Lilja: So tell me a little about yourself. Who are you and what have you done so far in comics?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I’m a little bit of a jack of all trades. I started—and continue to be—a playwright, with productions in New York and around the country. When I finished grad school (in 2003), Marvel hired me to write a new, more humanistic version of The Fantastic Four, which led to more work from them: The Sensational Spider-man, the horror-influenced Nightcrawler, a few mini-series, and now, of course, The Stand.
Lilja: How did you get involved in The Stand?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: The editor of the project, Ralph Macchio, called me and asked if I would be interested in adapting The Stand for Marvel. I thought about it for about two seconds, said yes, then Ralph asked me to “audition” for the project. To take a sequence from the book (the “Hand of God” sequence) and show how I would translate it into a comic book script. That audition was given to an artist (Mike Perkins, in turned out), who drew it; those pages were given to The King, who approved, and then we were off and running. (Once all the contractual stuff had been worked out, that is.)
Lilja: Please tell me a little about how you work when you translate the book into the comic.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: The book is the bible. I’d read it before, of course, when I was a teenager, then I read it all the way through before starting the adaptation. I didn’t outline the whole thing; I outline as I go, mini-series to mini-series. In other words, I outlined Captain Trips,” then I outlined American Nightmares. When I’m done writing American Nightmares,” I’ll re-read “On the Border,” then break that down into two or three mini-series, then outline them, one by one. In the end, when all is finally said and done, I’ll have read the book two or three times.
Lilja: How controlled are you in your work? I guess King has the last word on everything, right?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Stephen King absolutely has the last word; everything Mike (the artist) and I do is funneled through to his people. And of course I work closely with my editors at Marvel, and Stephen Kind’s agent, Chuck Verrill, gives everything the once over, as well. It sounds like there are lots of chefs in the kitchen, but we’re all serving the same story—and trying to stay as close to Stephen’s voice as possible.
Lilja: Has he asked you to change anything so far and if so, can you tell me what?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Knock on wood, miracle or miracles, he has not asked us to revise anything.
Lilja: Is it nervous to work on something as big as a Stephen King book or is that just like any other comic?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Oh, no, I would say it was definitely nerve-wracking, at first. He’s such an iconic writer, and The Stand is such a beloved book. Now that we’re in a bit of a rhythm, it’s less anxious-making, though I do sort of have a moment of fear/panic/horror every time I e-mail my latest script in…
Lilja: Given the good reviews the comic has gotten you must be very proud of your involvement in it?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Extremely. I think everyone is doing the work of their career, and the final product—the individual issues and the collections—are extremely handsome. It’s funny, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be so pleased and invested—since The Stand is an adaptation and not something original—but I’m as proud of it as I am of anything else. It’s a real challenge and honor.
Lilja: Does it make it easier or harder to get good reviews? I guess it must feel nice but I also guess it puts pressure on you to keep delivering the same high quality as well, right?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: To me, the pressure comes from the top. Nice reviews are always much appreciated, but they don’t mean beans if Stephen King isn’t happy, you know? If he’s happy, and Marvel’s happy, I’m happy.
Lilja: Were you or are you now a fan of Stephen King and his work? Had you read The Stand before this assignment?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Huge Stephen King fan. I don’t think I’d be a writer today if my mom (also a Stephen King fan) hadn’t passed his novels on to me after she’d read them. What’s great about working on The Stand is that it’s made me rediscover my love and appreciation of his writing. And now I’m going back and reading all the novels I haven’t yet read. (I stopped at around Insomnia, I think.)
Lilja: How far in the series are you now? I take it that you are in for all the issues, first to last, right?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I am currently scripting the last issue of American Nightmares, which is the second miniseries based on the novel’s first part, Captain Trips. So I’m about a third of the way through. And yes, the plan is that artist Mike Perkins and I will be on The Stand until the bitter, bitter end.
Lilja: Thanks for doing this interview. I enjoyed it!