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Dead Space Debuts

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Last week Dead Space #1, a comic book prequel to the upcoming video game from Electronic Arts, debuted from Image Comics. This sci-fi/horror series set in a deep space mining colony comes via the creative team of writer Antony Johnston and artist Ben Templesmith. Broken Frontier caught up with Antony to chat about mysterious artefacts, video game tie-ins and the best way to crack a planet...

BROKEN FRONTIER: How did you become involved with Dead Space?

ANTONY JOHNSTON: I was recommended by Warren Ellis, who was involved in the early conceptual stages of the game. EA contacted me, looked at some of my work, and then we had several conversations about what sort of book they were looking for, the creative direction and all that. Luckily, what I had in mind was pretty much what they wanted, too. It was all pretty quick and surprisingly smooth.

BF: For those who have yet to pick up #1 what can you tell us about the premise of the series, the characters and events so far?

AJ: Dead Space is the story of a deep space mining colony that prepares dead worlds for "planetcracking" - literally ripping them apart to harvest their natural resources. It's a huge operation, requiring thousands of people, and giant planetcracker-class ships that come in and process all the ore and rock.

Our story starts shortly before planetcrack is about to take place, when the miners are running surveys on the planet, and one team finds a strange artefact that is most definitely not man-made... but is a near-replica of another artefact allegedly discovered on earth a couple hundred years previously. I say "allegedly" because there's no public evidence of this artefact, and a religion that sprung up around it claims the government have it hidden away on Earth somewhere.

So the discovery becomes a flashpoint for gossip, rumour and speculation that drives the colony into chaos. And it all leads up to the moment when they finally "pop the cork" on the planet, and unleash something pretty horrific...

Dead Space is sci-fi horror, but it's a nice mix of psycho-horror and gore. There's plenty to squick you out, of course, but underneath it all is a very human, psychological thriller.

Issue #1, which came out last week, deals with the discovery of the artefact and its immediate aftermath. We meet all our major players - Neumann and Cortez, the harassed security officers; Dr Sciarello, the CMO who can't figure out why colonists are suddenly having psychological problems; Natalia, an engineer who gets a little too close to the artefact for comfort; and Carthusia, the company executive who has his own agenda.

We follow the story through each characters' eyes, giving us different (but interlinked) perspectives on how the discovery affects the colony.

BF: As the prequel to a video game what were the particular challenges of adapting Dead Space to comics (as opposed to adapting other media to the graphic format)?

AJ: Well, one difference between this and most of my other adaptation work is that this isn't actually an adaptation. The backstory to the game is already in place, written by the EA team, and of course the game story is also written. So my job was to find a story in the events that lead up to the game, using the established backstory. It's a fine line to walk between intriguing people, delivering a good story, but not giving so much away that I might spoil the game. But I've been given a lot of freedom, and it's worked out pretty well.

BF: How much visual reference to the game did you have to work with? Are you a big gamer yourself?

AJ: Ben and I have both been given piles of concept art and video renders, so we knew early on what the look and feel of the game would be like. That really helped, though obviously more so for Ben than me.

I'm not as big a gamer as I'd like, sadly, because of the elusive and ever-decreasing concept of "spare time" in my life. But I do love a good game. Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Myst, Alone in the Dark... you can see a pattern forming, can't you? (We won't talk about my addiction to SSX...)

BF: To what degree do the comic and the characters segue into the game itself?

AJ: That depends what you mean. The comic pretty much ends where the game begins, at least in terms of the timeframe. But the main character in the game is an entirely new character, not someone seen in the comic. In fact, about 80-90% of the comic story is independent of the game, which is quite unusual for this sort of "franchise extension" in comics. The game and comic complement each other. You don't have to read the comic to enjoy the game, and you don't have to play the game to enjoy the comic.

BF: Ben Templesmith’s art perfectly complements the eerie, claustrophobic atmosphere of your script. How did Ben become involved and what can you say about his contribution?

AJ: When I was discussing artists with EA it became clear to me that they were looking for someone of Ben's style. So I just said, well, why don't we go straight to the source and ask Ben? I talked it up to him a bit on the side, and they pretty much offered him the gig on the spot.

As for his contribution, of course it's enormous. Ben's one of the biggest names in horror comics right now, so he brings a certain amount of credibility (and publicity) to the book which it might not otherwise have. Plus, you know, he's a damn good artist. Which always helps!

BF: The first part of the miniseries was a gripping piece of psychological horror with a sci-fi slant – I was reminded very much of a superior Doctor Who "base under siege" story. Is there anything you can tease us for in coming issues? Will the tension be ramped up even further?

AJ: Oh, definitely. I don't want to give anything away, but suffice to say that there's a lot more tension, violence and betrayal to come, and a few surprises for everyone. Plus a healthy dose of blood and guts, of course. Anyone who reads Wasteland will already know that this is what I do - set it all up, then knock it all down in a way that, hopefully, you don't see coming.

BF: Some readers may overlook this series simply because it ties into a game they feel they have little interest in (which would be a real shame as the first issue indicates this is a very accessible story in its own right). Does this affect your approach to storytelling for a book like this and what would you say to those potential readers about what they’re missing out on in Dead Space?

AJ: It affects it in a certain way. I mean, some people will just never be convinced to read the book because of the video game link, and it's not like we can pretend that link isn't there. But what we've worked hard to do, and what's always been our priority from the start, is to produce a damn good comic that stands on its own merits. This isn't some watered-down cash-in full of compromises. This is a comic book first and foremost, because that's what Ben and I do. We're not some fly-by-nights who've never made a comic before, you know? So that's what those people are missing - a damn good book.

BF: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to tell us about?

AJ: Well, Wasteland of course continues apace, and we're just about to start the third major story arc, which is a bit of a doozy. I can't wait to see people's reaction to that. I've also started writing the "controversial" Wolverine manga that was announced a few months ago, and that's a lot of fun. For the future, I'm about to start on another Alex Rider graphic novel, and when I actually get some free time I'm going to finish my next prose book, a YA fantasy called Blackguard. But those are both a way off for now.

For more on Antony's work check out his website  here. Dead Space #1 is available now from Image Comics priced $2.99. For more on the upcoming game from EA check out the official site here.

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