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Alex Irvine talks 'X-Men: Days Of Future Past' novel

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Writer Alex Irvine (Daredevil: Noir, Iron Man: Rapture) took time out from a very busy schedule (including writing for games like Marvel: Avengers Alliance) to talk to me about his newest book, the X-Men: Days Of Future Past Prose Novel, an adaptation of the original X-Men comics that inspired the new movie.

Reid Kerr: Alex, thanks for taking the time with us. When did you first read the original “Days of Future Past” storyline in X-Men #140-141? Did it have an impact on you at the time?
Alex Irvine: Reid, happy to gab. I don’t remember exactly when I first read the story, but it was probably a couple of years after it came out. I used to read a lot of comics from garage sales, so I was often a while behind was was current. I do remember at the time I was thinking a lot about time travel because I was reading other time-travel stuff, so it fit right in. And yeah, this horrible future with everyone dead!? That was a big deal. I mean, it’s a great story. I remember very vividly being pissed that Nightcrawler wasn’t one of the few who had survived. He’s always been just about my favorite X-Man.

Reid: How did you get involved with this project? How long ago were you brought on board?
Alex: This one’s easy. Stuart Moore asked me to do it at San Diego Comic-Con last summer, I said sure, and it went from there.

Reid: Doing the novelization of the original storyline, how did you approach doing an entire book based on just two issues of a comic book? That timeline has been revisited several times, did any of that play into your book?
Alex: Talking with Stuart, we decided to steer clear of all the parallel storylines as much as possible. There’s some reference to the Hellfire Club, because that’s relevant to Kitty Pryde, and the book opens at the prison in New Mexico where the Blob has just escaped. But you don’t have to know the whole story about all the various Summerses and timelines to enjoy this book.

Also, since the original story is so short, I had a whole lot of room to expand and update. The book is moved into the present day, which changed a bunch of things, since communications technology has really put an end to the narrative device of putting people on a plane or in a car and then having to wait until they get somewhere before they can do anything else. Another thing that I wanted to do in the book was take the leash off Magneto, and boy, did I ever. That was one of the best parts about writing it.

Reid: What’s the difference in your approach in doing a novel, and doing a novelization? Is this something that Marvel is hands-on with?
Alex: Marvel is vigilant about their characters, as they should be, so there were plenty of conversations to be had while I was drafting and revising the book—but one thing I like about working with them is there’s a lot of room to tell the kinds of stories you want to tell, as long as you stay within certain broad parameters. The other thing about the original story being so short is that I was able to flesh out a lot of stuff about the present-day part of the arc: what the Brotherhood is up to, what the other X-Men are doing when they’re not fighting on the floor of the Senate, et cetera. There’s more time to dig into character relationships in the Sentinel future, too. Everything moves so fast in the comic that it was nice to be able to slow things down a little and let the characters breathe.

In general, when you’re writing a novel from scratch on your own, you (by which I mean I) just kind of wander through it, finding your way, and as it starts to come together you get a clearer idea of its shape. With a novelization, that whole process is inverted. You start with a screenplay (or in this case, some comics) so the frame is already there and the shape is already clear. What you’re trying to do in that case is let the whole story move the way a novel moves, without losing what made it good as a movie (or in this case a comic).

Reid: When I watch a movie made from a comic (or book), the original source material is always in my mind. When you watched the movie, was it that way with you, or can you separate the two stories?
Alex: Don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t seen the movie yet! I was sick and had another book to finish. This week…

Reid: You’ve written in many different formats (comics, novels, novelizations, etc). Do you have a different way of approaching telling a story according to the format you’re writing in?
Alex: The only thing I’ve managed to figure out about process in fifteen years of doing this professionally is that I do it a little bit differently every time. Sometimes I get an idea for a beginning and work the story from there. Sometimes I can’t do anything with an idea until I know exactly how it ends. Sometimes I get an image in my head, or a sound, or a sentence. The initial kernel of the story has a pretty profound effect on how the early parts of the project go, so I never know what I’m doing until I’m pretty far into something. I kind of envy people who have a strict process and do the same thing every time, but if I try to do that I get hung up all the time. Each project is its own process and requires its own approach.

Now, having said that, there are things different kinds of stories have in common. I doodle lots of pictures when I’m working on a comic, sketching layouts and stuff like that so I can offer more useful art direction in the script. I tend to outline when I’m doing a novelization just to make sure I’m balancing the source material with the novel form, but when I’m writing an original novel I avoid outlines like they might kill me.

Reid: What’s next for you?
Alex: There are a lot of things coming up. Let’s see…my novelization of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out in six weeks, give or take. In September, you’ll see the Marvel Vehicles Owners Workshop Manual, which is a Haynes manual on some of your favorite Marvel modes of transportation. Next year sometime my first episode of animated TV will show up, but I don’t think I can say what it is yet.

Other than that, I’m working on a couple of comics projects, three new novels, and a new game project being developed concurrently with a new mobile gaming platform.

Also! On Wednesday there’s going to be an announcement on some social-media platform or other about a new TV-related book project I just finished. So keep an eye out for that even though I can’t tell you what it is!

-- Reid Kerr wonders when Colossus will ever get a line in an X-Men movie.

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