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Screenwriter Gary Whitta (Rogue One: A star Wars Story, The book of Eli) and artist Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan, Happy!) come together for Oliver, a post-apocalyptic superhero tale inspired by the classic story by Charles Dickens. These two talented creators took the time to share much more about this thrilling series with Westfield’s Roger Ash.
Westfield: how did you two come together for Oliver?
Gary Whitta: When I first started putting Oliver together as a comic I had a shortlist of artists that I’d kill to do it with and Darick was at the very top. I had no connections in the comics world whatsoever so I just kind of cold-emailed him and was thrilled to get a response. Darick really liked the idea for the comic but wasn’t able to engage with it best away because he was so busy at the time. but he loved the idea enough that he started making time for it in his schedule whenever he could and that’s really been the story of the following fifteen years, just kind of putting it together a piece at a time as our schedule has allowed.
Darick Robertson: Gary reached out to me when I was working on Transmetropolitan and Wolverine, and we essentially met through e-mail. I was too busy to take on the project at the time, but loved the idea. Years later, we’d become terrific pals and I discovered that Oliver was still in limbo. We agreed then to create it as partners and set about designing the world and characters and looking for the best home to publish it.
Oliver #1 preview page 1
Westfield: Oliver has been fifteen years in the making. how close has it remained to your original concept for the series?
Whitta: despite being in development for fifteen years the story hasn’t changed much at all, it’s just taken a while to get it told the way we want. We turned down some provides from other comics companies over the years because we wanted to keep full creative control, and that’s something we’re fortunate to be able to do at Image. image have been completely supportive throughout, and so the story you’ll start reading in January is the same one we first set out to tell back in 2003.
Robertson: part of the long path to its release was our protecting the concept, title and story. We’d get close to a deal, but some people wanted us to change it up in ways we felt betrayed what worked about the initial idea that Gary had, and my vision for how to portray the world and the characters in a meaningful way. in that regard, image allows us to create the book we believe in and we have stayed true to the concept and in close communication with each other as the story develops from script to comics. At this point, I am essentially breaking down Gary’s screenplay and turning it into a comic.
Oliver #1 preview page 2
Westfield: While you’re working with the Dickens’ story, how much of this comes from his work and how much is from you?
Whitta: I think it’s about maybe thirty per cent faithful to the source material, and then only in very broad strokes. It is very much its own original story, the idea to make it a sci-fi remix of an existing story was really much more of a springboard than something that we stick to throughout the entire run. The even more you go into the story the much more it kind of becomes its own thing.
Westfield: Did you do a lot of world building for the series?
Robertson: Yes, in that a terrific deal of research went into designing a London that I hope feels authentic to the readers, while making it our own as well. There’s tech that doesn’t exist in our world and Oliver’s world ambiguously straddles a line between era and genre.
Whitta: The world building was one of the most fun parts of this project for sure. The task was to try to recreate the same social conditions of Dickens’ Victorian London in a futuristic, post-war version of the same city. In doing so I found myself amazed by just how easily the two went together; both Londons are populated by a social underclass that the much more privileged members of society would rather forget about, but for very different reasons. In the comic that underclass is comprised of legions of genetically-engineered soldiers who were created to fight in the third world war, but found themselves surplus to requirements and without anywhere to go after the war is over. So they wind up being shoved away into the irradiated ruins of bombed-out big cities like London — because they’ve been engineered to endure radiation — and left to fend for themselves, an entire class of people forgotten about and left to rot. That’s not dissimilar to how we treated the poorest and least advantaged among us in the Victorian age, and arguably not that different to how we treat our war veterans today.
Oliver #1 preview page 3
Westfield: What can readers look forward to in the book?
Robertson: A lotof action, an unfolding mystery, and terrific characters.
Whitta: If you’re familiar with Oliver twist there’s a lot you’ll recognize. We have our versions of all the major characters, and I think we’ve added a amazing twist (forgive me) to how we have reinvented each one. just wait until you meet Dodger. Darick and I had a ton of fun with that character. but for the most part it really is its own original story intended to take readers on a rollercoaster of action and emotion, so just on its own terms, as a new kind of superhero origin story, I think people will really delight in it.
Westfield: any closing comments?
Robertson: This book has a been a real labor of love for me. I’ve never had the time or opportunity to shape a world with this level of detail before and I hope that passion comes through in the work.