The "Command & Conquer" ("C&C") series of games has been one of the cornerstones of the real-time strategy genre over the last fifteen years. The main storyline of the series involves an extraterrestrial crystalline substance named Tiberium, which arrived on earth through a meteor crash. Tiberium is rich in many different minerals, but has a toxic effect on plants, animals and humans. When Tiberium started to multiply and spread across the planet, a conflict arose over what to do about it. Two factions grew out of the conflict: The Global Defense Initiative - a militarized arm of the United Nations, and the Brotherhood of Nod - an ancient cult-like organization led by a mysterious man named "Kane," who is worshiped like a god by his followers. The "Command & Conquer" games involve a series of conflicts between the warring factions, and the storylines are delivered through live-action cutscenes featuring an impressive roster of well-known actors including Joe Kucan (Kane), Tricia Helfer, Josh Holloway and Michael Ironside.
The latest chapter of the Tiberium saga hits stores this month, as "Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight" will be released for the PC on March 16th. The "Command & Conquer" universe is also expanding into another medium, as EA and Ape Entertainment have partnered to create a "C&C" motion comic set before the events of the new game. The first episode of the comic arrived this past weekend and can be watched at the end of this interview. CBR spoke to writer Jackson Lanzing about the project.
CBR News: Jackson, what is your current role with the "Command & Conquer" franchise, and how did you end up on the motion comic project?
Jackson Lanzing: I started at Electronic Arts Los Angeles (EALA) in late 2008 as a video editor, which was basically my day job while I pursued writing on the side. I worked on "Red Alert 3," "Uprising" and "Command & Conquer 4." About a year later, I was running the daily operations of Battlecast Primetime, a C&C-centric monthly webcast produced with the development team, while writing two comic books, "Freakshow" and "The Penguins of Madagascar" (alongside co-writer David Server) for Ape Entertainment.
Since I had experience in both comics and the "C&C" franchise, I was approached by EALA’s Chase Boyajian. Chase had come up with this crazy idea for a web-based motion comic prequel to the game. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to write this innovative project. Since then, I’ve moved on from EALA to a full-time gig as a comics writer - so I guess my current role in the franchise is "fanboy."
What made Ape Entertainment the right partner for this project?
I had a pre-existing relationship with Ape, and have been nothing short of incredible in that regard. When Chase came to me with the motion comic concept, I immediately suggested we bring David Hedgecock and Brent Erwin (the publishers behind Ape) onto the project. We knew we wanted four different artists (one for each episode) and Ape provided an amazing line-up of talent, including Martin Coccollo, Joe Suitor ("Spider-Man/Man-Thing", "GI:JOE Special: Helix"), Micah Farritor ("White Picket Fences"), and Tony Vargas ("Bad Kids Go To Hell"). It’s been a total dream as a writer to work with such extraordinary talent on such a new and exciting project.
The "Command & Conquer" series is well known for its cutscenes and the high profile actors that have been used to tell stories within the games. What makes motion comics a good fit for the franchise?
Frankly, our audience is already used to a certain level of cinematic storytelling. "Command & Conquer" fans have been seeing actors play out the drama of a complex story since the very first "C&C" game in 1995 - they don’t just want a cinematic experience, they expect it. And with a canvas as big as the Tiberium universe, with long gaps of time between the games, there’s endless potential for telling great stories that go far beyond the exploits of the franchise’s titular "Commander." Plus, motion comics have been evolving at such a fast rate; the medium is now closer to full-blown animation than it is to a hard-copy comic. Cinematic feel alongside innovative storytelling? Sounds like "Command & Conquer" to me.
What are the defining characteristics of the "Command & Conquer" franchise that you wanted to carry over to the comic?
"C&C" is an interesting franchise, because it actually encapsulates two very different series with wildly separate tones. The "Red Alert" franchise is full of over-the-top, goofy performances and insane, borderline ridiculous units and scenarios. They’ve got Tim Curry doing a Russian accent while war bears parachute from "man-cannons". It’s bottled insanity in a gaming package.
On the other hand, you’ve got the Tiberium universe, which is the original "C&C" storyline and the setting of the motion comic. This world has a much darker, more serious tone. It deals with the harshness of endless war, of global annihilation and of catastrophic environmental change. There are no good guys or bad guys, and there never seems to be any real victory. There’s a sophistication to the metaphors behind GDI, Nod, and Tiberium that I was dead-set on carrying into the motion comic - I didn’t want this to be just another story of heroics during wartime. It had to embrace the complicated nature of the Tiberium universe.
Also, Kane. I was desperately excited to write Kane.
Aside from Kane, will the series be focusing on an established character from the "C&C" games, or introducing new ones?
Episode 1 introduces a new character named Christian Pierce, who we’ll follow through the rest of the motion comic. But fear not! Along the way, Christian will encounter many faces from "C&C:4," including everyone’s favorite goateed messiah.
Can you give us the basic premise of the series?
Our story takes place in 2068, as the Global Defense Initiative allies itself with its longtime enemy, the enigmatic terrorist messiah Kane, to stop the threat of Tiberium once and for all. As the alien crystal continues its unstoppable rampage across the Earth, a young farmer named Christian Pierce leaves his family behind and travels to the nearest Blue Zone (areas unaffected by Tiberium) to look for work. What he finds is a destiny at the center of a brewing conflict between the leaders of GDI, crazed Nod separatists, and Kane himself.
In writing a game-related comic, how do you balance telling a cohesive story with trying to get people interested in playing the games?
Hopefully, one serves the other. By that I mean that, if I’ve done my job, and the story of the motion comic gets old fans and new viewers excited about the gritty, dark science-fiction world of "Command & Conquer," then they will seek out the games. The challenge was telling a cohesive story while simultaneously feeding into the established fiction of "C&C4." I was dead-set against doing an open-ended story - I wanted the audience to experience Christian’s entire story from beginning to end - but obviously the tale has some ties to the premise of "C&C4." We’ve dropped a few hints about Kane’s enigmatic end-game throughout the motion comic, and our viewers can watch those hints come to full fruition in the game.
How will the comic be accessible to people who are totally unfamiliar with the "C&C" universe?
The same way the new "Star Trek" is accessible to people who’ve don’t know a Klingon from a dilithium crystal - by keeping the journey oriented in character, not setting. We’ll be defining the terms of the mythology and explaining the necessary backstory as we go along, but you don’t need to know what an Ion Cannon is to enjoy Christian’s journey. That said, longtime fans will be more comfortable with the world at first, which is expected and will pay off throughout the series as we get a chance to explore the world of "C&C4."
Have you approached writing a motion comic differently than a traditional comic?
Definitely. It’s a different medium, much more akin to screenwriting. You don’t have the spatial limits imposed by the comic book format; you don’t have to worry about panel count or how many word bubbles you can fit in a panel. You’re also writing for voice actors, which provides a different sensibility to the dialogue. You can cut back to other panels from earlier issues, reuse panels in dialogue scenes, and even put two motions in the same panel - things that are inherently forbidden when writing for the page.
With the editing and producing work you've done on the "Battlecast Primetime" webseries, have you been involved with the production side of the motion comic as well?
Lightly. My main involvement was breaking the story, setting up the relationship between Ape and EA, and producing the show through the casting stages. I’m the comic book guy on the project, so I helped smooth over concepts from the producers to the artists. But the actual post-production magic, the "motion" in the Motion Comic, is all being handled by Chase Boyajian and our director, Drew Stauffer. It couldn’t be in better hands.
Before we go, you mentioned another comic project you’re working on, which we saw teased on Free Comic Book Day 2009. What can you tell us about "Freakshow?"
What can’t I tell you about "Freakshow!?"Co-written by myself and David Server, with art by the insanely talented Joe Suitor, "Freakshow" is a 3-issue post-apocalyptic superhero mini-series coming from Ape later this year. Think "X-Men" meets "I Am Legend." It’s a creator-owned property that’s been a labor of love since Dave and I were in college, and we’re excited beyond words to be able to share it with the world later this year. For more info, check out freakshowcomic.blogspot.com. So far we’re mostly teasing, but expect many more updates in the near future as we ramp up for release.
"Command & Conquer 4" is slated for release on March 16, 2010. To learn more about the game and the motion comic, head over to commandandconquer.com.