Ben Aaronovitch is the noted screenwriter and author of the popular "Rivers of London" book series. He is currently collaborating on an in-universe comic book, "Rivers of London: Body Work." The comic is not an adaptation, but tells an all-new story set between the events of novels 4 and 5. The latest issue went on-sale this week.
Most readers will know you from the RIVERS OF LONDON books. How has the process of writing the comic series, RIVERS OF LONDON: BODY WORK, differed?
BEN AARONOVITCH: I’ve found writing for comics a wonderfully liberating process because my prose is not on display. In fact the only person who has to read the words that Andrew Cartmel and I write is the illustrator, Lee Sullivan. If you’re used to having thousands of people taking an interest in your word choice – this is a wonderful experience.
It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything ever, because some other poor sod, Lee again, has to do all the heavy lifting. Andrew and I just have to come up with the story, roughly what happens on each panel and that’s it.
Have the comics enabled you to explore anything that the books didn’t allow, and is there anything that you’d like to explore in future series?
AARONOVITCH: The books are written in a very strict first-person narrative style and the comics are much looser – you can follow other characters, do quick one panel flashbacks, memories and other omniscient narrator stuff - which opens up a wide array of possibilities of expanding the world beyond the books.
There are also jokes and action sequences that wouldn’t work within the prose style of the books. Surprise splash pages, rapid chronological intercutting and ironic caption/image counterpoints are tools that aren’t available to me in the books allowing me to expand the story in new ways.
Working with the characters for over five years, you must have had a very strong idea of what they would look like. What was it like seeing them given form through Lee Sullivan’s illustrations?
AARONOVITCH: Some of them, yes. Weirdly, I knew exactly what Toby looked like, but when push came to shove I was a bit hazy on Nightingale.
Lee says that people think they have a clear idea of what a character looks like but if they were to sit down with a pencil they’d find their conception much vaguer than they thought. Also Lee has his own style and since he’s the one that has to draw them day in, day out, consistently and expressively it’s important to let him bring his own notions to the design so he’s comfortable with them as well.
Both the comics and the books include rich detail about local history, myths, and legends. What do you enjoy most about the research process?
AARONOVITCH: The best thing about research is that it’s not actually work in any way or form. Actually that’s not the best thing; the best thing is finding out stuff that you never knew – like the existence of a coffee shop on the Thames in the 18th Century that was called ‘The Folly’. Things like that just drop into your lap and seamlessly integrate into your story as if you’d planned them from the start – it makes you look good.
Peter Grant has been at the center of all of the books, and now the comic. Are there any other characters that you’d like to explore more deeply?
AARONOVITCH: It’s this aspect of the comics that makes me the most excited, because they offer a chance to do mini spin-offs without the cumbersomeness of a full length novel.
Here are just some of the ideas floating around: a one off done in the style of the old Commando Comics detailing the war time adventures of our favorite wizard – provisional working title ACHTUNG NIGHTINGALE; a trippy, Grant Morrisonesque LSD soaked noir story set in the early 1970s starring Varvara; what Abigail did on her summer holiday (clue: she doesn’t go to the seaside)
I’d also like to expand the range and diversity of the writers, see if I can persuade Samit Basu to do a Nightingale in India during the 20s story or see if I can expand the universe to other magical traditions.
Now that you’ve cut your teeth on ‘Rivers of London: Body Work’ are there any other comic series that you have designs on?
AARONOVITCH: I have a couple which I plan to pitch when the time is right – both of them riffs on the superhero/costumed vigilante trope. If any major franchises out there would like me to revamp a minor character (or even a major character), they have only to ask.
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