Mike Kennedy is a name that is probably familiar to make video gamers out there. He has done work for the likes of EA, Namco and Activision as both a writer and producer. But what you might not know is that Mike Kennedy is also quite the comic book writer, having written titles such as Ghost, Star Wars, Alien vs. Predator and Superman.
His most recent work is the graphic novel Bleedout from Archaia Entertainment, for which he is also the publisher. Mr. Kennedy was nice enough to do an email interview with me where he talks about working on Bleedout and his plans for his creative future.
When working on Bleedout, how did it feel to climb back into the comic book writer’s seat again?
It feels like I never really left that seat, but only because of all the writing I was doing on other, similar productions and video games… I completely lost track of how long it had been since I had a book on store shelves! A lot of those other productions incorporated comic-book narrative devices, motion comics, animated sequences, etc, so the comic book writer’s fix was constantly fed. But having a solid, physical, printed product on the shelves again is really satisfying!
Working with this particular lineup of artists just made it that much more exciting. Nathan Fox, Glenn Fabry, Vince Proce, Ben Templesmith, Tim Bradstreet, Trevor Hairsine… man, everyone brought their A-game, and it was a real rush. I’ve been friends with some of these guys for a while, fans of all of them, and working with them together on this book was a singular thrill. Howard Chaykin was a huge influence as a writer growing up, and to have him illustrate one of my scripts was surreal and awesome. That’s the kind of welcome back lineup everyone should experience at some point in their career…
Bleedout is distinctive in its origins as part webcomic/part graphic novel. Did this present any unique challenges in the writing?
Yeah, and it was even more complicated than that, actually. The story was initially conceived as cutscene material for 10 weekly “episodes” of downloadable content for the online MMO CRIMECRAFT. The script was structured to not only provide the player with background info for each week’s standalone portion of new gameplay, but to educate the player on the game’s mysterious backstory in cliffhanger-chunks that slowly grew, week-after-week, to reveal an engaging conspiracy that explodes into civil war inside the game realm.
We wanted something deep and intriguing, like a good primetime drama such as LOST, so it had to work on many different levels: as 10 stand- alone shorts that frame each of the 10 weeks’ individual themes, each one introducing another major NPC or political dynamic, but together they had to piece together a mysterious world backstory AND build towards an epic conclusion. That alone was a lot to juggle.
Once we decided to assemble and release that same awesome cutscene material as a printed volume, things got even more complicated. Since game players experienced a lot of the story during gameplay moments and conversations with NPCs between those cutscenes, we had to make sure that the graphic novel still read like a complete and satisfying story.
So we added a bunch of new material art to fill in gaps and flesh out the world history in ways more geared toward print, such as the prose journal in the end, the interstitial plate paintings between chapters, etc, etc.
In the end, the two products work very well together – game players don’t need to read the book, but benefit from that extra info. Likewise, readers don’t need to play the game, but the story might intrigue them into giving it a try (for free, available on Steam!)…
Is writing comics more fun that your work in video games?
Yes, so much so that I am now full-time focused on the graphic novel business (as Publisher for Archaia Entertainment)! But I don’t mean to sound so clearcut -decisive: video games are certainly super-exciting, and I’m a diehard game junkie who plays more games than watches TV.
Even though the daily tasks are now geared toward print-publishing, we’re working on cool ways to meld the two mediums together in order to develop some cool hybridized interactive storytelling. The new tools and portable platforms now on the market are ripe with interesting possibility, many of which blur the line between comic books and games. I’m excited to start exploring those new territories from the publishing side.
Are there any similarities in working in video games and working in comics?
For me, they’ve both been about telling stories. Granted, it seems that only in the last few years has “story” been considered of any value in game development, but that’s the part I focused on for 20 years in that biz. Story really is a deciding factor in most productions nowadays. So even though one format is passive and linear while the other is interactive and variable, they’re both fantastic stages for new worlds, new characters, and new scenarios.
The work itself is different in that before I would interact with animators and programmers on a daily basis; now I interact with artists, editors, and printers on a daily basis. But in both cases, the final product was (hopefully) a completed, satisfying narrative experience that transports the audience to someplace exciting.
What is next for you on the creative horizon?
It’s funny, as Publisher for a graphic novel company, there is certainly a lot of opportunity for creative thinking, though not much of it has involved writing these days. Assembling creative teams for other titles, helping to define next year’s line-up, helping define the company’s brand identity, helping creators fine tune their stories, exploring digital narrative development opportunities, etc – those are all pretty creative tasks, certainly more so than the scheduling and budget-tracking… But I do have a few scripts near completion that I’m discussing with some artist friends, so hopefully in 2012 I’ll have something new and original to reveal…