Panov’s The Secret City Reimagined for NARR8 PlatformThe Secret City will make a début as one of NARR8’s series on January 25 th. Theepisodes are based on the works of bestselling Russian fantasy writer Vadim Panov. Inthis interview, he shares his thoughts on how the interactive graphic novel format maybreath new life into his novels.Were you familiar with the NARR8 platform and content before you were offered to launchSecret City as a series?Yes, and I instantly liked this new approach. In terms of graphic novels, I don’t find classicones interesting because the ‘graphic’ part overrides the ‘novel’, and I’m a person who fanciestext more than art. The art itself is fine, but it’s not something I myself can relate to. But whenthere’s a good balance between art and text, now there’s something to talk about whichNARR8 accomplishes. I believe this is one of the modern paths of development for literatureas a genre. It’s not entirely clear as to where this may lead in the future, but it’s certainlyintriguing. I like experimenting, and participating in daring new ventures so when NARR8approached me, I was all for it.In our version of Secret City, several alterations were made to the original plot. For instance,your ‘secret city’ is Moscow, and we changed it to New York. What is your feeling towardsthese changes?We came to an agreement about this in the very beginning. I understand that someone mightbe displeased with this change as Secret City is dear to the readers because the city ofMoscow itself is dear to them and they like that the story takes place in familiar surroundings.But let’s face it: during the last couple of decades, almost every TV show, movie, musical andso on are modeled after American original series. They buy a license and then create a‘Russianized’ version, while we, in this case, are doing the opposite: we take somethingoriginally Russian and localize it for the Americans. That’s what I especially like about thewhole idea. It makes me proud, you know?Do you think the American and European readers will see the Secret City story differently thanthe Russian audience?I don’t think there’s anything specific about the original that might be hard for the Westernreaders to understand. Fantasy as a genre is based on things that are universal in ourcultures. For instance we all expect a 16-century magician to live in the middle of a wild forest,and a 19-century magician to live in the forest near a city, because people gradually moved tothe cities, and their reality shifted. Well, now we all live in cities, so a modern-day magician isbound to live among us. But it’s all part of the same mythmaking tradition. There’s a differenttrend now within the urban fantasy genre with its vampire stories. Take the Twilight saga orLukyanenko’s Watches; they are influenced by secret societies, as with other mediums like theMasons, conspiracies of world leaders. These are stories that occupy our minds nowadays. Soif you write about someone scheming to rule the world, about wars between some mysteriouspowerful groups, it all feels very ‘natural’ to the readers, because these are the things that yousubconsciously suspect are true about the world, like our ancestors subconsciously believed infairy-tales. As for the Secret City, however, things are a bit different: it’s a story about a groupthat doesn’t really care all that much about people. I mean, there are reasons why they can’t
destroy us, but if people were to disappear from the planet as a race, the inhabitants of theSecret City would probably just breathe a sigh of relief.Who would you say is the target audience of your books? And do you think the image of youraverage reader might change after Secret City’s appearance on NARR8 considering that evenschoolchildren nowadays own iPads?When I was a beginning author, I was under the impression that my readers were mostlyyoung people: teenagers, students, maybe some college graduates. But then I discovered thatwasn’t true. If your book is worthwhile, it’s beyond age. iPads and other tablets are owned bypeople of all ages, not just teenagers. Many adults use them, not necessarily for entertainmentpurposes. For instance, a tablet may prove very useful when you’re traveling. Still, if you ownone, you’re likely to become interested in all the options it has to offer. So I think all sorts ofpeople might be interested in NARR8. It’s something new; people enjoy exploring new things.And from then on, it all depends on the quality of your stories. If they’re good, then theaudience will stick with you.Do you think that fantasy and sci-fi writers might be interested in creating stories exclusivelyfor NARR8? Next year it’s going to become possible for any content creator.That really depends on what writers you are talking about. We’re not all the same, you know.Some people, even some young people, were brought up on classic books. The very conceptof storytelling and plot development there is very different from what NARR8 requires from itsauthors. And those people might not be able to adapt to the new format. Your narrativemethods will feel foreign to them, the way you split the story into episodes and the way youpresent the story itself. I’ve worked with some people who write screenplays for major movies—they are very different from literature writers. They handle the plot in a much more sharp,precise, urgent kind of way, so that the film director will instantly understand what they mean.It’s also important to realize that NARR8 is a whole new genre that has yet to be developed. Itsrules aren’t yet set in stone. So who knows, maybe eventually there will be a way even for oldschool writers to create series for the platform without altering their perception of text toomuch.Do you think we perceive information differently from our ancestors? Does the 20-30 minuteepisode format somehow reflect the way we understand stories?Of course. The pace of modern life is nothing like the pace of the 18 th or the 19th century. Whenclassic literature emerged, things were very relaxed. For instance, take Radishchev’s Journeyfrom St. Petersburg to Moscow. The whole book is about a month-long trip. And the book itselfwas something you could read while embarking on a similar journey. Because, you know, youneeded a way of killing the time. Eventually the rhythm of things got faster, especially as citiesdeveloped. In this sense, it is only logical that the pace of modern storytelling is different fromhow stories were told two centuries ago, and our perception of these stories is different too.