Like the classic action serials that ended with a car careening off a cliff or the hero caught in an impossible trap, IDW Publishing hopes readers will tune in each week in November for the next installment of “Jack Avarice IS The Courier.” A five-issue miniseries written and illustrated by game designer Chris Madden — who will also draw the upcoming “Danger Girl” relaunch — “Jack Avarice” is an all-out action series reinforcing the parable, “Be careful what you wish for.”
CBR News caught up with Madden to discuss the project — his first comic book series — and how comic book storytelling and designing for games influence and enhance each other.
“‘Jack Avarice’ is the story of an ordinary guy thrust into the extraordinary. Jack is a dumb kid in his early 20s who’s spent his entire life watching adventure movies — James Bond, Indiana Jones — I’m sure a few episodes of Magnum P.I. slipped in there at some point. And now he’s disappointed that his life isn’t as full of Rad Sauce as the movies he grew up on. Everything gets turned on its head, however, when Jack comes face to face with The Fox — the world’s greatest secret agent,” Madden said of the series’ concept. “Suddenly Jack, a nobody with dreams of being a hero, gets drafted into a secret organization known as the Couriers and is forced to learn very fast that the other side of the silver screen is a little less glamorous and a lot more dangerous than he had realized.
“Behind the scenes, Jack is my homage to those great, classic Adventure Characters (TM) I grew up with. I wanted to see what Indiana Jones, Doc Savage, Tintin looked like when they first started out,” Madden continued. “There’s more than a little of each of them in there — Jack’s unruly blond spike of hair was absolutely (and subconsciously) an homage to Tintin.”
The action in the story — of which there appears to be plenty — revolves around an artifact called The Eyes of Fate, which Madden said ties in with the legend of the Skull of Ix. “The skull itself is a proto-caribbean voodoo artifact of unimaginable dark power. Legend says it’s the skull of a former voodoo high priestess and tribal shaman, who, through the use of two rough cut crystals, discovered a way to channel her dark energy into creating a portal into the afterlife. Under her control, the dead could enter our world as they pleased,” Madden told CBR News. “Now, centuries later, the Skull of Ix and the crystals — the Eyes of Fate — are being sought by an international terrorist organization called the Black Gate for unknown — nefarious! — purposes, and it’s up to Jack and the Couriers to stop them. Add to that the fact that the whole thing might have something to do with a top secret mission in the mid-1980s from which Jack’s father, Courier Alexander Avarice, never returned.”
Madden makes his living as a game designer, but his roots are in comics. “Jack Avarice,” in fact, has been a work-in-progress for quite some time. “My background is in game design, but the funny thing is that was my fallback. Comics was something I always wanted to get into, but the right circumstances were never there,” Madden said. “I slammed heavily on comics in college, but after graduation I jumped into games without hesitation. Still, my buddies and I would spend our lunches and evenings taking about all things comics and illustration, which definitely kept the drive for sequential storytelling alive. After a few years in games development, I figured the time was right. This story that I’m telling now, ‘Jack Avarice,’ had almost a nine-year incubation — and definitely a twisty, roundabout path to completion!”
Madden said there is “definite cross-pollination” between his games and comics work. “At first in games, my comic art style influenced a lot of how I painted and designed characters, environments, and objects. I tried to bring as much of that style and flair, sort of ‘you’ve-only-got-one-page-to-grab-them’ approach to the designs I made. I wanted them all to pop,” Madden said. “After a while, though, as I got more comfortable as a concept artist, I started to see the other side of it. So much of concept design is storytelling and world building.
“When you’re designing anything — a cup, a jacket, a spaceship — the questions you ask are, how does it inform the characters, the story? How does it direct the player or the reader?” Madden continued. “Since in games, like in comics, everything has to be created, every bit of world has to be intentionally realized — only in games it costs a lot more to model and texture. So you’d better be sure the thing you’re designing furthers the story in some way. That approach made me rethink the way I was working my comic characters, my props, my story. Before I just wanted everything to pop, but after doing concept art, I was more interested in the story, everything told. When I first started drawing comics, I just wanted to do the characters (doesn’t everybody?), but after being in games I’m much more interested in creating a credible world for those characters to inhabit as well. It’s all storytelling, right?”
After developing “Jack Avarice” for nine years, Madden admitted the road to publication with IDW was unexpectedly rapid. “In my off time as a concept artist, I had created a first issue and a story treatment for the first arc. As the story goes, years before I had done some freelance comic work for a great, great guy named Frank Fradella (at iHero Entertainment), and had the chance to work with another great guy named Tom Waltz,” Madden said. “Well, present day, Tom emails me out of the blue and says, ‘Hey, I’m an editor at IDW now, I want to know if you’re interested in some work, and could you send me some current samples?’ Well, this was fortuitously within one week of my finishing the first issue of ‘Jack Avarice,’ so I sent it over simply as a sample of my current style. The immediate response was, ‘Do you have a publisher yet?’ I was floored. Nine years incubation, and within one week ‘Jack Avarice’ had a home at IDW.”
Madden said the suggestion to publish “Jack Avarice” weekly throughout November came from IDW, which previously released former editor Andy Schmidt’s “Five Days to Die” in this format. “I had assumed ‘Jack Avarice’ would go on a regular, monthly release schedule, but the editors there approached me with this very novel approach — 5 Wednesdays, 5 issues, 5 weeks,” Madden said. “The really rad part is, it gives me as a storyteller the chance to do a very tight, action- and character-driven story where the reader won’t forget what’s going on in the week between issues, so I can build on the story without losing the momentum. It’s the chance to do ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ broken into Saturday-morning serial episodes, and I don’t have to do a lot of ‘Last week, on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation…'”
When “Jack Avarice IS the Courier” was announced, it was also revealed that Madden would serve as the artist on a new “Danger Girl” ongoing series at IDW, a title which influenced the artist’s work during its original run in the late ’90s and early 2000s. “I don’t think any of us who read ‘Danger Girl’ during its original run ever fully recovered from that experience,” Madden said of J. Scott Campbell’s creation. “In fact, the original ‘Danger Girl’ run was one of the things that got me back into reading comics after an extended absence. A comic book set up like a big budget summer blockbuster movie? That was revolutionary. As a classic ’80s adventure movie fan, I was floored. Now, years later getting a chance to add to that universe is just amazing.”
Though Madden was unable to say much about the upcoming “Danger Girl” series itself, he did offer the following: “The only thing I can reveal is that it’s going to be awesome, and that you should stay tuned to IDW for news!”
“Jack Avarice IS The Courier” launches November 2, 2011 and runs weekly through the month.