NYCC: Dark Horse Video Game Comics Level Up

Dark Horse Comics creators gathered on Saturday afternoon at New York Comic Con 2014 to discuss the publisher's licensed video game comics, from art books to original stories. Dark Horse Publicist Aub Driver moderated a panel featuring "Tomb Raider" writer Gail Simone, "The Witcher" and "Plants vs. Zombies" writer Paul Tobin, and "Eve: Valkyrie" writer Brian Wood.

Driver opened the panel with a review of Dark Horse's extensive video game licensed properties program. With a collection of art books and a number of ongoing series, Driver called Dark Horse "the premiere video game publisher." "The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia," released in January 2013, has been one of their most successful titles; Driver said that it, "knocked '50 Shades of Grey' off of Amazon's #1 spot." The most recent art title, "The Art of Naughty Dog," a retrospective for the 30th anniversary of the game company, was released on October 1. Driver called the ongoing series "Halo: Escalation," launched in December 2013, "phenomenal." Issue 10 is currently in stores.

Simone revealed that she had initially been reluctant to write the "Tomb Raider" comics, now in their second series: "Dark Horse came to me and asked if I was interested in writing the 'Tomb Raider' comic, and I said, 'Oh, I don't think so right now.' And then I went and purchased the game and played the game, and couldn't stop playing the game, and loved the game so much that I called back and was like, 'You have to let me write this comic!'"

The comics take place between the storylines of Crystal Dynamics' 2013 game, "Tomb Raider," and the upcoming "Rise of the Tomb Raider," expected for holiday 2015 release. Simone has been working closely with Crystal Dynamics to integrate the comics and games. "When I sat down and played the game, the game developers and the lead writer, Rhianna Pratchett, had done such an amazing job of bringing humanity to that game," Simone said. Lara Croft travels the world in this comic series, visiting locations including Dublin, Chernobyl and the London theatre district. Simone said that the series was full of Easter eggs: "When you go back and read once the game comes out you'll see that we planted a lot of things in there." The first trade volume, collecting 5 issues of the series, comes out in November.

Also in Dark Horse's current lineup of video game comics is Tobin's collaboration with PopCap: "Plants vs. Zombies." Tobin summarized the plot simply: "Zomboss is basically trying to take over the world and be a jerk." Tobin called PopCap, "amazing to work with," saying, "They've been really open to everything I've done." He said that he sometimes got strange feedback from PopCap: "We had a scene that we needed to change because a lawn mower had gone over some zombies and chopped one of their hands off. I got back one of the strangest notes I've ever gotten. They said, 'Ok Paul, this sounds really stupid, I'm sorry, but you can't have a lawn mower chop a zombie's hand off. Could you just have it chop his head off instead? Because we're cool with that.'"

Tobin wanted Crazy Dave, an unintelligible character from the game, to feature in the comics and introduced Patrice, his niece, "the only person on the entire Earth that knows what he says." Tobin also introduced a young boy, Nate, to the story, which he styles as a teen adventure.

Before he began writing the comic, Tobin said that he was an established fan of the game: "I have played like, a bajillion hours of Plants vs. Zombies." The series artist, Ron Chan, was also a fan before his work on the series: "the Halloween before we got the job, he had dressed up as one of the pea shooters, so we figured that's a good sign," said Tobin.

"Lawnmageddon," collecting the first series of digital comics, is currently available in hardcover. A print collection of the second series, "Timepocalypse," will be coming out in January 2015.

Tobin is writing another licensed video game comic for Dark Horse, as well: "The Witcher," based on the game by CD Projekt RED. The first 5-issue miniseries is complete; a trade collection with a cover by Mike Mignola came out in September 2014. Tobin called the world of the games, "full of politics and like a bajillion characters," so for the comics he needed to strip down the complicated plot but maintain the mood.

Fortunately, Tobin was already a fan of the game. "I was kind of mad at America," he said, "because there are like 9 novels for 'The Witcher,' and I had read the first novel and a book of short stories, and that's really all that's available in English." CD Projekt RED translated the rest of the series especially for Tobin, allowing him to immerse himself in the world.

A second series of "The Witcher" will be starting in April 2015. Tobin explained that the story arc for "The Witcher: Fox Children" series will explore what it means to be a monster: "Geralt's trying to save them even though he thinks they're scum. He sort of has that stand against monsters because we're humans, but that's one thing that I really like in the Witcher comics. He hunts monsters, but it also really is constantly a look at what does monster mean. If a guy's seven feet tall and has three heads, is he a worse person than a child killer who just happens to be human by birth?"

Dark Horse announced a new ongoing miniseries, "EVE: Valkyrie," written by Brian Wood, starting in July 2015. "Valkyrie" is the latest game in the "EVE Online" series, an MMORPG published by CCP Games. "This is such a rich world," he said, "the game generates its own history. As a gamer I can really appreciate that." Within the game, said Wood, "Your view is out the cockpit, and I have to turn that into a story, which is tricky. But they have reams and reams of backstory and data about all these worlds and characters." The miniseries will follow the character Rán, voiced by Katee Sackhoff, to show how, "this young girl is built up to this very cool sort of pirate fighter."

The creators discussed the conflicts and benefits of being both gamers and writers. Wood said, "I never want to tweet anything about games because then my editors know I'm not working on my script." When he does play games, he prefers skateboarding and shooting games. Simone and Tobin both defended their right to play games while on a deadline: "For me, playing video games is absolutely essential for my writing and for my mental health," said Simone, "Sometimes turning off the writing brain is difficult for me." Lately her favorite games are "Disney Infinity," "Tomb Raider," and all of the Lego games. Tobin agreed with Simone: "games are sort of my escape from writing." His favorites include "Skyrim," "Borderlands," "Katamari Damacy," and "Animal Crossing." He also called "The Last of Us," "the best story that I've ever played."

For future projects, Tobin said that he would "love to do some "Zelda" work," to which Driver responded that Dark Horse was "working on it." Simone said that she would like to write for "Disney Infinity." Wood said that he almost wrote "Far Cry 3," and is still "holding out hope" for the opportunity to write a comic.

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