I Kill Giants is the story of Barbra Thorson, a teen girl who has a lot on her plate: She has a tough family situation, bullies lurk around every corner, her teachers and peers don’t understand her – oh, and she kills giants.

Armed with a war hammer named Covaleski, Barbara marches fearlessly into battle, slaying huge, stony titans who threaten the safety of her seaside town and all of its residents. She should be hailed as a hero for killing these monsters. The only problem is – no one else can see them.

The film was adapted from an award-winning graphic novel of the same name by Joe Kelly (Deadpool, Uncanny X-Men), illustrated by co-creator Ken Niimura, and is from the Man of Action imprint at Image Comics. The screenplay was written by Kelly himself, and it was co-produced by Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Home Alone) and directed by Academy Award-winning writer and director Anders Walter (Helium).

ScreenPicks sat down with Kelly to talk about how the graphic novel was transformed into a feature film.

How was it adapting the comic for the screen?

Joe Kelly: It has been a great experience for me personally to adapt the book. I loved the story immediately. It’s very close to my heart. It’s a very emotional story for me. The second I wrote it and finished it as a graphic novel, I wrote it as a screenplay.

And that served me well ultimately because you know, cut to x many years later when somebody wants to make it as a film – you hear all these stories about comic creators pushed off to the side – well, I was able to hand them a script that people responded well to, and I was protected from that moment on.

Were there challenges when it was actually picked up? When someone said, okay, we’re game to make this into a movie?

Kelly: Then the process just became what works well in the comic … and what bits might break the movie. Trying to keep the film locked on Barbara’s point of view, and giving the audience the ability to decide for themselves what things are real and what things are fantasy – let them navigate her world. If we kept certain things from the book, it would break that. And Anders [Walter] was really spot on with going, “This scene won’t work anymore. This scene won’t work anymore.” [Laughs] And sometimes it was painful. You know, you have to “kill your darlings” – but it always made sense and was in service of the film.

You mentioned letting people navigate Barbara’s world. There are definitely moments as a viewer when you think, “Is this in her head or is it real?”

Kelly: Right. That was definitely the goal. I’ve had a few people after the film ask me, “What’s real and what’s not?” and I always like people trying to make that decision on their own. I know what I think is real, but I let other people decide.

Since we’re talking about Barbara’s point of view, can you explain how you got in her head when writing?

Kelly: With so much of what I write, I pluck pretty liberally from my own life. I always joke that I’m this shallow writer – whatever comes in, that’s what winds up on the page. Like Mrs. Molle is based on my wife who is a guidance counselor and her maiden name is Molle. I’m kind of that literal. So the characters of this story all spring from some aspect of my own life or experiences I’ve gone through.

Getting into Barbara’s head was a combination of looking at my daughter at the time — when I wrote the story she was a really precocious and sassy six-year-old who I was trying to angle toward geek culture [laughs] – didn’t quite land there.

Sorry, it didn’t take!

Kelly: She does love fine movies. She’s a big art house movie person, so that’s good. But it was wondering what she might be like a little bit older, facing down some big issues, especially if she was armed with a very rich fantasy life. Taking this smart, sassy, creative young person and putting them through the grinder. I spent time in that head.

And the other aspect?

Kelly: In terms of the fantasy and the DnD of it all, that’s all we used to do. When I was that age, we’d run around and play, and when we were too tired, we’d sit around and just make up stories. It was like playing DnD without the board and without dice. The lore of the giants and all that business is built into my DNA. It’s hardwired for me.

You mentioned Barbara is sassy – that’s kind of an understatement. At one point she says that she’s mean to stupid people. She’s pretty blunt. Is that one of the qualities you like about her?

Kelly: Her ability to say anything is number one. She’s fearless with one exception: the giant. That’s the thing she’s most afraid of. But anyone else, whether it’s an adult or a bully, she will say anything, and I was never that kid. So I love that she’s fearless in that regard.

She also really has strong convictions and sticks to them no matter what anyone else thinks. She doesn’t care if people think she’s crazy. She’s going to set her traps, and she’s going hunt giants and do what she’s got to do. It’s the sort of strength I wish I had as a kid growing up. She’s got all of those capabilities and powers and talents that I didn’t have … I just love her!

The actress who plays her, Madison Wolfe, did she fit your idea of the character?

Kelly: Madison’s portrayal of her is just unbelievable. She is so talented and she really, really brought Barbara to life in a way that I had always dreamed if it was ever made into a film that a young actor would. She just did such an incredible job.

Fans of the story are cosplaying as Barbara at comic conventions – the character is that popular. The bunny ears and Warhammer definitely make for an iconic silhouette.

Kelly: Ken [Niimura], who designed her and is the co-creator of the book, drew her in such a way that I would never have thought – the rabbit ears being one of the first major things that he had added. Barbara with a war hammer and bunny ears? I mean that’s a home run as far as I’m concerned. I’m hoping that after people see the film there will be a bunch more [cosplaying]. It’s always so cool – it really blows my mind actually – when someone shows up dressed as Barbara. It’s something that’s in your head that you create, and then somebody wants to dedicate their time to make that real – it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

I Kill Giants opens in theaters and is available via On Demand and Digital HD this Friday, March 23rd.