Talking "Advent Rising" with Bill Jemas, Rob Worley and Donald Mustard

Earlier today 360ep, the company headed up by former Marvel Comics Chief Operating Officer Bill Jemas, held a press conference to discuss their first comic book offering, "Advent Rising: Rock the Planet," based on the popular video game from Majesco. The six-issue comic series debuts this October and serves as a prequel, starting ten years prior to the events in the video game, and introduces readers to the "Advent" trilogy while introducing readers to the game's hero, Gideon Wyeth.

The "Advent Rising" creative team consists of Bill Jemas & Rob Worley ("Young Ancient One") on story, layouts by Arthur Dela Cruz ("Kissing Chaos"), penciler Cliff Richards ("Rogue," "Birds of Prey"), inker Dennis Crisostomo ("Emma Frost") and colorist Chris DeLara ("Serenity").

The press conference today was attended by 360ep's Director of Development and Editor Teresa Focarile, 360ep CEO Bill Jemas, "Advent Rising" creator and developer Donald Mustard and writer Rob Worley.

Bill Jemas: I just want to say this has been a fun project so far. When we started 360 we had two goals in mind. One was merchandise licensing, part of what my partner Russ Brown and I did at Marvel, and the other was to do new, fun things in comics which is what we're doing here. Just taking a video game and not just adapting it for a comic book, but having a writing and artistic team get in there and help build a living, breathing universe, we thought that was a wonderful challenge and the industry could certainly use more fans and there are plenty of teen fans in the video game business. So this was an exciting opportunity. Along the way I ran into Donald Mustard through Majesco and he gave us a rundown and long-term vision for "Advent Rising." Without any further ado I'd like to turn it over to Donald.

Donald Mustard: At it's core I am a story teller and we are very interested in telling great stories. One of the things we wanted to do for the video game industry was to approach creating a video game that would allow us to tell a compelling story that centered on compelling characters. When we sat down and began to lay out the universe for "Advent," we came up with much, much more story than we could ever tell in a video game. We planned from day one to build this story as a franchise-- to have the video game, but also to have the companion books, movies and comic books. In my opinion the comic book is really where the story starts. The story in the comic starts over 10 years before the events of the game. If things go as planned, we've got a lot of story to tell before we'll ever get to where the game starts. I think that's such a cool thing that we can use all these different mediums to tell this big, rich story. It's just been incredible to collaborate on something like this and to be able to see the direction of our initial vision being fleshed out by so many talented people.

I think this comic is awesome and the reason why it's worth doing is because we all sat down with Bill and decided we'd try to make the best comic book ever made! I'm big on audacious statements, but that's what we're trying to do. We want to tell a great story about these great characters that are really going to go through some incredible stuff. It's going to be a fun read.

Jemas: Way, way back when I was with the NBA my favorite ball players were Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and they both shared this attitude where they sort of walked into every basketball game fully expecting to win. So, I don't think it's a bad idea to approach every game or project that you're on and shoot for greatness. I think that's part of what makes it all fun.

Rob Worley: I'm, of course, very excited to be working on "Advent" with Bill, Teresa and Donald. If you've not played the game it's a huge, epic scope game about man's first contact with an alien race and the devastation of humanity that comes in the wake of that. The comic book is a much more intimate look at these characters and, like Donald said, we rewind the story ten years and start to look at Gideon, Ethan and Olivia in their teenaged, formative years. The analogy I keep making is that if the game is "Superman," then the comic is "Smallville." For me it's been this embarrassment of wealth in storytelling has been conferred on me and I get to play in this rich universe that's already been set-up. There's just tons of stories and great themes about humanity in the game and we're trying to bring that out on a smaller scale in the comic as well.

I'm excited! It's been great working with Bill and Teresa, we started at Marvel and it's been great to continue with them on this.

There have been a number of comics published based on video games. "Street Fighter," "Metal Gear Solid" and others. What really sets "Advent Rising" apart from the rest?

Mustard: I think the key, in my mind, is that we need to stop thinking of "Advent" as a video game. "Advent" is a very narrative driven experience and the story is a big, compelling one. Take "Street Fighter," obviously there's not a huge amount of storytelling going on in a "Street Fighter" video game. It seems like something where they said, "OK, we've got this big, successful game franchise, let's try to expand to other markets and make more money." With "Advent," from day one, we conceived it initially as a comic book itself. Back when I was getting out of High School we were laying the foundation for "Advent." I drew the first several hours of what would ultimately become the game as a comic book. That's how we were going through the visual process of creating this stuff. With "Advent" you get something that has always been designed as a big, epic story with a very defined beginning, middle and end that stretches through a whole lot of different mediums of storytelling. I think with the comic you're actually seeing the broadest vision of the story that you'll ever be able to experience in the sense that it starts where we want the story to start and it'll go and go until it ends. That's something we're trying to capitalize on and it's something we always intended. My hope is that very soon, hopefully only a few years from now, people will ask if that's the video game based on the comic or the comic based on the book, etc… I want people to be confused where its origins are because it's just a good story.

Bill, why have you decided to come back to creating comics after being away from Marvel for so long? And why this particular property? Can you comment on any other properties you're going to be coming out with in the next few months?

Jemas: I really came back to comics to do this particular book and I think that answer will make more sense the more people read the book or play the game. You'll begin to understand why this particular thing is so compelling. It's a big story and an important story on virtually every level. The way "Advent Rising" works in the comic books with a couple of brothers who are new kids on a planet getting used to the kind of situation that every teenager goes through when they're the new kid in the school. Then, it very easily makes the transition to a much, much larger story that deals with nation versus nation and race versus race. It was just a nice, fun opportunity to get involved in storytelling that wasn't so much good guys versus bad guys, but good guys with one set of plans versus other good guys with another set of plans.

Coming back to comics, I don't think I ever intended to leave comics forever, I just wanted to get the right project to come back on and that is this.

Our next project down the line we're also working on with Rob Worley and, if we're lucky, we'll get Donald to help us make the game. You'll hear more about that the next conference call.

What about promotion outside the direct market for this comic? Obviously, there's a rich market of video gamers just waiting to be tapped.

Jemas: In the long haul we expect to do a significant amount of business in book stores. This book is being written and developed so that it works simultaneously in comic book, graphic novel and Manga sizes. We expect to do a large promotion in the book store chains. But, for now, as a start up company we're spending a significant amount of money to get the direct market to sample and try the book. Our experience has always been that comic book fans embrace ultimately what the mass market embraces as well.

Mustard: There are other things that I'm pursuing to really push the franchise. Orson Scott Card has been fairly involved in the process of creating the core story with me and he's just signed a deal with Tor to write the "Advent Rising" novel. And we're close on a couple of other big media things that we can't talk about yet, but my goal is to get the story out to as many people as I can in whatever form they're comfortable with. And I'm not saying this just because of this call, but I'm personally most excited about the comic book form. The visual storytelling you get in a comic book is so compelling, so I think that's where we'll get the broadest and deepest story. A lot of things are being done to make the franchise big and to make it accessible to everybody.

Jemas: It's funny how the wording works and we struggled with wording quite a bit at Marvel. I don't personally draw the line between licensed, sort of company owned and creator owned. I think Marvel and DC are a good example-- as far as the creative teams that work on "Spider-Man," they don't own any more of Spider-Man than me and Rob do of "Advent Rising." That's not the way the financial deals work out. So, the line I always draw is does the creative team love their work? If they weren't getting paid, would they be doing this for free? So, to some extent, that's where I draw the line. Not just to quibble with the definition, but I never want to work on a comic where the creative team doesn't love what they're doing. "Advent Rising" is one where everybody working on it on the creative side is just having a blast doing it. It really reminds me of cranking up "The Ultimates" with Mark and Bryan and company. It was just a wonderful feeling.

To answer your question literally, we are going to do quite a few original books that are 360ep owned or owned by 360ep and the creative teams and they'll be coming down the pike over the next six to eight months. Rob and Arthur Dela Cruz are a very good creative combination and we really are having a blast working with Cliff Richards. I think Arthur has this wonderful storytelling and page layout ability and Cliff makes everything look beautiful. So, we'll have the same creative teams on projects that we all like doing. I really think of Majesco as much as a sponsor as I do as an owner. I think ownership of the creative gets spread out to the people who are doing the creative and I think that's how people feel who are working on "Advent Rising." They feel they have a participatory piece of the project.

Worley: Oh yeah, I really feel like I've been able to put my mark on "Advent" while still working with the input from everybody else. Yeah, there's ownership and then there's taking ownership of something and I feel like I've taken some sort of emotional ownership of "Advent" and the other properties we're working on.

Jemas: And to give Donald sort of a pat on the back, he did set-up a universe that's very easy to operate in creatively, given the universe and patterns that Donald set-up.

Worley: At this point we're trying to work sort of old school Stan & Jack style. The way that works is I submit a proposal for basically the plot of an issue of the book and break it down page-by-page what's going to happen. That goes through some review with Teresa, Bill and Donald. When we get all that set-up, it goes to Arthur Dela Cruz who renders it and pencils layouts. Then, like Bill said, we bring in Cliff Richards to make the layouts look beautiful, which he's done a masterful job of, then it comes back to me to write the dialogue. It's this very circular and collaborative process between all of us. It's a lot of fun and different from how I've worked on other things where I've written full scripts, then when I get the art back that's the end of the collaboration. This is much more everybody's involved and working as a team.

Jemas: In terms of Donald and me, a lot of the work we did was in the Universe and character development phase. It was summer when we first met a year ago, so this has been going on for the better part of a year now.

Mustard: Yeah, we sat down and laid out the general character arcs and general plot points for the majority of the trilogy. There are certain events that happen over the course of the story that were already laid out, but, like Bill said, the universe is opening up because it's character centric. The characters have a lot they're going to go through over the years and we have a pretty good idea where that's going, but it's still so open and allows for a whole lot of creative freedom. That's the best way to do it anyway. When you allow for a lot of collaboration you'll get your best work.

In light of Majesco's recently announced financial troubles, does that affect the publishing schedule of this comic in any way?

Jemas: The quick answer to that is no.

Bill, you said you were also helping out Majesco with the licensing of "Advent Rising" as well as "BloodRayne" to other properties. Can you give us an update on those plans?

Jemas: That's been fun. What we did was we took some beautiful covers, for instance a nice piece of art of our main female character Olivia drawn by Greg Horn, and a handful of other beautiful comic art pieces and we're using those as a style guide. Teresa does a lot of that work and we're having pretty good success selling licenses. We don't have anything signed, so we can't announce, but we'll have those announcements over the next couple of weeks. It's working out well. It's sort of the Marvel pattern. An unintentional secret of Marvel is that the beautiful artwork that was done for the first "Spider-Man" movie wasn't done out in Hollywood. It was done by the "Ultimate Spider-Man" team including Bryan Hitch, Mark Bagley and Jung Choi. We find that comic book artists have a real knack for doing things that look good in other media. It's that same approach that we're taking to the electronic game merchandising.

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