Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series follows the life and career of Peter Grant -- life-long Londoner, newly-minted Constable and, considerably to his astonishment, apprentice magician -- as well as his colleagues, family, lovers and friends. With seven novels, one novella and six graphic novels -- all released since 2011 -- the series is a
Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series follows the life and career of Peter Grant — life-long Londoner, newly-minted Constable and, considerably to his astonishment, apprentice magician — as well as his colleagues, family, lovers and friends.
With seven novels, one novella and six graphic novels — all released since 2011 — the series is a clever, fast-paced, often very funny blend of urban fantasy and police procedural, with a richly diverse cast and a strong grounding in the history and geography of the title city.
Co-written by Andrew Cartmel, the graphic novels offer a glimpse into surprising and unexpected corners of Peter Grant’s world. Rivers of London: Water Weed, published on January 1st, finds now-Detective Constable Peter Grant working to disentangle a supernatural cannabis-smuggling operation controlled by the mysterious woman known only as the Hoodette.
As a great fan of both the novels and the comics, I was thrilled by the chance to ask Aaronovitch some questions about the Rivers of London comics in general, and Rivers of London: Water Weed in specific.
Water Weed is the sixth Rivers of London graphic novel, and the individual issues of the seventh, Action at a Distance, have already started showing up in my pull box at my LCS. Was the plan from the beginning to do regular graphic novels, or did you only start planning out further series after the success of [the first volume] Body Work?
Well, our plan was to do a series of a graphic novels but first we had to convince Titan that it was a viable project. From a commercial point of view, unless you have a specific reason for only doing a one off project, you’re always going to be looking to do a series.
Comics is a very collaborative medium, especially compared to prose. And a very visual medium. How do those differences affect the type of stories you choose to tell in the comics versus in the novels?
It’s probably stating the bleeding obvious to say that all media are different and it’s important to approach each one in a way that plays to its strengths rather than its weaknesses. A series of books does not operate under the same narrative physics as a TV series and you can do some wonderful things with comics that you can’t do with prose. The Rivers of London books are written from a single point of view and so immediately, in the comics, you can explore other perspectives. You can also do jokes and dramatic reveals that wouldn’t work in a book such as our splash page reveal of Beverley and the Russian gangsters in Night Witch. Thus when Andrew and I discuss future stories for the comics we definitely bear the particular characteristics of the medium in mind.
One of the things I love about the comics is the focus on secondary characters, such as Sahra Guleed in Black Mould, Varvara Sidarovna in Night Witch, and both Guleed and Abigail Kamara in Cry Fox. Is there an appeal to getting out of Peter’s POVand focusing more on the broader world of characters? And are there any other characters we can expect to see getting more focus in future graphic novels?
There is definitely an appeal in going beyond Peter’s POV and in any case comics are so good at shifting between POVs that it would be a crime not to take advantage. We have also been toying with the idea of doing whole stories from the POV of secondary characters but you have to be cautious. The economics of comics are such that the margins are very tight and you don’t have to lose too much of your audience before they become financially unviable. Still, I’ve always wanted to do a Guleed story called Big Trouble in Little Chalfont and Andrew has already taken the lead in Action at a Distance, which is an all-Nightingale story.
As a fan of both the novels and the comics, I’m particularly fascinated by the interrelation between the two. How do you balance making a rewarding experience for readers who’ve read both, without alienating or confusing readers who’re only interested in or able to read the novels?
Our aim is to make fun comics for those that like to read comics without spoiling the enjoyment of those who stick mainly to the books. It’s a narrow line to walk but I try to ensure that the books never rely on information only available in the comics.
Our aim is to make fun comics for those that like to read comics without spoiling the enjoyment of those who stick mainly to the books. It’s a narrow line to walk but I try to ensure that the books never rely on information only available in the comics. There are insights into character and history in the comics – not least as an inevitable consequence of being able to shift POV – but I try to reiterate crucial information as and when it surfaces in the books.
Focusing in on Water Weed specifically for a minute, the Hoodette is a rather fascinating and visually striking character, any chance we’ll be seeing more of her in future stories, either comics or prose?
The books already have this problem where characters I thought I was creating for one scene or one story suddenly take on such a vivid existence that unless I take pains to kill them off, they keep returning to the narratives. The comics have proved no different with characters such as Maksim and Debden taking on a life of their own. This has only got worse collaborating with Andrew because fascinating grotesques are his particular specialty, so I think it’s fair to say that the Hoodette will be making another appearance at some point.
I’ve always appreciated the diversity of characters in the Rivers of London series. Water Weed includes multiple disabled characters, including one who is a wheelchair user. Was that a deliberate choice to show a variety of representation within the story?
The diversity of the Rivers of London series has always stemmed from the diversity of London itself. Andrew and I try to reflect that diversity in a natural organic fashion. If you take care not to actively exclude people from your narratives than by definition they become more diverse.
The diversity of the Rivers of London series has always stemmed from the diversity of London itself. Andrew and I try to reflect that diversity in a natural organic fashion. If you take care not to actively exclude people from your narratives than by definition they become more diverse. As I’m sure Andrew will point out there’s nothing unusual about someone in a wheelchair except their unaccountable absence from most narrative media.
And finally, I have to ask about the one-page “Tales From the Folly” comics at the end of each individual issue, because they’re often such great (and funny) character moments. One-page comics are a medium all their own, are there particular joys or challenges to writing such hyper-short stories?
Writing a pithy one page comic is the most hard work of all, but fortunately they’re something Andrew and I have been able to subcontract. Usually the process is that you have a number of ideas which you then have to stress-test by writing a script. If the idea is short and good enough then it goes into the pile. Because we both have outside commitments to books and the main comics we have begun to bring in other writers to help, currently Celeste Bronfman. It’s a good way to audition outside talent without wasting too much of their time.
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