“We could have done things differently to speed up but working on a tight budget there’s only so much we could do!” PJ Montgomery and Gavin Mitchell on the long awaited release of Steve Jackson’s The Trolltooth Wars
It’s been two years since PJ Montgomery and Gavin Mitchell Kickstarted their adaptation of Steve Jackson’s fantasy novel The Trolltooth Wars, and it’s finally about to see the light of day! So where’s it been and what was the hold up? We catch up with PJ and Gavin to discuss one of the most anticipated indie books of the year and find out if it was worth the wait?! (Stay tuned for our full review tomorrow!)
Let’s start at the beginning, what made you want to adapt The Trolltooth Wars in the first place? It’s not the most well known of FF books as it is just a Steve Jackson book, and a long form novel at that, so why turn it into a comic?PJ: A comic set on the world of Titan had appealed to me for a while, and if you’re going to do a comic set on Titan, it’s best to start by adapting one of the stories that’s already out there. The FF books themselves are great gamebooks, but when you get right down to it, there’s not a lot of story in them. Trolltooth Wars being a novel already seemed to fit the bill. It also features a number of famous FF characters to throw into the mix, all in one story, which is always a plus.
We assume you were both huge fans of FF growing up? What’s the appeal of the world of Fighting Fantasy to you both? And why do you think it is still popular 35 years after the first book?
PJ: I was, certainly, ever since I discovered the series in my school library. A large part of my affection for Titan, and the rest of the worlds from the series, is nostalgia. I loved the books as a kid, and that’s still there. When I go back to them today, many of them still hold up really well as solo role-playing games. The chance to adventure across a fantasy world is an appealing prospect, and Titan’s a pretty cool place to do it. There are a lot of well crafted adventures in the series, which is why I think it’s still going today.
GM: I’m pretty new to the series by comparison. My most influential memory is the Deathtrap Dungeon videogame on the Playstation. It was crushingly difficult but it’s always fascinated me. As a late comer to the Fighting Fantasy, I don’t have the rose tinted lens of nostalgia but I had no trouble getting into it, because the books do such a good job of creating an immersive world.
Were there any particular challenges in adapting it? Unlike other Fighting Fantasy novels I guess you were lucky having a straight forward narrative to follow, but did you need to embellish or flesh out any parts to make them work better as a comic? And are there many (or any) parts which you had to omit to make it flow?
PJ: I found that writing the script was a fairly straightforward process. There are things we had to cut out, but the main structure of the story is intact. We did add a scene to the end, as we were struggling to make the end of the novel work for the comic, I think because we are working in a more visual medium. There are other small additions here and there, either to help with the pacing, which will naturally change when you’re bringing something from one medium into another, though a few were simply for fun. We’ve hidden a lot of Easter eggs, both FF related and otherwise, in the book, and it was fun to sneak these in.
How involved was Steve Jackson? Did he read and approve visuals and the script, or did he leave you to it once he had approved your adapting it?
PJ: Steve had final say on everything. We’d get on with creating the pages, then send them to him for approval. He would then either okay them, or request some edits.
GM: I had (for the most part) a lot of creative freedom. I wouldn’t stray too far away from the original designs but I still got to have a lot of fun. It was an odd mix of us getting on with it for large chunks and then seeking approval for those parts.
Which was your favourite character to bring to life and did you feel under any pressure to satisfy the legions of Fighting Fantasy fans out there and get it correct? Was there much source material you could work with?
PJ: For me, it was Zagor. Undoubtedly. I got a kick out of writing dialogue for him. The first time I wrote his name into the script I genuinely started grinning like a crazy person. I also love our take on the Chervah, though that’s mostly down to how Gavin’s drawn him. I don’t think pressure’s the right word, but I definitely wanted to get it right. I think it helps that I am a fan myself, so if I was happy with it, hopefully other fans would be too. And yes, we’ve taken things from a number of other FF books to help embellish certain scenes here or there. In particular, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Citadel of Chaos, Forest of Doom and Creature of Havoc all gave us extra material we could use, to varying degrees.
GM: I really liked drawing Balthus Dire. He reminded me of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2 a little bit so I ran with him in that direction. I absolutely felt the pressure to pay appropriate reverence to the characters and the material but PJ helped out and whatever made him happy made me happy.
Apologies for bringing this up, but I need to ask – it’s been a long wait for this book to finally arrive (2 years by my reckoning), so what’s been the hold up? Was it just too ambitious a project to be met in a short time? Or were there problems along the way?
PJ: Numerous factors, to be honest. The biggest one probably is that it’s a much bigger project than either of us expected. Neither of us have worked on a book of this size before, and with Gavin doing the pencils, inks, colours and letters, it was a massive undertaking. I think in retrospect, there are some things we could have done differently to mitigate the delays somewhat, but that’s how you learn. Still, we’re both very proud of the finished product, and we hope people will think it’s been worth it!
GM: Like PJ says in retrospect we could have done things differently to speed things up but working on a tight budget there’s only so much we could do. It became apparent early on that hitting the deadline wasn’t going to be possible so making sure the standards throughout the book didn’t drop became a priority. If it’s going to be late I at least want it to look good.
Have you met with much negative reaction from your Kickstarter backers as they have waited this long to receieve their copies?
PJ: A little bit, but most of our backers have been incredibly supportive and understanding. I can’t really thank them enough for that.
GM: I think even the best Kickstarters meet criticisms but we tried to focus on the positive support from the community. They’ve been awesome!
Fortunately I’d say it was worth the wait, as it looks incredible – especially the colouring which is just breath-taking in places! But did you ever want to bring in an extra pair of hands to get it finished on time? Or were you determined to finish it as you wanted?!
GM: I had started it by myself and I was determined to finish it that way (and we had no money to hire anyone else to help out). If I was to do it again I would bring in another pair of hands and they would be in from the start. I don’t think I could have let someone come in midway through the book for fear of it changing the look I was going for. I’m super happy with how it looks even if it took as long as it did.
So now it’s finished, what’s the plan? Send out to Kickstarter backers I’m guessing, but will it be available elsewhere? Will you be selling it at Cons?
GM: We shall be hauling this around at conventions and setting up a shop to sell it online but nothing is live yet.
And finally, we have to ask, was it worth it?! Would you consider a project this ambitious again and have you learnt plenty of hard lessons from this one?
PJ: Ask me again in six months!
GM: Yes, but only time will tell. Either way we’re proud of the final product.
The Trolltooth Wars will be eventually available from the Trolltooth Wars online store (when it goes live!) and at comic conventions this summer, while stocks last!