Posted: April 17, 2007
Lilja: Thanks for calling; I'm glad you wanted to do this interview.
Ralph Macchio: Sure, I read your review and I was very, very happy with it. We really wanted to make each issue better than the last one and we didn't want to show everything with the first issue and go "OK, that's it. Now, from here on it's routine stuff". We wanted to make each issue a real surprise.
Lilja: Yeah, you definitely did that.
Ralph Macchio: Thank you.
Lilja: I really liked the illustrations of the Big Coffin Hunters.
Ralph Macchio: Yeah, Jae did a superb job on that.
Lilja: Yeah, they where really nice. And the Crimson King.
Ralph Macchio: Yes.
Lilja: Actually everyone looks terrific.
Ralph Macchio: Yeah, it took him a long time... Those are second and third generation versions of the pages. The first time around he made them look one way and then he just went back and said "No, wasn't good enough" and he redid them to make them what they are.
Lilja: I'm not that big of a comic reader actually but I have never seen anything like this. I was just blown away by it.
Ralph Macchio: Thank you. Well, we keep trying to improve and we also keep trying to impress you with every single issue.
Lilja: The Dark Tower fans are hard to impress.
Ralph Macchio: I'm sure they are but we know that at the very beginning and the comic book fans are really the same. Because they have seen a lot of stuff and you do have to keep finding ways to be bold enough to keep looking for new ways to impress them and please them. And that's all you can do. You can't be intimidated by it.
Lilja: What kind of reactions have you gotten? The second issue is released tomorrow, right?
Ralph Macchio: Yes, we got advance copies and the book looks terrific. The reaction we've gotten so far is very, very positive. We haven't really heard anything negative about it. Everyone seems to be very pleased. I understand the first issue may have already sold out so that's good too.
Lilja: That's very good.
Ralph Macchio: Very, very good news. There hasn't been much negatives about it. We also know that in addition to pleasing The Dark Tower fans we have to please Stephen King, we have to please Robin who is also involved in the process. And Chuck Verill. And so far we seem to be doing that. That is extremely important to us.
Lilja: Have you gotten any reaction from readers that hasn't read the books before they read the comics?
Ralph Macchio: I'm sure there has been but I am not familiar with that. What we have heard, in general, is that the canvassing that was done of comic stores after this first issue was released at the midnight showing was that many people who were not familiar with the books picked up the comic and have decided to give it a try so it does seem that we're gonna get some crossover audience from the comics to the books as well as from the books to the comics and that's nice.
Lilja: It seems that you picked the right story to begin with. It doesn't really demand that much prior knowledge.
Ralph Macchio: That's true.
Lilja: I guess that's why you picked that one to start of with?
Ralph Macchio: You know that is really tough to say. I'm not sure if that went into the decision or not. I know initially when we had the big round table discussion with Stephen King and Robin Furth that we had talked about going back to Roland's early days. I'm not sure if it was for issues of clarity or just because at some point it just seemed that it was a good place to start the story and I think that had a lot to do with it. You know to be able to follow him from when he is just getting his guns and then take him on through up to the battle of Jerico Hill. It just seems to me, and to the rest of us I think, a nice cycle of stories to go through because it allows us the opportunity to pick up the important material from Wizard and Glass, and elsewhere, but then also to do the original stuff and bring in incidents that are not in the book and that we'll be able to conceive of here and put that in as well so it's really a nice combination of things.
We had a problem at the beginning with how to phrase it. You know that's something - these are not really adaptations. We are taking the material from Wizard and Glass and using it as kind of our foundation but we are going of on our own to explore Roland and his worlds and those are not adapted. I mean they will certainly have Stephen King's creative involvement from the very beginning and he will be the guy setting the tone for it. And we'll also be going of in our own directions with him guiding us saying you know, "lets do this and lets do that and see where this leads us". So these are not really strict adaptations. They take new material and intermix it with what's already in some of the books.
Lilja: But the first story arc is gonna be pretty much from Wizard and Glass?
Ralph Macchio: Largely within Wizard and Glass yes.
Lilja: Are you nervous about the second one where you're going of on your own?
Ralph Macchio: No, no, no because as long as Stephen is involved at a very early stage of it and of course as long as Robin is there as the touchstone...no, I'm perfectly confident. As I say, we got the guidance from the master and because we have started this thing well in advance both the second and third story arc have already been plotted out.
So while I don't want to say anything about it, I think that would be unfair to the readers and it would also spoil the surprise, I think we'll need to keep that close to our west. What I can say is that the second and third arcs have both been written up, discussed with Stephen and through Robin. We're ahead of the game and that's something we've been able to do because we got this project started well in advance.
Lilja: The first issue got somewhat delayed, right?
Ralph Macchio: Yes, I can't really speak to that exactly except that I believe that there were some kind of publishing situation. We didn't want our publishing schedule for the comic to interfere in any way with anything else being published that Stephen had written. We didn't want there to be any conflict of interest or anything like that so that may have involved delaying it a bit which where certainly not a problem. It gave us more time to work on it, to hound it, to refined it and prefect it.
Lilja: I remember reading somewhere that Jae said he could have the time to go back and change small details.
Ralph Macchio: Yes, he did and as I said, this is particularly true with issue two, where we introduced Walter O'Dim or Marten Broadcloak as he is already know and also the Crimson King and the Big Coffin Hunters. It was important that the first impressions of these characters really, really stick in your mind and Jae wanted to make sure that they were definitive looks for them visually so he went back after he'd done the first versions and felt they could be stronger, went back and did a second and third version and what you see in print is what we got.
Lilja: Is there any chance you're gonna let the fans see the early stages of the characters?
Ralph Macchio: I believe, because we have told Jae to hold on to everything, that when we do the omnibus versions, when we do the hardcover, in all the different formats that this is going to be repackaged in...every scrap of material, you can be sure, will see print.
Lilja: That is very nice to hear. I know that you're also releasing the issues with different covers?
Ralph Macchio: Yes, we do have alternative covers, a number of them and will probably continue that all the way thorough. It gives people a little collector's item sort of thing. We like it and also we have been able go get some really top talents to work on some of the other covers. So, you get a chance to see what Joe Quesada's version of it looks like as well as others. We just got another one in today. It's by Leinil Yu.
Lilja: Is that for issue #3?
Ralph Macchio: Yes, it's for issue #3. It has Roland as a big foreground figure pulling his guns out of the holster. It's beautiful, very impressive. So we have a variety of people doing covers. They are nice collector's items, gives everybody a sense really that they're getting their own version of the comic so that works out well for everybody.
Lilja: How does that work? Do you invite other people to choose an illustration from Jae's or do they do their own?
Ralph Macchio: They do their own. And some times they will approach us about it. In other instances we approach them. It can go either way. If we hear from a big name guy "Hey, I understand you do alternative covers of The Dark Tower and I'd like to do one". We would be crazy to turn who ever it is down so... But then we also have our own list of people that we wanna go to and say "Why don't you give this a shoot for us?"
Lilja: Is it usual in the comic business to do a lot of different covers?
Ralph Macchio: It has been over the last ten or fifteen years. It's become kind of a staple of doing comics. When you get a big project you like to do alternative covers because, again as I say, it's something that gives the reader the sense that he's getting kind of his own copy, he gets a chance to not only get the main copy with that cover on it but he also get a chance to get variant edition. I know this has just been done recently on the Eternals book and where John Remeda JR has done all of the mainstream covers but then Nick Lowe the editor has gotten a variety of variant covers on that as well
Lilja: Were you ever worried that the fans might think it was a way for you to get more money out of this? I mean a lot of fans feel they have to have everything even if they really can't afford it. They are such collectors that they are just gonna buy everything that is published.
Ralph Macchio: Sure, we are aware. This is a publishing company and we are aware there is a collector's mentality and that there are people that wanna collect every version of it but at the same time nobody forces you to. We can only put it out there. If the demand is there the readers will pick it up. It's not like if we say "you know you got to have this". It's really their decision. But at the same time this is a publishing company and like any business you'd like to maximize your profit if you have the right vehicle for that.
Lilja: This is going to be a lot of issues. If I'm correct there is going to be 5 story arcs and about 30 issues in total.
Ralph Macchio: That's about right.
Lilja: Are you gonna release them back to back or are there going to be a time lag?
Ralph Macchio: There are gonna be some time lag.
Lilja: Between the different arcs?
Ralph Macchio: Between the different arcs, yes. It gives us a little chance to recharge because this is such a work intensive project as you can imagine. Both from the writing, the coloring, the penciling, all that. Really our creative staff needs a little time to just sit back, collect their thoughts, recharge their batteries and jump back in to it. And it also has other publishing reasons two, because you need to see how well things are doing, you want to keep them out there for a while, you want to take that first arc, begin to repacking it in different format and at the same time hold up on the second and third arc for a little bit and again, that also works to our advantage, gives the creative team a time to just sit back and collect their thoughts again.
Lilja: So, it'll be something like one story arc a year?
Ralph Macchio: No, no I don't think so. I don't think there will be any kind of that break. I imagine there will be a few month in between. But that is just my speculations. I don't know and I don't know if anyone knows exactly. I know we have simply talked about there being a time lag between them but I don't believe there will only be one story arc a year.
Lilja: That's nice to hear.
Ralph Macchio: Oh, yeah. Look, we want to get the stuff out there too.
Lilja: I read on the Net that some of the fans were a bit disappointed that they wouldn't get to see characters like Eddie and Susannah or Oy in the comic. Did you ever plan to do one story arc that took place a little bit further into the story so you could include those characters?
Ralph Macchio: We're kind of growing this thing organically and if it seems to work we certainly will. We do envision this as a long term thing so at this point we have tried to pinpoint the areas that we really want to tell right now. These are the stories we think is important and if it doesn't work with having Eddie or Susannah in there then it just doesn't. When you think of it, The Dark Tower encompasses dozens and dozens of characters and everyone has their favorite. We have to pick and choose; it's a huge publishing undertaking. Those seven books are about 3 feet in height if you put them on top of each other [laugh] and there are many, many characters in there. I have some that I would like to see too and hopefully over time we will get to them but if they don't fit in the first two or three arcs, that's the way it goes. We're not gonna shoehorn them in just to show them.
Lilja: No, and you don't want a too big leap between arcs, right?
Ralph Macchio: Of course not.
Lilja: So, what is your role in this? Are you working with Robin on the scripts?
Ralph Macchio: Yes, as the editor I really oversee the entire project. The art, the coloring, the whole thing, what an editor does on any other book. This is a bit different though because you're dealing with an outside force and that you do have Stephen King at the top of the pyramid, which is just where he should be. We want his approval and approbation and his guidance on every step of the way and he gives that.
What happens, and again, you may find my statement in variance from Robin's because we may all have a little sense of the creative process but the way I recall our working is that Stephen really sets the tone with directions of the storyline at the very top and then he and Robin will discuss the framework and the outline. Robin then talks to me and the people I work with here at my end. The other editors, John Barber and Nicole Boose, and we then discuss with Robin the arc, the whole story arc. Then Robin goes of and she writes up the arc, each individual issue, all collected as a seven issue arc, six issue arc or whatever. She then sends that arc in and John, Nicole and myself go through it and we get back to her with critics and comments and then she and I will discuss those critics and comments and she will go back and rework what ever it is that we have agreed upon that needs to be reworked, sequenced added too, a climax put at the end of an issue that wasn't there before or things moved around and that's really the creative process.
But as I said a lot of it is organic. For example: Between issue six and seven something had popped into Jae Lee's head. He was looking at issue six and he was looking at the actual outline and he called me up and said "You know, there seems to be something about issue six that just seems to kind of tell the events of issue seven and if your familiar with the books you know, this is exactly how it's gonna happen" and I said "You know Jae, that is a point we hadn't considered. Why don't you talk to Robin and Peter David about this and if you guys come up with some workable solution to it, let's go with it". So then, absent me, Robin, Peter David and Jae all discussed the ending of six and all of issue seven. Basically they reformulated it and it worked in a much better way because Jae had hit upon something that just hadn't accrued to any of us. We were all very close to it and I guess as Jae was reading it through he just found something in there that was like "oh, this could work even better if we did it this way" and I was more then happy to let them go their own way because we weren't deviating from the story line, we were simply improving it, we were kind of reformulating it to make it stronger. To make that last issue in the arc and the end of the sixth issue an even stronger piece.
Lilja: Do you often agree on things or are there issues that some of you feel very strongly about while other don't? Or are you having the same ideas of what should happen?
Ralph Macchio: We all seem to have agreed upon - one of the things at the very beginning was that Robin was not used to work in the graphic format. She is a writer and a fine writer but she was not used to write comic book plots. They require a different set of skills than a short story or even a novel because you have to, in many ways, think visually because it is not your words that are going to appear in print, it's the pictures you tell the artist. That's what's going to appear in print and then you put your words in there. So, in this instance, one place that I think Robin would agree that she needed to sort of work into was to really think visually, to think that what she was writing down in these plots needed to be as strong visually as possible. And she got the hang of it pretty quickly. That was an area that we as editors and we as people who deals day to day in the graphic format were able to really, I think, give her the necessary input for those first couple of issues. So that when she had turned them in, we discussed them and she said "Yeah, you know, there are places where I could have thought more visually or this sequence I should have realized should have been something visual so, let me go back and rework it". But then again, she is a fast learner and she got the hang of it pretty quickly and now she's fully up to speed on the whole thing on how to handle it visually.
Lilja: She's doing a very good job so far.
Ralph Macchio: She's doing an excellent job. She is, and I have said many times, she is the lynchpin of the whole thing. She is the go-between between us and Stephen and The Dark Tower itself. She has the knowledge of the story, she knows more about it than anybody and she is the one that really is putting the building blocks together of each individual story arc.
Lilja: How much did you know about The Dark Tower before this? Where you a fan already or did you have to...
Ralph Macchio: Oh, yes, going all the way back to the beginning. I had picked up the books up as they came out. We all know there is a great time lag in between various books but I had certainly picked them up from the first book right on down to the last one. It's funny. I was just getting into the last book as this project came up at Marvel. So, it was a terrific thing. I was able to read that last fantastic book just as we were about to jump in and begin the series here.
Lilja: It must have been wonderful when they asked you if you wanted to edit it.
Ralph Macchio: Yes, there are not many projects that I would jump up and down about but this one, when I heard we where going to get it, was one of the few times that I actually spoke to Dan Buckley, our publisher and Joe Quesada the editor in chief and asked if I could have this project. I wanted it very much.
Lilja: Yeah, I can understand that. I wouldn't mind trading with you. Are you going to continue to turn other King books into comics?
Ralph Macchio: That really depends on Stephen and upper management. I think, in this office we would do anything that he wanted. Anything that he has written we would do in an illustrated format if he was interested. But then again, those are for discussion between him and upper management. I remember going back several decades when I worked on one of our black and white magazines, Bizarre Adventures, and back then the editor on that, I was the assistant editor, Denny O'Neil I think had been friends with Stephen King's agent at the time, Kirby McCaully and somehow they had gotten together and spoken to Stephen about us adapting The Lawnmower Man which was a short story from Night Shift. And that worked out beautiful because we were able to get Walt Simonson, top guy then and now, to do the art on it and then we sent the art boards, Xerox of the art boars to Stephen and he had never scripted a comic before but he turned it back in a few days and the scripting was as if he had written comics for years. A beautiful piece of work.
Lilja: Yeah, I read that one. It's not as good as The Dark Tower but it's good.
Ralph Macchio: Well, your dealing with - you know once a short story and one's a novel but I thought it was handled brilliantly visually, and as I said, Stephen's scripting was superb on it. I can still remember the individual panels and the whole thing. I was very happy with it even though I wasn't the editor on it. I was the assistant on it and it came out beautifully so I think we can do any of Stephen's dozens and dozens of short stories or any of the novels. Anything that would lend itself to a visual flair we would take it on.
Lilja: I'm hoping you'll do a Stephen King original, that he will do something for you that haven't been published before.
Ralph Macchio: That would be something that would be a huge feather in everybody's cap if he wanted to write an original story and we would get it illustrated by Jae or some other top notch pensile. That would be fantastic. Everybody in the world would go crazy about that one.
Lilja: He seems very open to try different publishing styles.
Ralph Macchio: Yes, I felt that if we where going to develop a long lasting relationship with him and with Chuck Verill I know that we needed to really hit the ground running. We needed to make sure that the books we were putting out were the best we could give them because if they where going to be inclined to wanna pursue a relationship with Marvel where we would do other books, other projects, we had to show what we had with this first one and, again, I'm pleased that I think we have put the very best into it that we could and I'm happy that both Chuck and Steve are happy and that they want to pursue a relationship with Marvel.
Lilja: As far as I have heard everybody is happy with it. I haven't heard anyone say something bad about it.
Ralph Macchio: Right and you know, at some point, as people get more and more issues under their belt there will be criticism and there will be room for criticism too, we accept that. This is not going to be a perfect project from beginning to end but I'm confident that with the time that we had and the creative personal and the level of energy and commitment that went into this that we are giving it the very best that we can so even if there are critics later on I'm still confident and satisfied that we'd given it the very best we could.
Lilja: It shows that you give it your best.
Ralph Macchio: Thanks. We, as you, have an enormous respect for the source material on this and you can't give it other then your best because you have so much respect for where it's coming from.
Lilja: So, time is running out. Is there any scoop you can leave me with?
Ralph Macchio: I don't have a revelation for you. I can just tell you that I believe that the level of quality increases for each issue because all the participants' gets more and more used to work with the material and with each other. The synergy gets better and better with every single issue and anyone who enjoyed the first issue will enjoy the second and keep coming back for the third, forth etcetera. I don't think we are going to disappoint you.
Lilja: OK, thanks for talking to me.
Ralph Macchio: My pleasure.