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Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel on Their New NOAH Graphic Novel

This spring, Paramount’s Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is looking to put the epic back in “Biblical epic” with a sweeping take on the tale of Noah and his legendary Ark from the Book of Genesis. While the film is likely to take some creative liberties, there’s no denying the power of good storytelling, which is Aronofsky’s bread and butter. In concert with his 2006 film The Fountain, Aronofsky penned a graphic novel adaptation based on that script’s first draft, and now Aronofsky and co-writer/longtime creative collaborator Ari Handel have written a stand-alone graphic novel version of Noah based on the first draft of their script. Available now from Image Comics, the hardcover volume spans 256 pages, featuring gorgeous artwork from Pride of Baghdad artist Niko Henrichon, and offers a complementary yet distinct experience from the eponymous tentpole film.

Recently, I caught up with Aronofsky and Handel via e-mail to pick their brains about where the graphic novel stands in relation to the film, crafting the book’s visual aesthetic, and how the project evolved from its original conception. For some reason, they decided to answer my questions as a single super entity, or perhaps two halves of the same swan. If it helps, imagine both of them typing together on the same keyboard like this incredible NCIS clip:

Nerdist: How will the graphic novel tie into the film? Is it a companion piece or a graphic novel retelling of the story? In which order do you recommend watching and reading?

Darren Aronosky and Ari Handel: The graphic novel and the film are separate pieces. When we had a first draft of the script we weren’t sure it would get made, so we asked Niko Henrichon if he’d be interested in helping make it into a graphic novel. Over the years he was working on that, we were continuing to rewrite and refine the script, and so the two stories have deviated quite a bit. And of course they are visually quite different, too.

There is a lot in the story that people might not expect, and I think the surprise of that is more important for a film experience than when reading, so I’d probably see the film first and then check out the comic. But you could really do it either way – they are different enough that I think they add to each other.

N: What is it about the Noah story that makes it ripe for filmic and graphic novel adaptation?

DA and AH: As a story, it’s universal – almost all cultures have flood narratives and the name of “Noah and The Ark” is probably as well-known as Superman. It’s dramatic – the wickedness and goodness in humanity clash and the fate of the world lies in the balance. And it’s timely – the first apocalypse for a culture that’s been telling itself lots of post-apocalyptic stories lately.

But the Noah story also demands a big pallet. Its got two of every animal on earth and the biggest storm of all time. And even more – if you look at Genesis carefully you start to realize that the world before the flood was very different than our own – it had a lot of fantastical elements. In Genesis, that fantastical world is wiped out and a new world, our world, is born. To really make the story come to life, you need to be able to visualize this unfamiliar and almost mythical world. Modern filmmaking techniques make all that possible. And of course with a graphic novel you are only limited by the imagination of the artist.

N: How has the overall project evolved since you first began it in 2006?

DA and AH: We started with Genesis. That was the source of the story and of everything we were trying to say. When you read the Noah story carefully, there are a lot of questions there, a lot of puzzles and ambiguities. And so we tried to explore those questions and dramatize them in our story. Over the years we were working on it, with the help of all our collaborators, we just continued to refine and tighten it, trying to make it more focused, more epic, more emotional.

N: With The Fountain, you also put out a graphic novel companion. What sort of challenges does writing a graphic novel present compared to writing a film?

DA and AH: For both The Fountain and Noah, we were fortunate enough to have extremely talented artists working with us – Kent Williams and Niko Henrichon, respectively. In both cases, we handed the script over to them and let them run with it.

For Noah, we did write new text and narration and that was fun because writing for a graphic novel is very different than writing for film. But we’d read so many comics over the years that it was fun to try use that kind of a voice.

N: Ari, You’ve collaborated with Darren numerous times before. What about Niko Henrichon’s art stood out for you? How did you guys work with him to craft the book’s visual aesthetic?

AH: We found Niko through his work with Brian K. Vaughn on Pride of Baghdad, which obviously was relevant because of all the amazing animal work in it. When we spoke with Niko, he showed us some work he’d been doing on a personal project which had a lot of fantastical elements. When we saw that combined with the realism we’d seen in Pride, and when we clicked creatively and personally, we knew we had the right partner.

After he’d read the script, the first thing we did was get on the phone with Niko (who was in Europe while we were in the U.S.). We talked at length about the tone of the world and the visual aesthetic in very general terms, and we shared some of the early visual research we’d done and then we just let him go and find his own take on that. In one or two cases, like the ark itself, we’d give him direction if he went in a direction that felt off the mark – Niko’s initial ark was in the traditional planked house boat direction and we wanted something much closer to the plain rectangular design described in Genesis – but for the most part what you see is our early script translated through Niko’s visual imagination.

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You can snag Noah at your local comic book store now. What do you think? Will you be picking it up? Let us know in the comments below.

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