WILD HORSES (PT2)
Back in Issue 93, we chatted with several of the talented creative minds (and eyes, hands, etc) behind our recent graphic novel anthology, Halo: Tales from Slipspace. Since then, we’ve also had a chance to catch up with a few more – specifically Alex Irvine (author on “Something Has Happened”), Jonathan Wayshak (artist for “On the Brink”), and Kody Chamberlain (author and artist for Fireteam Majestic Poker Night).
With Halo Wars 2 just around the corner, the graphic novel anthology is a great piece to pick up for a couple of nice primers on the setting for the upcoming RTS. The creative collaboration brought together some talented and passionate folks, and we always enjoy getting to bring some of their perspective on the process out into the open. Read on!
Q: What was the process like for creating for an anthology series with such a large and diverse group of creators? How did you come to work on your specific story or with your creative team?
ALEX IRVINE: I’d been talking with the Dark Horse gang about some other projects when this one came up – and who doesn’t love Halo?! Anthologies are always fun because you get to see different creators expressing themselves. I personally worked on this particular story because it was an open question from the end of Halo Wars that fascinated me. I’ve always liked stories about how people deal with the huge time scales of interstellar travel, and ever since I saw Alien when I was a kid, I’ve also loved the “monster-on-the-ship” story. So, when I had a chance to do one of those, especially one set in the Halo universe, I jumped at it.
JONATHAN WAYSHAK: Working with comics, you are often working on your own and you don't really have much interaction with the rest of the creative team. So, in that respect, it did not affect my approach at all. It was all about trying to do justice to a really great story.
KODY CHAMBERLAIN: The Halo universe is absolutely massive. Thankfully, I was approached with a few seed ideas from the creative minds at 343 that were offered up as possible starting points. Essentially, it was a list of a dozen or so story seeds they thought could be fun to expand upon. I honestly love that kind of stuff. It's a great challenge to grab that chunk of grass and pull it to find out if there's a nice juicy carrot underneath.
I found a few on the list I really liked and then dug deeper to find something that really spoke to me, or an interesting angle where I could make it my own. Thankfully, they loved my take on the 'poker night' idea and I was able to build a fun story link between the DeMarco and Thorne storylines; my take on the idea of passing the torch.
Q: How would you compare your creative process for this book with the creative process of your previous work?
AI: It was easy, really – the team at 343 and the team at Dark Horse were great to work with. I can’t praise them highly enough without embarrassing myself.
JW: For me, I generally approach all comic projects with the same process. What was different about this piece was the amount of research I had to do on the different weapons, vehicles, and armor. Some of the armor for the different members of the Blue Team were particularly complicated, so that was a challenge, but by the end of the story, it was all second nature. I only wish I could have drawn the characters some more!
KC: Honestly, the biggest challenge was the page count. I'll typically work on books with a hundred or more pages to tell a single story, so a big part of making this work was crafting an idea that could be told in this particular [shorter] format. That's also actually one of the primary reasons I agreed to do the book. As creators, these are the kinds of challenges we love to take on. It may not look like it on the surface, but a short story in comics is actually quite tricky. You have to find efficiencies and tight story beats that work – and not everything works.
It's extremely difficult to do well, and I was fully impressed by the quality of the other stories in Halo: Tales from Slipspace. The batting average is very high. Obviously, a big part of that is the Halo world and all the great work that's already built into these characters and storylines. There's a lot of subtext and history to tinker with.
Q: Were you already a fan of Halo before this project? Were there any concerns about contributing to such an established and beloved universe and franchise?
AI: Yeah, I’ve been a fan of Halo for a long time. I worked on the I Love Bees ARG before Halo 2 came out in 2004, so it was cool to get a chance to dip into the universe again. As far as concerns? No, not really. Whenever you work in an established and well-loved franchise, you want to do justice to the fans’ love for it. That’s the bar I set for myself, whether it’s Halo, Marvel, Transformers, or The Walking Dead...
JW: I wasn't really worried about working with an established property like Halo. While I didn't play the earlier games, I was familiar with the universe because I worked on quite a few of the television commercials since Halo 3. For this story, I wanted to get a better feel for Halo in general, so I bought Halo 5, and ended up absolutely loving the game – I actually managed to get up to Onyx in FFA!
KC: I'm a casual gamer and I've played several of the Halo games for Xbox 360, but I was certainly not a historian of the storylines. There's so much going on in this universe, and can be pretty challenging to keep it all in context. With this in mind, I did a ton of research and watched a lot of video game play and cutscenes to get my head around the pieces I'd be using in my story, and even then, it's still a lot to digest!
My early draft of the script had a few things that needed to be reworked, largely contextual things in the Halo world, questions, and research that 343 and Dark Horse were able to help with. I got great notes that helped immensely. It's one of the benefits of working with Dark Horse and their deep commitment to keeping the game developers involved with editorial.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Halo (such as characters, weapons, technology or vehicles)?
AI: I love grand-scale space opera storytelling, and Halo of course has that in spades. The clash of civilizations is always riveting too, and the Halo storyline pushes into some interesting questions about not just the war between the Covenant and humanity but the internal tensions that arise within the Covenant and its various factions. That’s what draws me into the Halo universe more than anything else.
JW: I love the Spartans and the military aspect of Halo. Especially Master Chief. I think there is so much potential with those characters - endless possibilities, really.
KC: Halo works best for me when a team functions as a family. My dad was a Marine that served in Vietnam, and I've got plenty of family currently in the military or retired. There are things that happen in military families that can be hard to relate to for people that haven't experienced it, but the concept of 'friends as family' is universal. It's the part of that lifestyle most people can find in their own lives to some extent, but for people in the military, your friend is your teammate, and trusting and relying on your teammates can mean life or death.
It's a powerful thing, and that mindset can often get passed down to the children and grandchildren of military families – I've certainly found that in my own life. Most of my very close friends are considered part of my family. I see some of that in Halo as well, and it's the part that speaks to me as both a fan and as a writer.
Q: Typically, the video games deal primarily with more well-known characters of the franchise. What challenges did you face trying to build stories with lesser-known characters?
AI: In such a big story universe as this one, there are always little loose ends and empty spaces. I know for me as a fan, I get curious about them and imagine different possibilities for how they might be filled in, and I think lots of other fans feel the same way. When you get invested in a big story, you want to know more about everything, from the lead characters to the mysterious little side stories that spin off into unexplored parts of the universe.
So, when I was thinking about what story to write for this book, the Spirit of Fire immediately popped into my head and everything fell together pretty quickly from there. I saw it as more of an opportunity than a challenge, because Serina is a compelling character and the story of the Spirit of Fire’s sacrifice also grabbed me from the beginning.
JW: I liked it. I actually think Halo works really well with Master Chief as a background character. The supporting characters are interesting enough to carry the stories on their own, and I'd like to see more stories told in this fashion. I also enjoyed drawing Spartan Kelly's armor – I love her helmet.
KC: In some ways writing a lesser known character is liberating because there's typically less continuity to track and manage in the storyline. Having said that, besides Master Chief, I'm not really sure what's most popular with other players because I just pick up games and I play them; I don't really follow game reviews or Reddit or anything like that. I just mainly know the stuff that is spoken to me while I played, my own experiences. I had a pretty good memory of the DeMarco/Thorne energy sword exchange, and it was something I wrote down very early in my notes for consideration. For whatever reason, that particular moment stayed with me and it was something I knew I could work with.