Thought Bubble ‘Leeds Comic Con’ Interview
Thought Bubble, Leed’s International Comic Festival, started life in November 2007 as a one-day event which took place in Leeds’ Town Hall basement. Since then it has gone from strength-to-strength, attracting attendees from around the world, growing to the current week-long festival format.
A not-for-profit organisation that seeks to promote literacy and artistic skills through the medium of sequential art, Thought Bubble sees graphical storytelling as an important cultural art-form, and firmly believe that it is the most stylistically and thematically diverse artistic medium in the world.
As deeply passionate gamers, VoxelArcade may have have to agree to disagree on that last point (easy, Tiger;) – but what common ground is there between these two diverse and widely appealing universes and what happens when we collide?
Thought Bubble has been running for several years now and has really grown in popularity, attracting a vibrant and passionate audience with many superb game-inspired costumes making an appearance! To what degree would you say that the worlds of comics and games have merged over recent years and in what ways do you feel that they still remain separate entities?
Well, in terms of the two distinct mediums, there’s always going to be a clear delineation between them – comics don’t have the level of interaction and immersion that video games afford, but comics do allow for a level of nuanced storytelling that I think the majority of video games are lacking in.
The overlap between the two is becoming much more widespread, however, both with a shared market, and with crossover between the two mediums – either continuing/developing a video game’s story through comics (e.g. the Mass Effect and Gears of War comics), or expanding a universe created on paper through licensed games and simulations (so, for example, Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’ games, and their upcoming Fables game).
More and more you’re seeing a fairly steady back and forth between the mediums as creators cut their teeth on one and then move to the other, or establish themselves in both mediums, and utilise skills extensively used in one for telling stories in the other, and vice versa. A good example of this is the Double Fine group – you’ve got a lot of super talented games and comic creators coming together there and producing excellent examples of both types of output.
The ubiquity of the Internet in the modern world is also playing a big part in opening up what were once quite insular cultures, so it’s easier now to get into comics and video games than before, and without a lot of the tedious legwork that was previously involved.
Basically, it’s a good time to be a geek!
The comic book, as far as creative mediums go, is getting quite old and yet unlike other mediums, it’s been largely unable to evolve with technological advancements like, say, film, television and audio have. How do you think the medium’s appeal has managed to endure in a world of such rapid change?
Well, for the most part, I think that comics have evolved in line with general technological advancements. I mean, if you look at the way comics are made now – utilising digital tables, and FTP servers allowing international collaborations between creators who are separated by 1000’s of miles of ocean and land – then it’s almost unrecognisable compared to the early comics that preceded them. I think comics endure, much like prose, radio, and teleplays, because humans have a need to tell stories, to convey their views of the world, or those that they wished existed, to others – that appears hard-wired into our being, and we just adapt whatever new technologies we have access to to further it.
To steal liberally from the much missed Harvey Pekar – “You can do anything with words and pictures.”
Thought Bubble 2013 Guest: Ramón Pérez
One area where technology has driven the recent evolution of comics is through their sale on tablet devices though apps and online stores. What are your feelings on this? What does it bring to the medium and what, if anything, does it take away?
I think anything that gets comics into the hands of more readers can only be a good thing. Expanding the market for digital comics, and increasing the ease with which self-publishers can get their wares to readers is great. Comixology and Marvel’s app have some really interesting ways of adding content, and UK digital comics like VS Comics, Aces Weekly, and Madefire are really taking the concept and running with it. There’s also the price aspect – The Phoenix and 2000 AD offer simultaneous digital and analogue printings worldwide, and have some great offers going to get new readers hooked.
Obviously you’re losing the tactile experience of holding the book in your hands, and you miss out on travelling down the comic shop every Wednesday to see what’s in stock, but there’s no reason that the two can’t co-exist in a peaceable manner.
If you look at web-comic conglomerates like Topatoco, then the same is true of the reverse – there’s a healthy market for putting your comic out online for free in order to develop a reader base, and then shift into printing hard-copies of the collection for sale in shops and online. Recent Kickstarter successes have shown that if you have a decent comic in an online context, then people are going to be willing to pay for a nicely printed hard-copy version of that.
Evolution is just that – adapting to change with the times, and the possibilities allowed, in an organic, fluid way.
Initially, comics were considered to be rather lowbrow form of entertainment but have shaken free from this to become very widely accepted by the public and academia. Do you see a similar trajectory for games or do you feel that they will always be feared or derided in some capacity?
I think there’ll always be people who view contemporary “pop culture” as lowbrow, it’s an inevitable response of critics and people who don’t fully understand or engage with the subject. The debate over Lichtenstein re-appropriating comic art and elevating it to “pop art” has reared its head again, so it just shows that there’ll always be those who look down on comics in comparison to other creative media. It also, to my mind, depends entirely on the content of the comic or game as to how it’ll be viewed by the public – I love the recent run of Green Lantern comics, but they’re popcorn action stories, not moving treatise on existential problems, so they won’t be viewed as such. If you look at games like Dear Esther, that kind of stretch the definition of what a “game” actually is, then there’s scope for games as art and vice versa.
The BAFTA game awards were announced last night (at the time of writing this), and the variety of winning games show that there’s a great variety in the medium right now, having games like Journey and The Unfinished Swan sitting alongside XCOM and Lego: Batman 2 shows that there’s never been a better time to find something for everyone to play.
Thought Bubble 2013 Guest: Fábio Moon
Games have come under increasing pressure and criticism from the media in relation to their supposedly harmful effects. Comics often deal with equally dark and mature subject matter yet seem to escape this attention and suspicious scrutiny. Why do feel that this is the case? Should we be more wary of comics?!
I don’t really think there’s a need to be wary of any creative medium in general, it’s more any specific instances of them that are being created purely to incite or persecute – and they’re extremely few and far between in the mainstream.
In terms of the public media using video games as a scapegoat, it seems like it was their turn – music has become somewhat amorphous because of the shift to digital, so it’s hard to target any specific artists/labels for “violent/disturbing imagery”, whereas the stereotypical view of the “violent video game fan” appears to be one that’s worryingly easy for certain outlets to point to. I suppose the argument would go that with video games you’re an active participant in the violence occurring on-screen, whereas with comics you’re simply a passive observer, although all the research suggests that there’s no causal link between playing video games and engaging in violent activities in the real world.
The comic industry attracts a deeply loyal and committed fan-base. What would you say are the most alluring aspects of comics? What is it about the comic that captivates you the most?
I think, much like any creative medium, that’s entirely subjective – there’s such a wide variety of comics out there that there is (at this point), literally, something for everyone. The reasons behind loving comics are as myriad as the comics that are there to be loved, and that’s one of the reasons to love the medium. It all comes full circle! Speaking personally, I like the combination of strong narrative and beautiful artwork that the best comics bring to the table, being able to revisit a story both for the little visual details, as well as those of the story, is eternally captivating to me.
I also like the bits where Batman hits people.
And which of these elements do you feel have translated either particularly well or particularly badly to the world of games?
I suppose, historically, games based on licensed properties weren’t all that good, although this seems to be changing recently. For a life-long Batman fan like me, it’s a great time to be a fan of his and the games based on those comics, because the Rocksteady Arkham games and Lego Batman series are both excellent for completely different reasons.
For the most part, games that have taken on comics writers for their scripting duties have been pretty strong – look at Bulletstorm (brainless violence elevated by Rick Remender’s script), Dead Space (made especially creepy by Antony Johnston), and the aforementioned Arkham games (scripted by Paul Dini).
Much like with comics, my favourite games have that (near mythical) combination of strong storytelling and visuals, and they also need decent gameplay mechanics, which I guess is like panel layout in comics. Maybe? Maybe.
What would you say has been more successful and why: the transition of comics into film or of comics into games?
I think it depends entirely on the comic property and the medium it’s being translated into – there have been some really strong films and games based on comics, and some right stinkers, so it’s an on-going process. I don’t think there’s any magic formula for making a “good” licensed comic property, much in the same way that there’s no magic formula for making a “good” film or game in general.
That said, my favourite comic book film is American Splendor, which is more of a biopic, really. Just to confuse matters. Sorry!
Thought Bubble 2013 Guest: Ming Doyle
Aside from direct comic-game crossovers, concept-artists and illustrators themselves are responsible for a phenomenal amount of creative direction in all games. Do you feel that their input and talents are fully valued and appreciated?
I’m not sure if they are to be honest – there have been some really nice art books brought out recently for Mass Effect and Marvel/Capcom, but they’re few and far between. Companies like Double Fine do it really well, and it’s always lovely to see their process posts.
One that I go back to time and time again is Luke Pearson’s work on The End, which is a great educational game, and looks amazing.
What are your personal favourite games that are based on comics and why?
Easily Rocksteady’s Batman games, it allows you to be Batman, which is AMAZING.
Conversely, are there any titles that you’ve been completely dismayed by!?
I don’t get all that much time to play video games these days (and they’re hella-expensive), so I tend to play it safe and stick with games I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy, so there aren’t really any that I’ve played that have dismayed me. Yay!
Are there any areas where you feel as though developers have overlooked comics or characters that would translate well into games?
I’m a big fan of Marvel’s Immortal Iron Fist, so I’d love to see that adapted well, and the fighting tournament/street level crime fighting would lend itself well to a video game context, I think.
My ultimate dream game would be an MMORPG based on Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, kind of in the same vein as The Secret World – where you sign up and play as splinter cells, and nobody knows who’s a goodie and who’s a baddie, and then at a certain point Barbelith appears and the clock strikes midnight and reality ends/transcends to a higher plain of consciousness. That’d be cool.
Similarly, whilst action and adventure games are the obvious translation for comic-inspired games, are there any genres that you think would benefit from a bit of comic infusion?!
I think there’s some scope for point and click games based on comics, or maybe a sprawling Shenmue style epic RPG – if you did one of those for 20th Century Boys or that kind of comic, then it’d probably bomb, but you’d have a really happy, small fan-base.
Focussing on a happy, small fan-base? Now, wouldn’t that be something?
With our sincerest thanks to Clark Burscough, Thought Bubble‘s Assistant Director
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