Back in 2010, just a month before the release of Dead Space 2, Blackwatch Comics released a graphic novel that bridged the gap between the first and second game — or more specifically, the gap between Dead Space and the animated film Aftermath, which took place before Dead Space 2. It was horrifying, and for me, one of the things that really stuck with me even two years later is the gorgeous illustrations of Christopher Shy. His work took Salvage to a whole new level, and thankfully, he’s returned to lend his talents to Dead Space: Liberation, a second graphic novel that acts as an interquel between the second game and Dead Space 3 (which is out now!). Christopher was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the new graphic novel (also available now), the art of the Necromorphs, and much more. Read what he had to say after the break!
BD: The Dead Space franchise has a rich fiction as well as a very recognizable look. What’s it like adding to that visual style in Salvage and Liberation?
I was a fan of Dead Space before getting a chance to work on it, so I had actually spent some time thinking about what I would do, if given the chance.
BD: What’s your process for creating one of these graphic novels? Which comes first, the art or the story?
Always the story first, I read through a script, first for pleasure, then my second and third pass with a pencil. I usually have an idea of how I want to approach a book within a few hours of the first read, and after that I start making sketches and notes. Sometimes I will have a sequence that will develop between panels that I will expand on. In Liberation, I felt that the tension between Carver and Ellie needed more room, so I added that. In Salvage, Malyech’s Madness, and his time with the Marker was something from the very beginning I wanted to explore, as it would set the tone for the entire book.
BD: Did you study concept art or gameplay from Dead Space 3 for inspiration, or can seeing too much of that get in the way?
Certainly there are times when you have to stay fairly tight with a certain concept, and you have to use a certain design. The problem with Dead Space was not using it, because it was so damn good. I think at one point I almost gave up on the Necromorph designs, because they were so stunning, that it took me awhile to find my own path out of the previous work. EA has always been supportive of my need to make each book my own, and for that, I am eternally grateful. The artists at EA are incredible, so it is very hard to compete with those designs, but I always try and find a way into it, and then through that window, into my own version of the universe, Having said that, on Dead Space Liberation, I did try and stay closer to the game on this one, simply because Liberation is a sort of direct prequel to the events of Dead Space three.
BD: Liberation is a prequel to Dead Space 3 that follows series newcomer John Carver. He’s an interesting character, more of a rough, order-following military-type. What was it like fleshing out his character a bit more? Is he a person players can empathize with?
I like Carver a lot, and for me, he certainly is the bookend of Stefan Schneider, of Dead Space Salvage. John Carver is not secure of his place in the universe, he has blood on his hands, and he is good at what he does, he is a soldier at his core, but it does not come easy to him. He is best described in my mind, as a man who is best when the action starts, and his instincts take over, but terrible at real life. His marriage is not going well, and he feels deep in his core he has missed some calling. He hasn’t refused it, in a Joseph Campbell’s monomyth sort of way, only to embrace it later, he has just somehow missed it. Stefan Schneider, on the other hand refused it, but has no problems taking it up, because he had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. In fact, Schneider is more the classic rogue hero archetype, to Carver’s soulful soldier. Carver has everything to lose, and nothing to gain. How they both relate to women is very similar, their respect, they just show those emotions in different ways. I never saw Carver spitting out tough guy lines, and yet Schneider’s character practically demands it.
BD: In Liberation, Carver meets up with Ellie, a survivor of the events in Dead Space 2. Ellie’s tough, but perhaps not at the same level of roughness as Carver. Is there ever any tension between the two?
In my mind they are almost exactly the same type person, and why Ellie pines away for Norton is beyond me. Ellie’s loss is mirrored by carvers, and they do share a deep connection in the story. I actually argued that a deeper relationship between Carver and Ellie should be there, or at least seeded, as we see with the moment they share talking about what had happened in both of their lives. Ian wrote some terrific dialogue between the two, and I think me and Ian both felt the relationship was there, but there was little time and space to pull it off. We also knew that the events of the novel needed to lead into Dead Space three, so it was one of those rare circumstances where the plot of the game took logical control over where we felt the characters in the novel should have went. In my opinion Carver and Ellie should have hooked up by page 50. I say rare, because usually I don’t work on a novel that so tightly connects with a franchise and its opening sequence. I enjoyed it, and as you can tell, we were very passionate about it.
BD: Liberation is a collaborative effort between you and author Ian Edgington. What was it like working with him?
Fantastic, in the time we had on the book, which was a very tight schedule. His script was very good, and I would call my work with him, collaboration, in the truest sense. I would work with Ian again in a second. Ian has very good instincts.
BD: Dead Space is an intensely gory series. Blood, dismemberment, Necromorphs, the works. How did you prepare yourself for the gore and translating that carnage to paper? The team behind the original game visited a morgue to study cadavers; did you do anything like that?
I think I took a slightly different approach. I did study quite a bit of images to decide how I wanted the look and feel of the Necromorphs to be, but in the end, I looked at it as a sort of hybrid between the EA artists and where I wanted to go. I always saw the Necromorphs to be an invading cancer of sorts, and I studied it from that point of view, of having Necromorph A, the more primitive Necro, effecting and informing the look of Necromorph B, recombining, and evolving. I started looking at reorganizing tissue, and followed what the EA artists had done, but then extrapolated it as if the Necromorphs had already eaten their human hosts, and moved on to each other, and then became sometime new. That gave me a fresh window to explore, and allowed me to paint different shapes that still honored the elements from the game. There were a lot of medical books on my desk. I will say that in my opinion, the artists at EA will always kick my ass when it comes to creature design. It’s their world; I am just trying to have a very well received, diplomatic visit.
BD: Would you like to work on another Dead Space comic in the future? If so, do you have any stories you’d really like to tell within the game’s fiction?
Yes, I would love to go back to Dead Space Salvage and finish that story. We left Schneider’s story a bit open at the end of that one, and it would be interesting to bring that back full circle, and bring all three novels together.