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Random Encounter, Planned Interview

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After reading just a few pages of Random Encounter, comic fans will see that the book’s creator, Niccolo Balce, is a complete nut when it comes to Role Playing Games and Star Wars. But it’ll take even fewer pages to realize that the book they’re reading is a fun, action-filled romp loaded with humor and gaming references.

I was lucky enough to pry the creator from his current gaming fixation — I mean, from his hard work on issue #3 — long enough to ask him a few questions about the mini-series shipping in March. 

BROKEN FRONTIER: Viper Comics certainly is a hot commodity these days: Dead@17 was a surprise smash hit; Daisy Kutter was a success; and now Oddly Normal and Random Encounter, two successful web comics, are debuting in print in March. What’s it like to be a part of the team?

NICCOLO BALCE: It's exciting, but it kinda makes me nervous at the same time. People might expect too much from my title because of all the incredible launch titles that Viper has. But it's mostly exciting.

BF: How did you hook up with Viper?

NB: Jessie [Viper Comics publisher] somehow managed to get my email through my web site at www.the-null.com. He asked me if he could add me to an art book that Viper was planning to publish.  The art book was supposed to be a collection of illustrators from the web. I plugged my web comic to him in one of my emails and, as it turns out, he liked the web comic that I did on my site and decided to do that instead. I haven’t heard of that art book project lately.

BF: Of course, the web comic you’re talking about is Random Encounter. Can you tell us a bit about the comic’s beginnings?

NB: Random Encounter was born out of a concept that I've discussed with one of my friends. Like what would it be like if our life suddenly became much like an RPG with all the hit points and mana points and stats that we have to keep watch of. The concept disappeared from my memory for a few years and it resurfaced when I was planning to make a web comic. Initially, it was supposed to be a gag comic with humor based on video games, pretty much like Penny Arcade, Megatokyo, or PVP. But there's this story that kept creeping into the strips and so began the story for the four part mini-series for Viper.

BF: That explains some of the gaming elements in the story. Are you a complete video game and role playing addict?

NB: You could say that, but I won't declare that. [laughs] 

BF: Would you say that you had a decent amount of fan support? Was there a solid Random Encounter following?

NB: Hmmm...I've had some "fans" in deviant art who kept nagging me to release the pages more often (Random Encounter was originally one page a week). But I consider that more of a cult following. [laughs]

People gave me some positive feedback. I got an email saying that my style was “obscure in a good way.” Which, for me, is a compliment. But I’m happier when people mail me asking about some details and stuff like “What’s Migo’s relationship with Mica?” or “Is Mona a lesbian?” or “What in the hell are those things that’s attacking them?”

BF: I noticed that the web comic featured black and white art with a dash of color, yet the print version looks to be black and white only. Was that an artistic decision, or was that more of an executive decision that came down from Viper?

NB: It was an executive decision.

BF: As the creator of the work, how do you feel about that change?

NB: It wouldn't really hurt the story that much. I just kept the color of the blood as red in the web version just to emphasize blood. It's something we could do without.

BF: Did you make any other changes in the process of taking it from the web to print?

NB: I had to reformat the pages when they gave me the template for the comic book page since the pages of the web version was designed to fit into the height of a fullscreen 1024 x 768 or a 1152 x 864. This change was a bit big for me, and in the process of reformatting the pages, I ran into some stuff that needed work before it could be released into print such as some panels, or even pages, that needed to be added.

BF: Your art certainly has its roots in manga, a style that generally doesn't suit my taste. But I found myself really enjoying your artistic style. For lack of a better word, there's something saexy about your art. How would you label your style?

NB: Hmmm...I might be able to safely call it a "hybrid" or "fusion" style, which means I'm really clueless as to what to label my style. [laughs] It’s like I mash everything I come across that seems to fit. Like Legos.

I’ve taken stuff from “The Adventures of Tintin”, J. Scott Campbell, Yoshitoshi Abe, and Furi Kuri for this book. I try to keep it within these bounds so I wouldn’t be too inconsistent.

BF: Since you're both the writer and artist on this book, do you write an actual script? What process do you go through to create each chapter?

NB: I usually don't write the script. I've written some for some of the pages, but usually I just draw them and then figure out what they're going to say. As for the process, I write a plot and sketch the thumbnails. Then I sketch five of the actual pages at a time, scan them, then ink them on the PC. After everything's done, I end up taking out or adding pages or doing some kinda minor edits to the final thing.

BF: Do you ever kick yourself for making a mistake on one of the earlier pages when you decide to go another direction once you get it all inked?

NB: Yeah. Lots of times. But since it's all done with the PC, it's quite easy to re-layout pages I've done before. But I hate doing that nonetheless. It’s like backtracking. I hate backtracking, like in video games. Everybody hates backtracking in video games. But then it’s sometimes necessary to go back just in case I’ve missed something important.  

BF: Let’s take some time and talk a bit more about the specifics of the story. Can you give us more information about Random Encounter that wasn’t mentioned in the solicits?

NB: The story is about some kids who randomly encounter some monsters, like in some early RPGs. It all starts when this girl mysteriously falls out of nowhere, dies, and gets resurrected on the rooftop of Kwik Mart, the convenience store of one of the main characters named Migo which happens to be the place where his close friends Mica, Mona, and Drew hang out. As it turns out, they all get involved in the legend of the “Nede Tree.” Where, according to one of the characters, anyone who gets these leaves and eats them gets healed or possibly even resurrected. The catch is that they randomly get chased by monsters whenever they get hold of these “Nede Leaves.”         

It was supposed to be an action/comedy/thriller, but I decided to drop the thriller part since the comedy kinda kills the thriller parts.

BF: From reading the first issue, I can tell that Random Encounter has a healthy dose of action, some great humor, and a dash of mystery. Were you trying to get these elements into the story, or was that more of a happy accident?

NB: Those are the elements I'm aiming for. I’m glad that those elements came out. But I’m emphasizing the action elements because I wanna see wanton destruction in this title. Monsters and destruction go hand in hand like a controller and a game console, so there’s gotta be some injuries and wrecked property. [evil grin]

And of course, the character development also plays a major role in here. I wanna see how these different personalities handle a monster attack. So far, I’ve got a video game/Star Wars addict (Migo), a greedy manipulative smart-ass (Mona), a naïve freshman (Mica), a happy-go-lucky clerk (Gummy), and a fighter who has amnesia (the unnamed girl).     

BF: What is the primary audience for your story?

NB: My primary audience is the video game players. Maybe around college. I’m aiming for them because I plan to plug more retro video game references in the future and they’d be the ones who’d spot them. That, and I might gear towards more violence and destruction in the future.

Come to think of it, lots of retro games were violent. Mario was kinda destructive. He wrecked the bricks and stuff. Pac-Man suffered a violent death with his jaw stretched out to the back of his head till he disintegrates. Adventure Island allowed you to kill snails with primitive stone axes…sorry, I’m rambling. Carry on. 

BF: And what can fans expect from the Random Encounter mini-series?

NB: There'll be destruction, sprinkled with video game references here and there such as power ups and special equipment, a dose of mystery, and maybe a catfight.

BF: Oooh, catfight.

NB: [laughing] Sorry. I can’t really promise that. But yeah, that’d be on my list of things to add.   

- James W. Powell

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