duma Key." As for "The Stand," I think the first time I read it I was 13 [or] 14, over a weekend. Then I read it again after college, when I was about 20. It's one of the few books—especially of that length—that I've read multiple times. And I think one of the reasons "The Stand" appeals to me is how big-hearted it is, ultimately. And generous, in terms of storytelling, especially the expanded version. It's just a sprawling, fat, juicy saga that, once you get into it, you don't want it to end. I think I maybe even cried a little bit when I finished it, that first time I read it.
Marvel.com: Why do you think the book is such a favorite of King fans?
To me, it's all about the characters. The cast is huge, but every single one—even the secondary and tertiary characters we only spend a little time with, like Rita—are completely defined and individualized. The good guys, the bad guys, they're all shaded and complex. Which is obviously, hugely important since the book is a journey, basically, and you must want
to go on that journey with them.
Marvel.com: How did you land such a plum gig?
Basically, I auditioned for it. The editor working on THE STAND, Ralph Macchio, called me up and asked if I would be interested in writing my version of one of the novel's key scenes—when the hand of God appears in the skies above Las Vegas, if I'm remembering it correctly; this happened in [July of 2007]. And I did, and someone illustrated it, and that sample sequence was sent to the King, himself, and I guess he liked what he saw.
Marvel.com: How exactly is the comic going to break down the story?
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In total, the adaptation's going to run 30 issues, one issue coming out each month, basically broken down into three parts: Part One, "Captain Trips," runs 10 issues. Part Two, "On The Border," in which, basically, the survivors pick their sides, is going to run 15 issues, and Part Three, "The Stand" is going to run five issues. At least, that's the plan right now; things might shift, the adaptation might expand a few issues here and there if we need extra space to tell the story the way we want to tell it.
Marvel.com: Are there any characters you're particularly looking forward to bringing to funny book life?
They're literally all
great characters—there isn't a single one I'm not
excited to write—but I, personally, am most drawn to Fran, Stu, and Harold, to that triangle, because it feels so emotionally real to me. So truthful and painful. Maybe because the first time I read "The Stand," I immediately identified with poor, pathetic Harold, and I always secretly wanted him to get the girl. And Larry Underwood is a great character to write because he's such a hot mess.
Marvel.com: Any favorite scenes you can't wait to show?
I think [artist] Mike [Perkins] and I probably agree on this one: Larry's escape from New York via the corpse-choked Lincoln Tunnel. In the novel, that sequence is only a few pages long, but the idea
of it is terrifying to people in a primal way, I feel, and capturing that will be a lot of fun—and, needless to say, challenging. Probably we're going to expand that section in the adaptation—one of the few ones we will
expand—and maybe give it its own issue, since it's so visceral and horrifying. I'm also excited to get to Mother Abigail. She has a great back-story I want to explore and actually show. And Nick and Tom, their journey across the country, will be interesting to map-out. Including their run-in with a tornado, which I have an idea about…
Marvel.com: Can you wax philosophical a bit about the themes of the story?
All the big themes sandwiched between two covers. Like the Bible, in that way. Good and evil, loss and redemption, despair and hope, the needs of the individual versus the needs of society, personal faith versus organized religion, destiny versus free choice, and on and on.
Marvel.com: We're sort of saturated with post-apocalyptic fiction these days. Is it something in the air? What makes "The Stand," uh, stand out?
Two words: Stephen King. Also, remember that the apocalypse is only really the first third of the book. And that after that, in a weird way, it's about the birth of a new world. And don't forget that "The Stand" first came out in 1978, I think, and though it certainly wasn't the first
vision of a population decimated by a plague or whatever—See: "I Am Legend," for instance—you can definitely chart everything that's followed it. Like, for instance, the TV series "LOST." And Corman McCarthy's "The Road." And, well, on and on.
For up to the minute Marvel news spinning out of the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, visit the Marvel.com SDCC news hub. And while you're waiting in between announcements, spend some time over at Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!