1925, F. Scott Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby hit shelves and quickly cemented itself as the definitive work of the jazz age. Its themes of greed and treason would resonate with readers nearly a century after its original publication. One of them was the writer Jeremy Holt, known for Made in Korea and Virtually Yours.
Holt and artist Felipe Cunha (“Avengers,” “Return to Whisper”) update the 20th-century classic for a new era with “Gatsby,” a racially diverse, LGBTQIA-led retelling of Fitzgerald’s seminal work. The eight-issue miniseries, published by AWA Studios and due out this November, sees middle-class Singaporean student Lu Zhao drawn into a world of dark web smuggling and online identity theft while spending the summer with his rich cousin Tommy .
We spoke to Holt via email about the project, how it came about and who they would like to adapt for the big screen. Spoiler Alert: It’s not Baz Luhrman. We thank Holt for her time.
Why Gatsby? What originally drew you to Fitzgerald for this project?
JH: The character of Jay Gatsby was, is and will always capture the imagination of readers. Don’t we all wish we could morph into the best possible version, that anything and everything is possible if you believe enough? I was drawn to Fitzgerald’s themes in The Great Gatsby after first reading it in 2017. At the time, I was sketching a prose novel featuring an entirely new serial killer, so I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly Fitzgerald’s second novel caught my attention. I tend to follow the fun when writing, so I switched massively to focus on how I might adapt this immortal work.
How did the project take shape from there? How long did you and Felipe work on it before the announcement?
JH: The project took a rather circuitous route. I originally wrote it as a YA prose novel, but it wasn’t very good. I decided it would be more fun to try as a graphic novel, so I adapted my adaptation. When I finished the pitch it was 2019 and Felipe and I have been working on it ever since.
Aside from updating for the 21st century, how close do you stick to the original source material?
JH: I tried my best to stick to the source material, but there were several factors that compelled me to shift things in terms of music, fashion, interior design and technology to best fit the current time . Also, the actors are teenagers, which required dynamic updates to the overall narrative. While things have been shifted and transformed, I hope fans of the book will enjoy this new take.
You also mentioned drawing themes from your own life. How personal was this book for you compared to your other work?
JH: Almost all of my published work focuses on the theme of identity. This is no different and I had the opportunity to explore identity through the lens of technology. I wanted to explore my feelings and thoughts on the societal impact – good and bad – of apps like Instagram and TikTok. The Gatsby narration complemented my exploration pretty much perfectly. Lu Zhao, my Nick Carraway proxy, is not only a window for readers to peek into Gatsby’s America, but also a personal reflection of my experiences as a queer POC. The Asian American diaspora is complex, but I have gained tremendous catharsis from this story. I hope readers enjoy it and that someone like me feels a little more seen.
Has anything new come out of the revision of the original text? Did you find that one of the original themes deepened as you diversified it (or even added things like smartphones and social media)?
JH: There are too many interesting and entertaining developments resulting from updating the original text. The only reason I decided to do this adaptation was that all of the book’s original themes are still applicable today. By making them contemporary, my goal was to breathe new life and meaning into them. The technology component is one of the major updates that re-contextualizes the source material for younger generations. I think anyone who has an Instagram or TikTok account will find this story much more relatable than it was when it was assigned in high school.
What was it like working with AWA Studios on this book?
JH: It was an absolute dream. Axel Alonso believed in this book when no one else did. And for that, I’m an AWA Studios fan for life.
Finally, did you see the Baz Luhrmann movie? And would you let him adapt this comic?
JH: I saw it. And absolutely not. Having a white person tell this diverse story would be a missed opportunity to have it adapted by a POC filmmaker. Given my choice, I would be honored to have either Bong Joon Ho, Lulu Wang, and/or Ang Lee cast in the adaptation.
Gatsby #1 (of 8) is out November 2 in print and digital. For more information about the project, visit AWA Studios at AWAStudios.net and on Facebook. TwitterInstagram and YouTube.