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Q&A: Vancouver comic-book creator Tony Cliff on his deal with Disney

delilah dirk mainVancouver-based illustrator Tony Cliff has achieved the dream of many authors: his debut graphic novel‚ Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (First Second/Raincoast Canada)‚ will be adapted into a feature film by Disney. The comic‚ about the eponymous 19th-century adventurer‚ was a New York Times bestseller upon its release in 2013 and is the first in a series that has two full-length instalments and a short story so far. The live-action movie will be produced by Roy Lee through Vertigo Entertainment and filmmaker Justin Giritlian.

Q&Q talked to Cliff about the series and the unexpected deal.

How exactly did Disney come to pick up Delilah Dirk, and did it have something to do with it being a NYT bestseller? I was approached by two gentlemen from L.A. – [director-producer] Mark Mower and Justin Giritlian – who proposed an arrangement to find Delilah a nice home in Hollywood. We agreed, [and] I’m excited about the people we’ll be working with.

I’m not sure if the NYT thing was an important consideration. Obviously, they’d be most attracted to something that’s already popular, but there are a lot of books that are popular (and a lot of books that cross that list). I’m sure it doesn’t hurt, but for everyone’s sake, I’m glad it’s not their only consideration. I think everyone involved likes the same things about the books (the setting, the relationship, the humour), and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

Given that the story is so atypical in some senses – the Turkish connection and having a heroine versus a hero – were you expecting this level of popularity and for someone like Disney to ever be interested? Oh, no. But then, when I started making this comic, I honestly didn’t think there was anything atypical about it. It’s only since hearing from readers that I learned how weird the project is. I never set out to make Delilah to be a “strong female character,” but that’s a term I hear a lot now. And I didn’t expect to learn how weird it is that our two leads aren’t romantically entangled by the end of the first book. I just figured I was combining the tone of Indiana Jones with the setting of Horatio Hornblower, injecting a Holmes-Watson relationship and making our lead a lighthearted lady. It never occurred to me to think that any part of the project was atypical, except for fighting against the conventions of comics that I hated.

But that was 10-or-so years ago, and I’ve learned a lot since then. Most importantly, that what makes a book unappealingly weird for some people makes it attractive to others. It’s similar to, like, “if you’re not offending anyone, you’re not pleasing anyone, either,” but maybe a watered-down version. I could probably stand to offend more people.

What about future plans? It’s still very, very early in the process with Disney. I’ll try to share what I can online when I can. In the meantime, I’m just hard at work on the third book, Delilah Dirk and the Third Pillar of Hercules. It’s the homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Uncharted series that I’ve been meaning to get around to for a long time. I’m trying to do a few things differently with layouts and taking better advantage of the medium and I’m pushing our main characters’ relationship to a fun place. Comics take a long, long time (especially the dumb way I do it), but I am busting my ass to get it done as soon as possible!