Peter S. Beagle Brings The Last Unicorn to Comics
Peter S. Beagle’s beloved novel The Last Unicorn was published in 1968, followed by a successful children’s film in 1982. Now it has been made into a graphic novel published by IDW and another manga-inspired Last Unicorn is in the works. GraphicNovelReporter spoke to Beagle about the process of making The Last Unicorn into a graphic novel, how he originally came up with some of the characters for it, and which of his other works are being adapted to the comics medium.
How did you get the idea of turning The Last Unicorn into a graphic novel?
Actually, I didn't. The idea was brought to me by my business manager, Connor Cochran, who had worked in comics early on in his own career and still knew lots of people in the field.
How did you find the artists for it?
We went through a fair number of possible artists, as I recall. But first we had to go through a whole different publisher! The first deal Connor made to get The Last Unicorn done as a graphic novel was with Scholastic's Graphix line…the way that deal was set up, I was going to write the adaptation and Michael Wm. Kaluta was going to do the art. It didn’t work out, though…. I just couldn’t do it, so I canceled the contract. Something like two years later, a mutual acquaintance put us in touch with Chris Ryall at IDW, and that's when the project came back to life. This time around was an utterly different experience. I was too busy with other things to even think of tackling the script, but IDW went with the adapting writer that Connor and I chose, Peter Gillis, and they patiently put up with us turning down three or four proposed artists before Renae De Liz and her husband, Ray Dillon, turned up. The minute I saw Renae's first character sketches, I knew something amazing was going to happen, and it turned out I was right.
How involved were you in the creating of the graphic novel version?
Peter Gillis—who did an extraordinary job on the adaptation—would email me clear descriptions of what he was planning to do, and in what proportion, and I would weigh in with my feedback and reactions. Then as script and art came together I'd see everything again, courtesy the book's editor, Mariah Huehner. But in truth there usually wasn't very much for me to say at that point, simply because everyone was already doing such fine work. But we did have to hash out some things, especially when the fifth and six issues needed to break free of IDW's normal story limit of 22 pages per issue. That got dicey for a bit, but it all worked out in the end.
What of your other works are being made into graphic novels? Will Two Hearts, the sequel to The Last Unicorn, be one of them?
Two Hearts will definitely be a graphic novel. On that one, Connor's joke is that we're "getting the band back together." Peter Gillis is adapting again, Mariah Huehner is editing, and Renae and Ray will do the art. The only difference is that it's being done through Conlan Press, not IDW. Conlan Press is also planning graphic novel versions of several of my short stories, including "Come Lady Death," "The Bridge Partner," and "Dirae." Meanwhile, IDW has just started work on a graphic novel adaptation of my first novel, A Fine and Private Place. Peter Gillis and I just spent several hours at his home in Elmsford, New York, discussing possible ways to visually and structurally express a story that has so much emotion and dialog and so little action. Don't know who the artist is going to be yet on that one, but whoever it is will have to be amazing with faces.
Is it true there’s going to be a Last Unicorn manga?
A remarkable Thai-born artist named Peter Yuthrayard has been working on an epic black-and-white adaptation of the book for a long time now, and I know just enough about manga to be able to say that his style isn't exactly pure manga, but has been heavily influenced by it. Call it manga-ish. What he's doing is very different from the graphic novel version, but very eye-catching. It's also hundreds and hundreds of pages long, and I'm not quite sure how it will finally be put out when he is finished. But I'm quite eager to see the final result.
Have you read many graphic novels? Are there any writers or genres you particularly like?
When the notion first came up of making The Last Unicorn into a graphic novel, I was basically ignorant on the topic. In a general sort of way I knew the world of graphic novels existed, of course, but my own childhood comic book reading was six decades in the past, so the specific things that Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and other people were doing were unknown to me. I've since corrected that, usually when visiting friends who have lots of graphic novels on their shelves. You could safely say I was dazzled by Alan's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell. Those have stayed in my head.
Is your publishing company, Conlan Press, going to be publishing graphic novels soon?
Conlan Press isn't "my" publishing company. It's run by my business manager, and was originally founded to do some projects of mine, so of course a lot of my things are going to wind up there. But it really is its own thing. Not long ago Mariah Huehner agreed to edit Conlan's graphic line, so I'm sure there will be lots of interesting comics and graphic novels from the imprint down the line.
Do you have any interest in writing original graphic novels?
At the moment, no, because my writing schedule is jammed with stories and novels and nonfiction books I've committed to write, not to mention the stage scripts for two possible musicals. But there's so much I've done in these last few years I never thought I'd do, so at this stage of my life I'm perfectly willing to believe that anything is possible. As a creative form comics writing isn't that different from screenplay writing, which I've done quite a lot of…so who knows. It might yet happen.
Is there anything you’d like readers to know about you or The Last Unicorn?
What always gets me, when I look back at how I was and who I was, writing that book, is how much I was winging it. For example, I was fairly close to the end before I knew where the missing unicorns were. I was just going from sentence to sentence, page to page, hoping I'd be able to figure it out before I got to that scene. And there are characters wandering in and out of the book by complete coincidence. Schmendrick, for instance, came from bedtime stories I was telling my oldest daughter about the adventures of the world's worst magician. And the only reason there's a cat in the novel is because a particular copper-and-ashes cat with a crooked ear happened to be asleep on my desk when I had to start writing that scene. The book is a combination of so many things coming together not necessarily because of me, but sometimes in spite of me. Indeed, if I had to pick the one genuine miracle of my writing career—apart from the people I was born to, who encouraged me so—it's the fact that The Last Unicorn has stayed around the way that it has, that it's gone through so many incarnations and meant so much to so many people. One part of me, I guess, knew what it was doing. But the rest of me certainly didn’t.