Dan Abnett

After our review of Primeval: Extinction Event we talked to its author, Dan Abnett. Dan is a British comic book writer and novelist, with decades of experience who produces an insane amount of work both solo and with frequent comic writing partner Andy Lanning. He has worked for 2000AD, Marvel Comics, Marvel UK, DC Comics, Games Workshop, and has recently been releasing original fiction through Harper Collin’s via their Angry Robot imprint.

Hi Dan, I’m Andrew, aka Baron Fortnightly of Blogomatic3000.com, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

First off, what is your origin story? How did you first become a comic book writer and later a novelist?

Dan: I’ve always liked comics, because they combined two of the things I loved to do best as a kid – draw pictures and write stories. I spent a lot of my childhood making my own comics. Eventually, I couldn’t draw them fast enough to tell the stories I wanted to tell, so writing became the thing I did. After University, I joined Marvel in London as an editorial trainee, and got my first chance to write freelance, for comics like Ghostbusters and Action Force.  Eventually, I went freelance as a full time writer, first on comics, and later novels as well.

How did you get involved with Primeval? Were you a fan of the show before you were hired to write Extinction Event?

Dan: I did like the show – I love dinosaurs. I had written several tie in novels, including one for Torchwood and other stuff for Doctor Who, and I was invited to write for Primeval by the producers.

In the afterword of Primeval: Extinction Event you thank some of the cast, did you spend much time on the set and with the cast?

Dan: I went on set to see over every inch of the base and meet everybody. They were incredibly helpful, and very nice too, and it was a very useful thing to have done. I also spent time talking to the producers.

You’ve written comics, novels, and the animated film Ultramarines, have you thought about pitching scripts to British TV shows like Primeval or Doctor Who?

Dan: if they’d have me :)  I think it’s an invitational thing.

Your original novel Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero has an interesting setting, what was the inspiration for the novel, and did you write a world bible before starting on the novel? Also can you tell our readers a bit about the background of the novel.

Dan: Triumff started back when I was first starting as a freelance writer, and was concentrating on comics. I knew I wanted to write novels too, so I started writing several in my ‘free time’ to see if I could sustain a piece of long fiction. An early version of Triumff dates from then. I never got it published, and I got very heavily into comic writing. In the late nineties, Black Library commissioned me to write Warhammer stories for them, which lead to Warhammer and Warhammer 40K novels. Suddenly I was a novelist too (I now have nearly forty under my belt!). So when the time came to think about publishing an original novel or two (as opposed to a tie-in), I went back to Triumff because I liked the idea. The published novel is a major rewrite of the basic notion, but its lineage goes back to the start of my career. It’s a fantasy set in an alternate England where the Elizabethan Age, powered by magic rather than technology, has never ended. Sir Rupert Triumff is a dashing hero who is caught up in a plot to bring down the Queen (Queen Elizabeth XXX), and the magic of the British Empire.  It’s got a strong thread of humour in it (lots of puns!), but it is also a high-octane adventure with serious threats and dangers. A lot of Elizabethan research went into it.

I’ve read in other interviews that you were a keen role-player when you were younger, do you still get the chance to roll those D10s?

Dan: Not as much as I’d like to, but DandD, Traveller and Call fo Cthulhu gaming certainly shaped my imaginantion and my way of making stuff up on my feet.

Have you thought about making a Triumff RPG?

Dan: I have now ;) That would be great.

I don’t think I’ve heard of an author yet who doesn’t enjoy reading, who would you say are your biggest influences?

Dan: I read a LOT, all genres and types. I read literature at University too. In terms of all time favourites, I’d have to mention John Buchan, Ray Bradbury, Lovecraft and Jack Vance…and modern authors like Kelly Link and Peter Temple.

Turning to your comic book work, you’ve worked on many of my favourite comics from Action Force (GI Joe in USA), Transformers and Death’s Head to Legion Lost, Nova and 2000AD; have you got a favourite character that you’ve not had the chance to work with or one who you’d like to return to?

Dan: I’ve been pretty lucky to have written most of my favourite characters. Just now, I’m working on several that I can’t believe I’m being allowed to play with (can’t mention them yet!). Iron Man was along term favourite, and having written him and War Machine in the early nineties, it was nice to come back to him for the recent Iron Man/Thor mini series.

Are there any artists or art teams that you’d like to work with in the future?

Dan: I have so many favourite artists in comics, that would be a hard question to answer easily. I am very pleased right now to be working with Brad Walker on Heroes For Hire at Marvel, and Richard Elson on Kingdom for 2000AD

Has there been a particular collaborator who has opened your eyes to a new aspect of your craft?

Dan: I write a lot of US comics with Andy Lanning, and have for years now. He comes from an art background (he’s a noted inker), so that really compliments in terms of storytelling. We work together because it’s fun: we like the same sort of comics and ideas and we push each other to think of ideas we wouldn’t have got to alone. Also, it’s nice to work with someone at least one day a week. The great blight of the freelancer is going stir crazy. It keeps us both sane in a solitary profession.

Over the last few years you seem to have become the “go-to-guy” for cosmic stories (Warhammer 40K, Legion of Super-heroes, Nova, and Guardians of the Galaxy). Could you tell us how you and Andy Lanning were chosen for DC’s Legion Lost/The Legion and Marvel’s Nova/Guardians of the Galaxy?

Dan: Andy and I were invited by DC to take on Legion, which was a daunting task because of the very protective fanbase. I think we won them over in the end. Andy and I had always loved Marvel’s cosmic stuff – we’d been big fans of Jim Starlin’s work – so we were keen to work on that range, and our DC Legion run showed Marvel what we were capable of. marvel gave us a try on Nova, and liked what we did.

How did you go about planning Legion Lost & the Marvel cosmic stuff? I assume you knew how everything would end before you started? The Marvel stuff in particular, being made up of mini-series, seems like it could have ended at any time.

Dan: Nothing’s a dead cert success in this market, so we built stories incrementally. If books got cancelled, we wouldn’t be left with vast epics half-finished. That way we could build on each level of a success and take the story a little further, heading towards a big, metastory epic ending as a dream goal. In other words, we knew roughly where the ideal end (s) was going to be, and we worked towards it (them?) in manageable  beats. If the series faltered or failed, we could wrap it up without a sudden, abrupt finish. I’m delighted it got us through to one of our big beat endings, The Thanos Imperative. It’s not The End, because there are more stories to tell, but it was An End we were very pleased to achieve.

Was it always the plan to cancel Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy after The Thanos Imperative?

Dan: See above really. Both series were critically acclaimed but struggling a little in the market. Transmuting them in The Thanos Imperative gave the Cosmic line a shot in the arm and allowed us to relaunch the characters in different ways.

I know you and Andy have The Annihilators (I’m looking forward to more Groot and Rocket Raccoon) and the relaunched Heroes for Hire coming out from Marvel. What an readers expect from these comics and what else do you have in the works?

Dan: The Annihilators, which is comic out in a double-header comic with Rocket and Groot, is part of our revamped  new push on the cosmic line. The Annihilators is perhaps the most powerful superteam ever assembled, a ‘cosmic Avengers’ featuring Quasar, Silver Surfer, Gladiator, Ronan the Accuser and Beta Ray Bill. I think they could take on anybody, and they’ll need to be tough to face the threats were working up. Heroes For Hire is a ‘street level’ Martvel series about vigilante heroes in New York: Moon Knight, Iron Fist, Misty Knight, Paladin, Punisher, Elektra….that kind of character. Very intense, hard-edged, real world. We took it on as a deliberate antidote to the  wild cosmic stuff, and we’re loving the change of pace.

Thank you very much for your time Dan, I could ask you many more questions but I know this won’t count towards your 1000 words a day ;-)

For more information on Dan Abnett’s novels and comics please go to DanAbnett.com

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