Earlier today, Hulu debuted the first three episodes of Runaways, with The O.C. and Gossip Girl alums Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage adapting Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s beloved Marvel comic about six kids who discover their parents are supervillains.
I reviewed the show yesterday, and noted that Schwartz and Savage take a bunch of deviations from the comic, starting with the fact that the kids don’t actually run away nearly as quickly. I spoke with the two creators at length about developing the show, what they chose to change from the comics (and the few cases where Marvel mandated a change), and more — with full spoilers for these three episodes, and references to some things from the comics that were different there — coming up just as soon as having shiny hair gives me moral authority…
Let’s start at the beginning. Had either of you read the comic before you wound up with it?
Schwartz: Yes. I read it around the time it came out, which was the same year that The O.C. premiered, and fell in love with it instantly and it was something I always loved and as you probably remember, we had a Y: The Last Man poster up in Chuck’s room as a beacon, as back signal to Brian K. Vaughan that hopefully one day our paths would cross and we couldn’t put a Runaways poster up in Chuck’s room because of course it was a Marvel property and that was a Warner Brother show. Always loved it, and then we heard that it moved out of feature development and was potentially available for television, so wanted to schedule a meeting to get in with Marvel as fast as possible but obviously couldn’t do it unless Stephanie loved it as much as I did, so I gave her the book.
Savage: And I read it, and I completely fell in love. I’m not a comic book person by nature, but I fell in love with Brian’s world and the characters that he created, the strong female characters, the diversity of the characters, the heart and humor of his writing, the great cliffhangers at the end of every issue, I was really excited at the possibility that we could actually work on it and bring it to life.
When you sat down and said, “How do we make this a TV show?,” what were those early discussions like?
Schwartz: Well, first it was, Marvel television has a policy, which is no magic. They like to take a more grounded approach to the story, so things are driven through science, or technology, even if it’s technology from the future, but nothing that feels like completely impossible. So that was a fun challenge of taking some of these dynamics or some of these powers, certainly the parent powers, and try to put that through a more grounded lens.
And I will say, we wrote it on spec to prove to Marvel how much we loved it and how much we wanted to play in this world, and we wrote a bible to go with it, and our first episode was structurally closer to the comic: we opened with the Pride meeting, with the parents and kids showing up and very early on the kids witness the sacrifice, and when we landed at Hulu, they gave us the kind of note that we would never have gotten on broadcast but we were thrilled to get, which was, can we take this giant event that happens early in your story and push that to the end of the show, and open up that real estate to be able to really delve into these characters and understand who they were and who they are before they show up at the Pride meeting? And that led to a lot of interesting conversations just about backstory and their dynamics.
So Nico is not using magic, her mother isn’t, the Staff of One is not magical?
Savage: Well, don’t tell Nico that. It definitely is activated by blood. It can read your mind, if by reading your mind, it means translating electrical impulses from your brain. But Tina tells us that it was engineered in the wizard laboratory and powered by some very special unique technology.
Schwartz: Yes. It may not be from this world.
In the comic, not only do they find out really quickly, but they go on the run right away. Here you’re moving quite a bit at a more measured pace. Was that just a necessary concession to both TV and to a certain extent to budget? Why did you decide this is the rate at which you want them to actually run away, so to speak?
Schwartz: Yeah, those were things that we were thinking about early on, which is, it’s called Runaways. In the comic, as you said, they do run away sooner, but we felt like that title had other meanings as well. The first character we meet in the show is a runaway, and there were different applications to how that title could be interpreted. We really love that first volume, those first 18 issues, and we really felt like our creative challenge was, “How do we open up the story and get to live in that world for as long as possible?” You know, the kids versus the parents. That was the most thrilling part of I think the original Runaways comic, the runaways versus the Pride. How do we open up that story and how do we open up the parent storytelling? And the fun of these kids living under the same roof as their parents trying to figure out what happened. And once they run, you can’t go back. So we really wanted to earn that moment, when that happens.
Savage: And from a budgetary standpoint, it was a giant negative that they all came home, because it meant that we had to create six home environments versus if they were all living in the Hostel, that would have just been very delightful for production.