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Levelling Up The Darkness

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Right from the start, 2007 is already poised to be the year of The Darkness at Top Cow. Jackie Estacado celebrates his tenth anniversary with a collection featuring some of his best stories to date, a video game, and by playing a key factor in the California-based publisher’s upcoming First Born crossover event. Out of these three, the video game is likely to draw in the most new faces to the concept of The Darkness—after all, there are more sore thumbs on this planet from holding a control pad than there are painful wrists from turning comic pages.

In anticipation of the upcoming video game produced by Starbreeze Studios, Top Cow has started with a new string of one-shot ‘Darkness Level’ releases, each focusing on one level of the game and drawn by a different artist.

With Darkness Level 0 and Darkness Level 1 out, BF turned to David Wohl, the main writing force behind these one-shots alongside Paul Jenkins…

BROKEN FRONTIER: The Darkness video game has been touted as one of the better comics-based games to be released in recent memory. Have you played it yourself before starting work on the adaptations?

DAVID WOHL: I’ve gotten to play it a bit. I’ve also seen a lot of the demos, and it all just impresses me more and more! Seeing how everyone looks, from Jackie, to the Darklings, to the Darkness itself, combined with Paul’s great story, has been very inspirational.

BF: How does the creative process between Paul Jenkins and yourself work? As the game’s writer, is Paul looking over your shoulder to make sure the ‘Level’ books stick as closely as possible to the game’s script or does his involvement in the series go beyond that?

DAVID WOHL: HA!!! Yes he swats me on the knuckles with his ruler whenever I diverge from the game script! Uh, just kidding. Sort of. Actually, the first thing he said to me was that he felt the comic SHOULDN’T mimic the game. It should definitely be its own entity that could supplement the game and tell stories that don’t appear in the game. He then immediately talked about what he thought would be cool to focus on. And it began there.

He’s been great to work with, helping to mold the story into something that follows the continuity of the game and the comic simultaneously.

BF: From a writing perspective, how do you adapt a video game to a comic story? How do you convey the game’s feel and flair onto the printed page?

DW: I don’t think it’s difficult, really, because these days, games are such a cinematic experience, and comics are, too. So it pretty much lends itself to the format. All we’re doing, really, is incorporating the environments and characters of the game into the comic and creating a new experience for the reader to (hopefully) enjoy.

BF: You’ve not only written Jackie Estacado before, you’re also his co-creator. What makes Jackie stick as a character? His ‘bad boy with a good side’ attitude?

DW: Well, one of the many lessons that I learned from Marc [Silvestri] during my tenure at Top Cow is that when you create a new character who will star in his or her own book, you need to ask yourself if the reader would want to BE this character. If not, then you need to go back and do some more work on him (or her).

In Jackie’s case, sure he has some BIG problems, but he’s damned cool as well. I know I’ve asked myself if I had the chance would I switch places with Jackie, and even with everyone hunting him and all the ways that his life seems like a curse, I’d still do it in a SECOND!!! And that’s what I think the allure is of Jackie.

Yeah he’s a bad boy with a good side, but beyond that, the world that he’s in is exciting and cool, and I think lots of readers would want to be part of that world if they had the chance!

Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge

BF: You already mentioned how cool the Darklings look in the game. Their rendition is also one of the things that jumps out to people who’ve seen the trailers of the game. How important are they to the concept of The Darkness on the one hand and Jackie as a character on the other?

DW: Honestly, I think they’re extremely integral to both the concept of The Darkness and to Jackie. For Jackie, they’re often the only friends he has, in a world with so many enemies. And even though he has a few people he socializes with, there’s really nobody he can confide in who would understand his predicament. Enter the Darklings. They’re his comic relief, confidantes, confessors and bodyguards all rolled into one. As long as it’s dark outside, anyway!

And by the same token, I think for all those reasons they’re important to the concept of The Darkness as well. The book is pretty dark (so to speak), and the darklings bring levity to the situation, even as they’re committing mayhem!

BF: What was the atmosphere like at Top Cow when creating The Darkness? Can you revisit the days when the concept germinated and began to take shape?

DW: It was a great place to be—flowing with creativity. With all the incredibly talented artists under one roof, it was quite the experience. We’d go to lunches and dinners for hours on end and just bounce ideas off of each other, seeing what stuck. But when it came to The Darkness, we may have generated the basic idea internally, but it was Garth [Ennis] who breathed life into it and took it in new directions we never anticipated.

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeBF: The Level books retell Jackie Estacado’s origin. Has it been tweaked since it was first told, or will it be a retelling of how he got his powers way back in 1996’s The Darkness #1?

DW: This is not a retelling of his origin in Darkness #1. It’s definitely been tweaked. A lot! I mean the basics are the same: it occurs when he hits his 21st birthday, comes as a complete surprise and immediately begins messing with his life, but the circumstances around the transformation are completely different, yet equally interesting.

BF: Not to take anything away from anybody, but with Stjepan Sejic having done such a great job on Level One, is there a specific reason for why Top Cow didn’t let him handle all of the one-shots, instead electing to put a different artist on each?

DW: Well I think Top Cow wanted to make sure that each level of the comic was seen as its own separate story, somewhat connected but fairly independent from each other. And the best way to do that was to have a different artist doing each issue. Stjepan is a phenomenal artist and yeah it’s cool to see his work, but it’s been a blast working with all the different artists. They’ve each brought their own sensibilities to each level, and we’ve tried to cater each issue to their particular strengths.

BF: While I’m sure readers will get a bigger picture when they read all of the one-shots based on the video game, can each installment be enjoyed fully on its own as well?

DW: Definitely. We’ve endeavoured to make each issue stand on its own and understandable to fans of the comic and videogame alike. But I hope people like them enough to pick them all up!

BF: These Level books couldn’t have come at a better time, as The Darkness is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. With Top Cow having planned other Darkness material, are you looking to be involved in any of that?

DW: I hope so. I love the character and have thoroughly enjoyed all the Darkness books that I’ve worked on, so it would be great to continue. But right now I need to finish Level 5 before I think about the future, or my editor, Rob Levin, will kill me!

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