Dan Abnett has written a great deal of very well regarded tie-in and franchise fiction for everything from Guardians of the Galaxy to The Horus Heresy, from 2000AD’s Sinister Dexter to Doctor Who novels. His work has included novels, comic books and a CGI movie. Starburst caught up with him to find out what this extremely popular and prolific author was going to write next.
Starburst: Some of your recent work for the Black Library touches on aspects of the Cthullhu mythos. Can you tell us more?
Dan Abnett: The tendrils of Lovecraft get everywhere, and I love the fact that the Lovecraftian Mythos, which I don’t think he realised was a mythos at the time, permeates all of modern society, and as it clearly influences the 40K universe, I thought it was about time something very visible showed up, but I didn’t want it to be a Lovecraftian plot token, I wanted it to be something else that people who know Lovecraft would know what it refers to without it actually being that. It adds a frisson to it all.
What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you?
You really want to know? I live in a haunted house. I’ve always been interested in ghosts but I’ve never had any phenomena. My wife lived in a house where some slightly odd things used to happen, but we could explain all of it, but we now live in a 200-year old house in Maidstone and it was a cavalry officer house in the Napoleonic wars and we get apports, which is the appearing out of nowhere of physical objects and the best one of that was a huge bunch of keys that appeared in the middle of the kitchen floor. The keys don’t fit anything. At the moment he’s apporting Spanish coins, though none of us have been to Spain. I say he, I think it’s the Cavalry officer, we call him the Hussar.
Can you tell us about your story in Solaris’ new anthology, Magic?
They asked me to do a magic story and I tried to make it seem like an authentic, real world story. I felt that a political memoir could diverge nicely into the weird. It was fun to write and I really enjoyed it because obviously it’s very different to the things I normally get to do. When we did the book launch at Foyles, Audrey Niffenegger and Sophia McDonald talking about Halloween and someone asked did anyone believe in ghosts, so there’s a weird synchronicity there.
How does it feel to have someone else work on something you’ve created?
Provided someone does it respectfully, I never have a problem with it. With the Horus Heresy, it’s structured in a way that we would do that. So even though there are characters like Loken that I feel very proprietorial towards because I created them, I have no problem with them being used by others, I just want to make sure that if it’s a character I want to use again, that it comes back in reasonably good condition, or at least not dead.
Sometimes the process of asking for permission gives us a much better take on the character. Graham McNeil recently came to me and asked if he could kill a character in the Horus Heresy that I created, and by having that conversation we came up with a greater significance for why that was happening and it grew into something greater from there.
When you’re working in a shared universe like Marvel’s say, you’re inevitably going to see different versions of characters and ideas you created, but comics evolve in a different way.
Talking about Marvel, you wrote the recent Guardians of The Galaxy comic books, which are being made into a movie. Can you tell us more?
I think it’s delicious that they’re being made into a movie. I have nothing to do with it, they didn’t tell me about it before they announced it at San Diego. About a year ago I signed off on minor characters that we created, and I did wonder why they were asking. So if the movie, for instance, features Kosmo (the space dog), I‘ll be very happy because we created Kosmo.
Do you know if any of your other works are going to be made into movies?
I’ve already written one movie, and I am working on another two movie projects that I can’t talk to you about. Deadwardians and Embedded are also being looked at as potential projects. I’d love to see Gaunt’s Ghosts as an HBO TV show though what’s going on at the moment is pretty satisfying.
What is the difference between working for Rebellion, DC and Marvel?
Logistically, not a great deal. Working for American comics is different from working for British comics, because you’re writing 22 page monthly issues for things rather than 5 page instalments for 2000AD, there are simple logistical differences, but essentially you’re working with an editor and passing material along. Marvel and DC aren’t that different apart from the way the universes work, I‘ve always thought, weirdly, that DC is a friendlier company to work with than Marvel, but Marvel are more vigorous and exciting.
I was always a Marvel reader as a kid so I prefer their characters, though the DC ones are great as well. These days both of them are going through such ructions. I really enjoy working at the moment with Vertigo and Boom, whom I’m writing the Hypernaturals for, which remind me of the great creative experiences I’ve had with Marvel in the early ‘90’s when I was starting out in America. Boom is a fabulous company to work for, and because the Hypernaturals is our own thing, there’s much more creative freedom and liberty.
You mentioned Vertigo, how did you come up with New Deadwardians?
The name Deadwardians came to me and I thought it was funny, and then I thought what can I do with that, and in my mind the world came together. I didn’t want to do a zombie story or a vampire story because they are ubiquitous and I have no interest in either of them. Then I suddenly realised I had a brilliant idea for a world in which there were zombies and vampires and I needed them, so I decide not to call them that.
Only after that I realised that the best elevator pitch for them was it’s Downton Abbey meets The Walking Dead, but really it’s a class satire that happens to be supernatural. I loved doing it. DC and Vertigo love it, it got commissioned really fast. In better days we’d already be working on season two, but they’re waiting to see how well the trade paperbacks do. Season two is ready to go though. In the mean time, we’re doing another series which isn’t connected to The New Deadwardians. Can’t say much about it at the moment, but in terms of high concept, it is awesome.
Will we see any more Sinister Dexter?
Yes. The next story is called Witless Protection. We’ve changed artists around, and I’ve got a stalwart, superstar 2000AD artist doing this one. I can’t believe he’s doing it. Can’t tell you who it is though.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book for company, what would that book be?
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. He’s my favourite author and that’s my favourite book. However, it’s quite a short book, so what I’d really like is the complete version of The Stand which is also one of my favourite books. Stephen King is a fantastic author, and with The Stand I know it would keep me going for a long time. If I’m allowed a third choice it would be Greenmantle by John Buchan; it’s the sequel to The 39 Steps. It’s one I read every few years.
You wake up in the Tanith First and Only (in the 40K universe). What happens next?
Depends on what my rank is. I’d probably follow orders very dutifully until I die three pages later. Almost every science fiction universe is almost a wish fulfilment thing, in as much as I’d love to find myself aboard the TARDIS or wake up in the Star Trek universe. They’re all aspirational, except 40K, you don’t want to live in it.
You wake up in Downlode (Sinister Dexter). What happens next?
Oh, Downlode? In Downlode, where almost everything is possible, I’d go to the Bar None and get a drink.
Is there a franchise you haven’t done that you’d love to do?
I’d love to write a Star Wars novel. I would love to be given either major Marvel or DC, either a Thor or a Green Lantern. In terms of universes, I’d love to write a Blake’s 7. It’s one of my all time favourite things. They approached me for the audios but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule, but I do love Blake’s 7. I wanted Paul Darrow to read the Eisenhorn stuff.
The Doctor Versus The Emperor, who wins?
That’s a story I’d imagine where The Doctor would end up freeing The Emperor from the Golden Throne and leading humanity to a glorious new future that escapes the stagnation of 40K, and then giving him a jelly baby and leaving, and being terribly glad about it all. Despite my loyalty to 40K, I’d think The Doctor would win, though he’d be chased by the Inquisition for all time. That would be an entire series of books.
Truth or Beauty?
Simpsons or Futurama?
Tom Baker or Matt Smith?
Charles Fort or Eisenhorn?
Traditonal Games versus Video Games
Up next from Dan Abnett are Gilead's Blood and Gilead's Curse out next Spring from the Black Library, and graphic novel The New Deadwardians (reviewed HERE).