Reading the first Animorphs graphic novel was a delightful shock. Not only had one of the greatest sci-fi novels for kids finally returned in a new form but it was also extremely faithful to the original book. Every scene was lifted from the novel and almost all of the dialogue was kept intact. A few small changes were made to remove dated pop culture references or to better fit the visual medium but overall it’s easily one of the closest adaptations of any piece of media out there.
So how is it done? Taking a whole novel and turning it into a graphic novel isn’t a smooth process, especially for a sci-fi series like Animorphs that features a ton of internal first-person narration.
Covering the adaptation of a whole book would need a book of its own to cover so instead artist Chris Grine gave us detailed insight on adapting a specific scene from the second Animorphs novel, The Visitor. Armed with an original copy of the novel, we really got into the nitty gritty of changes, Rachel’s stink face, the horrors of morphing, and even got a few never before heard pieces of info about the upcoming graphic novel.
(For anyone who wants to compare the comic pages to the original novel, the scene these pages are adapting are pages 33-36 of The Visitor.)
DEN OF GEEK: Before we get to these specific pages, I want to talk about the process at the very beginning, which may impact how these pages are handled. So you sit down, you’ve got a copy of The Visitor. Do you first read through the whole thing and figure out how you want to tackle it and what you may want to throw out?
CHRIS GRINE: So I finished the first Animorphs graphic novel. Then I moved to the first book in this other series I’m working on. While I’m doing that, I’m listening to the audio book for the second Animorphs book. I’m listening to podcasts and I’m doing my research thing. It gives me time to be in my head while I’m trying to think of the different scenes. It’s nice that I didn’t have to just rush right into the next book because I just had time to give it more thought.
That’s basically how I do it. Just as much time as I can to be thinking about it beforehand.
Once I saw the finished comic pages I sat down and really compared them to the book and that really helped illuminate what you have to do for every page of this graphic novel. You’re not just reading a page, drawing a page, you’re taking in the context of the whole scene. Like here, it’s raining but as I’m reading the book it only mentions it’s raining after the scene is done.
That’s how a lot of these things go. I’ve got to really read the whole thing several times before I can even start penciling, because sometimes they drop the warnings after the chapter.
So once you’ve read the original novel several times, do you print out the pages and make notes? You mentioned you also have a spare book to make notes in.
Well, basically I go chapter by chapter, and since the chapters are anywhere from five to 10 pages or so, I’ll make sure I have a full idea what the environment is. Like in that particular scene she’s going to be walking down the street that’s kind of a boulevard. There are guys that are bothering her in the car, it’s probably a storefront type thing. That’s what I had in my head, that there’s alleys, this is definitely a small downtown. I get that in my head. Then within the book I take a highlighter and I’ll highlight all the dialogue, just the dialogue.
I’ve got the book next to me while I’m penciling the pages and I’ll jot down little bits and pieces of the dialogue. So at least I know where I’m at on the page. I start doing panels, putting in dialogue, and try to see how the page goes. I know a lot of people probably give it a lot more thought than that, but I just go and then if I hit a wall, then it’s pretty easy to just back up and come at it from a different angle. But that’s the general idea of how I do a lot of it.
In the book, this is a very internal scene for Rachel as this guy is chasing her. She’s having a lot of thoughts about it but in a graphic novel you’ve got to sell most of that in a look. When you read, say, a paragraph of internal thought do you think about how you can sum that all up in a look? How do you make sure it conveys all the thoughts that can’t be put on the page?
Well, with Rachel, it’s pretty easy because I love giving her a stink face. She gets pissed. I really enjoy giving her that little snarl on her face. But if Marco says something that’s obviously out of line, all she’s got to do is look at him and he shuts up. We don’t need half a page about why Marco is so immature and why he needs to keep his mouth shut. Like you said, it’s all in that look. I try to do that as much as I can because it cuts down on word count.
So let’s get to the morphs on the second page where the guy chasing Rachel says he’s not gonna hurt her. We see the elephant in the shadows and then she jumps out. In the original book, there’s a whole description about Rachel thinking about morphing and the whole process of morphing is described. Here though you cut it down to that one shot of the tusks in the darkness. When she jumps out and is that big half morphed version of herself, it’s very accurate to the description in the books. Was the half morphed image the most important thing you wanted to convey here?
Yeah, I knew that that was going to be important, but I was trying to think of it more like a movie scene. If you’re watching a movie, some dude runs and follows this girl who you know is going to kick his ass. If you’ve read the earlier book you know that she’s not messing around, but he follows her into a dark alley.
Then she goes way back into shadow where you can’t see her. He thinks he’s got the upper hand. I was trying to think timing wise that he can’t see her. He thinks she’s scared and she’s hiding from him. There’s that moment where he thinks he’s definitely in charge. Then she just explodes out of there and he drops his wallet and basically turns into a baby and runs away. I played up the comedy after that. That part wasn’t in the book but I definitely wanted to make him look like an idiot right after that.
I was going to ask about that. In the book, he’s just scared. He runs away. Here he talks with his buddy a bit and they both drive off. Adding that comedic element and making him look like a complete fool, that’s such an interesting change to me. And you give him someone to talk to, because again, you don’t have that internal monologue.
I knew even before I started the book, that this was one of the scenes I was going to have to change. What you don’t know, because you’ve only seen these pages, is the opening of the book where it’s those two hunters that are shooting at them? The same guys.
They’ve had a really bad day. They’re shooting stuff and the bird show up and take the dude’s gun and throws it in the ocean and take the other guy’s drink. Obviously they’re not drinking beer like they were in the book, they’re drinking soda. His buddy spills his soda all over his good shirt. His buddy is constantly going, “It’s not right for the birds to be stealing your guns,” so they’re really mad.
Then I picture the next day, they’re trying to pick up chicks out here [in this scene]. They’re getting ready to have another bad animal day. I just love that. It might be an ongoing joke. Just these two idiots are always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and animals are constantly attacking them. They just don’t know why. So that’s what I was tying it together with.
Having them be 16 probably since they’ve got a truck but not very smart either, it kept the situation in this scene the same but it wasn’t quite as scary.
Obviously, the original books took kid readers seriously and these graphic novels are doing the same thing. But with a visual medium where you’re depicting a real world horror instead of sci-fi horror, you don’t want to completely terrify the kid readers.
And book two, there’s a lot of emotional stuff going on with the cat and with Melissa being just destroyed basically. She thinks her parents hate her. Then at the end with Chapman in the construction site where he’s reduced to a sniveling, crying person laying in the mud, begging. It’s awful. There’s just so many heart wrenching moments in the story that I thought playing up some comedy when I could, or add just a little bit more, especially at the beginning, would maybe lighten it up just a little bit.
Hopefully that’s the consensus after the book comes out.
On the final page of this preview, we see Rachel morphing back. That image of her morphing back from elephant feels like it’s right out of the original covers of the books. When you draw morphs, are you taking inspiration from those covers, especially the mid morph faces?
Yeah, absolutely. In the first book with the first two or three morphs, I tried to make sure I showed as much as I could. Then it was easy to do a shorthand later when they needed to morph because it could almost be like it was off camera. You don’t have to see it. Sometimes it’s more exciting if a tiger just bursts out of somewhere and you didn’t see it happening but you were expecting it anyway. It also saves me time and saves page count.
But there are a few scenes at the beginning of the second book when they’re birds and they’re morphing back. There are like two or three pages of just them morphing back and it’s awful (laughs). So I think people are going to get their fill of body horror pretty quick.
Fans have always known about the body horror but in recent years there have been all these memes about the mid morph face from the covers. Now it seems like the graphic novels are leaning right into that.
It’s still my style, but I still try to make them as terrible as I can. There’s a description in the second book when they’re turning back from birds and one of the description is like, “There’s teeth. The beak is becoming teeth.” It’s awful. So I was like, I’m drawing that for sure. That sounds terrible and that’s definitely going in the book. So I try to have as much fun with them as I can.
Is there anything else you can tell us about the second book? I know it’s not going to come out for a while, but anything that you’re excited for the fans to see?
The first book felt like, if it was a movie, it was a popcorn blockbuster summer movie, right? Lots of big set pieces and stuff. The second one feels smaller and more intimate, and there are a lot more opportunities for character development, or just some conversations. I’m so proud of some of the scenes where I felt like I really got to nail those scenes. Like I did justice to those scenes.
The scene with Chapman towards the end? It’s terrible. He’s crying and he’s a mess. Since it’s been raining all day, it’s not really mentioned in the book, but that construction site is just mud. He’s falling down in the mud. So he’s also half covered in mud and he’s crying and he’s just a mess, and Visser Three’s just being a total ass to him.
Those are scenes I was really looking forward to doing, but when I got to them, I slowed way down. I was like, okay, this is an important scene and I got to do it. I know it’s not really telling you anything new about the second book, but I just felt like the stakes were raised on more of an emotional level. That’s something that I was really excited about.
In case you missed it, make sure to read the first part of this interview with Grine where he more broadly talks about adapting the challenges of adapting the books and what’s to come in the future. The Visitor (Animorphs Graphic Novel #2) is now up for pre-order on Amazon.