am a comic geek.
It probably doesn't come as any big surprise that I love that portion of my job that allows me to work on the D&D comics. I've had a ball with all the comics that we have created with our partners through the years, but today I want to introduce you to a very special comic series that we are creating with our comic partner IDW, Cutter. Well, special to me. Hopefully you'll find it special as well. To help me out with this discussion, I have enlisted the aid of John Barber, Senior Editor at IDW; R.A. and Geno Salvatore, the authors; David Baldeon, our concept artist and pencil artist; and David Garcia Cruz, the color artist for this series. It's a staggeringly creative and talented team, and I am honored to have the opportunity to create this series with them.
The ball got rolling on this project with a discussion about a new series, one that would have R.A. and his son Geno Salvatore taking on the writing duties. That was pretty exciting in itself, but when I was told that we were going to be bringing back a few characters that R.A. had left with some unfinished business, I got even more excited. At that point, we rolled up our sleeves and dug in. The creative fray had begun . . .
After I had a story outline and a cast of characters, I enlisted David Baldeon to work up some character designs. I hadn't had the opportunity to work with David prior to this project, but he came highly recommended and proved that he could exceed my expectations in nearly every way. We spent a few weeks working through the details of the characters and the environment of the story. As the visual story came into focus, I started to get the sense of what we were creating . . . something wonderful!
Let me bring the other voices into this conversation. I hope you enjoy getting a bit of the sense of what is involved to take a story from script to final colors for a Dungeons & Dragons comic.
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Since it all starts with the story, let's hear from R.A.(Bob) and Geno first.
Bob, you are known for your tales of Drizzt Do'Urden, so it doesn't really surprise me that you would choose another story line with a compelling drow theme. Was there something specific you wanted to address with this story arc?
Bob: I wanted Tos'un brought back into play, because he's going to be a big part going ahead with the novels, and I knew that I wanted him to start some trouble. When Geno and I went back and looked at where I'd left him, with his half-drow kids and such, the story evolved from there. The big thing I needed to do was leave the situation in a good jump-in point for the future books and the big upcoming trouble in the region.
Geno: The last we hear of Tos'un in the novels is the epilogue of The Orc King, if I remember correctly, following a very large time jump (a century, I think), where Tos'un is referred to simply as husband to Sinnafain, father to Teirflin and Doum'wielle. There's no more context. I wanted to find out who Doum'wielle and Teirflin are.
The comic, Cutter, is named for the sword that is central to the story. While David and I had some fun working up the visual development of the sword, it has to be tough writing for an inanimate object. Are there any specific challenges that you found when writing from the point of view of a sword?
Bob: I've been going through that for years in the novels, as I've got a couple of sentient weapons that keep popping up (and keep causing trouble). There was one scene in an older book where Cutter got its wielder, Catti-brie, to try to seduce Drizzt, something she really wasn't capable of doing at that time on her own. That scene was a blast to write, honestly, because Catti-brie was fumbling around all over the place. The way I see a sword like this is akin to the little devil that appears on the shoulder and prods the character in the movie to do something nasty. I'm thinking of that great scene in Animal House here.
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Geno: The sword is very interesting as a character. It is a sword, a tool—it has purpose, sure, but it can only execute its purpose through the actions of a wielder. It can only communicate with that wielder, and through that wielder. And there are additional challenges to the sentient sword as character in comics, since everything has to be visual. In a novel, it's easy to inform the reader that the sword isn't literally speaking words but rather is pushing emotions upon its wielder; in the comics, we had to find ways of showing that on the page, of showing that Khazid'hea was communicating, and with whom. In the end, I'm very happy with the results.
When I hear the name Salvatore, I think of great novels rather than comics, but the comic reads like a great action-based story. The comic has some of my favorite fight scenes ever. How difficult was it to transition from novels to comics?
Bob: This is where Geno came into play, in a big way. His natural medium in which to work, I think, is movies. That's his love and what he's studied extensively. He helped me to bridge that gap and think in terms of storyboarding instead of just prose writing. It really wasn't that large a transition for me, to be honest, because I was trained in technical writing and marketing in college, and this is what we often did, and also because even as a novelist, I'm a very visual storyteller. So many people tell me that when they read my books, it's like there's a movie playing in their head, and that's what I've always aimed for.
Geno: Writing comics is always a bit nerve-racking, honestly, because it mostly consists of describing a scene and hoping the artist will understand what we were thinking and hoping he will be thinking in the same direction. And, of course, knowing that the artist will be adding his own pieces to the puzzle. In this series, I think David got it completely right.
You've been in the loop with the art development. How did it feel to see your characters really come to life? Is it different than just seeing a character on the cover of your novel?
Bob: Mostly, I've just been watching the work roll through with my mouth hanging open. I can't draw a stick man, so watching these artists sketch out the scenes is simply amazing to me.
Geno: I think amazing is the right word. There were more than a few scenes that gave me chills.
Has there been a favorite character or bit of visual development that really got you excited?
Bob: With this one, the page where Doum-wielle and Teirflin are outside getting ready for a fight. I looked at it and I was there, right beside them. Amazing.
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Geno: There is a scene toward the end of the first issue where . . . well, I don't want to give away what happens, but there's quite a lot of action in the foreground, and in the background, there's Tos'un Armgo standing, looking on . . . the look on his face is just perfect. It's tough to explain without giving away more detail than I want to.
The pacing of the story is great, and the characters are quite memorable. Are there any secrets to creating such great story lines and characters so that we are completely invested in just a few panels?
Bob: A long time ago, I figured out that the reader brings as much to the experience as does the writer. That's not a subtle epiphany, I can tell you! My job is to get someone interested just enough so that he or she begins furiously filling in the blanks, participating in the adventure. With the comics, it's the same thing, except of course, the artist also has to play that same game, drawing the reader in.
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Geno: My father is the master of pacing, so I'll defer to him on that. As for the characters, I think the secret is to make them characters, not caricatures. Even a character with a minor role needs to have motivation and direction. So it is in this story—each of the characters, including Cutter itself, has its own goals and its own plans. Where the story comes from, where the drama arises, is where those goals and plans collide. And, when dealing with malevolent sentient swords and exiled dark elves, those collisions can be very, very dramatic.
So that's the story side of things. Watch for the next part of this interview, where Jon talks to John Barber, the Senior Editor at IDW.
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.