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A preacher commanding the word of God, his hired gun of an ex-girlfriend and an alcoholic vampire walk into a bar. Moments later, a teenager with the face of a rear end stops in, and minutes after that, an immortal cowboy packing heavenly firepower follows suit.
This isn’t an exact scene ripped out of the pages of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher, but all these characters exist, and it only gets weirder. Literal angels and demons enter the scene, followed by figurative ones — holier-than-thou conspirators, sexually deviant racists and worse. It’s an odd assortment of players at best, and a bone-deep offensive one at worst. All or most of these figures will find their way into AMC’s adaptation of the comic book when it starts rolling out this weekend — eventually, at least, and not always in the way die-hard Preacher fans expect.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, keepers of the Preacher flame, are two such die-hards. Before the longtime friends and collaborators acquired the property, they were fans first, devouring Ennis and Dillion’s chaotic comic as it was released in the 1990s. As soon as Preacher fell into their hands, Rogen and Goldberg’s first instinct was to tell the tale exactly as it was told on the paneled page.
“When we originally pitched the show, we mostly pitched the comic,” Rogen told The Hollywood Reporter about adapting the series. He and Goldberg would rave about the saga of Jesse Custer, Tulip O’Hare and the blood-sucking Cassidy, so much so that their fandom was apparent during their first video chat with eventual showrunner Sam Catlin — a man who had never heard of Preacher in his entire life, until Rogen and Goldberg brought it up.
“I got on a Skype with Seth and Evan,” the Breaking Bad veteran recalled, “and they were like, ‘Dude! Preacher! How have you never heard of Preacher? It’s the best comic ever!'”
But the more Catlin learned about the comic, the more he believed a beat-for-beat adaptation wouldn’t translate to the small screen. Eventually, Rogen and Goldberg agreed.
“Sam was a heavy voice in that,” Rogen said of the drive to move the Preacher TV series away from the exact layout of the comics. “As we sat down and started the writing process, that’s when Sam was like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work!’ And we were like, ‘You’re totally right.'”
But it wasn’t just Catlin who suggested changing things up: Preacher’s own creators chimed in with the thought as well, having seen numerous parties try and fail to adapt the comic over the years.
“It’s a difficult beast, Preacher. There’s nothing else quite like it,” said Ennis. “If you put the comic on the screen, you would use it up in a season and a half. This is hardly the nature of the beast, the difference between pacing a TV show and a comic book.”
Catlin’s instinct and Ennis’ blessing confirmed what Rogen and Goldberg were already starting to realize. For his part, Rogen credits the decision to rearrange and even excise events with the show’s success — assuming it succeeds at all.
“If you think the show is good, this is one of the reasons why it is good,” he said. “That mix of reverence and fresh eyes was very key to doing something that works on television and satisfies fans.”
With all that said, it’s important to note the ways in which Preacher the television series and Preacher the comic book series intersect, and it all comes down to character.
“Garth kept saying the same thing to us: ‘Stay true to the characters — nothing else matters,'” said Goldberg. “‘You can drop whole blocks, or re-shift them, or reallocate them, but don’t change who Odin Quincannon is. Don’t change Jesse. As long as you’re keeping those characters, you’re making it right.'”
To that end, Ennis puts his eyes on every script and cut of Preacher, offering input and support along the way. According to Goldberg: “He reads everything and gives us notes. Not a lot of notes, but targeted notes that are very clear and simple and make the show better.”
For instance, Ennis agreed with Rogen and Goldberg’s instinct to explore the titular character’s relationship with religion in greater detail at the start of the series.
“You don’t see him being much of a preacher in the comics,” said Rogen. “He’s doing it for about two pages, and then he’s done with it. Well, the show’s called Preacher … kinda felt like maybe we should show him being a preacher!”
But in many other respects, the show and the comics are mirror images. An early sequence in the second episode faithfully and unexpectedly adapts one of the most powerful portions of the comic, for example, with a keen attention to detail sure to thrill Preacher purists. Without identifying it further, Ennis said that seeing this particular character in action was his “pinch me” moment.
“You’re going to get what you what,” he teased. “Maybe not right away, and not in the order you expected, but you’ll get there. The journey will be slightly different, but we’ll get where we’re going to go, and all the bits will be there eventually.”
Preacher premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
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