OIN COLFER is a comfortably-off maverick with a twinkling manner and a cultivated goatee. Thus, the bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl young adult novels has at least three things in common with Tony Stark, aka laconic Marvel superhero Iron Man. When Marvel, the comic book powerhouse turned king of the box office, inquired last year whether Colfer might be interested in writing an Iron Man novel he didn’t have to think twice.
“They actually had in mind that I do one about Captain America and Tony Stark,” says Colfer. “I’m not really interested in Captain America. I like the Iron Man character, though — Tony is totally selfish and can’t understand why people think he is self-centred. He’s like ‘what…I’m brilliant…of course you all like me?’ He’s a great creation.”
Marvel is notoriously protective of the brand (just ask Avengers director Joss Whedon, driven to despair by interference from above making the second movie in the sequence).As he got stuck into what would become Iron Man:The Gauntlet Colfer feared executives might veto his plan to send Stark to Ireland for a serious of bumpy encounters with sarcastic locals. He was pleasantly surprised.
“You hear about Marvel being very controlling. That didn’t happen with me at all. My take was that if they wanted me to do it then they wanted an Eoin Colfer book. There have been hundreds of stories about Iron Man getting chased around New York or Los Angeles. Why not bring him to Ireland? I’ve always enjoyed a fish out of water story. If you look at all my books you will find that theme in there somewhere. “
He was concerned, too, that Marvel might veto his redesign of Tony Stark’s iconic flying suit. Again, they were happy to let him have at it.
“I wanted to come at it from a quirky side. I’m asked to go a lot of kids’s parties and read. I imagine Iron Man would be too. So I gave him a new suit called the “party pack”. To me that’s funny. It’s what I like to do — take a genre and give it that quirky Irish twist. They were delighted.”
Colfer enjoyed marooning Tony Stark in Ireland and having the natives take him down a notch or three. Here he was drawing on his own experience of becoming an overnight publishing sensation (albeit one a decade in the making) with the Artemis Fowl series, which chronicle the adventures of a 12-year-old master criminal. The more pronounced your strut, the quicker Irish people are to point and laugh.
“The second Artemis Fowl book had gone to number one in the New York Times. I was walking down the street in Wexford feeling like I was John Travolta,” he recounts. “A young fella was looking out and he goes ‘there’s your man… and his books.’ What do you say to that? There’s no comeback. He totally destroyed me with that off-the-cuff comment.”
Was he nervous taking custody of a beloved character? Colfer had endured a great deal of opprobrium for writing, in 2009, an official sequel to Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy novels, at the behest of Adams’ estate.
“I still don’t consider it the official sixth book. I consider it official fan fiction. I would love to see someone else doing it… maybe have Neil Gaiman do a Douglas Adams novel. With Iron Man… I feel a lot of people have done Tony Stark stories already. So it was different”
The Gauntlet is billed a young adult novel, though Tony Stark fans of all ages will enjoy it (this comic book devotee got through it in three sittings). Colfer is nowadays rather wary of the YA tag, having tried to move beyond the label with recent forays into crime fiction and writing for the stage. He shrugs — to a degree, he will be forever typecast as YA. Given all his success, it would be churlish to obsess too deeply.
“It’s a mistake trying to be down with the kids. It’s like the teacher who wants to be your friend — it’s not quite right. I would prefer to be writing about middle-aged characters, that is who I identify with. Me writing about a 12-year-old on a quest, those days are gone for me. I have thought about writing a fantasy novel for adults.
I like the idea of a dragon who’s a bit like Homer Simpson, depressed, his scales are moulting — he just doesn’t care. I’d have no interest in writing about a really cool dragon.”
“You do get typecast. I’m a YA writer but I’m trying to break out of that. In a way, if you’ve had a massive series it is inevitable. I spent so long trying to get published. I still haven’t forgotten that pain. I’m happy to have to put up with typecasting if it enables me to keep writing.”
A latecomer to success, Colfer didn’t get published until he was 32. “I had been trying since I was 19. For four or five years I stopped. It wasn’t until I hit 30 that I had a crisis. I had always said to myself that I would get published by the time I was 30. That really hit me — not only was I not published, I hadn’t even written a proper novel. I then put the pedal to the metal.”
Colfer has seen all the Marvel movies and far prefers their upbeat, witty tone to the suffocating gloom of Batman v Superman. His favourites are those featuring Iron Man and Thor. He actually has a vague connection to the latter as the first Thor film was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has been lined-up to bring Artemis Fowl to the screen, with a script by playwright Conor McPherson .
“Kenneth Branagh came across the books in an unusual way. His nephew was on holidays and Branagh noticed that he was devouring the books. He was driven to ask, ‘What is this’?”
Is Colfer protective of Artemis?
“Ken has said to me, ‘We won’t do anything you don’t like’. Which is kind of vague. What I would like to do is go on the opening night and be surprised. I just want to see it up there on the screen.”
- Iron Man: The Gauntlet is out now