Artist Alan Quah and writer George Mann reveal what makes a game suitable for adaptation, the pressure of working with beloved IP and what Dark Souls and Marvel have in common
How did you come to work on the Dark Souls comic adaptation?
George Mann, writer: I was lucky enough to be approached by Titan to write it. Of course, I nearly bit their hand off. You don’t turn down the opportunity to write a new story set in the universe of Dark Souls!
Alan Quah, artist: I was introduced to Nick Landau, the publisher of Titan Comics through a mutual friend back in early 2015. At that time, they didn’t have an opening to a project that fit my style and, after a month or so, my agency Space Goat Productions got me on another project (Orphan Black) which kept me busy for that year. A week after I completed my obligations on OB, Titan Comics contacted my agency about my availability. So it was all good timing and apparently Nick still remembered me, which is brilliant. And I was told the project was Dark Souls. Awesome!
Dark Souls is well-known for its sparse and cryptic storytelling and world building. Did the depth and complexity of its lore make it easier or harder to create within that universe?
GM: A little of both, to be honest. What we’ve tried to do with the comic is tell a new story that has all the glorious tone and style of the existing Dark Souls games, but also forges its own path within the setting. To do that properly, it was key to understand the core elements of the Dark Souls mythology, so that we could create a story that felt as though it belonged. So for me there was a lot of delving back into the games and digging deep into the background, soaking it up and being influenced by it.
AQ: I have to spend many days exploring the gameplay studying the environments, the fight scenes, main character designs, the bosses and sub-bosses, and so on. I also sketched tons of drawings and panel designs that might work for the comic even before the script arrived. I believe at that point my mission is to get the mood and feel of the environment right into the comic medium, which is dark and gritty. Hopefully I have achieved that and the fans of the game will approve.
What makes a game/franchise suitable for translation into comic/graphic novel form? Why were you attracted to Dark Souls specifically?
GM: Dark Souls has such a rich setting, and a really interesting mythology, so you’re off to a good start straight away. For me, though, it was the narrative technique that really enticed me – the fact the games don’t spoon-feed the gamer, but encourage you to explore, investigate and delve deeper into the lore, to learn the story organically. I really wanted to bring that across to the comics and use a similar narrative device – so people reading issue #1 will be getting a sense that not everything is going to be laid out for you. There are dark secrets, and our narrators are unreliable for different reasons. It’s up to the reader to interpret what’s going on, and to work out the real story developing in the background.
AQ: All games have a very good potential for comic adaptations; both are very visual and stylised mediums in their approach. Drawing Dark Souls, I feel like I have been prepared for this project from years back, being trained from the books I have drawn like Godzilla: Awakening, The Shadow Girls, Evil Dead and a few other horror and monsters anthologies – all dark and gritty.
"Comics are a great way of exploring and developing devs' creations in a different format, and opening them up to a wider audience. On the day issue #1 hit the shelves, I had readers contacting me through social media to say they’re now going to check out the games."
George Mann, Dark Souls writer
George, how did you approach writing within context of the wider Dark Souls franchise? What were the most important narrative/lore elements of the game to capture in your writing?
GM: Well, I guess the stuff we’re really exploring here is the story of one of the ancient dragons, the undead curse, and the Flame of Life. So some meaty Dark Souls tent poles there. As I mentioned, though, a big part of it for me was capturing the tone and style. Alan’s really worked wonders on that with his artwork.
One for you, Alan: how did you go about balancing the need to give the comic book its own distinct style – do more than simply mimic the game’s appearance – versus maintaining the recognisable elements of the Dark Souls series?
AQ: That was a little tricky, to be honest. I know that if I go directly with exactly how it looked in the game we might get in trouble with the end result. You see, when you play the game in its original form and being able to view it on your LCD, which is basically millions of colours, it still look awesome which fit perfectly. But when it comes to comics, the production and printing is on four-colour offset, which has its limitations. Using an overly dark approach might muddy up the whole look of the book, I went for the middle ground, using some brighter hues for the colours, and with my art went full throttle on the details, right down to carvings on the armours and backgrounds.
Dark Souls players are considered some of the games industry’s most passionate fans – and you adapt some of the most iconic fan-favourite elements of the franchise, such as Solaire of Astoria. Was their reception of the comic and its take on the game a concern for you?
AQ: Indeed, that is probably my biggest fear: pressure to perform to the players' expectations. They obviously know about the game more than me and I hope I did their favourite game justice in my interpretation.
GM: I guess it’s always there in the back of your mind, and it’s the reason you do things like the cameo (of sorts) in issue #1, but really my job as the writer of the comic is to tell the best story I can. It’s another of those fine lines – I learned that long ago working on other franchises – you can get lost down a rabbit hole trying to please everyone if you’re not careful, and end up pleasing no-one. The best thing to do is get to know your material as best you can, and then tell the best story you’re able to.
What were some of your favourite elements of the game to adapt into comic book form?
GM: Other than the narrative structure, the best thing for me has been seeing Alan bring everything to life in his wonderful art. I’d love to see some of our monsters on-screen in a game.
AQ: I will have to say the fight scenes and I can assure you the bosses will get bigger and nastier as the issues progress. I am having the time of my life drawing the fights and the crazy environments George came out with. Did I mention George is a brilliant writer? Comics should be written like the way he did – each issue comes with at least three double-page spreads and two splash pages. It's a visual feast!
You’ve both worked on TV comic adaptations – George on Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, and Alan on Orphan Black and The Vampire Diaries. How does adapting a video game compare to working on adaptations from other mediums and original IP?
AQ: To me they are the same; before I start on a new project I go through the same routine: research, training myself to draw the characters of the book and then getting to work. But this is Dark Souls; it is pure fun and a joy to work on. Plus, I don't need to worry too much about likeness and I love drawing weird-looking monsters, undead and strange-looking environments.
GM: It differs a great deal from creating original fiction or comics, because you’re always anxious to do justice to the original material, to ensure that what you’re creating adds to the characters/setting/universe, rather than detracting from it, or regurgitating it. As far as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, the material is obviously very different, but the process is pretty much the same. You need to make sure you’re familiar enough with the material, that you have the voices right and that you understand the impact of what you’re writing.
Why should more games developers consider working with artists in the comics space?
AQ: The fans of the games would like to have more than just playing the games; comics give them more information related to it and stories derived from that universe, sort of like an extension of what they have already known.
GM: It’s a great way of exploring and developing their creations in a different format, and opening them up to a wider audience. On the day issue #1 hit the shelves, I had readers contacting me through social media to say they’re now going to check out the games.
And, similarly, why should comic writers consider teaming up with games developers?
GM: For the same reason a writer might want to work with DC or Marvel on a property they love – the chance to be part of something, to contribute to a universe they enjoy. As we’ve already said, it can be a lot of work to get it right, but it’s incredibly rewarding when you do.
AQ: That's possibly the easiest question so far: because games are so bloody cool to draw!