Atomic Blonde- An Interview With "The Coldest City" Graphic Novel Writer, Antony Johnston


While Atomic Blonde hits theaters this weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to see it at an advanced screening a month ago. Ever since I saw it, I've been raving about it! It's an excellently made film, with outstanding directing, writing, editing, cinematography, score, coloring. The performances are excellent, with Charlize Theron (Lorraine Broughton) and James McAvoy (Perceval) being the stand-outs. I had my apprehensions about the film going into it, but they all dissipated once I saw the first shot appear on screen. It's an action-packed thrill ride, and builds real and tangible suspense. It certainly has one of the greatest action sequences of the year, but I won't spoil what that is for you. If you want to know more of my thoughts on the film, you can read our full, spoiler-free review here. Needless to say, Atomic Blonde is a fantastic action movie, and is one of my favorites of the year so far, and made an appearance on my list (which you can read here). And with the film finally hitting theaters this weekend, I had the privileged to be able to speak to Antony Johnston, the writer of The Coldest City, which is the graphic novel that Atomic Blonde was adapted from. He also served as a producer on the film. 

So here is my interview with Antony Johnston: 


Where did the idea for this graphic novel originate from? From developing the world, to deciding on the story's Cold War backdrop, to creating the character of Lorraine Broughton... how did you initially conceptualize this graphic novel, and what was its journey to publication?
"I've always loved spy fiction, and growing up in the '80s, cold war spy fiction was of course the main subject of that genre. But it wasn't until around 2008 that I contemplated writing some of my own, and I mainly just wanted to sit down and write something purely for me, a story that I would want to read, without really considering its commercial viability. So I cleared my deadlines and took two months in the summer of 2008 to do nothing but write a cold war spy thriller... and what came out at the end was of course The Coldest City.
"Lorraine came about simply from wanting to avoid certain clichés, and what what's a bigger cliché in cold war stories than the grizzled man in a trench coat? Just by making that character a woman, it immediately changed the dynamics of the story, which I found very interesting. 
"I took the project to Oni Press because I've had a long and good working relationship with them, and I knew it would take a lot of trust from a publisher to release this book in the way I wanted. At that time, they may even have been the only publisher who would even contemplate putting out a book like this." 
When did you first know that Focus Features was looking to adapt your comic? What was that process like?
"Well, Focus didn't make the original option: that was Charlize Theron's production company, back in 2012. It was great news, of course-- it's not every day an Academy Award winner wants to star in an adaptation of your book-- but I've also been down this road many times before, and it often fizzles out before anything actually gets produced. 
"So it wasn't until 2015, when Focus and Sierra Affinity got involved, and David Leitch was hired, that things really started moving and I started to think it might actually come to fruition." 

Not only are you the writer of The Coldest City, but you are also credited as a producer on the movie. What kind of role did you have as a producer? How active were you in the adaptation of your graphic novel?
"I was mainly giving notes, lots and lots of notes. Partly on the adaptation aspect of the script, of course; but I was also the only British person behind the scenes, so I was keeping an eye out for Americanisms creeping into Lorraine and Perceval's dialogue...! I also gave notes on early edits of the film, that sort of thing. I wasn't on it full-time day-to-day, but I stuck my oar in whenever appropriate."
What was it like for you watching someone else's interpretation of your work on screen; taking your ideas and reinventing them for a new medium?
"It's exciting. I've written adaptations myself, turning prose, poetry, and even screenplays into graphic novels, and I've also worked on video game transmedia. So I understand the process from that point of view, which I think has really helped. I know that you have to make changes when moving a story from one medium to another; you have to take advantage of the tools available in whichever medium you're working in. I'd written the best graphic novel I could; now it was the filmmakers' job to make the best movie they could. And thankfully, they did just that."

In what ways do you think this films extends or adds to your original story?
"Well, there's certainly a lot more action than in the book! But that's great--- a straight adaptation wouldn't work at all on screen, it would be quite dull. So I'm all in favour of that, as well as the French agent Pierre becoming Delphine, played by Sofia Boutella. That was a stroke of genius, a great way to get another female presence on screen, and show us an interesting side of Lorraine's character.
"What mostly surprised me, right from the start, is how relatively faithful the overall story and structure is to the book. I was honestly expecting it to be completely different, but anyone who's read the book will recognise the story they see on screen."
What are you currently working on, and can fans expect to see more cinematic adventures for Lorraine Broughton in the future?
"GHOST STATION ZERO, the second Codename Baboushka comic series starts soon. That's my modern pulp take on spies, much on the level of big-explosion James Bond stuff than Coldest City/Atomic Blonde.
"I recently began work on the third book in the "Coldest" series, which will once again focus on Lorraine Broughton, so we'll definitely see her again in print. Whether or not we'll see her again on screen depends on how well audiences react to Atomic Blonde, of course.  
"And then beyond that, there's the usual work that I can't talk about in specific terms. I recently finished a new prose novel, which is doing the rounds of publishers at the moment; I'm working on a series of SF short stories; I'm doing some TV development stuff, consulting on a couple of video games, planning a non-fiction book... and of course I'm working on new comics ideas."

Atomic Blonde is a fantastic action thriller, with great performances from Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, and excellent direction from David Leitch. It surpasses its own genre by being so technically well made, and putting a focus on its characters. Johnston's graphic novel, The Coldest City, is an equally gripping story. Though it does differ from the film, the story is the same, which is a concrete part of Atomic Blonde. The Coldest City's noir-inspired art work and unconventional structure allows for complete creative freedom, which Johnston clearly excels at. Not only is Atomic Blonde absolutely worth seeing when it hits theaters July 28th, but The Coldest City is absolutely a must-read, as well as its prequel, The Coldest Winter

You can follow Antony on Twitter @antonyjohnston to stay updated on his new projects, as well as on Facebook at facebook.com/AntonyJohnston. Further information can also be found on antonyjohnston.com. 


What do you think? Did you like our interview with Antony Johnston? Have you read his graphic novel The Coldest City? Do you plan to after this interview? Are you looking forward to seeing Atomic Blonde? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Written by: Nate
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