What if Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland? That’s the question that writer Gary Whitta (ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, THE BOOK OF ELI) and artist Darick Robinson (HAPPY!, TRANSMETROPOLITAN) seek to answer in the new Image Comics series, OLIVER. The titular character, Oliver, is a superhero who sets out to liberate a war-torn England. If you loved Dickens’ take on an impoverished London, you’ll enjoy OLIVER! 

Comicsverse had the great pleasure of speaking to Whitta and Robinson ahead of OLIVER #1’s release. 

[Editors Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Comicsverse (CV): With OLIVER being a superhero twist (pun not intended) on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, can you guys summarize what the series is about?

Gary Whitta (GW): OLIVER basically re-invents the character of Oliver Twist as a post-apocalyptic superhero and I’m quite sure Charles Dickens is turning in his grave. Actually, in all seriousness, I think he might be quite pleased. While OLIVER tells its own original story, I think it stays true to many of the Dickensian themes that underpinned the original novel. It has a lot to say about class struggle, about how entire classes of people can be forgotten by society, and about the importance of finding your place in the world. Also, there’s lots of ass-kicking.

CV: Gary, you have a wide range of work experience. From journalism and editing to films and comics, you’ve done it all. How did your experiences inform the transition from OLIVER, the 2004 film script, to OLIVER the Image Comics series?

GW: Well, I had the opportunity to gain some comics experience in the meantime, working on two DEATH JR graphic novels for Image in the early nineties, and then more recently I adapted STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI for Marvel Comics, and in the process I’ve learned a lot about comics pacing and sequential storytelling. It really is like learning a whole new language.

CV: Without getting into specifics, I think one of the things that OLIVER #1 does well is that it gives us a taste of Oliver’s powers. With this being a superhero origin story, how are you guys looking to avoid superhero genre clichés?

GW: I like to call Oliver a superhero because he has powers and ultimately he’s out there fighting for justice, but beyond that he doesn’t really conform to any superheroic cliches. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive parrot and his parents weren’t murdered in an alley or anything. Actually, something kind of like that does happen but I can’t get into that without venturing into spoiler territory. The point is that he’s a superhero but not anything like the kind you generally get in comics, which I think is worth something in an age where we seem to be drowning in a lot of interchangeable caped heroes.

Darick Robertson (DR): Oliver doesn’t wear a costume and he doesn’t fight crime. Ultimately what Oliver becomes is a hero who has powers and mystery in his origin. Beyond that, it’s not really a superhero story like one might expect. I don’t see a lot of clichés in it.

Oliver #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: One of the things that I noticed in OLIVER #1 is that it’s got a dreary, muted color palette. As the series progresses, can we expect to see bright colors or is the intention to keep it gritty?

GW: The muted color palette does seem to be an ever-present part of the post-apocalyptic milieu, I remember with THE BOOK OF ELI we desaturated the color palette to the point that at times it almost seems like a black-and-white movie. I think with OLIVER the intention was less to desaturate and more to stick to a palette that felt right for the piece. And without giving away too much, the story moves around a lot. Once we get outside of London as the story progresses you’ll see different colors start to pop in.

DR: The sun comes out at times! I think the mood and tone fit the scenes taking place and I wanted to keep it with a cinematic feel for that purpose. It’s a bombed out, oppressive world, so it should be understandable that things might be dreary. Oliver, however, is not.

CV: When putting together a comic that combines both history and literary fiction, what kind of research goes into producing it?

GW: I refamiliarized myself with the original Oliver Twist text but to be honest beyond some of the central characters and themes this OLIVER is pretty much its own original story so there wasn’t a lot of research necessary.

DR: I studied a lot of images of England during the blitz in WWII to see what war torn London actually looked like and then dialed it up to 10.

CV: Darick, I understand you went to London to take reference pictures of some the most famous landmarks that are in the OLIVER #1. As an artist, what surprised you the most about London’s culture and architecture?

DR: The living history there is pretty awe inspiring and breathtaking. One of my favorite moments was meeting up with my friend who lives there. After I spent the afternoon taking reference photos of Trafalgar Square and the area, and spending the afternoon in the “Olde Cheshire Cheese” pub where Dickens himself used to drink and write. I’m so impressed with how well the city survived and healed knowing what happened there just 80 years ago.

Oliver #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: In regards to the superhero element, what superheroes did you guys look into when coming up with the world of OLIVER? Can you guys tease what kind of powers we can expect throughout the series?

GW: Oliver is so different to any other superhero that’s out there that he doesn’t reference any existing characters specifically, but Darick definitely brought elements of Spider-Man, Batman, and Daredevil to the way he moves and interacts with his world. As for his powers… all I’ll say for right now is that he has way more up his sleeve than you see in just the first issue…

DR: Personally, I drew from my experience working on Spider-man to bring an edge to Oliver’s ability to leap about. I grew up reading about and playing with toys of superheroes, so I didn’t need to really ‘investigate’ to create Oliver. I was more invested in bringing Gary’s vision to life while wanting to bring the reader into Oliver’s world. I want his environment to be a part of who Oliver is the way Gotham produced Batman and Hell’s Kitchen defines Daredevil.

CV: Gary, I’m most familiar with your work through gaming websites such as Giant Bomb and the Reset Era forum. What video and/or tabletop games have you been playing lately? Darick, feel free to jump in as well!

GW: Most of my video game time lately has been spent playing SUPER SMASH BROS: ULTIMATE, TETRIS EFFECT, RED DEAD REDEMPTION II, SPIDER-MAN PS4 (including the new DLC), GOD OF WAR, OVERCOOKED 2, LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS SPACETIME… hmmm, I really should be spending more time working!

DR: I don’t get the luxury of gaming as much as I’d love to, but my sons are hardcore gamers and I see what they’re into. My recent favorites that I’ve enjoyed a bit are DETROIT: BECOME HUMAN, SPIDER-MAN for PS4, and RED DEAD REDEMPTION II.

CV: If you guys could pick any superhero power to possess, what would it be and why?

GW: The ability to super-banish anxiety.

DR: I always choose the Superman set of powers. He’s got everything you need. Flying without invulnerability would be terrifying! Superman with Wolverine’s claws might be my upgrade…

Oliver #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Finally, what future projects can you guys tease? Is there anything else you want readers to know?

GW: Eleven more issues of OLIVER, and I’m also working on finishing up a novel that I hope you’ll get to see sometime in 2019. Keep ‘em peeled!

DR: For now, I am all about OLIVER and getting these issues on out on time.

CV: Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. We really appreciate it. And Happy New Year to you both!

DR: Thank you and Happy New Year!

You won’t have to wait too long because OLIVER #1 releases on January 23rd. Preorder your copy here!

 

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