Bloody Debut: The Witcher Takes Over Comics

Comic book writers looking for new source material often draw from the large pool of other forms of media, like movies, TV shows, and video games. This has been evident with several recent video game related comics such as Mass Effect, Injustice: Gods Among Us and the now recently announced Witcher comic. Dark Horse Comics has taken CD Projekt RED’s concept, which is itself based on a popular fantasy novel series franchise in Poland that focuses on monster-hunters who receive special training and body modifications at an early age. Now a new team, consisting of comic book writer Paul Tobin and artist Joseph Querio are making their own mark on the Witcher legacy.

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“Good stories. That’s what Dark Horse stands for,” said Tobin. “I’ve worked for a lot of companies, and Dark Horse is the company that always takes a step back, when looking at new projects, and asks, ‘Is there a story, here?’”

Tobin sees the Witcher’s established universe as an opportunity to tell more stories. From the dark and violent tone that encompasses the series, alongside the heavy emphasis on magic and monsters, to the women who fulfill many roles in the land Rivia, there's a lot of potential for new adventures. These adventures won’t be accompanied by specified timelines, and will allow readers without an intricate knowledge of The Witcher universe to dive right in. However, what matters most is still intact. Geralt is a witcher. He has abilities. He hunts monsters.

“For the comics, we’re staying away from the greater political turmoil,” he said. “Geralt is the link, but we didn’t want to do any hard crossovers with the novels or the game, because we wanted the story to stand on its own.”

He added, “Hope within darkness” is a fairly universal emotion, one that is repeated not only in his work with The Witcher, but also with Dark Horse’s big upcoming Prometheus, Aliens, Predator, Aliens vs. Predator crossover, which he happens to be writing. When asked if the increasing popularity surrounding video games are supplanting movies’ ability to contribute new stories, Tobin said the breadth of stories from games does open things up a little more for writers.

“Imagine if the original Alien movie had been 70 hours long! Think of how much the director could have explored, in turn leading other writers to have more of a well to draw from,” he said. “So, while I think both movie and game-based comics are equal in viability, it's easier to hit the ground running with a game based comic.”

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Querio, who admits to not playing a lot of games, was contacted by Dark Horse to do the line art for The Witcher.

“I did some research and discovered its heavy folklore roots and decided to dive into the project. I absolutely love folklore,” he said.

His inspirations come from music, a nice walk in the woods with the family, driving in a snowstorm and old time radio programs. Video games Querio explains don’t influence him at all.

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“I know this answer sounds very pretentious - but, it's truly not. These are things that really allow my brain to relax and think stuff up.”

His greatest challenge has been creating a realistic aesthetic, specifically with Geralt. Finding a balance between his art style - lots of black, lots of shadows and abstract inking - and the realism of the game is something that took a while to get down.

“He's such an iconic character and you have to get him right or there will be hell to pay,” Querio said. “The Witcher fans are very passionate and deserve a comic that meets their standards.”

Alice Quinn, founder of tdotcomics.ca, said storytelling elements in a game often take a back seat to gameplay, and enjoys the unique storytelling comic books offer. She added additional info found in comics that tap into a game’s backstory is always welcome.

“You can easily expand on a video game’s settings and character back stories with a 26-page comic,” she said. “People who like video games are often people who like comic books as well, or are at least open to the idea of it. I would love to see the mediums continue to cross over.”

Alice Quinn

Roles are sometimes reversed, and developers will take concepts or characters initially found in a comic and use them to create a game. The Wolf Among Us, Telltale Games’ game adaption of the popular Fables comic series, is another comic she believes successfully manifested itself into a video game, and is pleased with its heavy focus on storytelling. The same can be said of The Walking Dead, which has found success in its episodic game structure – also developed by Telltale Games - shared by The Wolf Among Us.

“I thought it was really cool in the way it’s episodic, and how your actions from previous episodes affect the next one,” Quinn said. “If the story is good, and the storytelling elements are the same within the medium it occupies, it will still be entertaining whether it’s done through a comic, a movie, or a video game.”

She adds fans of comics usually enjoy watching their favourite characters interact with the world through gameplay. She mentioned how Marvel takes this route frequently, their most recent addition to the gaming industry being Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Its surprising attention to detail combined with the iconic Lego charm has been well-received by most critics, and comic book fans alike.

Quinn, who also works at Dr. Comics in Toronto, said the first issue of The Witcher will most likely hit their shelves when the comic launches in 2014 on March 11. The store will then order more issues or discontinue it altogether, depending on how well it does.

“Huge fans of the game will come to the comics,” she said.

Though the concept of turning a game or movie into a comic isn’t new, it’s always refreshing to know that game companies and writers are teaming up to expand certain universes that clearly have some creative aspects and characters waiting to be further explored.