By Neil Kleid
Before taking a single step inside Marvel Comics' Dark Tower comic book universe, Robin Furth had to document Roland Deschain's early journey from its proud beginning to its eventual, sorrowful finale at Jericho Hill.
Under the watchful eye of novelist and creator Stephen King, Robin Furth has become a walking encyclopedia of Dark Tower legend and lore, and alongside Peter David, Jae Lee and Richard Isanove, she uses that knowledge to present Roland's unwritten back story in Marvel's DARK TOWER series, bringing to life stories and folklore only hinted at throughout King's best-selling novels.
In the second of our three-part, in-depth interview celebrating DARK TOWER: TREACHERY, the third limited series from Marvel series—the first part
of which is still available—Robin discusses the creative process, triumphs and tribulations and how to condense 700 pages into seven 22-page issues.
Marvel.com: Once the hands were shaken and the contracts signed, how did the process of creating the DARK TOWER comics get started? What's the typical writing process and does it change much with each consecutive series?
cover by Jae Lee
We were incredibly lucky in that we had about a year or so between the contracts being signed and the first issue of the first comic book being due for delivery. That was great for me, since it gave me plenty of time to work with the editors on the project—Ralph Macchio, John Barber, and Nicole Boose. They were great! My job was to plot out the tale from the time when Roland left Gilead for Hambry—the events recounted in "Wizard and Glass"—right through to the gunslingers' final stand at Jericho Hill. In other words, I had to cover the ground from Roland, age 14, to Roland, age 22. I also had to describe the huge transformations and upheavals that happen within Mid-World during that time span.
I really worked hard, and with lots of feedback from the editors I created a rough outline that covered the whole period. The plan was for me to create five story arcs of approximately six issues each, but as soon as I looked at the amount of ground we had to cover in order to retell the story of "Wizard and Glass," I knew we were going to have some problems.
As longtime Dark Tower fans know, "Wizard and Glass" is almost 700 pages long and absolutely packed with events. Because of this—and because I wanted to do justice to the novel—my first scene-by-scene outline was eight issues long. I managed to cut it down to seven, but when I tried to cut down to six, so much of the action had been axed that we all decided to go with seven issues for GUNSLINGER BORN and five for LONG ROA HOME. This felt right to me since the time period covered by LONG ROAD HOME was actually much briefer than the time period covered by GUNSLINGER BORN.
variant cover by
After finishing GUNSLINGER BORN, I moved on to expand the outline for LONG ROAD HOME and TREACHERY. I did these in fairly rapid succession since the juices were flowing and I wanted Jae, Richard, and Peter to have the extra info to turn to while they were working. My outlines then went to Jae, who broke my scene-by-scene story into a panel-by-panel, page-by-page comic book. At this point in the project, we started some round table discussions about what would work best on the page. This was great and I learned a lot, since Jae, Peter, and Richard have a tremendous amount of experience and skill. These days discussion about the story and the art is still a big part of the process. We've worked together for such a long time now that we all feel more comfortable. There is also a tremendous amount of mutual respect. I really have to stress how lucky I feel, having the chance to work on DARK TOWER. How many newcomers to comics have a chance to work with such talented and accomplished folks?
Not many! While the talented and accomplished creative team adapted GUNSLINGER BORN from the fourth novel, "Wizard and Glass" as you mentioned, the rest of the comics venture into new territory with new material. What are the hard and fast rules of crafting never before seen Dark Tower stories?
Robin Furth: I think the most important part is to remain true to the story and to the tale that Stephen King tells in the Dark Tower novels. Throughout the books, Roland Deschain tells us bits and pieces about his personal history and about the trials he faced both after leaving Hambry and during the difficult period that led to the Battle of Jericho Hill. It was these tales that I wove together to create the plots of LONG ROAD HOME and TREACHERY. My aim has always been to flesh out the tales in a way that is true to both the characters and the world they come from. So far Steve King has been pleased, and so as long as he gives his stamp of approval, I'm happy!
Marvel.com: How much of the story has already been plotted?
As I said, we have a general outline that goes all the way to the Battle of Jericho Hill, but the more detailed outlines only go up to TREACHERY. I have a lot of exciting work ahead of me!
Marvel.com: Of course the stories you, Stephen and Peter create end up beautifully illustrated by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove. What's the collaborative process like between DARK TOWER writers and artists? Are you big on detailed panel descriptions or do you place faith in Jae and Richard's skill and experience?
In my outlines, I try to tell the tale with enough visual detail to get Jae and Richard's imaginations going. My aim is really to get across Steve's vision, as well as the world and the characters as they appear in his novels. From there, Jae and Richard create something unique, beautiful, and utterly awe-inspiring. The same goes for Peter's scripts. They bring the tale to life, which is very moving for me, since as I said I've been living in Mid-World for a very long time. All of these separate parts of the process—outlines, art, and script—go through Steve as well, which is as it should be! He has final say on everything.
Marvel.com: What's been the biggest triumph thus far in writing the DARK TOWER comics? Which moment can you point to proudly and say, "that one's mine"?
To tell the truth, for me the biggest triumph has been the comics themselves! I've never had the chance to take part in this kind of collaboration before, and I think it's amazing to watch this comic book come into being that is so much bigger than any single person. I mean, every one of us has put our whole
heart into this. I've brought my knowledge of the original tales and of Mid-World and its people. Jae and Richard have fleshed out the landscape and the people with their fantastic art, and they have given the stories an incredible dynamism. Peter has given the characters voices by creating superb dialogue, and has maintained a terrific narrator's voice, which holds the tale together. What a treat! It makes me think that if only we human beings could learn to work together like this in other aspects of life, the world really would become a much better, more peaceful place.
Marvel.com: Besides co-writing the main stories, you're also providing back matter for the books in the form of articles, maps and biographies. How much of the material comes from the "Concordance" and how much is brand new?
I'm really glad you asked this question because I think it's something that many readers want to know more about. Every article and every biography is based in Mid-World history and Mid-World folklore, but I've also had to do a lot of imagining and expanding. Often I try to bring many different bits of history together, and by so doing give readers a deeper insight into what it means to live in Mid-World. I definitely see these tales and articles as a continuation of the "Concordance," but they are simultaneously something new. Each article or tale is designed to work with the issue in which it appears. For example, in TREACHERY, we meet a new character named Aileen Ritter. She's Cort's niece and she wants more than anything to train as a gunslinger. Problem is, girls aren't allowed to be gunslingers. Hence the article accompanying that particular issue is about a woman's place in Mid-World, and about how girls like Aileen would like to see it change…
Go pick up the first issue of THE DARK TOWER: TREACHERY right now, look for issue #2 on October 8, and check back for the final part of our conversation with Robin Furth coming soon here on Marvel.com!