"We just had this fantasy that one day we would be able to do dragon comics together…and that was four years ago. And here we are."
Individuals all over the world have fallen in love with How To Train Your Dragon and the adventures of Toothless, Hiccup and the dragon riders of Berk. And in 2016, the Academy Award nominated and Golden Globe winning films are taking their mythology to a new medium: the world of graphic novels.
“I’ve known for years, since I first met Dean and worked with him on the second Dragon movie,” Hamilton admits in an exclusive chat with EW, when asked about when he knew that comics would be a possibility for the franchise. “I’ve been a lifelong comic fan. And when I interviewed with Dean to be his assistant on the movie, I mentioned I was interested in comics, and he mentioned that he was a comic fan. And we just had this fantasy that one day we would be able to do dragon comics together…and that was four years ago. And here we are.”
Where that is, exactly, is the debut of a new graphic novel titled How To Train Your Dragon: The Serpent’s Heir, co-written by Dean DeBlois, writer/director of the Dragon films and Richard Hamilton, writer of Dragons: Race to the Edge. DreamWorks Animation and Dark Horse Comics announced the project at New York Comic Con over the weekend.
“To have the interest in one thing, but then you need to have a world and characters where you can be telling ongoing serialized stories. And Dragon is perfect for that,” Hamilton explains. “Our world is really rich and our characters are really expansive…Dean touched on a lot of that in the second movie with all the themes of exploration. And then it’s a challenge to find the right publishing partner, and Dark Horse truly is the perfect fit. They did amazing work in world building and character development for Star Wars for decades, and if they could repeat some of that magic for us that would be amazing.” As Hamilton notes, it was this passion for world building that prompted the creative team to choose Dark Horse as their publishing house.
“How do you stand out as a licensed comic? Our editors, Randy Stradley and Freddye Miller are fantastic, and they ask a lot of questions and really help us kind of get to the heart of…how is the best way to tell these stories in the comics? They’re really helping us find great character moments and opportunities to get these characters out into the world. They have an active interest in expanding the franchise.”
Expanding the franchise, and finding new and fun stories for already established characters, is sometimes not the easiest task. Fortunately, Dragon’s rich world gives its creators much to play with. “Despite its larger than life world and it’s Viking mythical setting, the dragons themselves and the fact that there are so many in this world with different types, different attitudes, personalities…it almost writes itself as you continue to think about it in terms of graphic novels and TV series and other movies,” DeBlois says. “It’s always a challenge for us to think about stuff like, okay, we need a new dragon. What’s this one going to be? How is it married with something we might identity in the animal kingdom? What are its surprising abilities? What is its surprising look? I think the dragons are one of those universal wish fulfillments that we have as kids,” he adds. “Just the idea of a mythical beast being your best friend and cohort, and being able to climb onto the back of a great winged creature is sort of…the best kind of fantasy. You can be very regular in every other way, and have a friendship with a powerful creature that is capable of being very destructive but also very protective.” According to the writer/director, that’s a theme which has helped the franchise become so beloved.
“One of the things I’m always reminded about, especially coming to Comic Con… you meet people who have reacted so strongly to the work we’ve done and it strikes such an emotional chord,” he says. “And that’s a reminder for me that, yeah, there are movies in my childhood that had that impact on me, that changed my trajectory, and that made me want to invest myself in storytelling and learn about filmmaking, like the initial Star Wars trilogy. So it’s very satisfying and rewarding and enlightening to know there’s another generation now that’s growing up on these films — not just ours, but the others Disney and Pixar have been making. It’s really cool to be part of that ongoing story tradition.”
While the graphic novel will pick up seconds after the events of the second movie, that shouldn’t deter readers. “The graphic novels are self-contained,” says Hamilton. “There are many thematic elements that we’re carrying through across the graphic novels that connect to the second movie.” And while the creators obviously couldn’t say anything about the next Dragon film installment, we did get them to drop hints about what we can expect from this book.
” With every graphic novel, we will introduce at least one new dragon and we will introduce at least one new human character and at least one new land,” Hamilton reveals. “So I think we’re going to bring a little diversity to the dragon riders, which I’m pretty excited about. And I think ultimately we have to be true to the story in the arc of the movies…and I think we’ve come up with some good ideas.”