American McGee has always been a bit of an oddball. Some might call him the “Tim Burton of video games,” but I think that’s a bit of a slight to Mr. McGee, because his uniquely twisted design sense and the immersive worlds he creates are anything but repetitive (and there’s no sign of Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter either). In January, his new company Spicy Horse Games successfully Kickstarted its browser-based/mobile game Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, a richly dark fantasy epic that reimagined the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood in a feudal Japanese setting rife with elements of Japanese folklore and mythology. Sounds like it’d make a killer comic, huh? Fortunately, Dark Horse thought so too, which is why they tasked writer Justin Aclin (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and artist Vasilis Lolos with transforming the feudal fantasy into a three-issue mini-series.
To get the inside scoop, I caught up with series scribe Aclin, who talked to me about everything from the challenges inherent to adapting a video game for comics to crafting the visual design of Akaneiro to just what the hell we can expect from this three issue odyssey.
N: Tell us a bit about how you got involved with the project. What excited you about taking a classic tale like Red Riding Hood and adapting it for a feudal Japanese setting?
JA: A lot of what excited me about the project was the prospect of getting to work with Spicy Horse Games on fleshing out the world they’d created, and especially getting to work with Vasilis Lolos. I’ve always been ridiculously lucky in the artists I’ve gotten to work with on my comics projects, and Vasilis is a world-class talent. And a lot of what sold me on Spicy Horse’s vision of this world was the visuals that they’d created for the game, which is definitely one of the most attractive games I’ve seen in some time. So it wasn’t so much that I heard “Little Red Riding Hood” adaptation and leapt at the project – it was this specific vision of the story that excited me.
N: What can we expect from this project?
JA: Did I mention fantastic artwork? Other than that, Vasilis and I have worked hard to instill this project with all the madcap energy of a great videogame. Akaneiro: Demon Hunters the game is about a group called the Order of Akane, who were inspired by the Red Riding Hood legend and hunt demons called Yokai in 19th Century Japan. Our comic tells the story of one girl named Kani, who sets out to join the Red Hunters of the Order. As she embarks on her journey, she ends up playing out the legend of Red Riding Hood — treacherous path, getting deceived and, yes, wolves — but not in any way you’ve ever seen before.
N: How closely did you work with American McGee in creating the comic?
JA: American and his team at Spicy Horse were both very involved and accessible and very open to our vision of the story, which pretty much makes them the perfect partners. Their main goal for a comic adaptation was to flesh out areas of the world that they didn’t get to in the game. So we took one of those — namely, what it takes to train to actually become a Red Hunter — and invented Kani and her journey and many of the characters she encounters.
N: Are there any challenges inherent to adapting a comic from a video game as opposed to other source materials, since they tend to be player-driven experiences? Does the story follow that of the game or does it expand upon the universe we see in Akaneiro?
JA: I think if we tried to do a straight adaptation of what you experience as a player, it wouldn’t make for a very good comic. Instead, we knew we had this rich framework for storytelling with this world that Spicy Horse had created – a world you only get to experience a portion of in the game – and we could use that to create a side story that could also stand on its own as a comic book.
That said, we wanted to capture the spirit of playing the game as well. One of the things I loved was that Spicy Horse took something you never think about in video games – the fact that enemies become items and power-ups when you kill them – and came up with an in-game reason for it. Basically, the Yokai have blood that crystallizes when it touches the air, so they become Karma crystals in the game when they die. And I thought it was so great that they went through the trouble of explaining this mechanic that we all take for granted in games that I made it a big part of the story.
N: I’m really digging the artwork from Vasilis Lolos. How did you work with Vasilis to create the visual design of your comic world?
JA: I will lay that entirely at Vasilis’ feet. I would say things in the script like, “This is a Yokai with four feet and maybe some tusks – go nuts!” and he’d come back with these brilliant designs. One of the major influences Vasilis drew on, beyond the great visual aesthetic Spicy Horse had already established, was our mutual love of Japanese RPGs. Vasilis noticed some classic JRPG influences in my script and used that to bring out some amazing Yoshitaka Amano and Tetsuya Nomura influences in the artwork that I never would have imagined to ask for.
N: Apart from the three-issue Akaneiro series, what else is coming down the pipeline from you that we can look forward to?
JA: I’ve got a new Star Wars book hitting in late June called Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Smuggler’s Code. It’s an all-ages OGN about Obi-Wan teaming up with a less-than-savory smuggler to track down an old foe. That one features great art from Eduardo Ferrara, as well as eye-popping colors from Atiyeh, who’s also the unsung artistic force of Akaneiro. He makes everything look very, very pretty. I’ve also got a creator-owned title coming later this year, but it’s too early to talk about just yet.
N: What comics are you reading and enjoying right now? Or, since this is based on a game, are you a gamer? What’re you playing?
JA: My friend Caleb Goellner just put out a great comic called Task Force Rad Squad, which is an incredible Power Rangers homage you should track down online. I’m a big fan of The Sixth Gun, Mark Waid’s Daredevil run, Saga and a bunch of other stuff I desperately need to catch up on. I’m really excited for the new Astro City to start up from Vertigo. Game-wise, I’ve been playing Bioshock Infinite, but I try to keep my console game time limited.
N: Off topic, but what do you think of the new Daft Punk album? That’s right – I saw your tweet (and am listening myself).
JA: I really like some of the tracks, and I like the aesthetic they’re going for even if it’s paying tribute to a lot of music I don’t really listen to myself. That said, it started streaming the day before the new Vampire Weekend album went on sale, and that one I really love.
N: Last, but not least: what’s inside your ideal burrito?
JA: Chicken, black beans, guacamole, lettuce, and appropriate levels of sour cream and salsa. Nothing worse than an overly sauced burrito, right?
Have you played Akaneiro? Looking forward to the comic book adaptation? Let us know in the comments below.
Also, head over to TOKYOPOP’s contest page for a chance to win Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus, Vol. 1 from Dark Horse Manga!