Fans of the critically-acclaimed crime drama, The Blacklist, can now immerse themselves into the backstories of their favorite characters. After reading the first issue, it did feel like an extension on the show, rather than a separate dimension. Show scriptwriter, and now writer for The Blacklist comics, Nicole Phillips, took time out to answer a few questions for Women Write About Comics.
We’re three seasons in to The Blacklist now and the comic picks up sometime in Season Two. How easy is it for folks who haven’t seen the show to pick up the comic book as their gateway? Are you designing the comic be a stand alone or as a bonus to the hardcore Blacklist fans?
Great question; that’s the thin wire you walk with tie-in comic books. You want the story to make sense to readers who have never seen an episode of Blacklist—but not bore your fans by re-treading the same territory. The goal was to make the comic accessible to everyone whether they know the show or not and hopefully new readers will fall in love with the characters.
One of the strongest points of the TV show is the stellar acting and chemistry of and between James Spader, Megan Boone and the rest of the cast. How challenging did you find it to write a script where their craft wouldn’t give the story that extra boost?
James, Megan, Diego, Amir, all our cast are so brilliant at embodying these characters that it’s impossible to write, for example, Red’s dialogue and not hear James saying the lines. I think their performances are linked to their characters regardless of what media they’re in.
The Blacklist does a great job of featuring diverse characters that don’t fall into the usual tropes, for example we have female, black, African and Middle Eastern characters, even an LGBTQ character in Season 3. Is this something readers can expect to continue in the comic series?
Yes, the goal in the comics and the show itself is to make our stories feel as grounded in the real world as possible. And the real world is diverse, it would be weird to NOT have those characters represented.
Looking at the cover art for issues 1 and 2, Raymond Reddington is featured prominently. I understand that James Spader is a big draw for The Blacklist, but on a comic book shelf it’s just another white male on the cover. Are there any plans to include other characters on the cover such as Agent Keen and Agent Navabi kicking butt, or Director Cooper shepherding the team to let readers know there are more diverse characters within the pages?
Actually one of the reasons I love comics so much is that I can walk into a store and see all kinds of characters on covers: aliens, superheroes, monsters, animals, men, women, indeterminate third genders, etc. All kinds of stories.
Reddington is on many of the Issue #1 covers but our show has a large cast; we’ll be seeing everyone.
When budding comic book writers submit to publishers, you’ll often see notes about submitting “comic book scripts” vs “screenplays.” Was it difficult for you to adapt your writing technique for comics?
I’ve written comics before but it was a bit of a puzzle to translate Blacklist into comic book form. On the show we have an hour per episode, so roughly 50+ page scripts. With comics, you have 22 pages per issue, so you have to structure things slightly differently and make every word/panel count. The first five issues of the comic are one story arc with a single major Blacklister—then Issues #6-10 will be a whole new story that ties in with Season 3 (which premieres September 24th).
And lastly, are you a comics fan? If so, what’s the current comic you can’t live without?
I am! Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was my gateway comic when I was 12 and I’ve been hooked ever since. Right now I’m reading Saga and anything Geof Darrow does.