TV

Interview: Guillermo del Toro Takes ‘The Strain’ To Dark Horse And Beyond

It goes without saying at this point that Guillermo del Toro is a busy guy. Between directing the upcoming “Pacific Rim,” producing “Rise of the Guardians,” discussing a possible “Justice League Dark”-type movie (see his final answer!) and much more, he found time to oversee the adaption of he and Chuck Hogan’s trilogy of vampire novels “The Strain” into a comic series for Dark Horse which has been collected in a trade to be released on Wednesday, November 14. “The Strain” is written by David Lapham with art by Mike Huddleston, colors by Dan Jackson and inks by E.M. Gist but as you’ll learn from the interview below, del Toro had a hand in the production every step of the way. In case you don’t know, according to Dark Horse, “The Strain” is:

When a Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and goes dark on the runway, the Centers for Disease Control, fearing a terrorist attack, calls in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his team of expert biological-threat first responders. Only an elderly pawnbroker from Spanish Harlem suspects a darker purpose behind the event—an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness. Collects issues #1-#6 of the ongoing series.

Guillermo del Toro took time from his way intense schedule to chat on the phone about producing “The Strain” comic like a movie, “The Strain” TV series for FX and he even dished on that juicy “JL Dark” rumor.

MTV Geek: What led to the decision to take “The Strain” to comics?

Guillermo del Toro: I was in conversations with Mike Richardson, who is a good friend and we’ve known each other since before the first “Hellboy.” He always wanted for us to work together in comics and we became really excited about “The Strain,” the novels. And he said, “Look, I can give your choice of artists, writers, colorists, you can really be in charge of the comic we will not run it without you.” He gave me all the creative control that I needed to get interested and that’s how the conversation started and I was very, very curious, because I always knew that the structure of the book could translate somehow, but I was curious to start exploring it, and comics were the perfect medium to do it.

Geek: You said you have a lot of creative control over this, how hands on, specifically, were you?

GdT: I produce a lot of movies. I’ve produced around 20 movies now and the way I do this is the same way; I want to be informed and approving every step of the way but I’m not a helicopter parent. The first choice of a producer, or in the case of the comic, me, is to choose the right writer and the right director, so to speak. So I chose David Lapham, I chose Mike Huddleston, I chose E.M. Gist for the covers and Dan Jackson as the colorist and by the time my two editors Jim Gibbons and Sierra Hands, by the time they submit the screenplay to me, they already went through the screenplay themselves and I make my comments. I must say, up to now, of all the scripts I’ve gotten for the comic, I had the fewest comments, because David is doing a stellar job at adapting. In so many ways, he has an easier time seeing what’s important in the narrative than I would. And I’m a huge fan of everyone I chose. I admire him. In the case of the art…same thing. I had more comments about…these characters shouldn’t look like this, these characters should look like that. Can you age him a little more? Can you age him a little less? Hair longer, hair shorter. And in some instances, I go as far as to doodle over the drawings and send them back to be corrected but as I said, Mike is doing an incredible job for example, translating atmosphere to the comic and action and motion is really great on this. I have sent a few pages back saying, “Color them in this separate palette.” So I’m very, very active. But at the same time I do only in the final stages of each of those things.

Geek: “The Strain” is a horror series and horror is not always the easiest thing to pull off in comics, how do you think “The Strain” handles atmosphere and stuff like that?

GdT: I’m gonna sound like I’m just pitching, but I seriously think David and Mike got it right. Ebviously, atmosphere comes from pacing. So the layout in the comic is incredibly important. In the last set of pages that I approved which is 2 issues later than what readers have now, there’s a whole page devoted to Eph and the exterminator climbing down into a cellar which is really beautifully laid out. Layout is incredibly important – the size of the panel, the position of the panel, how you’re going to read…you need somebody who is very skilled both as a script writer and as an artist and it requires a certain rhythm in the colors. In this issue that I’m talking about, the whole is issue is colored in very cool colors until a moment of shock. And that moment of shock is colored bright red. So it’s a really a combination of all the talents to pull it off.

Geek: What kind of changes did you have to make to consolidate the book into comic books?

GdT: The first thing I did, both Chuck Hogan and I wrote to David Lapham and Mike Huddleston and we all said, “Look, we’re not going to tell you how to do it, so give us your best shot and we’ll tell you what we think of that.” Then they came back with stuff that is really, really great. The changes that we have collectively had to do is…you spend a lot more time in moments, certain moments in the book that you couldn’t in a comic or in a screenplay for a movie. Because you have the luxury of describing and savoring. You can start by describing a scene physically in the way it is, how it’s set up, blah blah blah. Then you can go internally and describe how it feels which is very hard to do in a comic or in a movie. So you have to let go of some of the details in adapting or try to fixate on some of those details that are important. For example, in the last issue of the first series, there was one moment that was very important…Mike and David had done it in 3 panels…and I actually wrote back to them and said, “Can we give it a whole page.” That’s the type of dynamic that happens.

Geek: I know you’re incredibly busy, but is there any chance that you would sit down and write an issue of this, or Chuck, or both of you?

GdT: You know right now we are so busy trying to write the pilot and the first 5/6 chapters for the TV series for “The Strain” for FX that I think that we would actually be doing double. It would be confusing to the readers. I think think David is the most authoritative voice for the comic. He found his rhythm. I never want to be the one telling him what to do. For as long as he wants to write “The Strain” he is more than welcome to do it because he’s a master.

Geek: Can you update us on what’s going on with the TV show right now?

GdT: We’re planning to shoot the pilot in August. “Pacific Rim” comes out in July. Right after “Pacific Rim” we go into pilot shooting. We are already prepping the pilot starting next week. The pilot has been approved so it’s green-lit. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Our expectations are for FX to move ahead with the series next Fall and Winter and for the series to air in 2014.

Geek: How are you juggling all these projects at once, you seem to be involved in so many different things and you’re ACTUALLY involved in them, you’re not just overseeing them from a distance…how do you keep it all straight?

GdT: Number one, I have a terrible social life. It’s basically zero. I don’t like hanging out. I don’t like having a cup of coffee with someone. I’m terrible at social, terrible. I can only be social in a working environment. Second, I’m fortunate that my family loves what I do, so my daughters, my wife, they all want to be involved in the projects I do. So they travel with me, they come with me to the premieres of Rise of the Guardians. We look at the covers of “The Strain” together, so it’s very much a very meager social life. I wake up early around 5am. And I try to do something a little bit. Then I exercise for an hour around 6 o’clock. Go to Bleak House, which is my man-cave before 9 or 10. So if you compartmentalize the day, it kind of works. It’s still overwhelming. Right now, I’m overwhelmed.

Geek: Jumping back to the TV show real quick, what kind of feel are you going for with it?

GdT: That’s a very good question because that’s something we started to discuss from the get-go. Basically I’m trying to do what I do in my movies which is to show it as a reality, but as a reality that is stylized. It’s not like “CSI” or “The Wire,” it’s real but it feels a little stylized. But the way the camera work will be is very realistic. We want to keep the camera very documentary even if the look of the show is not. The look of the show is very designed. The style of the camera and the storytelling will be very loose. It will evolve from that feel of reality, and little by little we want to evolve into more stylish, horror feel that requires smoother camera moves, more suspense and atmosphere-driven moments so it will be a mixture. I don’t think that mixture has been seen a lot on TV.

Geek: Are we looking at a hardcore horror show? Will it be gory, will it be more atmosphere over blood? What are we going to see?

GdT: Well it will certainly be brutal. We are a TV show, we are restrained about how much human gore we can show, but we will be pretty brutal. If you read the novels and you read the comic, there are very, very harrowing human dynamics in the 3 books. Because the vampires in the books, the first people they want to kill are the people they love, so that’s gonna be pretty hardcore [laughs].

Geek: These seem to pop up all the time about you…about you working on something…but something came up about a potential “Justice League Dark” movie with Constantine and Swamp Thing…any truth at all to that?

GdT: When somebody asked me about “Justice League”…I’m not involved in “Justice League.” I am discussing…I’ve been discussing with the fans and I’ve been very, very open about how much “Swamp Thing” was key when I was a kid. Comics in Mexico came on the first two days of the week. Around Tuesday and Wednesday I would go to the newsstand on my bicycle and I would get “Swamp Thing” every time it was available and I loved Jack Kirby’s “Demon”. I love Constantine and all that. You know, I’ve been pursuing doing something with them for many, many years. Hopefully it’ll come to pass. But we are still just discussing.

“The Strain” hits shelves Wed. November 14th.