Ryan North & Christopher Hastings: The ‘Adventure Time’ Exit And Entrance Interview, Part One
With this month’s Adventure Time #36, the award-winning run from Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb comes to a close, making way for the new creative team of Christopher Hastings and Zachary Sterling. It’s an interesting and exciting piece of news, especially for fans who know Hastings from his work on the long-running Adventures of Dr. McNinja webcomic, but after three years, North, Paroline and Lamb’s run is worth looking back on as one of the best comics — not one of the best licensed books or one of the best kids comics, one of the best comics — of the past few years.
To that end, I spoke to both North and Hastings for a combined exit and entrance interview. Today, the two writers look back on North’s run, including the incredible “Choose Your Own Adventure Time” issue and Marceline’s knowledge of computer hacking.
ComicsAlliance: I want to start things off as confrontational as possible, so, Christopher Hastings, what do you think of what Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb have done on Adventure Time over the past three years?
Ryan North: And how could it be done better?
Christopher Hastings: I think we can all agree that it’s wonderful that their reign of terror has come to an end.
CH: I guess this is the part where you put in “Chris is joking” or “makes laugh-y sounds” or something. I always have to remember that in these transcribed interviews.
CA: So you want me to write [with dead seriousness]?
RN: “He then hung up the phone and walked away.”
CH: “The call resumed an hour later.” All right, let’s see. I have many nice things to say about the previous run of Adventure Time. I read it, happily, even before I had to as part of a job.
RN: That is actually the highest compliment.
CH: That’s my nice thing I have to say about it. “I read it for fun, even when I didn’t have to.” No, actually, I think one of the cooler things that came from the comic, and Ryan and I talked about this at one point, was how Ryan was able to explore aspects of the universe without screwing with the continuity of the show. Sort of doing things like, what are natural assumptions that could be made about the characters? Ryan knows that Marceline is really old, so of course she probably figured out how to use computers during that time.
CA: I’m glad you brought up the Ewlbo story. I think the “Choose Your Own Adventure Time” issue got a lot of attention, and rightfully so, it was very, very good and innovative, but the story with the robots and Marceline hacking their code might actually be my favorite Adventure Time story, period.
RN: Really? Awesome. Can I ask why?
CA: It’s really funny! I’m obsessed with the movie Hackers…
RN: Oh, that’s right up your alley then. I like the idea of Finn and Jake being really into the idea of hacking, but having no idea where to start.
CA: When Ryan launched the comic, there really wasn’t any other Adventure Time media to contend with outside of the show. Chris, do you see it as more of a challenge of having to stay in step with both what’s going on with the show and with following up a long run of comics, or does it just present more opportunities?
CH: I have run into a little trouble already, but actually Ryan helped out with it. The issue that I’m turning in tomorrow was about Finn and Jake going inside of Jake and discovering that there’s a kingdom in there, but that’s what last Tuesday’s episode was about. I had to do some rewriting on that one since it was no longer new territory. I called up Ryan and said “hey, what would you do about this?” And Ryan, what was it you said? That it was your worst nightmare come true?
RN: I think you said “What would you do if this happened?” and I said “I’d leave the book forever.”
RN: No, but it is your worst nightmare. My ideal with the book is to feel like you’re writing something that’s essential for the show, but that stands on its own for anyone who hasn’t seen every episode, to just read it and enjoy it. That can be tricky when you have something where the show’s done something close to what you’ve already written. You want to have to acknowledge that in some way, but also not make it feel really obvious and clunky, because people who haven’t seen that episode won’t know what you’re talking about. It’s a neat walk you have to do with that.
CA: Was there any similar situation that you ran into on the book?
RN: No. [Laughs] I didn’t, I got really lucky, but I had a plan in place and when Chris called me, I could tell him “here’s what I would do.” We could come up with a solution that would work really well.
CA: That brings up another interesting thing about Chris following you on the book. You two are friends and have been for a long time.
CA: Well, you’ve known each other and stood close to each other at conventions for a long time.
CH: Ryan gave a reading at my wedding, and I’ve driven Ryan’s dad’s boat.
CA: The strongest bond of friendship.
RN: Those are the two highest watermarks.
CA: Can I give you a suggestion on a future issue? Finn drives Jake’s dad’s boat.
RN: For ultimate friendship!
CA: You also worked together on Galaga, which was in our Best of 2013 list. Was Adventure Time the kind of book where you’d talk about it while Ryan was writing it, and those conversations just sort of shifted over, or was it something you’d never really talked about before Chris started writing it?
CH: We talked about it some. When Ryan first got the job, he was visiting and watching Adventure Time episodes, getting ready to start, over at my apartment.
RN: Yeah, I was like “Hey, Chris, thanks for having me over, can I sit in this room and watch cartoons for a day? It’s work.”
CH: We talked about stuff here and there. I don’t know if there was anything too specific.
RN: But we would’ve, had there been a need to.
CH: I think we talked for a little bit about how Magic Man is just like Q.
RN: Yeah, just this space jerk.
CA: I have no trouble believing you guys related everything to Star Trek.
CH: That’s more on Ryan than me. I’m a filthy casual fan.
RN: I may have just talked at Chris about Magic Man being like Q.
CH: Listen, I’ve seen episodes of Q! I know what his deal is!
RN: It’s not called “Q,” it’s called Star Trek.
CH: I’ve seen all the Q movies! Even the ones he’s not in!
RN: Where he’s just behind the scenes.
CA: When you had just gotten the job and you were watching episodes of the show in Chris’s apartment, did you expect that it’d be a long-term job, something that you’d be on for three years?
RN: Oh, no, I didn’t think that at all. This was the first time I was writing a monthly comic book, so I had no idea how long these things last, or if they last, or what. I was just trying to write a good comic book, and it wasn’t until maybe two years into it that I thought “I don’t think this is going to stop. I just have to keep going!” The nice thing about leaving the book is that I understand that in most cases, creative teams get fired off of books. They’re told “we have a new team, you’re off, wrap it up,” or even just “you’re off, don’t bother wrapping it up.” We got to say “you know what? Let’s leave, let’s leave together, let’s make a clean break for the new team.”
We told Boom! that we were ready to leave six or eight months before we actually did, plenty of lead time to have a smooth transition and get someone awesome to take over. I don’t know if every time someone leaves a book that it’s like this, but everyone went away happy. It was super nice. No one went away going “aw, dammit, I’m so mad at everyone!”
CA: While you were doing Adventure Time, you and the art team, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, also did another monthly comic, an eight-issue miniseries, Midas Flesh.
RN: Why not, right?
CA: Since Adventure Time was your first monthly comic, you’d never worked together before, right?
RN: No, not at all. A while back I was trying to find our first email to each other, but it’s lost. We came in as complete strangers, and I think Boom! took us out to a convention for maybe #2 or #3, early on, and we met and got along really great. Very quickly, I stopped writing Adventure Time comics and started writing Adventure Time comics for Shelli and Braden to draw, which is slightly different. It’s more personal, the stories and art work really well.
Before our first issue, I did panel layouts for every page, and they completely ignored them and made something that was way better than what I’d written. It was just a matter of comics being a collaborative medium, and finding people and trusting people to take the ball you’ve thrown at them. It was great. I love working with Braden and Shelli. It’s why we did Midas together, we wanted to continue that jam.
CA: What changed about writing it for them as opposed to just writing the comics? Was it just that your scripts got looser when you realized you had an artist you could trust?
RN: My scripts got looser and I stopped doing the panel layouts and just did breakdowns, but it was more that I’d see how they’d draw things and I’d start picturing things as they would draw them. I was never great at it, because they continually draw things that work better than I imagine. They are literally better than I had dreamed, but it’s really just a matter of when you know the artist, you know their strengths, you start writing to what they want to draw or what they’re awesome at drawing. It sounds pretty subtle, but there’s a difference to it, I’m sure.
A good example is the first issue of Midas, which I wrote generically, and then when I got Braden and Shelli to draw it, I rewrote the whole thing. Also, it was five years old and it needed to be made better.
CA: We talked about my favorite issue, but do you have a moment where you feel like everything came together exactly as you wanted it to be? Or is your award-winning run just full of those?
RN: You’d sooner ask me to pick the prettiest star in the sky, right? [Laughs] No, but #10, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style issue was great. I wasn’t sure, my scripts were a mess because trying to describe the flow of that story on paper was really messy, but it turned out terrific. It was actually Shelli and Braden’s idea to have the arrows between the choices be color-coded, which was the key to making it all work. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it, but it was brilliant.
Issue #30 was the zine issue, where we had different artists do different minicomics, and all the characters had their own comic zines. That was terrific, it came together better than I’d imagined, which was nice.
CA: So when you realized you wanted to leave the book, did you suggest Chris as your replacement? I know the editors at Boom! seem very aware of the top-tier webcomics talent, like you two, KC Green and Noelle Stevenson. Chris, were you someone they were alredy pursuing, or was it a suggestion from Ryan?
CH: I think it was from Ryan, right?
RN: Yes, Shannon Watters, who’s the editor of the book and is terrific, we talked a couple of times about it. “It’s getting closer, we should probably think of a new team at some point.” [Laughs] Chris was pretty much the perfect choice. He’s got a great voice. He’s good at doing comics, which is always nice.
CH: Thanks, Ryan. It’s my job.
RN: You’re good at your job! I wanted someone who was good at my job to do my job for me when I wasn’t doing my job anymore. Not my job. It’s your job. And you should do a good job.
Next: North and Hastings look forward to Hastings’ run as the writer of Adventure Time.