Andy Lanning And Anthony Williams Are Bringing Slave Zero X From Video Games To Comics

Slave Zero X comic book interview

Way back in 1999, a game came out called Slave Zero. Set 500 years in the future, it was a mix of cyberpunk tropes and 2D shooting mechanics that didn’t quite connect with reviewers or fans. But over time, it’s gained a cult following — so enter a prequel game hitting platforms this week titled Slave Zero X. And not only is the world of Slave Zero expanding with the new game, it’s getting a comic book tie-in series released with the deluxe edition, written by Andy Lanning and Anthony Williams.

Both co-founders of Ideas&Inks, a creative collective that has tackled everything from mainstream comic books like Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy, to McDonald’s commercials and more, Lanning and Williams are old hands at creating worlds based on previously existing story beats. And as they told Comic Book Club over email, this made their jobs pretty easy.

“There was a wealth of material that had been developed for the game that fleshed out a vast timeline that led from the origins of the game’s villain, the Sovereign Khan, right up to the start of the original game which connected the in-world continuity,” Williams said. “We decided to tell three separate stories that focus on characters and locations from the game that add context and setting to when you meet them in the game.”

To find out more about the comic, the inspiration, and whether you should play the game read the comic book first… Read on.

Comic Book Club: What initially drew you to this project?

Anthony Williams, Co-founder Ideas&Inks, artist/art director: Post-pandemic, Andy and I set up a studio called Ideas&Inks, based on our idea when we shared a workspace in London in the 90s. We want to help brands and IPs develop their creative properties and believe that the quickest (and most economical) way to do this is by using comic book storytelling techniques and applying them across multiple formats, from printing and publishing to new and emerging technologies like motion comics and XR.

Andy Lanning, Co-founder, Ideas&Inks, writer/creative director: When we were introduced to Ziggurat, we immediately jumped at the opportunity to help them create a comic story based on the game narrative they were developing, as this was the sort of project we created I&I to do. We love the chance to expand and develop “storyworlds”; it’s what we’ve been doing our whole careers, whether that’s with Marvel or DC characters or working with brands like McDonald’s or the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Neither of you are strangers to working in pre-existing worlds, but versus, say, Marvel or DC, what were the challenges involved in fleshing out the world of Slave Zero X?

Lanning: To be honest, it was not much of a challenge at all, but don’t tell the folks at Ziggurat that! Francine Bridge, the Art Director, and the game dev team had produced so much of the story; the task was really deciding what part of the huge, detailed backstory, character history, and worldbuilding we would focus on.

Williams: That’s right; there was a wealth of material that had been developed for the game that fleshed out a vast timeline that led from the origins of the game’s villain, the Sovereign Khan, right up to the start of the original game which connected the in-world continuity. We decided to tell three separate stories that focus on characters and locations from the game that add context and setting to when you meet them in the game.

Lanning: Each story acts as a sort of prologue to the main game story when you start the game.

Slave Zero X comic book Atavaka sample page
Slave Zero X comic book, Atavaka sample page

Have you played the game? How good are you? You can be honest, no one else will know.

Williams: I will confess, I haven’t, as I am more handy with a digital pen than a game controller, though I do have a huge appreciation for the storytelling, art, and design that goes into producing a video game like Slave Zero X and we watched a huge amount of footage of the game when developing the stories.

Lanning: I played the demo levels and did my best – it means business! The demo started with intensity and didn’t let up from beginning to end. Unfortunately, my skills as a gamer are more at an end than a beginning… I love the ’90s cyberpunk/synth-wave feel the designers gave the game and was a great fan of side-scrolling fighting games back in the day.

You’ve got two main characters you’re working with, Atavaka and Ayesha, what can you tell me about them? What makes them unique?

Williams: There are actually three characters told across three stand-alone stories: Atavaka, Ayesha, and Dr. Teruya. This gave us the chance to focus on different aspects of the game, featuring more characters and locations, and also gave us the opportunity to work with three artists to help reflect the unique aesthetics of the Zones in which the stories take place.

Lanning: Yes, we were lucky to get three awesome artists on the project: Clark Bint on Atavaka, Andy MacDonald on Dr. Teruya, and Anna Readman on Ayesha’s story. Our brilliant art teams were rounded out by colorists Steve Canon (Atavaka and Ayesha) and Marco Lesko (Dr Teruya), with lettering by Rob Jones.

Williams: Atavaka’s story takes place in Zone 3: the Hell of Many Colors, which is also known as the Recreational District. Clark’s art really suited the elaborate, garish, cyber-Baroque feel of the Zone, which is filled with an eclectic mix of casinos, nightclubs, and temples devoted to the worship of the mighty SovKhan. Atavaka is one of SovKhan’s ‘Five Calamities’: the ruler’s innermost Generals and protectors of the various Zones in the sprawling Megacity. Atavaka has no designated Zone; he wanders at will or when ordered to do his Master’s bidding, which often puts him at odds with his fellow Calamities. His story shows him having a run-in with Enyo, the second Calamity and protector of the Recreational District.

Slave Zero X comic book, Ayesha sample page
Slave Zero X comic book, Ayesha sample page

Lanning: Ayesha’s Tale takes place some years before the opening of the game story and goes some way to explain how they came to be a rebel hacker and their hatred for the oppressive authorities in Megacity and the protector of Zone 2, General Thorman, in particular. Motivated by the need for retribution and determined to help Shou, the game’s main protagonist, act as his eyes and ears and use their hacking skills to provide help and information as Shou progresses through the city.

The third story focuses on Dr Teruya, a character who doesn’t appear ‘on-screen’ in the game but whose files and notes provide vital information about the Slave Program. Teruya is a cold, dispassionate scientist who has developed a fatal flaw: empathy for his creations. He is struggling with these conflicting sides of his personality. This story leads directly to the opening scenes of the game and shows the backstory of the prototype biomech embryo we know as X and why they end up in the subterranean ‘Hell of Rising Mists’ where they are found by the rebel warriors known as The Guardians at the start of the game.

The game has a throwback, side-scroller look and feel to it – at least based on the gameplay footage. Did you try to capture any of that in the comic? Or is the book its own thing?

Williams: The really cool thing about adapting the game to comics was the ability to expand on the settings and the action from the game. We wanted to take the reader into the game’s world, not necessarily replicate the gameplay but use it as the basis for an action-packed comic story.

Lanning: The game has a wealth of awesome design and artwork, from the wonderful settings of Megacity S1-9 to the unique characters and the technology and weapons of this cyberpunk future. Clark, Anna, and Andy were able to capture the look and feel of the game in their artwork, and we wanted the comic stories to be an additional layer to the game story, presenting gameplay in its own unique format.

Slave Zero X comic book, Teruya sample page
Slave Zero X comic book, Teruya sample page

Given the book is packaged with the deluxe version of the game, do you have a preferred, uh, reading order? Playing order? Meaning, should people play the game, then read the book, or vice versa?

Lanning: Good question. The stories are stand-alone and can be read in any order, either before or after you’ve played the game, as they are designed to add an extra layer of story and context to the game experience, the characters, and settings.

Williams: If you enjoy the game, then hopefully, you will get a kick out of the comic stories as they are a cool addition to the game narrative and expand upon the brilliant game design and worldbuilding the team at Ziggurat has developed.

Now that you’ve delved into the world, are there more stories you’re jonesing to tell? Could there be a Slave Zero X comic separate from the game?

Lanning: Our partnership with Ziggurat, by way of introduction by Development Advisor Brian Graham, has been collaborative and spawned conversations outside of Slave Zero X to other characters and worlds. It was great finding a partner that understands the importance of storytelling, universe-building, and consulting in advance of creation to ensure integrity in ideas. While we can’t disclose anything specific, we can say that this isn’t the last time you’ll hear of us working with Ziggurat and its wealth of characters in their catalog!

Slave Zero X hits platforms this Thursday, February 21, 2024. You can check out the comic in the Deluxe Edition, only.

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