Interview: Neil Kleid on ‘Worlds of Dungeons and Dragons’
Writer and Xeric Grant winner Neil Kleid has come a long way since he wrote his award-winning improvised comic Ninety Candles. Since that time, he’s managed to have a diverse and interesting writing career tackling various comic book titles such as G.I. Joe and X-Men Unlimited.
Recently, he’s signed on to help bring Devil’s Due Publishing’s upcoming series The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons to eager comics fans. ComicMix caught up with the busy author to get the latest info on Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, his other upcoming projects and his love of axes.
COMICMIX: How much did you know about Dungeons & Dragons before you started writing the comic book? Did you ever play the game growing up?
NEIL KLEID: Once or twice, as a kid. I was mostly into the Bard’s Tale videogame and the early Dragonlance books. When I did play, I was always a dwarf. I liked the axes.
I’d stopped reading the DL books years ago, but my pal Andrew Dabb’s been adapting them for Devil’s Due for a while now and so, to check out his work, I’d flip through them at the store and I kind of got hooked again. I’m mostly into the books that focus on the characters from the War of the Lance.
CMix: What attracts you to a project like Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons in the first place?
NK: Intriguing characters, creepy monsters, short, condensed stories. Also, free rein and choice. Good editors. Stories I liked when I was younger that strike a chord inside.
CMix: How did this project first come about and how did you get involved?
NK: I’d been talking to the folks at Devil’s Due for a while now, trying to set something up with them – specifically with the G.I. Joe license. I had a meeting with former editor Mark Powers a few years
back and then traded several emails with current editor Mike O’ Sullivan. We always talked about the possibility of doing something together.
Then, Dabb mentioned they were looking for new D&D writers just as Mike emailed asking if it was something I’d be interested in. He hooked me up with editor James Lowder and we ran through the types of stories I wanted to do, narrowing it down to "The Legacy." It’s been a lot of fun so far.
CMix: This is your first time doing something in the sword-and-sorcery genre, right? This comic seems like new territory for you based on your previous work.
NK: Absolutely. My stuff tends to be dramatic real-world fare, often tinged with Jews, the mafia or Jewish mafia. Either that, or it’s comedic and sarcastic. But the D&D playground offers a fresh challenge, new stories and new vistas for me to drive out on and conquer.
I did, however, write a short story for NBM/Papercutz’s Tales from the Crypt anthology entitled "Extra Life’"which explores the obsessive online World of Warcraft community and how one’s descent into the game can sometimes affect real life. It was a nice prelude to Dungeons and Dragons.
CMix: Tell us a bit about the story of Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons?
NK: It’s an anthology of stories set in the vast and diverse realms of the D&D books, novels and games. Eberron, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance and more. Each issue contains two 20-page stories, often broken into two parts across issues, as was "The Legacy," the story I adapted.
CMix: Thematically, what are you trying to explore with this comic?
NK: I’m a fan of stories that focus on familial legacy – fathers and sons, brotherhood, etc. It’s a theme that carries through works like Ninety Candles, Brownsville and even The Intimidators, which was a superhero series I wrote for Jim Valentino’s Shadowline.
"The Legacy," my story that runs through issues #1 and 2, hones in on the Majere family – specifically long-dead archmage Raistlin Majere and his nephew, the soon-to-be-tested Palin. I explore what drives them to be who they are and the differences that make them unique.
CMix: Can you tell us a bit more about the characters in the book?
NK: As I said, this is Palin Majere’s story. Palin is the son of Caramon and Tika Majere, heroes of the War of the Lance, but rather than take after his warrior father, Palin’s footsteps follow his dead uncle Raistlin – the Black Robe magician who died to stop the Queen of Darkness from taking over the world.
Other characters in the book include Dalamar the dark elf, Raistlin’s former apprentice and current head of the Black Robes, and Justarius, head of the Wizard Conclave.
CMix: On the comic book cover it says "Adapted by Neil Kleid." Can you describe your specific role in the making of the book?
NK: Sure. I basically sat down with the story written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman and planned out what parts of the story to keep and what to ignore. I looked for which moments would best encapsulate the entire story in order to fit it into a forty page script.
I then went ahead and took the prose format and adapted it into panel descriptions and dialogue for the artist.
COMICMIX: For people who might not know, can you give us a bit of info on your background? How did you get started writing comics?
I started in the indie scene, working on minicomics and moving my way into anthologies and the like. I had always wanted to draw comix for a living, superhero comics specifically, but when a DC editor suggested that my writing far outweighed by illustrating, I focused on good ol’ scripting.
Back in 2000, I hosted a panel in NYC with Joe Quesada, Mike Carlin and Axel Alonso about comics and the media and to advertise it, I attended a Bizzaro Comics signing at the 14th Street Virgin Megastore with fliers in hand.
There, I met a lot of the Brooklyn indie scene like Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Evan Dorkin and Jessica Abel, and they encouraged me to draw real-world comics, not superheroes.
That’s where I began really exploring how to make my own comics. I tell people I’ve worked the road less traveled… really putting in the sweat. I went from minicomics to webcomics to self-publishing to the indie scene and am just now breaking into the larger companies.
In 2003, I won a Xeric grant for Ninety Candles, scored a graphic novel contract with NBM Publishing and within two years had worked my way up to my first work for Marvel, which was an X-Men Unlimited story. The last X-Men Unlimited story.
CMIX: What were your favorite comics growing up?
NK: I’ve always been into comics and knew that no matter what I did with my life, comics would be involved. Growing up, I devoured the old DC Comics Presents book, Uncanny X-Men, Teen Titans and anything with the Atom or Metamorpho. I was also a huge Green Lantern and Blue Beetle fan.
CMix: Tell us a bit about your writing process. Do you develop the characters first and then the story? The other way around?
NK: Well, in the case of Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, I didn’t develop the characters or story — they were already there. All I did was adapt it for comic book format. For my own work, I usually come up with the theme, then I develop the story. I work from short pitch to larger outline, creating characters as I go. Then I start scripting.
CMix: When writing a comic based on another property, do you have much contact with the company that owns the rights? If so, do you need approvals from them or anything like that?
NK: I had no contact at all. Everything went through Devil’s Due and James Lowder. I assumed there were approvals and such, but I didn’t get much feedback from them.
CMix: When you go about writing something like a D&D comic book, are you influenced by any authors, books or other comics?
NK: Absolutely. In this specific case, I was influenced by the breadth of the Dragonlance novels themselves. But when adapting anything or writing anything and setting scenes and panel descriptions, you also tend to have certain atmospheres in your head lifted from film, books and comics you’ve seen.
For instance, the scene in the staircase, walking up to Raistlin’s laboratory, was inspired by every mad scientist/castle scene I’ve ever read or seen.
CMix: Because of the enormous popularity of the D&D world, do you feel any pressure to handle things in a certain way with the comic?
NK: Uh, yeah. With any popular license or character, fans expect a certain level of devotion to the original works. Look at the furor over the Phantom Menace. Look what happens every time a superhero movie or television show is made.
You need to make the story key, but you also need to translate it well and not insult the fans.
CMix: What’s one thing in particular you want fans to take away after reading Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons?
NK: ‘Don’t hate it."
CMix: How does writing a Dungeons & Dragons comic compare to writing something like Brownsville or some of your other "indie" work?
NK: Well, the language is different, the research is different. D&D or G.I.Joe or Superman… they have mythology. Something like Brownsville has mythology, too. But while one is based in real-world historical
archiving, the other is based in character development and world building.
CMix: You also do graphic design and illustration for corporate clients. In a perfect world, would you rather be writing comics full time?
NK: 115 percent, yes.
CMix: What other writing projects are you working on at the moment? What’s next for you?
NK: I’m currently working on two collaborative projects. I’m co-writing a five-issue miniseries for IDW about celebutantes with Hero Happy Hour writer Dan Taylor while conspiring with Highwaymen co-writer Marc Bernardin on a webcomic called "Starstruck" for a soon-to-be-named major media online destination.
I have a graphic novel called The Big Kahn coming out from NBM Publishing in the fall along with the collection of my Slave Labor Graphics mini-series, Ursa Minors. In July, I have a short story with Chris Mitten in Image Comics’ Comic Book Tattoo anthology and a few more irons in the fire.
CMix: Sounds good Neil. Thanks for your time.
NK: No problem.
Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons #2 hits stands this week. For more info on this and other comics from Devil’s Due Publishing, check out devilsdue.net.