We recently sat down with Jeremy Barlow, the writer of HAWKEN: GENESIS, a graphic novel based on the Free-to-Play online mech shooter HAWKEN. The collected edition was released as a Digital First on comiXology on March 20, and it arrives on comic shop shelves March 27 and bookstores on April 9.
What got you interested in working on an “expanded universe” piece for a mainstream video game?
Jeremy Barlow: At first it was the opportunity to work with Archaia. You guys produce books of such amazing quality and work with so many talented people — I was honored to be invited. And, honestly, publisher Mike Kennedy and I go way back, so getting the chance to work with him again drew me in. When he first solicited me for HAWKEN, I was ready to say yes to just about anything before I even knew what the job was.
Then I was shown HAWKEN‘s concept designs and art direction, and I was sold. I’m a sucker for good, original science-fiction and this world was like nothing I’d ever seen.
You’ve written for some pretty famous science fiction properties before. What about the HAWKEN universe particularly appealed to you as a writer?
JB: The world that Khang and his crew created is so rich and layered and gorgeous. There’s a unique grittiness to it—there’s a tension between the dirty, down-and-out, broken down aesthetic and the underlying playfulness to the design—that’s incredibly appealing. Despite the world’s strife and pollution and violence, you want to settle in and spend as much time as you can there. And that’s before you even get to the mechs!
Still, I’m a story first guy and even the prettiest stage is empty without some good, character-driven drama. Fortunately, that soil had been well-seeded, too, so coming in on the ground like this offered some great opportunities to help shape the emotional core. I couldn’t resist.
Did the fact that HAWKEN is a video game influence your writing style or creative choices?
JB: Not really, beyond using the game as a window into the world, for visual reference and so on. It was good to see and understand the technology enough to know how various bits of the world would interact—or, for example, how a different Mech class’ capabilities would affect effect their environment.
A good story transcends the medium, though, and while there’s a clear difference between games and graphic novels in how they express a narrative, a story’s core remains the same across platforms. Transitioning between a game’s events and a graphic novel’s plot never feels constraining, because the story itself doesn’t change. If anything, because budgets and electronic asset management don’t hold us back, graphic novels are only limited by their writer’s and artist’s imaginations, so we’re able to really dig in and expand HAWKEN‘s world in some surprising ways that only we can.
Did you find that when you worked with so many different artists on a single project you tailored your scripts to each artist?
JB: Situations like these present their own challenges, for sure, but I try to write for my artists on every project I do. In collaborations like this, everyone involved brings their own strengths and perspectives to the table, and if you know with whom you’re working ahead of time, you can understand and play to those talents and points of view.
God knows a good artist will think much more visually than I will, so I don’t presume to load them up with panel layouts or camera angles (unless something very specific is needed to convey information in a very specific way) — my job is to communicate a story’s intention, to help explain its emotions, its themes, and the subtext in a way that will help the artists and colorists see it, too. How they hit that target is up to them. My scripts are typically dense with world-building detail, but I’ve found the less ‘hands-on’ I am with directing a scene or a sequence, the better the results. I like to collaborate in the truest sense — to have everyone involved feel emotionally invested and that they’re contributing in a meaningful way. It’s not always possible, but when it works, it’s magic.
Because HAWKEN‘s mythology, as vast as it is, was still taking shape as we were working, the graphic novel’s waters got a bit choppy, but that’s the way it often goes. Endless credit goes to Mike Kennedy and Joe LeFavi for helping steer the boat to shore.
What are your thoughts on the expansion of video games into new transmedia platforms such as graphic novels?
JB: It’s really exciting. As I said before, a good story is a good story no matter where or how it plays out, so crossing platforms is relatively easy. I love that storytelling has been moving to the forefront of games these last few years, and that developers have been willing to let the writers drive narrative instead of the other way around. There’s so much good stuff happening now, there’s not enough time to experience and enjoy all of it.
It’s only recently that graphic novels have been accepted and awarded as ‘real’ literature, and I look forward to the day when games are welcomed into that fold, too. Because I don’t think it’s far off — I’d put the rich, character-driven story of something like Mass Effect against some of the best books and movies out there. We’re a golden age right now, and HAWKEN feels very much a part of that.
If you had your own giant mech, what would you want to do with it?
JB: Oh, man — what wouldn’t I do? Does the mech’s pilot license also come with total amnesty from the law? No?
Well, then I’d take up the challenge presented at the end of Smokey & the Bandit, and team up with some colorful truckers to haul a load of clam chowder from Boston to Georgia in under 18 hours…smashing through roadblocks and having mech misadventures along the way.
Either way, I’m going to end up in jail.