When I was eleven years old, I fell into a public swimming pool and drowned.
Or, rather, I almost drowned. Technically I only blacked out. If I’d actually drowned I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. (Unless it was all an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge kind of thing and I’m about to experience a rude awakening.) I went out on the high dive, goofing off, being a clown, and fell in. The lifeguard on duty thought I was still clowning around while I thrashed about and clawed at the surface trying to get air. But I didn’t know how to swim. I remember vividly the panic and the eventual euphoria. And then waking up at the side of the pool with a pretty teenage girl giving me CPR.
One of my biggest regrets is spitting up pool water all over her.
Since then I have never been scared of dying, but I’m still scared of death, of being dead. And maybe that’s why Rasputin appealed to me even at that early age, when I became self-aware enough to realize I would someday die. After all, he died over and over again, but (depending on which legend you choose to believe) might never have had to face death. He was, as the story goes, poisoned, beaten, stabbed, shot, mutilated, and thrown through the surface of an iced-over river. But none of that killed him.
And I know that’s not so bad. Hell, you can even get a kiss from a pretty girl if you drown first.
I’ve tried to write about Grigori Rasputin before. Twenty years ago I wrote a couple of historical crime novels that nobody wanted to read (much less publish) and was working at a copy shop, in my spare time writing and drawing little mini-comics (which were folded and stapled by hand and then mostly given away free to anyone who would read them) about immortal creatures that move into a small town. One of those creatures was Rasputin. Unfortunately, I was never good enough at the drawing part of making comics and so I shelved that story. But the Mad Monk stuck around somewhere on the back burner of my mind, waiting for the right opportunity.
Cut to last year when I got a phone call out of the blue from a film producer who had just read my first published novel, The Yard. He was trying to get a project off the ground, needed a writer, and wondered if I might have any interest. I’ve never written a film and wasn’t interested in writing one on spec since I was already under the gun on some serious deadlines, but before I could turn him down, he said the magic word: Rasputin.
I mulled it over for a bit and called him back. “If I write it as a novel and you option it, I’m in.” Then I sat down and started trying to figure out how to approach this character I’d already been thinking about for decades.
A few days later I brought the subject up during a Skype chat with my frequent collaborator Riley Rossmo. Among other things, we’d co-created the long-running series Proof, me writing, him drawing. It had been a few years since we’d worked together, but we’d stayed in touch. He was wrapping up a series for Image Comics and wasn’t sure what to do next. I mentioned what I was doing and was barely surprised when Riley turned out to be just as interested in Rasputin as I am. Before either of us realized what we were doing, we’d agreed to turn this story into a comic book series. And the minute we mentioned it to the fine folks at Image comics, they offered to publish it.
I’d paced up and down my tiny office, worrying about the best format for this story and then overnight all my decisions were made for me. Rasputin would be a comic book series, but with all the elements I’d wanted to include in a screenplay or a novel. And it would work much better in that format.
This isn’t anything like the same old creaky musty stuff that’s been done before. Instead, it’s a complete reimagining of the man’s life: Rasputin: The Novel. Except as a comic. And maybe (someday) as a movie or TV series too. A project so big and ambitious, and yet so personal that I needed other people to help force it out of me.
Kind of like a lungful of pool water.
I still don’t know how to swim, but the water feels fine. Come on in.
Alex Grecian is the New York Times bestselling author of the Scotland Yard Murder Squad novels, including The Yard and The Devil’s Workshop. He also co-created the long-running critically acclaimed comic book series Proof, which NPR named one of the best books of 2009. He has written an original ebook (The Blue Girl) and an original graphic novel (Seven Sons), as well as a multitude of short stories, both comics and prose, for various anthologies and magazines. Rasputin #1 will be in stores October 29, 2014.