Writer Arvind Ethan David has been adapting Douglas Adams’ stories about Dirk Gently — a “holistic detective” and the star of the new BBC America show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which David executive-produces — into other mediums for more than 20 years.
In fact, David was in high school the first time he borrowed the character — for a stage play titled Dirk, that he wrote with his friend James Goss. A few years later, while undergraduates at Oxford University, the duo produced the play, which saw Adams himself in attendance. “They say you should never meet your heroes. That’s rubbish advice. Always meet your heroes,” David tells EW. “When we adapted the play, we changed the plot [of the first book]. I was absolutely terrified when Douglas turned up because I thought he would be upset because we had changed his plot. I said to him very timidly afterward, ‘Is that okay, that we changed it?’ And he went, ‘Oh, you fixed it. Perfect.’”
David went on to work for Adams’ production company before starting his own. It was that early experience (and Adams’ approval of him) that led executives of Adam’s estate and family to ask him to adapt the property for television. Now, David is bringing the character to comics, courtesy of IDW Publishing, where he’s teamed up with artist Ilias Kyriazis to tell an original story that sees Dirk reunite with time-traveling professor Reg Chronitis. Dirk discovers that holistic detectives can have more than one past — and more than one childhood to spark nightmares.
“Taking Dirk Gently on new adventures in new mediums is as much a part of my identity as is imaginable,” says David. “We wanted to reintroduce the character, and comics seemed like the most natural medium for that. It was all part of a holistic plan, if you will, about the interconnectedness of things”
The most recent collected volume of the comic (published by IDW Comics) is titled Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Salmon of Doubt Vol. 1 and borrows from Adam’s unfinished novel of the same name.
“The Salmon of Doubt was so not meant to be the last Dirk Gently novel. It was maybe a new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel, or maybe neither of the above,” explains David about the final book, which Adam’s estate gave him access to along with the deceased author’s notes. “The big thing that’s in it that I found really compelling is Dirk comes to America. We always knew that we wanted to bring Dirk to America, but The Salmon of Doubt gave us posthumous permission.”
The title, which David notes has the same kind of profundity as another Dirk Gently title, Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, offers a metaphor for Dirk’s abilities.
“Salmon are plugged into the electromagnetic fields of the world; they can literally navigate to the point of their birth. They swim upstream and navigate back to the exact pond, stream, or tributary or river where they were born years after their birth, to give birth there again,” explains David. “That was such a great metaphor for what Dirk’s ability is. He is hard-wired into the ley lines of the universe and connected on a profound level with the laws of cause and effect, unlike salmon who do this unthinkingly. Dirk is a thinking human, so he suffers from doubt. So he is a salmon of doubt.”
David says this duology within the character is the key to translating Gently into all multiple mediums.
“Dirk Gently is Dirk Gently in the same way that Sherlock Holmes is always Sherlock Holmes and James Bond is always James Bond. He has this essence of kitten-like inquisitiveness and fearlessness, but also a very sensitive side. You have to get both of those things right,” says David. “He is the most-connected man in the world, but it’s also his curse because it’s made him the least-connected human being in the world. He has no friends or family. He’s an orphan.”
The graphic novel features the comic version of Gently, who is based on the book version, meeting his TV incarnation. (If that sounds trippy, it’s just par for the course in terms of Adams’ novel, the comic and the BBC America show.) The comics also feature more characters from the books, including Sally Mills, Dirk’s nurse companion and possible girlfriend, and his cat Bernice.
“The comic shows the linkages between the overweight, badly-dressed Dirk of the books, and the modern, millennial Dirk of the show [played by Sam Barnett],” says David, who executive-produces the show along with creator Max Landis. “What we’ve done in the comic is show what happened to Dirk from The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and the start of the TV show, but also ask, ‘What universe are we in? How many alternate timelines are there? How do we tie those together so there’s cohesiveness or interconnectivity between all the versions of Dirk?’”
The comic also takes full advantage of the visual medium to showcase the zaniness of Gently’s adventures, while including plenty of Easter eggs for fans of Adams other works. “There are four sequences where if you had to have multiple versions of the comic, you can make jigsaws out of it,” says David. “There’s tons of Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Easter eggs buried in there as well. [Artist Ilias Kyriazis] has taken the fun to the next level and really incorporated tons of visual tricks and shapes.”
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Salmon of Doubt Vol. 1 is currently in stores. Order it here, and see exclusive pages below.