Right now, my primary concern is making new things.
—Brian K Vaughan, in the AV Club last August, discussing “Saga.”
Some time ago, I was in LA drinking gin not so much WITH Brian K Vaughan, but AT him, trying to convince him to write a screenplay for DUNE.
There had of course been a movie and a mini series of DUNE already, neither of which had been terrible successful, because while it is on the one hand a space adventure story about a young man fulfilling his potential, it is also a weird, hallucinatory drug novel full of interior monologues on space religion, planetary ecology, esoteric galactic court intrigue, and the lifecycle of giant worms.
The director who had been attached to this Quixotic project for the past couple of years had just given up, predictably, because what is mysterious and provocative on paper often looks dumb on screen (giant space worms), and also because he could not figure out how to make it into an action movie. And so the assignment was swirling around town, being pitched to every nerd with any credibility, and I had made it my job to convince all of those nerds to take it.
“I don’t think DUNE can be a movie,” said Brian K Vaughan.
“That is the point,” I explained. A DUNE movie is impossible. But a DUNE screenplay—the teasing of a single narrative, 120 minute through line out of the shifting, druggy sands of that massive book—is the ultimate nerd sudoku.
I didn’t care so much about getting a movie of DUNE actually MADE. I was just suggesting that he and I and every nerd we know get a studio to pay for a floor of the Chateau Marmont for a month so that we could have fun together trying to solve it.
(You may notice how I casually scammed myself into the enterprise I was suggesting for Brian K Vaughan. That is how I do things.)
But, to my gin-shock and gin-horror, Brian K Vaughan did not want to do this. He did not spend his time writing glorified fan fiction on someone else’s dime.
“What kind of nerd ARE you?” I asked with disgust.
And then he said something to me that I have thought about almost every day since. There are already enough remakes, re-imaginings, and re-boots.
In fact, I learned that night, there is tremendous in Hollywood pressure to ONLY make movies with “pre-awareness”—some direct or vague connection to another movie, book, TV show, or toy line. Because marketing to some bit of nostalgic cultural shrapnel lodged in the memory of a mass audience is much more effective than attempting to sell them on something new.
(And indeed that may be why the director who did not make the second remake of the movie DUNE (after the SciFi mini-series) went on instead to direct a movie based on a board game.)
Brian K Vaughan was not mad about this. It makes sense, he said. But he would prefer to make new things. Not just because it is a noble thing to do, but because he felt it is his job. People like him, and me, who like comics and SF and fantasy and DUNE grow fond of our imaginary fandom gardens and wish to tend and improve them forever.
But writers cannot just be fans; and it is the nerd writer’s job, perhaps more than others, not to reflect, but push forward, advance new ideas, suggest new connections, and make new things.
It was the sort of thing that makes me put my glass of gin down. This guy just talked us both out of a free month at the Chateau Marmont, which is about the only thing I care about, and yet he was right.
Not long after that, BKV left his television writing job to make something new. It is a creator owned comic called SAGA, illustrated by Fiona Staples, and it is a great, star-faring epic about space-crossed lovers in an interplanetary war, their baby, who has horns, and robots with televisions for heads. It is strange, sexy, funny, delightful, and probably un-filmable, certainly for grown ups, and on every page, new.
I hope you will consider checking it out. Also, please make something new. And also, if anyone is involved with the production of DUNE, I’m still available to work on it. Because I know it’s still in the works, and I prefer Room 43.
That is all.
I, like Hodgman, am a huge fan of SAGA. Always so happy to see it in my stack when I make my runs to Bergen Street Comics. Brian K Vaughan rocks.