Few comic adaptations were as ripe for the picking as the outrageously popular Netflix series, Stranger Things. With a prequel novel centering around Eleven, a vinyl recording of Halloween sounds inspired by the show, and even a video game in development, there are plenty of stories that can be pulled out of the established canon. One of those stories comes in the form of the Dark Horse comic by Jody Houser, who tells the untold tale of what happened to Will Byers while he was in the Upside Down in Stranger Things season one.
Houser is renowned for her work with DC titles such as Mother Panic and Supergirl, but she has also shown her skill with comics adaptations for shows like Doctor Who and Orphan Black, games like Halo and Starcraft, and movies like Star Wars. The four-issue Stranger Things title that Houser worked on with artists Lauren Affe, Keith Champagne, and Stefano Martino, maintains that grand tradition. With the second issue of the series coming out on Halloween, appropriately enough, we spoke with Houser about the journey so far.
DEN OF GEEK: This comic fills in a part of the story from season 1 of Stranger Things that maybe some viewers didn’t even realize they were missing! Tell us about the premise of the comic and how far it will take us in terms of the chronology of the show.
JODY HOUSER: The comic covers the entirety of season one and all from Will’s perspective, so it’s not exactly a true adaptation because we see scenes that we saw in the TV show but from the other side — literally the other side! It’s an examination of how he is the one person that manages to survive the Upside Down because you had soldiers who went in, you had scientists who were pulled in — and they’re adults and they didn’t make it! And of course, poor Barb; R.I.P. Barb. Then you have this not-very-old kid who somehow managed to get out, not unscathed, but alive. So it’s sort of a study of exactly what he had to do and what he went through to stay alive and make it out.
What are some of the moments you had to re-create from the original story to maybe show from a different perspective, and how did you choose which moments to include?
Basically every moment that we see Will during season one is in this comic, so with four issues, there’s actually a lot of room for new material and seeing these new scenes that are completely apart from the TV show. But at the same time, the moments that we are familiar with help us build the timeline of where things are on the other side.
How do you prepare for a TV adaptation assignment like this? Do you go back and watch certain episodes as part of your research before coming up with an idea, or are you presented with the seeds of where the publisher or production company want it to go?
In this case, it was a little bit of both. I had already watched Stranger Things season 1 twice before I got the job offer, so I went back and watched it a third time. But we did have a couple of seeds of ideas from Netflix, one of which being Will in season one in the Upside Down. I don’t think it was specifically to cover the whole season, but we did want to see that entire journey that we didn’t get to see.
So it was going through and picking out the parts where we do see Will during the season where he’s able to talk to his mother in different ways and where you hear his voice and building the story around those moments because those are the fixed points in continuity that readers will already be familiar with and just seeing what’s happening those other times we don’t know where he is.
We saw Will communicating through lights in season one, but that concept fell by the wayside in season two. Will we get to see how Will is manipulating electricity from the Upside Down?
Uh spoilers, let’s say! But no, it’s fun because it was pretty cool watching Joyce work out how to communicate with her son, but Will had to go through the same thing on the other side to figure out how to talk to his mom, so we will get to see some of that.
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Where in the story development process does the collaboration with the artist begin? It seems like you’d need to know what the silent in-betweens were going to look like before you sketched out the script, especially for this show which is so atmospheric.
I’ve done a lot of work where I both knew who the artist was before I started or I didn’t find out who the artist was until I had already started scripting. So I always try to keep my script style a little bit loose so there’s plenty of room for the artist to come in and execute their storytelling visual chops which are always going to be way better than mine. So I tend not to do things like layouts, and I’m always fine with artists who are like, “You know, I think it would be better if we did this,” because they’re pretty much always right. They’re pretty good at what they’re doing.
So they might tell you they want to draw out a moment in your writing to increase suspense?
Yeah, like expand this into an extra panel or two, or these panels we can actually condense so we can let this moment be a little bigger. And honestly that’s one of my favorite things in comics is just seeing how everyone takes the seeds and just adds their own element and flavor, and at the end it’s something that’s greater than all of the parts.
You decided to include the Dungeons and Dragons campaign as a framework for your story. Can you tell us what your thoughts were about how Will would discover where he was and how to survive through his understanding of the game?
The D&D was obviously such a big element for his friends in the first season, and it’s sort of how they were able to process what was going on because they had this metaphor of these adventures and these monsters. And for Will it even made more sense for him to be looking at it through that filter because the D&D game was the very last thing he experienced in the real world before he was chased down and pulled into the Upside Down.
Also, having these flashbacks to their gaming sessions is a way that we can still include his friends in the comic, and you can still see that friendship that’s really at the heart of Stranger Things when Will’s by himself and not with his friends. So just the fact that he has been on adventures before, and the idea of the party is such a strong core of the show, but he’s not with his party right now. Some of the lessons he learned while playing with his friends and being Will the Wise, being a part of that party, that’s something that he carries into the Upside Down, and it does help him survive.
With art in the same nostalgic 80s style as the show itself to complement Houser’s compelling story, the Stranger Things comic from Dark Horse should appeal to fans everywhere as they anxiously await the season 3 premiere in 2019. The first issue of the comic is available now from Amazon and Comixology, and the second issue arrives on October 31, 2018.