Today, digital comics are expanding in a number unique ways. Whether it’s motion comics, Marvel’s Infinite Comics, straight-up replications of their print counterparts or Mark Waid’s upcoming projects, the digital space is rife for exploration. Most recently, “Turf” artist Tommy Lee Edwards and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” director Edgar Wright announced their partnership with Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 to bring a whole new illustrated experience to the digital space with “The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator.” An experiment in crowd-sourcing, the interactive animated graphic novel allows readers to interface with science fiction writer Brandon Generator in a myriad of ways, including recording ideas on his Dictaphone, calling his cell phone and more. All of the interactivity will affect the storyline and creative work done by Edwards and Wright in future chapters.
Tommy Lee Edwards spoke with CBR News about “The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator,” the level of interactivity readers can expect, how his background in both comics and video game concept art came into play and the very specific challenges faced in bringing “Brandon Generator” to life.
CBR News: What can you tell us about the overall concept behind “The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator?”
Tommy Lee Edwards: “The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator” is a little hard to explain, because it’s quite unique. I’ve been calling it an “interactive animated graphic novel.” But it’s not quite that, and more than that.
What’s the level of interactivity here? Is it like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel or closer to a video game?
The interactivity is the most unique aspect of “Brandon Generator.” Chapter one is primarily set-up, as the user is introduced to Brandon’s world and his ongoing struggles to find inspiration. It’s not just in a choose-your-own-adventure, as the audience is hopefully inspired to create stuff from scratch. The audience can write ideas and prose for Brandon on his laptop, record ideas on his Dictaphone, call his mobile, choose his music and more. You can even draw characters on Brandon’s legal pad and design environments. There will be more and more of this stuff in each chapter. All of these interactive elements can be shared in a very social manner and will inspire Brandon’s next chapter and in turn affect all of the creative work done by Edgar Wright and me. It’s much more than choosing up, down, left or right. Edgar has worked up a very rough structure to act as the glue to hold this sucker together, but most of Brandon’s adventures are completely open and need the audience to steer it. I personally can’t wait to see the crazy crap people throw our way. I’m really hoping that this will be a cool chance for somebody to get their ideas out there, too. “Brandon Generator” will be a nice way for people to share their creativity.
You’ve actually done some video game work — did your experience in that area help you while illustrating the interactive portions of the comic?
Maybe. I think a little of everything I’ve ever worked on has affected my work on “Brandon Generator.” I find that I’m using some techniques I picked up from working as the concept artist on “The Book of Eli,” “Star Wars” kids’ books, “Command & Conquer” games, animation and especially comics.
Tell us a bit about Brandon Generator himself. Who is he and how does he find himself in these interactive/random adventures?
Brandon is a science fiction writer who is completely empty of ideas. Like all of us at times, he procrastinates and needs help. He lives on coffee and stares into the blinking cursor on his empty laptop screen. So we are inviting the audience to help him through the interactive media on and off the website. Edgar and I have brought Brandon to life, along with the help of Julian Barratt’s voiceover and David Holmes’ music. But Brandon’s not complete, so we are handing it over to “you.”
Could you take us through yours and Edgar Wright’s collaborative process?
We really needed someone to take the helm on this thing, and I could hardly think of anyone more qualified as a visual storyteller than Edgar. His work is very tight and makes such a connection to the audience. His films are better and better with each viewing, because you can appreciate the seeds he plants throughout the plot that comes to fruition later. It just amazes me.
The way we work on “Brandon Generator” is very similar to a collaborative comic book, in the sense that the writing inspires the visuals, which in turn come back to inspire the writing. I storyboarded the first chapter from Brandon’s narration, written by Edgar. Then Edgar and I went back through it and tightened up the storytelling, figuring out what could or could not be interactive, etc.
Now, this is being published strictly digitally and has to be viewed with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to experience the full impact of the project. What was the impetus to put a project like this out?
The concept behind “Brandon Generator” started to germinate last summer, when Microsoft and their PR firm 3 Monkeys approached me about doing a project that would highlight some of the features of Internet Explorer 9. Basically, they just wanted to do something cool. Not even really sell anything specifically, as much as just create something using some of Microsoft’s tools. The whole thing started out as a kind of motion-comic that would utilize social media and crowd-sourced elements. Then it grew from there.
Other browsers will work, but “Brandon Generator” is optimized for IE9. So there’s a lot of stuff that will work better on Microsoft’s browser obviously, and a bit of exclusive material.
This is obviously a project that would have a tough time being told in print, if that was even possible. Beyond what you’ve already told us, how else does “Brandon Generator” take full advantage of its digital format and distribution method?
I hate looking at my comics on the web. I prefer print, but I can understand why many people like it. What I don’t understand are most “motion comics.” They tend to look like a weird failure created by clashing mediums. I always wonder why many have word balloons or written sound effects, when there is the option of audio. The “motion” and camera work seems like an afterthought rather than a tool for storytelling. Navigation always seems clumsy. Straight away, I knew that I wanted to try and rise above that “motion comic” stereotype. I’ve created a consistent look and feel to “Brandon Generator,” and that helps a lot with having a completely immersive experience. There is not much of a gap between me drawing with ink on my table in rural North Carolina and the guys coding the website in London. The interactive elements do not feel foreign, and are part of the story. We have an incredible use of sound and motion, and I love having these tools that I normally would handle another way if I were making “Brandon Generator” as a comic book.
So, that’s the upside to this project – now, what are some of the challenges of doing a project like “Brandon Generator?”
Oh, God, let me count the ways. With a project as unique and ambitious as this, there are insane challenges that are just trying to murder all of us involved. I’m not sure if any other project has ever been this tough on me. I’ve had comic book projects consume my life — I worked on “Turf” all night all day all the time — but “Brandon Generator” has many more moving parts and loads more people involved, spread around the world. It’s constant action. The digital agency that handles the actual building of BrandonGenerator.com has the toughest job. The technical challenges on this project are mind-boggling. The interactive and crowd sourcing aspects on the website are extremely difficult to build and maintain. Some days are unbearably tough, but I always look forward to the next one. This is a crazy tough challenge that I am really thriving on. It’s pushing me creatively, too. This craziness will last until mid-June, and then I head back full time to my comic with Jonathan Ross, “Golden Age.”
I’m particularly proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish with my small team of amazing artists. All of the art and animation is being done by four guys, basically. I’m storyboarding, illustrating and directing; Don Cameron and Daryl Bartley are providing 3D elements and animation; and the amazing Scott Benson provides animation and compositing with After Effects. And we are cranking out major pieces in very little time.
Finally, what are you most looking forward to when “Brandon Generator” officially launches?
Well, “Brandon Generator” is not a comic, but it looks like my comics. Most of the tools I’m using are the same. Much of the language is the same. I’m personally excited about seeing what a comic book guy can do with some different creative tools on a completely different platform. Mostly, I wanted to create something that just wasn’t made to be seen on the web. It’s actually created by using the web. It wouldn’t work any other way. Hopefully Edgar and I will be delivering that and much, much more.
“The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator” is live and online now.