We’re huge gaming fans here at the Big Comic Page, as Sam’s regular “Geeking Out” column will readily attest to. And while there are plenty of examples of comics branching out into the world of gaming – Knight Models’ Batman Miniature Game, The Walking Dead: All Out War, etc. – that door swings the other way, too.
The phenomenon of board, card and roleplaying games being converted into comic books isn’t exactly new, from BOOM! Studios’ ongoing Munchkin series to the plethora of D&D books that have been printed over the years, but when we heard that Oni Press were getting set to release a comic based on Plaid Hat Games’ critically-acclaimed Dead of Winter franchise, we instantly knew that it had the potential to be something special.
It also doesn’t hurt that the creative team behind the book just happened to be writer Kyle Starks (Rock Candy Mountain, Rick and Morty) and artist Gabo (The Life After), and we were thrilled to be able to sit down and have a chat with the pair – along with series editor Charlie Chu – about how it came about, how true it stays to the game, and just what readers should expect when it goes on sale this August.
BIG COMIC PAGE: How familiar were you guys with the Dead of Winter board game prior to starting this gig, and what kind of research did you have to do in order to get yourselves up to speed?
KYLE STARKS: So, a year ago I did a signing at GenCon celebrating my start on Rick and Morty and one of the Oni editors (Charlie Chu) suggested this idea about maybe doing a comic based on a board game. I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t sold. However, at the end of that night I ended up playing Dead of Winter: The Long Night and sort of instantly fell in love with not only Dead of Winter but board games in general.
I don’t know if you remember when your board game switch went off but for me it was an obsession. I’m not going to say I’ve played a bunch of board games but the ones I fell hardest for I’ve played a lot – and I fell HARD for Dead of Winter. I’ve played it a ton. And this was, honestly, before we even knew for sure a potential comic was a real thing. I play with my brother-in-law and niece about every other weekend, the summer after GenCon we played constantly. I, sincerely, love this game.
GABO: I don’t have much time to play any sort of games, but man Dead of Winter just sucks you in and doesn’t let go! I played it a few times with my roommates and during the course of drawing the first issue, I had to look at the game art a lot to keep in touch with the look and feel of the game. Luckily the game art is beautifully done, so I didn’t need to do much research or nag Plaid Hat to send me any extra stuff to get the job done!
CHARLIE CHU: Yeah, to piggy-back on what Kyle said, this is a huge love affair for us with the game. I had been a fan of the game since it launched – I LOVED the Crossroads mechanic and just generally fell in love with their broadly diverse and flavorful characters in this sandbox, especially Sparky. And generally, every playthrough involving Sparky involves Sparky going full Rambo with a full suite of weapons and gear. After seeing Kyle’s post-GenCon romance with the game, we started half-jokingly talking about a comic, which then became half-seriously talking about it with Plaid Hat Games, and then before you know it, here we are with this amazing comic by Kyle and Gabo.
BCP: How authentic is the comic to the game? It is a “loosely based on” type deal, or will we be seeing specific characters and references?
KYLE: You will one hundred percent see specific character and references. I tried to make this comic as much a representation of the game as possible without without being a turn off to those who don’t know the game. And I don’t think those two things are exclusive – I think I told a fun comic story set in the world of Dead of Winter that fans of the game are going to get really stoked on – especially all the little Easter eggs – that will also be a ton of fun for people who are just really interested about a dog fighting the hell out of zombies.
GABO: If you’re a fan, and you’re reading this comic– you will love the Easter eggs. Keep your eyes peeled! Kyle has made sure we get plenty of them in the book for the fans, but also we keep the book fun for anybody new to the series! I’m excited to talk to people who read the book first and then go play the game, it’ll be neat to see how they react to things they’ve seen in the book that appears in the game.
CHARLIE: If you’ve never played the games, you’ll enjoy a rad zombie book starring a rad dog. If you have played Dead of Winter, this is a love letter to you based on the way actual games with the characters tend to play out – which is to say, in the most ridiculous and flavorful way possible.
BCP: How involved were the people at Plaid Hat Games in the creation of the series?
KYLE: Editor Charlie Chu question did 100% of the interaction with Plaid Hat so I’m not sure how well either of us could answer this question. I know on my end I pitched the story I wanted to do and they asked for me to swap a couple of characters but otherwise just seemed really enthusiastic about the work we’ve been doing.
CHARLIE: Plaid Hat were incredibly supportive, especially when we wanted to center our storyline around Sparky. They really get what they have on their hands with the game, and what players really love about this sandbox, and they really let us do our thing in trying to be faithful to the spirit of the characters. The biggest note we got from them was to make sure our story was as intentionally diverse in our cast as the game is, which is one of the things I love most about the game as well.
BCP: Was there anything either of you wanted to do in the series that was ruled out?
GABO: I typically work in very saturated and vibrant colors, but this project had to be pretty drab and dark- which makes sense given the situation these people are in. I did at first want to add some crazy color choices into the book, but as I started playing the game, I began to understand the what was needed- so a desaturated palette was enforced – and I’m super happy about it. It’s given me a new understanding of color theory and rendering.
KYLE: I, personally, got very few notes from Plaid Hat – I think they were really excited over the work we did in their sandbox. And I think that reason is that it’s fun and true to the spirit of their beautiful, perfect creation.
BCP: Sparky the overpowered Stunt Dog is pretty much everyone’s favourite character from the board game, and he’s very much front-and-centre in the first issue. Is that going to be the trend for the series, or are we going to be focusing on some of the other characters as it progresses?
KYLE: Sparky is definitely the hero of the story, but if you’ve played Dead of Winter you know your gameplay is never about just one character.
BCP: Tell us a little bit about our rag-tag group of survivors. Besides Sparky, is there anyone our readers should be looking out for, and do you each have favourites to either write or draw?
KYLE: The primary adventure team we follow is Gabriel Diaz (the Fireman), Carla Thompson (Police Dispatcher), Sparky (Dog), Annaleigh Chan (Lawyer) and a new character we created for the game that people I think are really going to be into. And there others in the background and around if you keep a sharp eye open.
BCP: What kind of tone should readers be expecting from the series, from both narratively and visually view?
GABO: Blood. Lots of blood. Okay, maybe not so much. But I’m not pulling any punches. And also nasty boils on zombies decaying bodies. Oh and lots of snow. Basically cherry slurpees!
KYLE: It’s definitely a bit more comedy leaning than most zombie things but it’s not a yuck-yuck laugh party. I am a big fan of action-comedies and I transitioned that love to zombie genre. Which is a genre I also love – I’m a huge Romero fan. So, yeah, I think that’s the answer. What if Romero made a zombie action-comedy. Zombieland with a dog. That sounds like fun, right?
BIG COMIC PAGE: Gabo, did you have to make any tweaks to your style in order to fit in with Fernanda Suarez’s established Dead of Winter aesthetic?
GABO: I had to take a step back and simplifying Fernanda’s beautifully rendered pieces, which was a bit of a challenge – but I feel everyone will be able to recognize the characters! I’m typically used to drawing zombies that are rotting and nasty decaying, but in the world of Dead of Winter these zombies are more ridden with boils and dawn some slimy skin – so that was a fun twist! Also as mentioned before, I had to tone down my normal vibrant colors and reach some new levels of desaturated palettes for the project.
BCP: Are either of you board game fans at all? If so, do you have any recommendations?
KYLE: I love playing board games though admittedly mostly a noob and my life is lacking in spare time and opportunity. My go tos are: Dead of Winter, Betrayal At House On The Hill, Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice and Pandemic/Pandemic Legacy. I found my board game kink is co-ops and meaningless dice rollers.
CHARLIE: I GOT BOARD GAME OPINIONS. Right now I am loving the Arkham Horror LCG and I still play Netrunner a ton. Secret Hitler is a game I can’t get enough of, and while I’ve never opened my physical copy of Star Realms, I have logged hundreds of hours playing that on my phone against friends. I have also been playing the new Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Jack the Ripper cases with a friend over Skype. Other favorites include: Camel Up, Fury of Dracula, Rhino Hero, and Mystic Veil.
GABO: I spend 90% of my time drawing, and 10% sleeping, so the only games I really get to play is puzzle quest on my phone haha. If Dead of Winter is any indication as to how good board games are these days, next time I get a vacation I’m going to hit the local board game shop and go nuts. If you’re looking to support some independent games though, check out TinkerbotGames.com, Ghostel is really the only other game I’ve played that I thoroughly enjoyed, but that might be a biased opinion as my buddy Tyler Johnson (@sketchgeek) was the artist haha.
BCP: What have the pair of you done to try and help Dead of Winter stand out from the glut of other zombie-focused books on the shelves right now?
GABO: SPARKY. WE BROUGHT SPARKY TO LIFE. WITH FIGHTING SKILLS. Even cat people are gonna love this book.
KYLE: I mean, I think the most notable thing is, well, this one is headlined by a ding dang dog. And the Best Dog. The Most Precious, Perfect Dog.
BCP: And finally, what would each of you say to any readers who were on the fence about picking this one up to help convince them to give it a try?
KYLE: I mean, I can’t say it enough – it’s Rin Tin Tin versus the Zombie Apocalypse. It’s Air Bud versus Walking Dead. Who wouldn’t want to take a look at that?
GABO: Did you like Bolt? Do you like watching dogs wag their tales? Do you wish Walking Dead wasn’t so depressing? DO YOU SPEND 3 HOURS ON FACEBOOK WATCHING DUMB DOG VIDEOS? Then this book is for you.
DEAD OF WINTER #1 (of 4) hits stores and digital devices on the 2nd of August, and the retailer FOC is the 10th of July. Let your local comic shop know you want to pre-order it with the following codes – JUN171833 (retail cover) and JUN171834 (alternate cover)