Adapting mobile video games to the comics comes with a unique set of challenges. For starters, the games aren’t typically known for their rollercoaster plots and deep characterization, with many of them featuring no characters at all. But publisher Ape Entertainment has turned best-selling games like “Pocket God” and “Cut The Rope” into successful comic book series. In fact, the first issue of “Pocket God Comics” has sold 250,000 copies to date, a number practically unheard of in today’s comic book market.
With “Pocket God Comics” currently on on issue #18 (out today with a CBR Preview of the issue right here) and “Cut The Rope Comics” underway, Ape Entertainment will soon be launching comics based on games “Squids” and “Temple Run.” This summer, the publisher also announced plans for a series set in the popular world of “Fruit Ninja,” a simple yet highly-addictive game where all manner of fruit is lobbed in the air for the player to slice and dice with ninja precision.
In discussing how his company approaches creating stories from interactive game with little in the way of story, David Hedgecock, CEO of Ape Entertainment, told CBR News, “Every game, much like every project we do, requires a different approach. With ‘Fruit Ninja,’ the idea is very simple; fast paced, bite-sized entertainment. That is our goal here and that is what resonates best with fans of the game.
“All the heavy lifting of pre-production is about done, and we anticipate going to full production within the next two weeks,” Hedgecock continued. “‘Fruit Ninja’ fans will be amazed at the world they are about to enter.” While he couldn’t comment on specific characters that will be featured in the comic, Hedgecock did tell CBR that the creative team on “Fruit Ninja” is writer Mark Finn (“Scouts”) and artist Marcelo Ferreira (“Richie Rich”), with back-up art by Aurelio Mazzara (“Kung Fu Panda”). He also said that the first six issues have been plotted.
Ape plans to debut “Fruit Ninja’s” first two issues in late November, with both included in a 99 cent app. Subsequent issues will be available as in-app purchases, also priced at 99 cents each. “If things go well, we will be offering additional free stories and content from time to time as a thank you to the fans.” Hedgecock said, adding that there are also plans for printed digest volumes of collected stories.
“Fruit Ninja Comics” came about when Halfbrick Studios — the developer of “Fruit Ninja” — and Ape reached out to each other, both unaware the other was interested in working together on a comic adaptation of the popular game. “Halfbrick Studios came to us with a story bible already in hand. They know what their world is and they know the characters that are in it,” Hedgecock said. “On its face, you would think that makes things easier for us, and it does in some ways. But in other ways, it makes it much more difficult. When you have been provided parameters and lists of dos and don’ts, it’s sometimes hard to find a voice that resonates with the material without stepping on it or contradicting it.
“That being said, Halfbrick has been very easy to work with,” Hedgecock continued. “I think they respect the work we’ve done and they like the team we’ve put together for them. I think we have cracked the code for this project now, and found ways to be an introduction to the narrative of the ‘Fruit Ninja’ world without getting in the way of what is coming around us and after us.”
Hedgecock attributes the publisher’s impressive track record in adapting games to comics to the high level of quality apparent in each book, as well as accessibility, noting that it takes a click of a couple buttons for readers to get started. “The books are well over 750,000 units worth of sales now, with just 17 issues available,” Hedgecock said, pointing to the success of Ape’s “Pocket God Comics.” “Issue #1 has topped a quarter-million in sales. Sales, not free downloads — I want to emphasize that point.”
The CEO also stressed the importance of the digital comics’ 99-cent price. “Fans are comfortable at that price point, and so that is the price we give them. We’ve learned a whole ton of lessons with ‘Pocket God’ about how to serve this marketplace and we are furiously applying them to everything else we do.”
Aside from video games, Ape Entertainment has also been developing a variety of licensing agreements with animation and movie studios, like DreamWorks Animation, an experience that Hedgecock says has really helped the publisher in developing its game-based offerings. “In many ways, I think Ape Entertainment is uniquely suited to handle these games. Many, not all, of them are produced by small teams of people who had little experience with licensing when they start working with us,” Hedgecoock said. “They don’t have a team of dedicated people who handle approvals and red-lines and general editorial to make sure characters are staying on-model. In many instances, the properties don’t have story or characters at all! The Ape crew, with our experience handling properties from companies like DreamWorks Animation, take care of all this for them.”
“I hate to pigeon-hole the books with categories of age,” Hedgecock replied when asked about the publisher’s tendency towards all-agges friendly titles. “I’m in my 30s, and I love reading ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ comics just as much as I love reading ‘Hypernaturals.’ Those two books get branded for wildly different audiences if one was to categorize them by age but, I think the reality of it is, a good book is a good book and everyone can enjoy that.”
Ultimately, Hedgecock’s expects “Fruit Ninja” fans will be drawn to the comic, pointing out that the percentage of “traditional comic book readers” Ape properties attract is pretty small. “These projects are built much differently from what you find in the comic shop. We are appealing to a much broader demographic with very few preconceptions about what is expected of a comic. We do our best to pay homage to the very best the medium has to offer while making sure we are as accessible as possible to the person on the street.”