Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Article Extend: Troy Lewter (Interview)

Tomorrow the latest issue of NEO  - issue 51 - hits newsagents across the country. Within its shiny pages is a feature by me entitled Azeroth's Appeal: Exploring the World of Warcraft looking at the World of Warcraft manga. Now as with any feature, you never get to cram in every quote so I wanted to take a leaf out of Matt Kamen's book - or blog - and post one of the interviews in full here.

You can see the feature
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Troy Lewter is the editor of TOKYOPOP's popular Warcraft and StarCraft manga, based on the franchises by Blizzard Entertainment. I sat in on the Blizzard/TOKYOPOP panel while at Comic Con International earlier this year. 

After the panel I collared Troy and explained my interest not only in WoW but that I was a freelance journalist specialising in all things Japanese and gaming. I was also keen to ask if it would be possible to interview him for a feature I was planning looking at the popularity of the manga to tie in with the UK release of the first volume of the Warcraft: Legends anthology. Troy, who also wrote two of the stories in the volume, graciously agreed and the full transcript appears below. The smilies are his own.

Lesley Smith: How did you get involved with the Warcraft manga and were you surprised by its popularity?
Troy Lewter: I had been an editor at TOKYOPOP for many years, working on various other licensed and OEL (Original English Language) titles when I was tasked with taking the reins as editor for Warcraft: Legends, Warcraft: Dragons of Outland, Starcraft: Frontline, StarCraft: Ghost Academy and all of the other 22 collective volumes of Blizzard and StarCraft manga TOKYOPOP’s producing over the next three years. That’s quite a tall order for any man, even when wearing platform shoes (which I do quite often). But I never run from a challenge, so I took the Sword of Destiny from my Editor-in-Chief and raised it to the heavens, bellowing my editorial battle cry.

As for the popularity of the manga, you always hope for the best, but you never really know how any product will be received by the public, whether it’s film, games, manga, etc. While in production I realized we had good stories and great art, but realized that could be chalked up to tunnel vision because I’m so close to the project. Besides, I’m not that egomaniacal to assume people would flock in droves to pick up the book (though I did write that wish in my pink bedside diary several times).

That said, Blizzard has been involved with the production of the manga every step of the way. Every element that appears in the manga has gone through a rigorous approval process with them, whether it’s story, art, cover, etc. They obviously know what the fans would want to see in a Warcraft manga, so on that front I never had any doubt that fans that did pick up the manga would approve.

But while I knew fans of the game would love it, the more surprising thing for me is that people that never played the game but have read the manga tell me how much they enjoyed it. Creating these stories is a delicate tight wire act, in which you want to make the stories and characters specific to the Warcraft and StarCraft universe, but at the same time the themes we cover in the manga need to strike a universal chord with all readers, whether they play the games or not. (I liken it to being doorman at Studio 54, where everyone is allowed into the Blizzard party.) So I was very happy that the manga has something for everyone! 

LS: Why do you think Azeroth translates into manga (and comic books) so well?
TL: The world is so incredibly rich with history, the characters are so diverse, the land is so vast … I think these are the reasons that Azeroth is brimming with not only manga and comic stories, but for novels and (hopefully, one day) film as well. I grew up on a steady diet of reading Conan and other fantasy comics, so for me personally I’ve always enjoyed a rousing tale of adventure set in a fantasy world (like Azeroth).

And let’s not forget that at its heart, Warcraft (and StarCraft) are visual media properties, in that half of the experience of playing the games is seeing the characters in action in the vibrant world of Azeroth (as opposed to say, a property that originated as a novel). Because it was first a game, the visual look and feel has already been defined and established, and not left up to the player’s imagination. So the bridge between the game world and the manga world is pretty seamless in that respect.

LS: Has editing the manga and writing 'The Journey' and 'An Honest Trade' for Legends made you more interested in Azeroth and the Warcraft franchise?
TL: A big yes to that! Before editing and writing the manga I was aware of the franchise, but had never played it. While I am a huge gamer (in enthusiasm, not girth), my interests have mainly been with console based games. The MMORPG boat kinda sailed by me …

Once I became editor for the project I researched the game and fell in love with the world and the characters, and immediately saw the potential for the manga. I played the game as much as I could …though the irony of all this is that I’m so busy working on the books, I don’t really have time to play the game. But as soon as the last manga hits shelves in 2010, I can really start to explore Azeroth properly.

As for writing the manga … it’s kinda weird how that happened. I didn’t set out to write any of the stories for any of the books (believe me, editing them is enough work as is), but as I was helping other writers develop their pitches, I started coming up with my own story ideas. 

Because I’m a writer myself, I couldn’t resist writing a pitch of my own ('An Honest Trade'). But while I had written it, I decided I wasn’t going to pitch my story…but some of my fellow editors read it and felt it was good, and urged me to send it to Blizzard, so I sent it along with about 15 other pitches. I honestly didn’t think they’d like it, and had already placed it in that 'oh well, it didn’t hurt to try' category. So then when they actually approved it and wanted it in the book … I was shocked to say the least. That meant my duties just doubled, because then I had to actually write the darn thing…but I didn’t mind at all. I love to write, so escapism like that was a great way to have some fun.

The second story I wrote ('The Journey') was purely a fluke scenario. I had worked with the original writer on the initial pitch, helping him develop the basic concept. He had actually started writing the script, but circumstances came up in which he was unable to continue his duties as the writer. So I was stuck in the deadline thicket with merely a weekend to get the entire story written and approved. So as a way to purely save time, I asked Blizzard if they’d be okay with me writing the story, since I had been so heavily involved with the basic concept from the beginning and at that point had already written 'An Honest Trade' to their satisfaction. 

They agreed, so I chained myself to my computer that weekend and wrote what you see in the book now. I’m not an athletic guy, by any means (An unathletic manga editor? Big surprise there, right?) but that was as close to a full-court, buzzer beater game winning basket that I’ll ever get J

LS: Did you play WoW before working on the manga?
TL:As I mentioned earlier, while I knew the property, I didn’t actually play it until I started researching WoW as editor of the manga. But I had friends that played it who always urged me to 'get with it' and join in the fun. On those occasions I would angrily rise from my porch rocking chair, shaking my cane and yelling at them to 'Git offa my property!'

LS: When did you realise how huge the Warcraft franchise is, particularly when translated into manga? 
TL: One anecdote I’d like to share is the moment I realized how truly global the Warcraft phenomenon really is …

The artist for 'The Journey' is Mi-Young No, a fantastic Korean artist, and as I soon realized, die-hard Warcraft fan. Mi-Young isn’t an English speaker, so all of my notes/directions to/from her had to be translated via my wonderful contributing editor, Hyun Joo Kim. Well, it just so happened a detail slipped by me for 'The Journey' that she corrected me on. In the script the dwarf character was riding a horse, but she informed me that the dwarf should be riding a ram. It was a surreal moment, as for once the artist was editing the editor! J The fact that I was involved with a project that touches the lives of people (like Mi-Young) living in another part of the globe really sunk home at that moment.

Lastly, I’d like to speak a bit about the wonderful creators I have worked with on the Warcraft manga to date. From writers like Richard Knaak, Dan Jolley, Grace Randolph, Christie Golden and Aaron Sparrow, to artists such as Jae-Hwan Kim, Mi-Young No, Carlos Olivares, Nam Kim, Erie, In-Bae Kim and Elisa Kwon…none of these books would be possible without them.

Every story presented its own challenge, whether it’s the language barrier for the non-English speaking talent, or the tight deadlines for the stories, but the creators all rose to the occasion and delivered awesome content for the manga. Seeing the stories and art come together before your eyes is as beautiful a process as watching a flower bloom on your windowsill…but none of that would be possible without the creators toiling away into the wee hours to meet deadlines with incredible scripts and art.     

I really enjoyed speaking with you about TOKYOPOP’s Warcraft manga, and look forward to delivering great manga to the fans of both Warcraft and StarCraft over the next three years!

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