Interview with Dan Abnett
Guardians of the Galaxy, Torchwood and more
By DJ Forrest
At the time of the Interview, Guardians of the Galaxy was only previewing the trailers, the film itself hadn’t aired in the
. My interest in the film had been primarily
Karen Gillan’s role as Nebula, but when I discovered that Dan Abnett had
written the comic book story involving the band of ‘criminals’ I wanted to know
Hi Dan, the film trailer looks awesome, and after extensive research I discovered that this story like so many before it derived from a comic book. When I looked even further there were many stories involving the Guardians of the Galaxy. I do have a couple of questions regarding the characters. First has to be, the fact that unlike other characters in say, The X Men, or the lone figures such as Batman, here we have a band of ‘criminals’?
To someone who hasn’t read the back story of the Guardians can you tell us a little bit more about them, especially to those of us who still haven’t seen the film?
Dan: The Guardians of the Galaxy were an original ‘cosmic’ Marvel superhero team created in the late sixties, who popped up from time to time in the Marvel Universe as guest stars. When I was working on Marvel’s cosmic titles, around 2008, I was drawing on the vast range of half-forgotten Marvel cosmic heroes as potential characters, and set up a team book made of some of my faves (Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora etc), who had basically been solo characters. They were all rogues and misfits, but I had them band together into a sort of ‘outlaw hero’ term. The team needed a name, so I borrowed the GOTG title from the almost dormant original team (totally different characters, set in the future). The new GOTG book became a hit, and to my surprise, Marvel Studios decided to use it - the team I put together and some of the tone and storyline - as a movie to expand their cinematic universe into the cosmic. I was amazed and delighted. The director, James Gun, acknowledged that my run on the book was the inspiration for the film, and I got set visits, screen credit etc. Slightly mind-blowing. And now those forgotten misfit characters are household names. Oddly, I have since taken the original 1969 team line-up, and rebooted that as Guardians 3000, bringing to the old (future) team back into the Marvel Universe. I don’t think you need to know much to enjoy the great movie: it’s superheroes in space, and it explains its core concepts as it goes along. And it’s immense fun.
They’re a very mixed bunch of characters, from human, animal and a walking tree! Why are they different from your usual team of heroes, and are they heroes?
Dan: Definitely heroes, just not ‘famous’ ones like the Avengers. They do what they do because it needs to be done, and no one really recognises them for their efforts and sacrifices. And they’re an odd bunch, but they’re aliens. Even the human-looking Star-Lord is not entirely an earth human.
How did you feel when you learnt the news that there would be a film of the comic book you created?
Dan: Shocked, puzzled, and then delighted.
As we do when we’re creating a character and we imagine their voice and who might play them, did you have an idea of who the characters would be in your head, and who had you considered to be the character played by Chris Pratt?
Dan: I guess I had voices for them when I was writing for them but - unusually for me - I did not ‘cast’ the characters to lock them down. I usually do that to give me some idea of how they act and what their presence is, imagining them as famous actors in a movie. But with GOTG, not so much…. ironically Chris is amazing as Star-Lord.
Did you also do the illustrations for the comic books, or have a say in how the characters would look?
Dan: I just write the scripts, but I do make a lot of suggestions about physical appearance, costume, etc. I work closely with the artists, devising and refining character designs when we create new things.
The character that is played by Karen Gillan in the film is as far as I’ve read, a villain, is her character true to the original idea?
Dan: Yes. Nebula was an older, pre-existing character that has gone through several visual make-overs during her comic lifetime, and the movie look is pretty close to the definitive Nebula in the comics. Karen looked amazing. Nebula is a villain, but (like Gamora) she has a complex backstory - she isn’t a born villain, just a dangerous individual who is the product of her upbringing and history.
How does it feel to have your creation immortalised on the big screen?
Dan: Gratifying but very weird. It’s odd to see them in the flesh (and odder still to actually meet them!)
Torchwood novel: The Border Princes was my first introduction to your writing and I loved the book. It was one of my first ever Torchwood novels and I couldn’t put it down. It did throw me at first that there was a stranger in the team. Where did the idea for The Border Princes come from?
Dan: Thank you. I was approached to write one of the first three Torchwood novels before there was a series to watch. It was being made, so there were just scripts to read, no footage to look at to gauge what it would actually be like. I visited the set, and got a full ‘briefing’ and during the visit I had the idea for the plot. Not sure where it came from, but the device of the ‘other’ character gave me some creative freedom, as we were working in the (semi) dark. I only saw the first episode after I’d finished the book, and was pleased and relieved to have got the right feel.
Writing what you do in both comic book and novel, have any of your story ideas, chapters etc, spooked you while you’ve been writing? That sense that someone is sitting behind you watching you from the dark corners of the room?
Dan: Surprisingly often. Sometimes they come to life and tell you what they’re doing. I don’t mean they manifest, I mean you find yourself writing stuff that you weren’t planning or expecting, and you realise the character has sort of drawn the story in their direction.
As this is another Marvel comic book story does this mean that there will be many more sequels to come?
Dan: GOTG? I believe the next film is already planned.
We recently reviewed your Who novel The Silent Stars Go By http://projecttorchwood.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/the-mothership-who-book-review-silent.html Were the Ice Warriors your favourite monsters from Classic Who?
Dan: I had several faves. I started watching Who when it was Jon Pertwee, so I love Silurians, Ogrons, Draconians etc. Ice Warriors were classic foes to me, but interesting because they weren’t actually ‘evil villains’. Also, they had a status in the canon that was surprising given their comparatively few TV appearances. They hadn’t been used in a while, and I requested them for the book. It took a while for approval because - unbeknownst to me - the TV was bringing them back. As it turned out, the return of the Ice Warriors was held over to the next season, so I got my go-ahead to use them.
Outside of the world of Who and the Guardians, have you written any other novels, and are they all horror/fantasy/sci-fi?
Dan: Yes, over fifty, and they’re mostly SF or fantasy. A couple of Dr Who novels, Primeval, Tomb Raider, a lot of Warhammer and Horus Heresy, a GOTG novel, an Avengers novel - out now - and several original novels.
You wrote Torchwood: Everyone says Hello for BBC Audio, will you be involved in Torchwood’s revival on Big Finish audios?
Dan: I haven’t been approached, but I’d be happy to. Writing for audio is a real pleasure, and a very stimulating challenge.
Are you involved in any new projects that we can look out for in the coming months?
Dan: I’m writing a Secret Wars series for Marvel, Masters of the Universe and the Flash for DC, another Tomb Raider book, plenty for 2000AD (Sinister Dexter, Kingdom, lawless and Grey Area), and I work a lot in games (Alien: Isolation and Shadow of Mordor, for example).
Thank you Dan for a wonderful interview.
Author photo by James K. Barnett