HEAT VISION

'The Magicians' Coming to Comics in 2019

Author Lev Grossman and the creative team behind 'The Magicians: Alice's Story' discuss adapting the 2009 novel from a different perspective.
Steve Morris/Boom! Studios
Author Lev Grossman and the creative team behind 'The Magicians: Alice's Story' discuss adapting the 2009 novel from a different perspective.

Next summer, there’s going to be an all-new way for people to enter Brakebills College. Boom! Studios has acquired the comic book and graphic novel license to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and The Hollywood Reporter can exclusively reveal that the first release as part of the deal will be an original graphic novel by Lilah Sturges and Pius Bak titled The Magicians: Alice’s Story.

Scheduled for release in July 2019, Alice’s Story will adapt and expand upon the mythology of the first novel in Grossman’s series, refocusing the narrative from the point of view of Alice Quinn as she joins Brakebills and discovers the magical world of Fillory. In addition to debuting the cover to the graphic novel by Steve Morris (above), THR also spoke with the creative team, The Magicians creator Lev Grossman and Boom! Studios executive editor Sierra Hahn about the title.

There’s something about expanding the Magicians canon with comic books that feels at once surprising and entirely natural. Where did this start? Who approached who?

Lev Grossman: Comics have always been a big part of my reading life — Watchmen in particular was a major major influence on The Magicians — so I’ve always hoped this story could play as a comic someday. I had actually been trying for years to make it happen, but I kept getting hung up on rights issues and things like that. When it was finally free, I brought the idea to Boom! Studios, and it was clear right away that they knew what to do with it.

Lilah Sturges: I received a call more or less out of the blue from Sierra Hahn asking if I’d be interested in the project and I leapt at the opportunity because I absolutely adored the novels. I’d actually sworn off doing adaptations forever, but this one was too good to pass up.

Pius Bak: Before The Magicians, for quite a while I had been in touch with one of the editors at Boom! Studios. They, from time to time, would ask me about my availability and offer really cool projects to work on. I could never do it because I would always be working on something else at those times. and I always regretted it. But after some time stars aligned, my schedule freed up and I received an offer to draw The Magicians. Pretty lucky.

What has the process been like? It’s one thing for books — or movies, or TV shows — to have comic book spinoffs that are in their own worlds, for want of a better way to put it — the Star Trek comics, the original Star Wars comics — but Alice’s Story is an addition to the actual canon of the novels. Does this mean lots of secret meetings? Is there a secret history of Brakebills contained in email exchanges?

Grossman: Honestly, I expected a lot of wrangling and turbulence and epic struggles for control. I am not a natural collaborator; I can be as fussy and possessive as any creative person. But it never happened. The epic struggles never materialized. I had never met Lilah before this, but her intuitive feel for this world and these characters was almost psychically perfect, both with the original elements and the many new things she came up with. She kept opening new doors, and I’d look in and think ‘Oh, of course — that must have been there all along.’

Sturges: It was a very organic process. I suggested that it might be fun to do Alice’s perspective on the events of the novel rather than simply retell the story through Quentin’s eyes. I wasn’t sure if Lev would go for it but to my delight, he was all for it. Once I started turning in script pages it became obvious that Lev and I had very similar ideas about what the comic should be, and he gave me lots of leeway to tell the story the way I wanted to.

Sierra Hahn: It would have been pretty exciting to have hosted secret meetings in order to bring Alice’s experience of this world to life, but Lilah came into The Magicians fully inhabiting Alice’s world view, struggle and achievements. I know I wasn’t in the room as Lilah delved deeper and deeper into the work, but as her editor it felt like a completely organic, free-flowing experience. Each of us comprising this team devoured the magic of Lilah’s craft and her connection to Alice.

Grossman: Probably my only consistent note was to make Quentin slightly more charming. One of the mysteries of Alice is her genuine love and desire for Quentin — who’s a polarizing character — and since we’re seeing him through Alice’s eyes, I wanted people to be able to feel that.

Sturges: It is a struggle to make Quentin likeable; I want to hate him… but like Alice I keep coming back to him!

I want to ask, "Why Alice?", but I also think that’s relatively obvious because Alice is an amazing — and also importantly, popular — character. Lev, you said that Lilah came to you with the idea, but I’m still curious: Why is Alice the focus of the first book?

Grossman: Only Lilah knows for sure, but it makes a lot of sense. She’s up there on everybody’s list of favorite characters, and she has all these powerful extreme emotions and experiences, but unlike Julia and even Janet she’s hardly ever a point-of-view character in the books. It’s way past time that she got to tell her own story.

Sturges: When I went back and re-read the novel in order to come up with my take on it, I kept noticing that Alice is a protagonist in her own right; she makes big choices that deeply affect the outcome of the story. In some ways, she’s actually the hero of the story, By the time I’d finished the book, I knew I wanted to tell the story from her point of view and I was delighted that Lev was on board for it.

Hahn: Adaptations of novels don’t really interest me unless you can bring something new and uniquely comics to the world through the pacing, the art, the pared-back but impactful language of the medium. I’ve done adaptations before and have been so lucky to work with storytellers who want to bend some of what we know from the books and take the reader deeper into a place or person previously unexplored but with a full life of their own. Alice was my favorite character from the start and such a natural protagonist who would compel new audiences to discover The Magicians for the first time, while giving longtime fans something familiar and exciting to chew on.

The Magicians as a comic book property is an expansion that comes with all kinds of narrative/formal pluses — there are things that comics can do, especially in the realms of visualizing impossible things, better than any other medium, as far as I’m concerned. But in your minds, what is it about the idea of bringing Brakebills College to comics that is most exciting, both as creators and also for fans?

Grossman: The big, obvious thing is that you can see the magic. I’ve so often felt — when reading fantasy, or seeing it onscreen — that we’re not allowed to sit and linger with the magic, to look directly at it and feel its magical-ness. People always under-describe magic, and cut away, I suppose to maintain the mystery. In a comic the magic can’t get away. And then there’s the way comics are so much about interiors and exteriors — you hear people’s thoughts, as in a novel, but you can see their faces, like in a movie. If that’s not magic I don’t know what is.

Bak: I believe it is so much easier to draw magic than it is to put it into a movie or a TV series. That is why we are able to pack more of it in using this medium. We are able to design every creature, every landscape or castle in the way we want, without any limitations. I can’t imagine what it takes to animate a walking tree and to put it into a movie. Budget and time limitations allow us to create only so much CGI, but in comics, drawing fantasy is easy and we can create as much of it as we wish and put it into a book.

Sturges: One of my favorite things about comics is how it allows the reader to proceed visually through the story at their own pace. When I saw Pius’s big two-page spread of Brakebills for the first time I just sat and stared at it for maybe a full minute. It’s so fully realized, and the medium of comics lets me linger on these magical images as much as I want to. I think comics is also a perfect medium for showing magic, because there’s no uncanny valley in comics. Magical things are rendered precisely as realistically as everything else. When we’re watching TV or a movie, there’s some part of us that looks at the magical bits and knows it’s special effects. But in comics there are no special effects. Every image is a coherent whole.

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