The fourth volume of Dark Horse's 'Strain' adaptation, containing the second part of the second book, arrived July 2. (Dark Horse)
It’s coming for you. There is no escape. You cannot avoid the Strain.
Mainly because the Strain, an infectious disease that spreads vampirism, has already appeared in novels and comics, and will launch as a TV series on FX Sunday. That’s a lot of vectors to infect America!
“The Strain” first appeared in 2009 as a novel written by superstar director Guillermo del Toro, famed for his imaginative work on films such as “Hellboy,” “Pacific Rim” and “Pan’s Labyrinthe.” Like any self-respecting pandemic, “The Strain” spawned a couple of sequels, “The Strain: The Fall” and “The Strain: Night Eternal.”
In 2011, “The Strain” spread to comic books. Under the direction of del Toro, writer David Lapham (“Stray Bullets”) and artist Mike Huddleston (“Homeland Directive”) adapted the first two books of the trilogy, with the adaptation of the third book beginning in August. “The Strain” series has been collected in two trade paperbacks, and also as a deluxe, single-edition hardcover shipping next week. “The Fall” has also been collected in two trade paperbacks, the second just out.
That’s a lot of disease, and no one has suffered more than Huddleston. Artists put in more man-hours on a comic book project than any other member of the creative team, and for Huddleston that’s meant three years of his professional life, and more than 500 pages —which is more than Huddleston had expected.
“I had no idea! I really didn’t!” Huddleston said with a laugh in a telephone interview. “And I think when I first signed the contract, it wasn’t quite that big. But once Guillermo really sat down and started talking with David (Lapham) about the script, (he) decided that it was a third bigger. So even after I said, ‘yeah,’ it got bigger.”
Huddleston calculates that when he finishes with “Night Eternal,” his work on “The Strain” will total more than 700 pages. “It’s a pretty massive project,” he chuckled.
But Huddleston can take solace that “The Strain” has been well received by critics and readers alike. Further, he was recruited for the job by del Toro himself.
“I’ve had a relationship a little bit with Guillermo for a few years,” Huddleston said. “I did a project about 12 years ago called ‘The Coffin,’ and Guillermo and James Cameron bought that for a film. Like we had the second issue of that miniseries out, and they’d already optioned it! That was my first connection with Guillermo. So I’ve had conversations with him over the years related to that.
“I think when this project came up he had me in mind,” Huddleston continued. “Because when Dark Horse called me to do the project, Guillermo had already asked for me. ... So for me it was kind of like an offer you can’t refuse. Here’s a director that you’re already a fan of, that you already have a relationship with on another project, and he wants you do this. I was definitely recruited. And from what I understand, the entire creative team from our cover artist to the writers, it was all the same. It was Guillermo coming and saying ‘this is the team I want to do the book.’ ”
So del Toro knew who he wanted. But he also knew what he wanted. Huddleston thought that a big, successful director like del Toro would only have time to be “peripherally involved.” But it turned out “The Strain” is del Toro’s baby from start to finish, whatever the medium.
“He is so intimately involved — I’m so shocked,” Huddleston said. “This week I’m having to design something for ‘Night Eternal,’ so I sent an e-mail to him just asking some design questions. And I think within two hours I had an answer, and that’s pretty typical. With all the stuff that he’s doing and all the creative projects he’s managing, he is still intimately involved in every decision on this comic book project. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know how he can keep that many things in his mind. But he’s there for every single decision we make.”
Not that Huddleston is simply a tool in del Toro’s hands. As an artist, he brings a lot to the table, and feels pride of creation.
“I do feel a lot of ownership, over the book, because it was really the first time that this world was really visualized,” he said. “It existed in novels, but this is the first time that Guillermo sat down with an artist and we created imagery for everything, from props, to the way the vampires looked, to the way the cities looked, so I do feel some ownership over that. If you have a vampire that’s vomiting out its insides ... what does that vampire look like? What kind of musculature or body does it have to have to make something like that function?”
But there’s no question that del Toro is the overriding, guiding vision. And, unlike some comics-to-TV projects like “The Walking Dead,” del Toro will keep his story consistent as it moves from one medium to another.
“Guillermo is managing everything on the comics,” Huddleston said. “And I know that so much of that is being translated to the show. I don’t know of another project that’s been like that, where the director is so completely in charge of the vision, no matter what format it’s in. From what I’ve seen of the TV show, I’m already having little deja vu moments, where I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s exactly what we did in the book.’ It’s cool.”
So if people get invested in the show and want to know what happens next, they can read ahead in either the comics or the novels. Huddleston says the parts he’s currently drawing of “Night Eternal” are his favorite so far, where del Toro explores the history of the plague, giving Huddleston the chance to draw various eras, from the Roman Empire to Byzantium to biblical times.
Plus, there’s the current-day story as well. “By this time, the vampire apocalypse has happened,” he said. “And our heroes are surviving in this midst of this completely changed world. And that is really bleak and dark and really terrifying.”
But there’s only so far a potential reader can go: “Night Eternal” is the end.
“It’s gonna be a solid conclusion,” Huddleston said. “I’m reading the scripts as I’m getting them, so I don’t even know exactly how it ends. But I’ve heard from others who’ve read the novels that there’s a definite, definite, definite ending.”
Will anybody escape “The Strain”? From novels to comics to TV, there are at least three different ways to find out!