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Interviews in Sherwood

TONY LEE

Conducted and transcribed by Allen W. Wright

Tony Lee has written for radio and television, but is best known as a writer of comic books and graphic novels. He has written for characters such as X-Men and Spider-Man. He has written several Doctor Who comics including the mini-series Doctor Who: The Forgotten. His graphic novel Outlaw - The Legend of Robin Hood was published by Walker Books in the UK in June 2009 and is due for a North American release in September 2009. He will explore other myths and legends in a Dracula sequel, Harker (approved by Bram Stoker's descendants) and Excalibur - The Legend of King Arthur. He currently lives in Birmingham, UK.

Click here to visit Tony Lee's Official Website

Click here to visit the official blog for Outlaw - The Legend of Robin Hood

This interview was conducted by e-mail in June 2009

AWW:    Why did you decide to write a Robin Hood graphic novel?

TL:      I've always been a massive fan of Robin Hood, ever since an early age. I loved Errol Flynn, I loved Prince of Thieves, I loved Robin and Marian - I even enjoyed the Patrick Bergin one. But my biggest influence was the '80s Robin of Sherwood, which came out during my formative teenage years, and because of this Robin was always there. And there was one more, but I'll come into that in a minute.

Splash page of Outlaw - The Legend of Robin Hood, art by Sam Hart         A few years ago I wrote a comic called Midnight Kiss, and it involved the Fae and crossed a variety of timelines - one of which was Robin Hood, and I had a convoluted subplot that I was never able to use (as the comic was cancelled after #5) where in the past, the hero of the book stole Robin's silver arrow because it was a shard of the silver arm of Nuadha... as I said, convoluted. But, fellow Robin Hood fan and close friend Sam Hart, an artist who'd worked with me on a Starship Troopers graphic novel enjoyed the one page that made it through so much that he drew me a 'fanart' sketch of Robin Hood - the one that eventually became the first page of the book. Although by then it wasn't Robin.

         I saw the picture and immediately emailed Sam asking if he wanted to do something Robin Hood based. His reply was even faster than mine. We knew we had something; however, while talking to my then editor at Walker Books, I mentioned that I was going to be taking a Robin Hood pitch to San Diego for the Comic Con and he told me to hold on that until he spoke to his bosses - within a week, we had a deal at Walker Books and a graphic novel to create!

AWW:    What are some of your earliest memories of Robin Hood, and what appeals to you about the legend?

TL:      I think that he stood for the common folk, it was the fox and the hound, the fighting against tyranny - I've always rooted for the underdog. And as I said above, I grew up on Michael Praed's Robin, and there were moments in that story, especially the 'Nothing's ever forgotten' theme that just haunted me for years.

         But actually my favourite Robin Hood memory - and the one I allude to above - is the British West End musical Robin: Prince of Sherwood, by my friend Peter Howarth and Rick Fenn, which played in the early nineties. I must have seen that show a few dozen times before it toured, and even then I saw its final show. I'm actually listening to the OST [original cast recording] as I write this. I loved that musical, to me it caught the right mixture of adventure and 'established history' of the 1190s Robin, and I think more than anything, as I wrote the book, I wanted to be as close to this mindset as possible.

AWW:    You've written for various established properties such as Doctor Who and Spider-Man, as well as the upcoming Dracula sequel Harker. What challenges are there in adapting a familiar story or character?

TL:      There are a variety of issues with working with characters that appear in the mainstream, some of which have a little more 'wiggle room' than others.

         When you use characters like Robin Hood, King Arthur, Oliver Twist or Dracula, you're using characters that are in the public domain. Characters that effectively nobody owns, and therefore, nobody can complain bitterly when they're used in whatever way you use them. However, other licenses, like Doctor Who or Spider-Man have solid 'dos and don'ts', and therefore, you're held to a higher standard, and, therefore, a longer process. In the latter, there are a whole load of people who are involved. People who'll tell you that character A wouldn't say or do something, sometimes to the extent of killing the whole story because it wouldn't work within the constraints - but when you get it right, when you start to work the magic, it's an amazing thing.

AWW:    What unique challenges did working on Robin Hood present?

Tuck from Outlaw - The Legend of Robin Hood by Sam HartTL:      Well, the biggest one was, of course, that not everyone agrees with the 1190s Robin. I had people emailing me saying how unhappy they were that I wasn't portraying him as a 13th century yeoman, but at the end of the day I know the 12th century stories far more, and to be honest so does everyone else.

         The other issues I had, though, were what to keep and what to miss. I didn't want this to be a 'by the numbers' story that everyone knew - I needed new angles in there - Tuck being in the crusades, Marian a widow, that sort of thing - but every page I spent on that was a page less that I could spend on other things.

AWW:    What aspects of the Robin Hood story do you think work best and least well in comics?

TL:      I think it all works well, as long as you work out the best way to tell it. You can't show the action of a archery contest, but you can build up the tension of whether he makes it or not.

         I think there will always be a comparison between static images and motion, but I think in comics, it comes off okay.

AWW:    Outlaw is very well illustrated. How did you collaborate with artist Sam Hart on this project? Did you write "full-script" [the dialogue script given to the artist] or "Marvel style" [where the dialogue is added after the art]?

TL:      I wrote full script, very much like a screenplay. But because I knew Sam and knew what he could do and because he was lettering the book as well, he knew that if he wanted, he could play around with the page structure if needed. I didn't allow him to bring things across pages, as I had a strict page by page plan - if he'd added a page around page fifty, for example, every right hand page turn following that would have been ruined, but in the boundaries of the page, he had carte blanche to do what he wanted. As long as he followed my script!

         It would read as a panel by panel script, first a description in the panel - it might be incredibly detailed, stating exact positions of certain characters, or it might be as simple as 'Robin smiles as he replies'. Then under that I'd place the dialogue, always in capitals. That way it gave me a better idea of how the words would look on the page.

AWW:    I noticed references to the ballads, Errol Flynn film, the Robin of Sherwood TV series and I believe traces of Paul Creswick and NC Wyeth's children's novel. And I see the sheriff shares the same name as the one in Magazine Enterprise's 1950s Robin Hood comic book series. What were the major influences on Outlaw - both inside and outside the Robin Hood legend?

TL:      Everything. But, Murdach wasn't named after the 1950s one, as well you know - Ralph Murdac was the actual Sheriff around the time [in the 1180s], so I thought I'd take a little from history, and a little from Henry Gilbert.

         Actually, Henry Gilbert's Robin Hood was probably the first book on the outlaw that I ever read as a child, and so this was a major influence. And of course, as I said, Robin of Sherwood was another factor. When I started to research, J.C Holt's Robin Hood was a constant companion and again, influenced the way I told the tale. But I pretty much devoured most Robin Hood genres as a child - so there's likely to be a little bit of everything in there somewhere...

AWW:    One of the interesting twists on the legend was making Marian a widow instead of a "maid". What inspired this change?

From Outlaw - The Legend of Robin Hood by Sam HartTL:      There's always a need to 'make things your own' when you do this - to have something slightly different. Richard Carpenter added Nasir. Prince of Thieves made Robin and Will Scarlett brothers. And I wanted to do something similar, things that were only seen in my book.

         I hadn't seen anything mentioned about the 'Hooded Man' line, but in research, the hanged man always came up because of the Executioner's hood - and so this is how Robin became the Hooded Man. Marian as a widow was to give her a little bit more of a reason to help Robin - on finding out her late husband's treachery, she instantly becomes an ally to the outlaw. And of course, Friar Tuck being a Templar Friar meant that I could make him more of a fighter. I always saw him more as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings movies than as a fat idiot.

         And to be honest, I think all three changes worked. That said, I'm sure they've all been done elsewhere!

AWW:    The ending does leave room for a sequel. Have you any thoughts about returning to the Robin Hood story?

TL:      We actually had one planned - originally the book was going to be called 'Robin Hood: Outlaw's Pride', and there was talk at Walker of a sequel called 'Robin Hood: Outlaw's Return' where we'd jump fifteen or so years and show the end of Robin's life. We had a whole treatment worked out and it was solid, we were even going to return to the Jerusalem scenes to add a few little foreshadows - it would have bookended this perfectly - but the sales figures showed that Robin was a great seller, but they weren't sure if a sequel was ready yet. So, we looked at other areas to work on and the book got renamed to Outlaw - The Legend Of Robin Hood and Walker commissioned a series of 'Heroes & Heroines' books, starting with this and continuing with Excalibur - The Legend Of King Arthur which hopefully comes out next year, and a third one that we haven't confirmed yet.

         Hopefully down the line I'll be able to write the bookend Robin story - mainly because it tied in so many of the later myths. But then who knows - I might write more Robin Hood in other ways.

AWW:    It's been a pleasure to read Outlaw - easily one of the best versions of Robin in comics form. And thanks for the tip of the old bycocket hat.

Also, check out this interview with Sam Hart, the artist of Outlaw.

OUTLAW - TTHE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD by Tony Lee, Sam Hart and Artur Fujita. Read the graphic novel we've been discussing.

Cover for Outlaw - The Legend of Robin Hood, art by Sam HartAmazon.com
Buy the Outlaw graphic novel [hardcover edition] on Amazon.com (to be released in Sept. 2009)
Buy the Outlaw graphic novel [trade paperback edition] on Amazon.com (to be released in Sept. 2009)
Buy the Outlaw graphic novel [UK trade paperback edition] on Amazon.com (available now, ships in 3 - 4 weeks)

Amazon.co.uk
Buy the Outlaw graphic novel [Walker Books, UK paperback edition] on Amazon.co.uk (available now)

Amazon.ca
Buy the Outlaw graphic novel [hardcover edition] on Amazon.ca (to be released in Sept. 2009)
Buy the Outlaw graphic novel [trade paperback edition] on Amazon.ca (to be released in Sept. 2009)


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Interview, © Allen W. Wright, 2009.

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