Any gamer worth their weight in quarters remembers “Dig Dug.” Players take on the role of a tunneling man with an air pump used to inflate and eventually blow up monsters in a subterranean cavern. It’s been 30 years since “Dig Dug” hit the arcade scene and Namco Bandai is celebrating using its ShiftyLook online comics platform. Drawing from a diverse pool of talent including established ShiftyLook creators like Ben McCool and Dean Haspiel; webcomic talent like “Penny Arcade” creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik; or even comic legends like Marv Wolfman, ShiftyLook has 30 different creative teams lined up to produce one strip for each year of the game’s existence.
CBR News spoke with ShiftyLook Editor-in-Chief Rob Pereyda about the “Dig Dug” 30th Anniversary initiative, how it may expand ShiftyLook as a comics platform, the debate between webcomics and comics on the web, the overall feeling of the strips and Marv Wolfman’s future ShiftyLook project.
CBR News: Rob, when we first spoke about ShiftyLook, you mentioned NamcoBandai has a number of properties in its back catalogue of games — but “Dig Dug” is certainly one of the most well known and popular Namco arcade games. What does the addition of Dig Dug to ShiftyLook’s catalogue mean for the expansion of ShiftyLook as a platform?
Rob Pereyda: We had to basically have some good results to start off with before we could get trusted with it but we’ve impressed people with what we’ve been doing so far. I think this is going to help really broaden us. As much as there are a few people who remember “Bravoman” when it came out on Turbografix 16 who might have great memories still, but “Dig Dug,” you’re talking that times thousands [in terms] of how many people love this. It’s so much broader in terms of what it hits, it lets us expand to people who actually are nostalgic about these old games. So far, a lot of it has been we’re reinventing something that you’ve never heard of before. [Laughs] This is playing with something that you have heard before, so it’s kind of a different ballgame.
Tell us a bit about the format of the “Dig Dug” comics. What can fans expect when tuning in to ShiftyLook for new “Dig Dug” adventures?
Everything’s going to be stand-alone. All the creators have their own chance to do something fun and wacky. Basically, the plus side is that it’s something brand new from left field every single week. The only downside is there’s not a continuing story per se, but it’s all “Dig Dug” and it’s all adding to it. That’s not to say if something is incredibly popular, maybe we could continue it beyond the anniversary collaboration, but let’s just see how it goes. We literally have about 30 teams queued up so let’s see how that goes, but it’s all going to be stand-alone stories.
The list you sent out contains 33 different names for creators that will be working on the “Dig Dug” project, some of whom work on ShiftyLook comics already, but the vast majority do not and many of them seem to be pulled from the stable of webcomics talent. What was the impetus to reaching out to webcomics creators as opposed to the established print comics talent you’ve been using so far?
I think what’s important — and I don’t know if it’s a hot topic, but I feel it’s a hot topic lately — but there’s a debate over, at least I talk to people about this, webcomics versus comics on the web. So when you get to that topic, who is best doing webcomics? Well, people who have been doing this for a while are really good at this medium. Of course, we’re still tapping into comics veterans as well. I want to be very broad, I want to be as inclusive as possible but at least in our first run of ShiftyLook, we focused on comics veterans who actually have been fantastic at adapting from comics on the web to webcomics. That said, for “Dig Dug” let’s add in some more comics veterans like J. Torres, but let’s also go over some webcomics folks too. I just wanted to broaden the diversity of what we’re doing. Something that’s very important for me is making sure we’re doing webcomics and not comics on the web.
I like that you brought up diversity because that’s certainly something these names evoke. These creators have an incredibly diverse style of writing and illustration — while some are more slanted toward serious overlying plot, most of the names are known best for their contribution to humor. Is it safe to assume this particular initiative will be more humor based than plot-driven?
We have some that are very dark, that are like messed-up dark. [Laughs] So we’ll see, but for the most part, I think a lot of it will be humor. I’d say the vast majority will be humor, but don’t worry, you’ll see some dark stuff too.
This list also includes comic book legend Marv Wolfman — is there anything you can tease about his “Dig Dug” story or the other work he’ll be doing for ShiftyLook?
We’re announcing something with Marv at MCM. It’s a title that Marv Wolfman and J.J. Kirby are working on together. This title is — I might even say, depending on the circle, especially if you ask a younger demographic, they might know this even better than “Dig Dug.” So it’s more known among the less retro crowd and the — I don’t want to say the young crowd — but the in-between crowd knows this particular title even better than “Dig Dug,” so this is the title Marv’s working on.
“Dig Dug” definitely has a mythology and storyline, but much like the other ShiftyLook properties, it hasn’t really been explored. What are you hoping these creative teams will do to help explore and expand this universe?
I think what’s great is because everybody has their own take, you can see what everyone comes up with. It’s almost like it’s one, giant public idea. We can see what kind of ideas everyone comes up with and then it’s like, “Oh, I never thought about Dig Dug’s family back home and his family making him a lunch box every day and what goes in his lunch. I never thought about that before,” or “I never knew his rival was this other guy who was digging and they’re both trying to dig faster.” So all these things that people are coming up with, we can look at and say, “You know what? That’s awesome.” Maybe when it comes to the future of making a new “Dig Dug” product, then that could be incorporated.
Obviously, ShiftyLook is a graduated system of testing properties to see what can graduated to a mobile game. With “Dig Dug,” something that’s already well-established, how are you hoping to gauge the 30th Anniversary’s success in turning it into a new product?
I think one important metric in looking at success is — of course I think some of the bigger names who have some of the very big websites doing these titles will get a lot of hits on their comics. I’m not doubting that. What will be a good indication is if that traffic transfers over to the other comics and you see a consistent stream of traffic and stream of popularity of the overall project as a whole, that would be a good indicator that this was successful. I think that’s something to look at, not just the superstar names but the newcomers that nobody’s heard of before. If those kind of people are doing comics and they get traffic as part of the overall project, that’s a big deal for us.
Is there any chance of seeing the classic “Dig Dug” game come to iOS and Android anytime soon based on this initiative?
That’s something I don’t want to go into too much detail on but basically, based on the success of how something does on ShiftyLook, that can drive new products, not just “Dig Dug.” There are a couple of other IPs that are doing very well on ShiftyLook now that are potentially queuing things up, so we’ll have to see. Yes, if there is enough mojo on ShiftyLook in terms of popularity and eyeballs, that could drive new products.
What’s next on the horizon for ShiftyLook?
There will be enough “Dig Dug” material between the comics and some promotional posters and pin-ups and interviews for a printed book. That could be our first printed book. Of course Namco Bandai doesn’t sell printed books, so we would work with a partner on that, likely one of our current partners, but we haven’t worked those details out yet so I can’t really go into it. Of course, I think “Dig Dug” would be a great addition to people’s collections. It’s 30 different strips, so you’re not talking a giant hardcover, but it’s still something you could collect and have a product out there.
We’re also doing a “Dig Dug” promotion at MCM Expo this month. We’ll be having a celebrity “Dig Dug” tournament with Gamespot UK on the Gamespot stage. You literally have our ShiftyLook writers like Ben McCool and artists like Dean Haspiel each paired with a fan and are fighting and the winner gets a cool prize. We’re definitely taking the “Dig Dug” show on the road, too. We’re going all over the place.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on “Dig Dug” and other ShiftyLook titles.