|ARVIND ETHAN DAVID
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DF Interview: Arvind Ethan David brings the world’s weirdest detective to life in Dirk Gently: A Spoon Too Short
By Byron Brewer
“A Spoon Too Short” is Dirk Gently’s most baffling and incomprehensible case. Inspired by the tantalizing alternative title for the Dirk adventure Douglas Adams was working on prior to his death, written by Arvind Ethan David and executive produced by Max Landis, A Spoon Too Short follows the continuing adventures of the world’s weirdest detective.
How weird?, you ask. Dynamic Forces sat down with Arvind Ethan David to find out.
Dynamic Forces: Dirk Gently is a very original property, Arvind, quite unlike anything I have ever come across. Can you tell us the basic concept behind what will become the miniseries you are writing please? Tell us a little about your take on this character that will be reflected in the comic from IDW.
Arvind Ethan David: There is a long literary tradition of great detectives: Dupin, Sherlock, Poirot… Dirk Gently does not belong to that tradition…. !
Or rather he does, but only if you forced those detectives to have the lovechild of Doctor Who and threw in Orson Welles and Harold Lloyd as midwives…
Dirk is a “holistic” detective, who does not concern himself with usual detective methods, fingerprints, magnifying glasses, CSI technology or anything so mundane. Instead, he trusts his unique relationship with the universe, his preternatural, ill-understood super ability to sense the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things”, and to ride the waves of causation like a drunk, stoned surfer, somehow ending up on the shores of the solution, drenched, bruised and covered in seaweed.
Sherlock famously said that “once you eliminate the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. Dirk has never quite learnt to eliminate the impossible… His cases span space and time; dimensions and mythologies.
Only Dirk would suspect that a terrorist attack at London’s Heathrow Airport is in fact the work of the god Thor… Only Dirk would think that the prime suspect in a murder is a 2 billion year old alien ghost.
More to the point, only Dirk would think those were the most reasonable and simple explanations possible for those crimes.
DF: I understand you have quite a history with Dirk Gently, that you were so taken with the character that you wrote a stage adaptation of the Douglas Adams novels while you were just a student at the Stowe boarding school outside London. Can you tell us about that?
Arvind Ethan David: It remains, weirdly, one of the defining events of my life. And it happened when I was 16.
I was asked to direct a play for the school drama festival. Not knowing a lot of plays at the time, but having just read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, I figured, “why don’t we adapt that”…. So my friend James Goss and I did…
I also directed, and played Dirk — he just felt a lot like I felt when I was 16: too clever by half, but also full of self doubt, convinced of his own importance, socially awkward and not quite sure how normal human interaction worked.
Playing Dirk on stage helped make me more comfortable with being, well, me. When the play became a success, well, that made me, for the first time in my teenage years, popular — or at least with a good excuse to hang out with pretty girls in darkened rehearsal rooms.
Then, an even cooler thing happened: Douglas Adams came to see it, and because he liked it, our stage version of Dirk Gently ended up being the official version and has been performed dozens of times in the years since, all round the world, translated into multiple languages (Danish!) — and next month, more than 20 years after it was written, it is being published (by Samuel French) – I need to remember to send copies back to my old school library!
DF: Adams died in 2001, but you had quite a friendship with him. Tell us about the creator of Dirk Gently.
Arvind Ethan David: It started when he came to see our version of Dirk Gently — he was very generous and supportive about it, we stayed in touch, and then he was very generous and supportive of me as I started my career. Without any real reason to do so, Douglas invited me into his network of friends and collaborators, which was a fantastic honor, kick-started my career and gave me friendships and professional partnerships that have endured to this day.
Douglas was a genius. There is no other word for it — he saw the world differently, he described it better and he found insights and originality where others would have only offered cliché. In 7 short novels, he changed forever the path of science fiction and comedy. But more than that: he set out possibilities for the future, and ways of understanding it, that remain of daily use to us: his thoughts on the internet and interconnectivity; and his crusade for animal conservation remain as important and valuable today as they were 20 years ago — more valuable today, than before.
I don’t pretend that Douglas and I were friends in the sense of equal buddies — I was in my 20s and starting out, he was in his 40s and at the height of his fame and powers. Accordingly, he was a much more important figure in my life than I was ever going to be in his.
I got to do some work with him, and we would have dinner together and talk about books and movies — so rather like one of Dirk’s assistants or side-kicks, I got to see the world through the eyes of a genius, got to share in some of his adventures.
Today, I’m about the same age that Douglas was when I first met him, and I am striving still to reach his heights of originality and perfection in every paragraph, in every creative endeavor. I fall short, of course, but it is fun to try.
DF: What is the storyline of the coming comic (without spoilers, of course)?
Arvind Ethan David: Each arc of the comic series will be one self-contained “case”. This one is called A Spoon Too Short (the title was one of Douglas’ working titles for his final, unfinished, Dirk Gently novel), and it sees Dirk get mixed up in a Rhino Horn poaching enterprise, endure disturbing nightmares from his childhood, and be confronted with an inexplicable outbreak of people being struck dumb. How are those things connected?
Only Dirk knows, and even then, he doesn’t — not really. Ilias Kyriazis is drawing it, and has done wonders with both storytelling, and just plain beautiful art — and it should be a real trip. One great “interconnection” is that Rhinos’ were one of Douglas’ great passions and he was a founding patron of Save the Rhino international, and famously once climbed Kilimanjaro in a Rhino suit to raise funds and awareness to combat the illegal Rhino Horn Trade. I’m delighted to be able to announce that the Adams Estate and I have decided to donate a proportion of the royalties from this comic line to Save the Rhino to support their crucial and difficult work.
DF: I found it delightful to learn that Douglas Adams once served as the showrunner of BBC’s Doctor Who in the 1980s. Is there any comparison at all which can be made between these two unique characters, Dirk Gently and Doctor Who?
Arvind Ethan David: Very much so: Dirk is, in a way, the bastard, adopted, DNA-spliced stepson of Doctor Who. When Douglas was writing Doctor Who (his episodes include one of the best ever, “City of Death”), he wrote an arc called “Shada” which, for various complicated reasons, didn’t get made until 30 years later.
After he left Who, Douglas looked at his old scripts for “Shada,” and thought, “Hmmm. Maybe there is a novel in this” — and that novel became Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. That said, Dirk evolved into a very different creature: he has much more doubt and insecurity than the Doctor, his “gifts” are a burden to him, not a blessing, and he craves friendship and connection in a very human way.
DF: Arvind, is this your first bit of comic book writing?
Arvind Ethan David: It is — but I’ve been lucky to have some good training along the way. I got to edit the first Dirk series, The Interconnectedness of All Kings, by the wonderfully kind and talented Chris Ryall and that process taught me something about how writing for comics (as opposed to writing for the stage or the screen where I have more experience) works. I’m also very lucky in my editor, Denton Tipton, and my collaborators, artists Ilias Kyriazis and Charlie Kirschoff.
Readers will have to decide if I’ve pulled it off, but I’ve definitely got the taste for it, and am already working on my second comic series, a collaboration with another rare genius — Mike Carey, of Lucifer and Unwritten fame, which will be out later this year.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Arvind Ethan David for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Dirk Gently: A Spoon Too Short #1 hits stores today!
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