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The Exile (graphic novel)

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My mother taught me to read at the age of three–in part, by reading me Walt Disney comics.   I never stopped.  At the age of 28 or so, I was reading a rather sub-par story, and said to myself, “This is terrible!  I bet I could better myself.”  Whereupon, I found the editor’s address and wrote him a medium-rude letter (sort of my specialty, I’m afraid {cough}), saying, “Dear Sir–  I’ve been reading your comic books for the last 25 years and they’ve been getting worse and worse.  I don’t know that I could do better myself, but I’d like to try.”

By good fortune, I’d hit Del Connell, a gentleman with a sense of humor, who wrote back and said, “OK.  Try.”  He also sent me a couple of pages to show me what a script format looked like, and–I wrote him a story.  He didn’t buy it, but he did something much more valuable; he told me what was wrong with it.  He did buy my second story, and I continued to write for him for the next couple of years.  At this point, higher-ups in the Disney Corporation said, “Hey!  We have forty years worth of Carl Barks scripts in our files–why are we paying people to write new ones?”  So they stopped buying new scripts, and that was the end of my comics-writing career.

When graphic novels began to be more visible, a few years ago, I said to my literary agent, “You know, I really enjoy the comics form–if anyone ever happened to want me to write a graphic novel…”   And by good fortune, shortly thereafter, along came Betsy Mitchell, of DelRey, and said, “Hey, would you like to write a graphic novel for me?”

So I did.

What Betsy asked for was, “a new Jamie and Claire story, but one that fits within the parameters of OUTLANDER.”   “OK,” I said.  “Hm.”   Well, OUTLANDER is called that because it’s Claire’s story (told in her first-person viewpoint), and that’s what she is–an outlander.  She doesn’t know the country or people or customs, doesn’t speak the language; she doesn’t see things, misunderstands or misinterprets a lot of what she does see, and/or is actively kept from seeing things.

So000….(I thought)…what if I were to look at that story from the point of view of someone who knew everything that Claire didn’t know.  Consequently, THE EXILE begins slightly before the beginning of the events in OUTLANDER, and is told primarily from the viewpoints of Jamie Fraser and his godfather, Murtagh.  Ergo, while you will–if you’ve read OUTLANDER, and I’m thinking most of you probably have {cough}–recognize major incidents from the original novel, you’ll also see a completely new storyline that weaves through these events.  (And you’ll find out what happened to Claire’s bra and shoes–something that seems to weigh on a good many people’s minds, judging from the mail I get.)

The first thing–aside from writing the script–was, of course, to find an artist to do the illustrations.   I chose Hoang Nguyen from an enormous stack of artists’ samples, both because of the sheer beauty of his work (he does wonderful things with light, color, and composition–a very painterly style) and especially because of his skill with facial expressions.  (Don’t know how familiar you are with graphic novels, but in a good many of them, the characters have only two expressions: blank-faced or scowling.)

We worked together very harmoniously on the project–I’d give Hoang a capsule description of a character, he’d do a sketch, I’d make suggestions, he’d revise the sketch, then do a full-color version, etc.–and while I couldn’t say that the artwork looks Exactly like what’s inside my head (even the best collaboration stops well short of telepathy, and this is ultimately a cartoon), it certainly conveys Jamie and Claire’s general appearance, charm, intelligence, and humor.

(I gather writers and artists work in various ways on scripts.  Coming as I did from a Disney background, I did the script ala Disney–I specified exactly what I meant to happen in each panel, complete with angles, details, and focus-length (long-shot, close-up, etc.), with the dialogue beneath.   (See Excerpt 1)  Hoang later told me that some writers merely give him a synopsis of the story, and leave it to him to lay out the artwork.  Luckily he’s a very nice person and very flexible, so our approach worked fine.)

Now, Betsy gave us a page limit of 192 pages–so THE EXILE covers the first story arc of OUTLANDER–roughly one-third of the material from the original novel.   We had no idea how the book would be received, but I’m very pleased to report that it opened at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels, spent three weeks in that slot, and remained on the list for a grand total of fourteen weeks!  So we assume that a number of people did like it, and thank you very much!