Eric Trautmann Interview
Written by Falcon Zero on the 19th July, 2006.
Eric Trautmann, author of the first Perfect Dark Zero comic book "Welcome to the War", talks with us about the future of the series, the number of issues planned and hints on where the story's evolution leads.
Eric's work has involved him in other familiar Microsoft IP's such as Crimson Skies and Halo, so he's no rookie when it comes to penning literary work based on video game media.
How did you start the project with Rare?
[EST] The group I work in - the "New Media & Franchise Development Group", which is part of the Xbox marketing organization - has been eager to launch a comic series based on one of our games for a number of years.
To convince all sides involved - the publisher, Microsoft, Rare, marketing - that a Perfect Dark comic could work, I managed to put together the Issue #0 that was given away at E3 (2005). Rare seemed happy with my prior work on Halo and Crimson Skies, so they were willing to take a chance on me.
Once that "proof of concept" came out - and worked for the creative types as well as the business types - it was a lot easier to convince everyone involved that we should do the series (and also to persuade them to let me write it).
How long before PDZ's release did you begin work on Issue #0? Did you know anything about the storyline of the game back then?
[EST] I'm not sure of the actual dates. We basically had a month (perhaps as much as 6 weeks, but my memory on this point is a little fuzzy) before E3 to put the whole thing together - script, art, printing, the whole enchilada.
I was quite aware of the game story as it then existed (it changed in some ways by the time the game launched, but the overall arc was pretty well established by the time I started the preview comic), as I had written a Perfect Dark "story bible" as a guide for novelists and other licensees.
How much collaboration with PDZ's development team at Rare do you have when working out story ideas and art direction?
[EST] I worked most closely with Chris Kimmell and Duncan Botwood (with some additional exchanges of mails with Dale Murchie and Richard Cousins).
Chris works here in Redmond, and acts (amongst his other copious duties) as a liaison between us licensing folk and Rare.
(Also: Chris is, I believe, powered by some kind of fusion reactor. He was just everywhere, covering everything, and the fact that he could crowbar any time for novels and comics into the already-insane schedule necessitated by releasing a launch title for a brand-new console - well, that was just amazing.)
Duncan in particular contributed a great deal to the development of the story bible, which in turn influenced the direction of the comic series - he provided me with excellent feedback, and "behind the scenes" tidbits that made the whole process terrific fun.
Finally, I knew that the issue zero would end up being the beginning of the series, so it also had to serve the needs of the marketing department. John Dongelmans (who drove the PDZ marketing) had very specific requests about how Joanna and the setting should be presented. Fortunately, all the stuff John needed was all the stuff I love about Joanna - her deadly skills, her humor, her sexiness - so it wasn't too hard to work that in.
The most fun, though, was setting it up so that the issue #0 looks like it's set after the game but before the first novel (fans asked at one point, "Why is she Agent TRAINEE Joanna Dark...?"), but is actually set after the first novel. Making all the pieces (game, novels, comics) fit together seamlessly, and yet still providing good stand-alone reads was the most challenging, but also most purely FUN, part.
That aspect took the most coordination with the various folks involved.
How many issues have been planned for the series?
[EST] Six issues total, with 32 pages of story (no interior advertisements) in each one. (With one exception: there's an extra page or two of story in issue 1.)
When can we expect Issue #1 appearing in comic book stores?
[EST] August. I believe the street date is the 16th of August. Ask your Friendly Local Comics Retailer, of course, and if you don't know if there's a comic shop in your area, I urge you to use the Comic Shop Locator service.
Do you think the stories in the comics and novels will reach as far as the original Nintendo 64 game, and if so, can we expect to see stories depicted after the events of the original game?
[EST] I don't want to give too much away, and this is, of course subject to change, but the current plan is to keep the fiction (comics and novels) confined within the period between, probably not going much past 2022 (with Perfect Dark Zero at 2020 and the Nintendo Perfect Dark in 2023).
But, if you've read the first novel, Initial Vector, you'll see that we did endeavor to create connections - notably, fleshing out Cassandra De Vries.
How much of the Perfect Dark universe do you get to toy with and explore when developing a story?
[EST] Tons. Rare let Greg and I cook up all sorts of other "hypercorporations," make some fairly surprising leaps with the DeathMatch technology (ie: LoveMatch VR), and so on. They were really generous in how they allowed us to play with their toys. In return, we really tried to make sure the toys were returned in working (albeit, in Joanna's case, not exactly pristine) condition.
In the case of the comic series, we've made some "alterations" to a few cities (notably in Seattle, and some of its most famous landmarks) that highlight the nature of the setting. It's always fun to fictionally mess with the place you call home.
Do you know if any other novels beyond Initial Vector are in the pipeline?
[EST] Greg is hard at work on the second novel, currently.
Did you ever work with Greg Rucka while he penned Initial Vector, just so your stories could synch together without inconsistencies?
[EST] I did. I was the one who originally approached Greg to do the book, and I've worked with him very closely on the novels. We plotted both books in his garage/office; I believe we set a world record for "most coffee consumed in a single story-plotting session."
To give you an idea of how closely we have to work, here's a rough timeline of where the stories all fit ...
- Perfect Dark Zero
- Perfect Dark: Initial Vector (novel #1) - PDZ + approx. six months.
- Perfect Dark: Janus' Tears (comic series) - PD: Initial Vector + approx. 6-9 weeks.
- Perfect Dark: Second Front (novel #2) - PD: Janus' Tears + approx. 30-60 minutes(!). (Every wound, every bit of damage, every emotional revelation Joanna undergoes in the comic series is still fresh when the second novel opens.)
Do you plan to introduce a darker and more mature art theme with the comics as the story draws closer to the original Perfect Dark?
[EST] The art is not going to morph significantly, since the story told in the comic takes place, literally, over a roughly 30 hour period, not weeks or months. It's important, to my mind, to be very consistent with the style of the issues, so that it isn't jarring to readers. (As a long-time comic fan, I always dread changes in art or writing teams on a comic I enjoy.)
You've actually already seen, sort of, the first (almost) half of issue 1 - the first 15 pages of issue #0 are actually the first 15 pages of issue #1; the story picks up right where Joanna loses consciousness.
They've been completely recolored and re-lettered, and the same artists from Cold Fuzion Studios will continue to handle the art chores in this book. Fortunately, this time, I'm not the one doing the lettering - I literally had to learn how to digitally letter (putting in all the captions, word balloons, sound effects, and so on) a comic book in 36 hours, in order for issue #0 to make it to press on time!
I don't think I could've lettered all 6 issues without having my head blow clean off.
In terms of a "darker tone", however, the comic story is quite (pardon the pun) "dark." It's a fairly bleak mission Joanna is undertaking, and she takes her lumps, emotionally and physically. She's wounded very early in the story, so she's not at her best - and she's facing an opponent who is quite possibly able to beat her. She's grappling with issues of loyalty and trust, and is forced to really fight for her life.
I think the novels and comics will show a progression of continuity from the relatively carefree young woman of Perfect Dark Zero and the grim, caustic professional of the Nintendo game.
(At least, that's my intent and my fervent hope.)
For those of us who aren't familiar with your work, what other comic projects have you worked on?
[EST] Not much, actually. One other "comic" project was not a traditional comic book at all. A company called WizKids (makers of the games MageKnight and HeroClix, among others) made a tabletop air combat game based on Crimson Skies (which was one of the first properties I worked on when I started at Microsoft; I put together the first Microsoft iteration of the Crimson Skies website - and added one of the first fan discussion forums we ever did - and edited/supervised every piece of fiction that ended up on the site).
Part of the Crimson Skies "clix" game's rulebook included a couple of 8- or 10-page minicomics. I edited one, and wrote another.
I also wrote the minicomic included in the Limited Collector's Edition of Perfect Dark Zero, "Hong Kong Sunrise".
Most of my published writing is prose; I wrote a story in the Del Rey Crimson Skies fiction anthology, edited all three of the Del Rey Halo novels, and wrote (with Frank O'Connor batting cleanup) The Art of Halo. (Before that, I did tons of work in the dice-and-paper game industry, mostly on Star Wars, but that's long enough ago that I don't mention it too much.)
Finally, do you know of any planned comic series for Joanna's launch buddy Kameo?
There is a Kameo manga, written by Sunmin Park and drawn by Hiroyuki Kitasume.
That's a wrap, thanks for taking part Eric!
Issue #1 of the PDZ comic series goes on sale on or around August 16th! Grab a copy from your local comic book store or use the Comic Shop Locator to find one nearby.