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Interview: Jim Butcher by John Joseph Adam

Jim Butcher is the author of the wildly-successful Dresden Files urban fantasy series—which was recently adapted into a television show airing on the SCI FI Channel—featuring everyone’s favorite wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden. The series has moved into the realm of comic books as well—Dabel Brothers Productions recently published a comic prequel to the novel series called Welcome to the Jungle, and will begin serializing comic book adaptations of each of the novels in the series, starting with the first,Storm Front

In addition to The Dresden Files, Butcher has also written five books in hisCodex Alera series. In the past he hasn’t been a prolific author of short fiction, but he has a lot of new stuff due out soon: Subterranean recently released Backup, a new Dresden Files novelette featuring illustrations byHellboy creator Mike Mignola; in addition, he has new stories coming out in the anthologies The Naked City, Mean Streets, and Strange Brew. The latest Dresden novel, Turncoat, comes out in April.

What was it like to see your work adapted into a television series?

Oh, it was surreal. I mean it was really just freakin’ strange. You know, like when they actually had me come up on the set of the show, and there I am, and I’m standing there and there’s Murphy and there’s Dresden and there’s Butter standing there only everybody else there can see them too. Which is sort of a new experience. And it was just—it was very strange. Some of the stuff had got changed between the books and the show and that, was that was necessary: I understood the reasons for all of it; I agreed with the reasons for most of it. But all in all it was very neat; it was certainly extremely weird to turn on TV every week and see it, and the first time I saw almost all the episodes, like ten of the episodes, was when they came on TV on SCI FI on Friday night.

Have you heard much reaction from your fans—people who discovered you through the television show versus the people who were long-time fans and then saw the show? Have you noticed any difference in the perception of the series from the two groups of fans? Obviously the people who were fans of the books, a lot of them would have problems with whatever changes were made, but I’m kind of curious what the reaction has been to the newcomers who discovered the series through the show.

Oh, for most of them there was…a kind of an adjustment period there where they had to change gears. Where, you know, the books were the books, [and] being books they can be a lot longer and more involved and a little more cerebral, I think, [more] than most TV can do. And so, for folks that had to get into that they’re like, well wait a minute, this whole thing, this whole world is a whole lot bigger than the one they had on TV. And I’m like, well yeah, they only had, you know, they only had about twelve hours to show things on TV, so they could only go so far. 

And they everything costs something on TV, too. You know, it doesn’t cost me anything to blow up half of Chicago, but apparently on TV there’s some kind of money issue where, yeah, if we blow up a building it’s sort of expensive. They kept dropping terms like that on me like “We don’t have infinite money.” Like I said, when I’m writing, I’ve got no budget. It doesn’t cost me anything more to blow up a building than to leave it standing, but on TV they’ve got different concerns and different limitations to what they’re doing.

Speaking of adaptations—let’s talk a bit about comics. Besides the Welcome to the Jungle prequel story that Dabel Bros. recently published, will there be any other new comic book material forthcoming other than the novel adaptations?

I’ve got the feeling that as soon as they get done with Storm Front they’re going to want me to do another original story for in between. The books often drop all kinds of mentions of stuff that Dresden’s been doing in between what actually happens in the novels, ‘cause each novel only covers a few days in his life. I basically like to think of each novel as like the worst weekend he had that year. But he’s doing other stuff too. I mean, there’s a big world, and there’s a lot of stuff he’s doing, and he’s gotta pay his bills like everybody else. So, you know, there’s always something else going on, and I usually make mention of it in novels. I think in the second book [the cops] mentioned, “We tried to get you for this case to look at it when we had the last killing in this case the last month, but you weren’t available,” and Harry’s like, “Yeah, I was in Minnesota. Somebody saw something in a lake.” So I might wind up writing the “somebody saw something in a lake story.”

What’s up next for Harry other than these possible comic book projects? What’s up next for him in the book realm?

JB: The next book is called Turncoat. It starts off with a guy who’s been Dresden’s mortal enemy his whole wizarding career, showing up at the door bloody, beaten and half-dead saying the Wardens—the wizard police, who this guy’s like the head of—says, “The Wardens are right behind me; I need your help, please hide me,” and then kind of collapses on the floor. Dresden’s gonna have to wind up hiding this guy who persecuted him so badly from the Wardens who gave him such a hard time for so long.…And, you know, and they’ll be explosions and fights and buildings burning down I’m sure.

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