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Final 9 Looks to Become Poker's First Comic Book; Interview w/ Creator Anish Patel

Anish Patel & Final 9 Art

With the success of such movies as Marvel’s The Avengers, Man of Steel, and the Iron Man franchise, as well as TV shows like Arrow and The Walking Dead — all of which were inspired by comic books — the mainstream has become inundated with new titles. One of those is Final 9 by Room 101 Publishing, a comic book that hopes to capture the intensity, suspense, and high-stakes action of the poker world.

The project was the brainchild of Anish Patel, who enlisted Calvin Innes to illustrate the project. Patel, who hails from the UK, recently sat down with PokerNews for an in-depth discussion on poker’s first mainstream comic book, which will launch in September.

To view Issue #1 of Final Nine, click here.

PokerNews: How did the idea to do a comic about poker come about?

Patel: The idea of the book came to me just after the 2008 November Nine final table. I had it on the TV screen in the background of my room whilst I was thinking of some ideas I wanted to do for a short film and short animation. Back then I was working in the Film and TV industry and I always had the passion to create my independent work.

Whilst writing some ideas I decided to choose what type of platforms my idea would suit (film, animation, graphic book, etc.). But at the same time I was watching the WSOP program and I found the program interesting, it covered the card game but also the individual players of the table. I like to know about each player and how they played before, this made it hard to decide whom I would root for. And I after watching Peter Eastgate win the championship, I thought how great would it be to write a story about poker.

I decided this would be a great comic book idea because I had a structure in mind putting it all together. It was a similar structure of another comic I read in the past year, The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibons. What I loved about this book was it was about six characters never mentioned anywhere else and when reading the story I wasn’t sure who the main character or the main villain of the book was, and in between the issue/chapters of the graphic novel, it had separate articles about the characters. I thought I could use this type of structure for my idea and give the readers bit more insight to each characters.

Anish Patel and Calvin Innes
Anish Patel and Calvin Innes

Do you think poker has the potential to make a compelling comic book?

Absolutely. The great thing about poker as a subject to write about is the players. There is such a huge range of different and varied players who enjoy the game, it makes for a great subject to write about. The game itself is exciting, and can be edge-of-your-seat stuff, especially when you get down to an important hand and the players are all in. But that’s just part of the story.

The players are key, especially to Final 9. By exploring nine very different characters, their lives, what drives them to play the game, and how they interact (or not) with each other, the script just naturally develops and often takes you in directions you just wouldn’t expect.

How long have you been working on this project?

It’s taken nearly five years to get to this stage. Like everything, you want to start on the day and have it finished by tomorrow, but getting the right people involved took months and finishing the first issue took a few years.

How did you find a publisher for your comic book?

Art from Final 9.
Art from Final 9.

It was actually a stroke of luck finding My Little Big Town. My illustrator, Calvin Innes, founded a children's book publishing company a few years back. The company has been really successful in the UK and led to Calvin expanding into two new imprints. One of which, Room 110 Publishing, publishes comic books and graphic novels. Obviously Calvin likes the book and the whole concept or he wouldn't be illustrating it, but getting the approval of other members of Room 110 meant a lot. They don't publish anything that isn't agreed upon by their whole team, so to get backing from people within the industry is important. It's nice to get acknowledgement that more people than just me understand and believe in the whole idea.

Can you tell us a little about the comic?

This is Twelve Angry Men at a poker table. It’s a courtroom drama. It’s a twisting, winding mix of personal stories, brought together around the intense lights and drama of a tournament poker table. When you watch a game, whether it’s live or on TV, you’re focusing on the game. You get a brief impression of what the players might be like, but you never really know about their lives or what brought them to the table. Final 9 explores the whole world around poker. It’s the players, the lifestyle, the different characters involved. It’s the how and they why of tournament poker — as well as the action of course.

Beyond the players, there is the press and the families and the fans. The developing story is punctuated by the game itself. Each issue has a player being knocked out of the tournament, but it also looks at a player’s back-story. There is the online player, the old-style player who has been involved with tournament poker since the 1970’s, there is the model, the smooth ladies man with deep pockets, the European champion, a great mix of characters.

The stories show the various aspects of the game, as well as a few darker twists. This is a comic book after all, so keeping it edgy and exciting is also important. We look at the underground aspects, too, the mafia and illegal games, the more corrupt side of gambling. We explore the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas like the showgirls — a wannabe model/TV host is one of the final nine players. It should hopefully appeal to those involved in the game as well as people who have never had any interest in poker. Perhaps the comic will also bring a few people to the game. I hope so.

The comic doesn’t actually feature real characters, instead opting for a fictional story. How come you didn’t use real poker players?

More art from Final 9.
More art from Final 9.

If I chose to write about real players I knew somewhere down the line the story would become limited by its characters. The characters are exaggerated versions of real players, or rather, they are made up of various aspects taken from real players. In real life there are a great variety of players, but people aren't tailor made to fit a story. By picking and choosing certain aspects of real players, and then elaborating on those points, adding in other bits and pieces along the way, I have been able to create characters that are not only 'real' and relatable, but ones that also work in the comic book world. A comic book is a lot like a film or TV show. It can be based in reality, but aspects need to be exaggerated and stylized.

I enjoy reading about real people, watching real people on TV, etc. That's a great way to learn about how people interact and act in the real world. It helps me as a writer and it helps me to create a story that people want to read. It also helps me understand what aspects need to be exaggerated and which ones need to be kept as real as possible. It's a lot like being a director. The characters are my actors and it's my job to get the best out of them and make all of that come together on the page.

What’s next for Final 9 comic? Where do you stand right now?

The first four issues are written and all are at least partly illustrated. Issues one and two are completed and ready to go. Work has already begun on the next five issues, but those are still in the early stages of editing and drafting the illustrations and layout. As the process has gone on, new ideas have developed and we have gone in directions we hadn’t imagined to begin with.

What started out as a four- or five-part comic book series has turned into this amazing project where we have the potential to branch off in different directions, tell the stories of different characters involved in the first issue. Some of the most interesting stories are those of characters who originally had 'bit parts,' but have developed as the writing process has gone on. Poker is kind of a unique subject as it brings together people from all walks of life, literally. As a writer, that is an amazing opportunity to explore so many different, interesting characters.

Where can poker fans expect to pick up issues of Final 9 and when?

The first issue will be available late September and will be put out in various digital formats. The idea is that readers can just download a copy to their Kindle or eBook reader while out at tournaments or games. Future issues will be available in both digital and print formats, and available online as well as from various poker outlets and book and comic stores.

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