In 2004, Ned Vizzini introduced the world to Jeremy Heere, the main character in his novel Be More Chill. It was later reimagined as musical that eventually made its way to the musical stage. Now, just over 16 years after its initial publication, David Levithan (Every Day, Hold Me Closer) continues the legacy of Vizzini’s work, adapting Be More Chill into a graphic novel that will be available on January 5.
Ahead of the graphic novel’s release, Nerds and Beyond was able to talk with Levithan about adapting Vizzini’s novel, some of the aspects of the creative process, and more. Read on for our interview!
Nerds and Beyond: What initially drew you to adapting Be More Chill into a graphic novel?
David Levithan: I’ve always been a huge fan of Ned and of the original novel, and while some novels would confound me in considering a visual translation, the idea of a graphic version of this particular novel felt like a great opportunity.
Nerds and Beyond: What were some of the more challenging aspects about adapting a pre-existing story? Alternately, what parts were the easiest?
David Levithan: I constantly had to ask myself, “What Would Ned Do?” – which felt like a responsibility, but also made me happy, because it felt like we were collaborating across the years with one another. The most amusing challenge was that culture and technology move so fast that I decided to set the book in the early 2000s, when it was written, rather than try to adapt it to 2021 (which would of course be dated by 2025). So what Ned wrote as contemporary, I wrote as a period piece, of sorts – although goodness knows its messages about personhood and commercialization are more relevant now than ever.
Nerds and Beyond: The original novel is told from a first person POV. How did you approach finding balance between inner monologue and dialogue?
David Levithan: Ned was, I think, incapable of writing a boring line, whether it’s in the narration or the dialogue. And because Jeremy’s voice permeates the whole story so fully, I knew that I could strip away a lot of the narration because the dialogue was going to convey so much of who Jeremy is and how he thinks. Since I had Ned’s words on my side either way, I had it easy. Nick [Bertozzi] had the bigger challenge, because he had to convey the novel’s voice within the illustrations . . . which I think he managed to do beautifully.
Nerds and Beyond: Beyond the new format, how do you hope to bring a fresh but familiar take on the story?
David Levithan: I think I was able to bring perspective to the story that nobody writing it in the early 2000s could have. Ned was writing a cautionary tale . . . and I got to adapt it knowing the next few steps, consequence-wise, of our society merging the personal and the technological so intrinsically.
Nerds and Beyond: The art itself seems very fitting for the story you’re telling. How did you and Nick [Bertozzi] land on a style you liked?
David Levithan: As is often the case with the graphic novel, I was a happy bystander to Nick’s work. I got to see character sketches early on, and weighed in. But then he ran with it. I saw sketches and inks – but honestly there wasn’t much input I needed to give. He got it, too.
Nerds and Beyond: Would you consider creating more graphic novels, adaptions or original stories, in the future?
David Levithan: Absolutely.
Nerds and Beyond: There are certainly life lessons to be had with this story. What are some you hope readers will take away from it?
David Levithan: I hope readers consider that technology never cures a problem. Sometimes it can help. A lot of times it can hurt. But you can never cede your humanity to it – and it will readily take your humanity if you allow it to.
Nerds and Beyond: If you could take a squip, what would you want it to bring to your life?
David Levithan: I WOULD NEVER TAKE A SQUIP. 🙂
Nerds and Beyond: What are you most proud of with this new adaptation?
David Levithan: I am very proud that, like the musical, it will introduce Ned’s story to a new audience.
Thank you to David for taking time to chat with us! Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel hits shelves on January 5. Pre-order your copy here.