When new TV series American Gods debuts on Starz on April 30, it will be the second time that Neil Gaiman’s classic 2001 fantasy novel — about “the clash between the old gods of mythology and the new gods of technology” — will be adapted to a visual medium, but only by six weeks.
Thanks to writer and layout artist P. Craig Russell (who previously adapted Gaiman’s Coraline), artist Scott Hampton (Black Widow: Breakdown), and, of course, Gaiman himself, American Gods is also being adapted into a comic book, the first issue of which was released on March 15.
With the second of 27 issues out April 12th, we spoke to Russell about how this adaptation compares to the original novel, and how it’s intentionally not influenced by the TV show.
Paul Semel for Rotten Tomatoes: What was it about American Gods that not only made you want to adapt it into a comic, but also made you think that you were the right person to do this adaptation?
Russell: The simple answer is that it’s a well-written book, it’s a compelling story, and there’s a lot of fun to it amidst all the darkness. I’ve been working with Neil for 25 years, adapting his short stories and novels, so from experience alone, I’m the right person to do this.
RT: My understanding is that this is a fairly faithful adaptation. It’s not abridged or a reimagining.
Russell: Well, it can be abridged and still be faithful. Gone with the Wind could’ve been a 40-hour-long movie if they’d done the whole book. So there’s a great deal of editing that goes on, as I’m sure there will be with the TV series. Neil can pack a lot into a page, so I’ve learned the art of reducing conversations down to a half-dozen lines down from 10 or 20. It’s a matter of getting to the essence of the narrative. It’s like taking a Duesenberg apart and reassembling it as a small sports car.
RT: How involved was Neil in this adaptation?
Russell: He pretty much just gives me the book and lets me run with it. Though I will text him if I have any questions. I’ve read the novel three times, but I don’t have a photographic memory. That said, Neil, Scott, and the editor did go through several revisions when it came to the design of Shadow [the main character]. But, again, Scott was also faithful to the way characters were described by Neil in the book.
RT: American Gods came out in 2001. Did Neil ever say anything like, “This part seems dated, let’s fix it”?
Russell: Well, when the 10th anniversary edition of the book came out, Neil restored things that had been edited out of the first version. When I started working on this, I asked Neil which edition to use, and he said the second one.
But in terms of things being dated, there were a couple little things. Like there’s a part where Shadow is watching TV, and Lucy Ricardo [from I Love Lucy] starts talking to him, she’s one of the new gods, a celebrity, and she mentions shopping malls. But she also mentions online shopping, which were just starting at the time, so I emphasized that since shopping malls are dying and people do more online shopping.
RT: Now, along with your adaptation, there’s also the American Gods TV show. Given that you were working on this at the same time they were putting the show together, did anyone, presumably Neil, show you images from the show?
Russell: No, not a bit. In fact, my editor sent me a link to the first trailer that came out, and I won’t look at it. I don’t want there to be any kind of cross contamination. It’s like when I was doing the comic adaptation of Coraline and they were doing the animated movie at the same time, I wouldn’t look at any of their stuff. Though once I finish my version, I will binge-watch the show. I want to see how they’re doing it. I’m looking forward to seeing how they handle the editing of the book and how they stitch it back together. I’m really interested in seeing how they deal with the same challenges that I’ve been facing.
RT: Neil has said he is going to write a sequel to American Gods. Have you talked to him doing it as comic book with you at the helm, or doing a comic book adaptation at some point?
Russell: No, we haven’t talked about it because it’s in such a preliminary stage; though I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point, I was asked to do an adaptation of it.
RT: What about convincing him to call it American Gods II: Electric Boogaloo?
Russell: Ha! No, but I will now.
American Gods: Shadows #1 is out now. American Gods #2 will be out April 12. New issues will be released every month. The first collected edition will be released in early 2018.
Description: Fresh out of jail, Shadow Moon finds himself recruited as a bodyguard for the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, only to be interrupted and kidnapped by the dangerous Technical Boy, who wants answers as to Wednesday’s plans.
The following sequence introduces hard-drinking brawler Mad Sweeney, who calls himself a leprechaun, but is taller and more dangerous.
Variant cover by David Mack:
Variant cover by Bill Sienkiewicz: