Alice Oseman on adapting her graphic novels for the screen

Alice Oseman on adapting her graphic novels for the screen

Alice Oseman is the author of four contemporary YA novels with HarperCollins Children’s, including Solitaire, which was published when she was 19, and Loveless, which was recently awarded the YA Book Prize 2021. She is also the creator of LGBTQ+ YA graphic novel series Heartstopper, which began life as a serialised webcomic in 2016 and has been published in physical format by Hachette Children’s Books since 2018.

Heartstopper tells the story of two secondary characters from Solitaire, teenagers Charlie and Nick, who meet at an all-boys school in Kent and become friends before falling in love. As the series progresses, the pair navigate first love against the backdrop of school, friends and family, with a strong group of allies and friends around them. The fourth Hearstopper book, Volume 4, was published in May.

Early this year, Netflix greenlit a YA drama series produced by See-Saw Films based on Oseman’s graphic novel series. An open casting call attracted 10,000 auditioners. In April, it was announced that newcomer Joe Locke had been cast as Charlie, while Kit Connor—best known for playing a young Elton John in 2019 biopic “Rocketman” and as the voice of Pan in the BBC’s His Dark Materials adaptation—will take on the role of Nick. Most of the supporting cast is comprised largely of new talent. The Heartstopper show will consist of eight 30-minute episodes written by Oseman.

She talks to us about adapting her graphic novels for the screen. 

Heartstopper has gained a very dedicated following. Why do you think people have taken these characters and their stories to their hearts? Did this make you more nervous about translating the story into a different format?
I think one of the reasons Heartstopper has gained such a following—beyond graphic novels being a very accessible medium—is because it’s such a warm, uplifting, joyful story. It has definitely made me nervous about the adaptation, because I know that people care about the story so deeply and will have a lot of opinions about what we do with the adaptation!

I hope that readers will recognise that the adaptation, as with all adaptations, has to be slightly different to the books, but I think that most readers will be happy because we have stuck so closely to the comics in so many ways. 

Did you ever imagine that Heartstopper would be adapted for screen?
I definitely didn’t! Many authors like to dream that some day their work might be adapted for screen, but it’s so rare to even have a book optioned, let alone have something actually adapted. I still can’t quite believe it’s happening! Heartstopper being a graphic novel certainly helps the filmmaking process. There are plenty of visual references for everyone involved in the show, from the director to the cinematographer, to costume designers and set designers.

This was your first time writing a screenplay—how did you find the process? What are the differences between screenwriting and writing a novel or graphic novel?
It felt very natural in some ways, but very challenging in others! Dialogue is one of my biggest strengths as a writer, but I find plotting very hard, and creating a tight plot with enough twists, turns and edge-of-your-seat moments is extremely important in TV writing. But unlike writing books and comics, writing for TV is a collaborative process, and I had constant input from the executive producers and eventually the director too, which I found very helpful! 

The cast for the show has been revealed. What do you think?
I am so excited and happy with the cast of the show. It was a huge challenge to find actors who were right for the roles, but casting director Daniel Edwards and his team were incredibly thorough, and fortunately we found a cast of super-talented young people who are just so perfect for each character.

There have been some hugely successful YA screen adaptations. Do you have any favourites?
I recently watched and loved the Shadow and Bone adaptation, despite not having read [Leigh Bardugo’s] Shadow and Bone trilogy! And “Love, Simon” [based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli] is one of my comfort watches. 

Has this experience encouraged you to do more work in the TV field?
Totally! It’s a very different work life to what I’ve known. It’s more collaborative, more active, more stressful in a lot of ways! I think my personality better suits writing books as I’ve always been better at working on my own, but I’ve really enjoyed this way of creating a story. I would definitely be interested in doing it again.

Have you got any other projects in the pipeline?
My main focus right now is the TV show and Heartstopper: Volume Five. I still feel like I haven’t quite recovered from writing my last YA novel Loveless, so I’m taking a little break from prose writing. 

What can people expect from the Heartstopper TV show? Is there a release date yet? What are you most excited for people to see?
There’s no release date just yet, but fans can expect a wholesome queer British teen drama. I’m definitely most excited for people to see the scenes that are exact replicas of scenes from the comic!