A FOTF exclusive Interview with Author Adam Bray discussing his contributions to DK’s impressive Marvel Studios Visual Dictionary series.
Hot on the heels of one of a decade of incredible comic book movies, DK Books and author Adam Bray came together to craft some of the most beautifully illustrated non-fiction Marvel Studios Visual Dictionaries ever attempted. Recently, I had the privilege to interview Adam about his contribution to Marvel Studios 101 and Marvel Studios Visual Dictionary.
Interview with Adam Bray
Welcome, Adam to The Future of The Force and thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions about these recent releases.
Patty: What interested you most about working each of these projects in comparison to working on other projects?
Adam: These are DK’s first Marvel Studios books, and really the first tie-in books to the Marvel Studios movies (apart from the “Art of the Movie” books and tie-in comics). This itself is quite surprising since Marvel Studios is celebrating 10 years of movies this year! As a big fan of all things Marvel, the chance to get in on the “ground level” of the new movie books was all very exciting to me!
Patty: Since these both reference the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what is different working on these vs working on other Marvel projects?
Adam: In one sense, writing about the movies is easier than writing about the comics. There are only 18 movies (or there were, at the time I wrote the books) released over the course of 10 years. In the case of the comics, there are more than 75 years of material, and many thousands of comics to wade through! Then again there are lots of resources that analyze the comics that I can reference to help, whereas there are very few official sources to consult about the movies—other than the movies and Blu-Rays themselves—which again, is rather surprising!
Patty: What part of the Marvel Studios Visual Dictionary or the Marvel Studios 101 took you the most time to work on and why?
Adam: In terms of time spent, it was really all the same. I had very tight deadlines so I split the book up into a certain number of spreads per day that I needed to complete, and I managed to stay on that precise schedule for each book. On any given day I would take myself down little rabbit holes depending on what I was interested though. My goal was to add as much new information as I could, and I enjoyed pulling real-world information into the book, whether it was the names of wildlife and villains from Norse Mythology, WWII weaponry and uniform details, the names of armor plates and sword anatomy from the middle ages, actual filming locations in the Captain America and Doctor Strange movies, ant biology, real costume details helpful to cosplayers, or the names of African spears and shields or other African cultural elements.
Patty: What part of the Marvel Studios Visual Dictionary or the Marvel Studios 101 is your favorite entry or section within each of these and why?
Adam: The Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor movies are my favorite, so those were naturally my favorite sections to write. It wasn’t appropriate for me to invent a lot of new material for the 101 book, as that required easily-digestible summaries and overviews of the films. So it was more about just enjoying the material and making it understandable to someone who hadn’t seen the films. With the Visual Dictionary I was able to name a lot of things and diagram weapons, ships and costumes—so there was a lot of new material to come up with—and that is always lots of fun!
Patty: What approach did you take when researching the content for these books?
Adam: My research was all over the place! The “Art of the Movie” books were a big help. The Ragnarok book was one of my favorite and the most helpful. I also read a lot of interviews, especially with costume designers like Ruth Carter (Black Panther) and art directors. Directors like James Gunn, who posted a lot of inside information on social media, were also helpful. I read a lot about Norse mythology online, details from old army surplus inventories, diagrams of war rifles, plaques from costume exhibits, articles by folks who specialize in making medieval armor… anything I could use to supplement the movies and give it all more depth and realism.
Patty: What is your favorite character to work on and why?
Adam: Thor Ragnarok is my favorite Marvel movie so I enjoyed writing about all the characters. Cate Blanchett was deliciously evil and Jeff Goldblum was hilarious as the Grandmaster. I loved writing about Groot and Rocket as well. They are just such fun, and with Groot, we see so much variety because he goes from adult to child to teen!
Patty: Did you learn anything new by working these projects you did not know before?
Adam: Yes, quite a lot. Not so much about the plots themselves, though there are fine points to some of the more complex plots—like Winter Soldier—that tend to go over one’s head until you really analyze what’s going on, as I had to do when writing these books. Also there are characters, like Jasper Sitwell, where you may not realize how many movies they actually appear in until you begin to tally them—or, as in the case of Hawkeye, you may forget where they first appeared (Hawkeye first appeared as a background character in Thor, rather than The Avengers). Or there may be minor characters that you don’t realize are cameos from the comics—like Batroc the Leaper in Winter Soldier. Though we don’t discuss “Agents of Shield” in the book (as it is a Marvel Television rather than a Marvel Studios property), it was interesting to see just how many people and things from the movie appeared in the series too. That said, I learned much more in my effort to supplement the movies with realistic details about the props, weapons, locations and costumes.
Patty: Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your writing process?
Adam: People often ask me what steps to take to be a writer. But my journey to becoming an author, like everyone else’s, has been a unique process. I was born in a small New England fishing village. When I was very small, I heard stories about epic fishing hauls, monster storms and my great-grandfather who ran away from home, sailed to England where had many adventures. I remember my mother taking us to see a 20-foot shark on the beach that my dad recovered from a net while he was diving. On the other side of my family, my grandfather David Livingston was an archaeologist excavating the Biblical city of Ai in Israel. He was my own Indiana Jones. So I grew up in an environment where epic stories were part of my daily life.
Star Wars, Marvel and DC were a big part of my childhood. I fell in love with the original Star Wars movie (nobody would have known what you were talking about if you mentioned “Episode IV” or “A New Hope” back then) and received all the action figures and a Millennium Falcon as gifts on my 4th birthday. I watched Spider-Man cartoons, and the live-action Batman, Wonder Woman and Hulk TV shows regularly. The Superman movies were a favorite of mine too.
But my family also had our own adventures. My parents bought a school bus, loaded us and all our things inside, and drove to Alaska over 10 days in the mid-1980s. I rode in front and shared bubble gum ice cream cones with my Macaw parrot Jeremiah. He was blue and gold, just like the bus. We later lived on the school bus while my dad built our house. We went weekends gold-panning, hunting and fishing, picking wild blueberries on mountainsides, watching the aurora borealis in the dark afternoons, and moose and bears outside our windows.
My mom would read me fantasy novels like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but also real-life adventures from authors like Farley Mowat. His autobiographical books like “Owls in the Family”, “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be”, and “Never Cry Wolf” resonated with me. I thought I could tell stories like this one day too—my own really-life adventures. I was already having them, so I had a great start on my source material.
By this time Star Wars was seemingly winding down. We had the Ewok movies and cartoons though—and I adored the Ewoks! The idea of living in the forest with tribes of Teddy bears was appealing to me. The first “book” I ever wrote for fun as a child was an amalgamation of all the various Ewok adventures. I illustrated it myself and typed it all up into a nice little booklet.
I went on to have lots of other childhood adventures; hunting for geodes, Apache tears and lizards in Arizona–I loved catching lizards too! I worked as a fisherman at sea for a few years, and also raised goats, pigs, chickens, peacocks, ostriches and several barnyards full of other assorted animals. I studied via correspondence school for all of high school. In the late 80s and early 90s, there still was no real internet like we have now, so I received all my books and test results by post. I spent a lot of time keeping lengthy journals and wrote long letters to friends, but it never occurred to me that I should become a writer. Instead, I was focused on biology and becoming a veterinarian.
In college, I took environment biology classes—with lots of work in the field—botany, ecology, geology and I even did a wildlife rehabilitation internship, taking care of red wolves and various birds of prey. I had to take core writing and literature classes though. The funny thing was, I did very well in them, even though I had a biology major. I remember one literature class (full of English majors) where I was the only one who didn’t have to re-write their paper—and I received an “A” to boot. And yet it still never occurred to me to change my major from biology to English, or to become a writer.
From there I went on to teach environmental education and be a tour guide at several zoos. I also worked with chimpanzees at two facilities—one in Arizona with about 80 chimps, and another in Georgia with half a dozen bonobos (pygmy chimps). I later ended up traveling in Southeast Asia for a while. I enjoyed Vietnam so much that I decided to just stay there. I designed tourism websites for the beach town where I was living—and since I was one of the only foreigners in the area (let alone a bilingual foreigner), I had a virtual monopoly on local tourism information. I began to get noticed for my website (I created all the content myself), so travel publishers began asking me to update their travel guides. One of the many publishers that I worked with was DK, the same company that would eventually publish all my Star Wars and Marvel books. It was my proven track record of meeting deadlines and creating professional manuscripts that won DK over (and some kind recommendations). Oddly enough, my biology background also made me a good fit for my first Star Wars book, “What Makes a Monster?” which takes a naturalist approach to the Star Wars bestiary.
This is all a very round-about way of saying that I didn’t set out in life to become a writer. But there were signs while I was growing up that I both enjoyed writing and had a natural talent for it. I also was adventure-prone. Not only do my life experiences provide good source material for stories, they provide me with exotic details to make my stories feel more authentic. To write believably about Ewoks living in tribal villages in the forests–it helps to have actually spend time visiting hill tribes in the jungles of Vietnam—to share home-cooked meals of rats and bugs with indigenous families, to sleep in their thatched-roof huts, to suffer a week with dengue fever, to ride an elephant and ox carts, and to have nasty Communist thugs hunt you through the remote countryside.
Patty: What other publications have you worked on?
Adam: A number of folks have been asking for an up-to-date list of my books. These are my Star Wars and Marvel books, not including special store-exclusive repackaging (often found at stores like Costco and Kohl’s) or foreign editions. It also doesn’t include my many travel-related books:
Star Wars: What Makes a Monster?
Star Wars Rebels: The Visual Guide
Star Wars Rebels Visual Guide: Epic Battles
Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia (Also available in Spanish)
Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know (2015 Edition)
Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know (2017 Updated Edition)
Ultimate Star Wars (Also available in Spanish)
LEGO Star Wars: Into Battle!
LEGO Star Wars: Chronicles of the Force
Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor
Star Wars Starfighters
Ultimate Marvel (Also available in Spanish)
Marvel: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know (Also available in Spanish)
Marvel: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know (Barnes & Noble exclusive Spider-Man cover edition)
Marvel Studios 101: All Your Questions Answered
Marvel Studios Visual Dictionary
Marvel Studios Character Encyclopedia (Coming in 2019)
Marvel Encyclopedia (Updated 2019 Edition)
Patty: Where can your fans find you?
Adam: I can be found on Facebook and Twitter at: @AuthorAdamBray. I will also be signing books at the Petoskey Cinema in Petoskey, Michigan from December 21-23, 2018, just before Christmas.
Marvel Studios 101 and the Marvel Studios Visual Dictionary are published by DK Books and are available to buy from all good retailers now!
The Future of the Force. The future of pop culture writing.