Paul Tanasin is haunted by what he thinks are hallucinations, but it turns out they are prophecies from Mirandus, a place where he is destined to be the destroyer known as the Dark One. Based on a story by #1 New York Times Bestselling, Hugo Award-winning author Brandon Sanderson, the original graphic novel published by Vault Comics is penned by the writing team of Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly. Nathan Gooden illustrates the book with colors by Kurt Michael Russell, letters by Deron Bennett of AndWorld Design, and designs by Tim Daniel.
The Beat chatted with Lanzing, Kelly, and Gooden on why their team worked so well in bringing Sanderson’s universe to the printed page.
Deanna Destito: How is adapting someone else’s story different from creating your own? How does it change your approach to storytelling (if at all)?
Jackson Lanzing: It’s a unique challenge, particularly because this story had never been told before – and because this isn’t “someone,” it’s Brandon Sanderson! Our starting point wasn’t a book or a movie with the goal of adapting it into the comics space – it was an extensive 60+ page outline filled with Brandon’s brilliant thoughts on world and character, plot, pacing, style, and themes. There was a lot to digest and internalize – but the core of the story was immediately exciting to us: what if you discovered that you were not the hero of a great fantasy story, but instead its villain? The idea of doing a book that was effectively Sympathy For Sauron was too exciting to pass up. But as anyone who knows our work can attest, we aren’t terribly interested in being stenographers. We can’t write a story without finding the way that it’s personal to us. So the first step was to take everything Brandon had outlined and generate our own treatment. Brandon was gracious enough to have conversations about the story with us until the whole team felt completely sure we had a dynamic and deeply personal story to tell.
Lanzing (cont.): In essence, like with Hacktivist, we treated this story like our own – even though it’s Brandon’s name above the masthead. That way, we could speak from a personal place as we took the journey with Paul into the mysterious new world of Mirandus.
Nathan Gooden: The only real difference for me was making sure this felt like a Sanderson book, not just a book with Sanderson’s name on it. So my approach was to read or reread a number of the books set in the Cosmere universe.
Lanzing: Yeah, we all went down a pretty extensive Sanderson rabbit hole. I now own an extraordinary amount of Mistborn books.
Collin Kelly: Even with Brandon’s core, the exciting thing for us was creating a story that was unique to comics; there are things that you can only do in this format, which is why we were brought on in the first place. And it wasn’t just Jackson and I – it was the entire Zojaqan team. Eisner-nominated Deron Bennett and AndWorld Design, the man we’ve been working with longer than anyone in comics. Nathan Gooden, bringing the artistic thunder that elevates both Zoj – and now Dark One – into the stratosphere. And Kurt Michael Russell, a newcomer to the team who gave Nathan’s inks the power that this book deserves.
Kelly (cont.): The truth is, this team has perfected a system that makes magic… and no one understands the power of magical systems more than Brandon Sanderson.
Destito: What is your favorite part of this graphic novel and what was the most challenging?
Kelly: It would be easy to say that the best part of this project was the swords, magic, and monsters. It’s been a childhood dream to write a story in a High Fantasy setting and be allowed to completely creatively unleash. But that was expected when we began the project. What we didn’t expect was the chance to tell a story with a meta-narrative element, a chance to reach beyond the page and do something that breaks your preconceptions of what both fantasy – and comics – can do. The world of Mirandus may be a world of fantasy and legend, but the story also takes place on Earth, and the mysterious connection between the two is where the heart of our story lives.
Kelly (cont.): The most challenging aspect, at least for me, was navigating how we approached our protagonist, Paul Tanasin. Our title is a promise; this isn’t a story about rainbows and pillow fights. This is the story about the power of labels and the expectation therein, and laying that on the shoulders of a misunderstood and angry young man required a very delicate hand. Ultimately though, that is a challenge the entire team rose to meet; we believe in Paul Tanasin, and we can’t wait for the world to read his story.
Lanzing: This is the first time Collin and I have written anything close to a traditional medieval fantasy narrative – so though we’re both ravenous readers of the genre, it was a little like being thrown immediately into the deep end of the pool. Especially because Dark One so specifically aims to deconstruct and challenge the fundamental tenets of traditional fantasy! This is one of Brandon’s great skills as a writer. He asks questions about systemic exploitation and savior complexes and the role of story in perpetuating injustice. That’s what we aim to do in our work as well, so stepping up to his level was equally the most exciting aspect for me… and certainly the most challenging.
Gooden: My favorite part of this graphic novel was the team we assembled. Working with this creative team and the chance to learn from one of the greats, in Sanderson, was a dream come true. The biggest challenge was the juxtaposition of the worlds. Neither is more important than the other. A New York courtroom carries as much consequence as the massive armies of knights colliding on the battlefield. It’s an incredible balancing act, pulled off by the writing team.
Destito: How much creative license did Brandon Sanderson give you in designing the characters and settings?
Gooden: It was a fantastic process. I feel I was able to bring my ideas to life and blend them with Brandon’s pretty easily. He worked with us a lot, in designing a rich world full of everyone’s ideas.
Kelly: Anyone who reads Sanderson’s work knows how much love and attention he pours into his worlds and characters; it’s what makes his books so eminently exciting. But when we all started batting ideas around, he was the one who was excited to hear what we had to say. After building the sandbox, he let the entire team play – earning that amount of trust from such a respected storyteller was a charge I don’t think we’ll ever forget.
Lanzing: From the start, Brandon has been enormously supportive of us bringing our vision to his world. His notes on the initial outline were as far as he tread into our process. From there, we worked on this the same way we did on Zojaqan, our previous book with Nathan and Vault. We trusted him and he trusted us. Moreover, he leveraged his incredible resources to allow the book to be as long as it needed to be – and to include maps, interstitial chapters, and other meta-textual goodies that felt like pipe-dreams to us when the project began.
Destito: What attracted you to working on this particular story and in this universe?
Lanzing: One of the world’s most prolific and successful fantasy authors comes to you and asks you to be the first writers to play in his brand new story universe, alongside one of your favorite writers and edited by one of the single greatest editors in comics, Adrian Wassel. What could be more attractive?
Kelly: That’s kind of a complicated story because the answer is… everything? The world is unique and powerful; the themes are challenging and complex; the story itself – and the characters that are caught in it – subverts and savages expectations at every turn. In the end though, once again, it’s Paul: his story is everyone’s story, a journey of breaking free of the box you’ve been placed in. A ballad for the marginalized. An anthem for rebellion.
Destito: How has it been working with the creative team?
Lanzing: Nathan and Collin are brothers to me – two of the best collaborators a guy could ask for. We were already in the planning stages of our follow-up to Zojaqan when Dark One came our way, so jumping in head-first was a no-brainer. Watching Nathan level-up on every page of this book, which is without a doubt one of the best-looking comics on the shelves this year, has been a rare joy and privilege.
Gooden: A complete joy. Lanzing, Kelly, and Gooden are names you will see side by side for many years. I think we have a level of trust that is rare. I like to experiment with styles and techniques a lot, and this team always supports me.
Kelly: I imagine you know my answer: this is a team that will work together for the rest of their lives.
Destito: What about this story will appeal to different audiences?
Lanzing: I know it’s cliche, but I truly believe Dark One has something for everyone. This book isn’t just another portal fantasy. If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis or Tolkien, you’ll find a critical deconstruction of your favorite stories told in a brand new way. If you’re a fan of David Fincher or Batman, you’ll find a gritty, strange crime drama with a terrifying new villain who’ll press himself into your nightmares. If you’re a teenager looking to escape your stressful life, in Paul you’ll find a hero who’s going through the same thing. And if you’re looking out at the world and wondering if it could be better with some radical rethinking of the power structures that keep us all in check, you’ll find a story that takes on that idea head-on.
Kelly: If you’re a fan of ours, you’re going to get the sweeping fantasy adventure that has lived under the surface of our work since Hacktivist, Joyride, and Gotham City Garage. And if you’re a fan of Brandon’s… prepare for a story that could never exist in the Cosmere, that detonates your expectations and delivers something unlike anything you’ve read before. After all, like it says on the back cover: Some worlds are meant to be broken.
Head to Vault’s webstore to preorder your copy of Brandon Sanderson’s Dark One. Fans who order in eBook format will get their copy on June 26. Hardcovers begin shipping after August 17. A release date for comic and book stores will be announced shortly.