Superstar comic artist Shane Davis is known for his kick-butt in the field of superheroes on titles like Superman: Earth One, but this fall he is stepping outside of that comfort zone. Davis and artist Michelle Delecki are launching Axcend at Image Comics, a new series about video games and what happens when the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred.
We had a chance to chat with the creative duo – who also happen to be husband and wife – about video games, storytelling, romance, and what makes Axcend such a cool concept.
NERDIST: Give us the pitch; what is Axcend all about?
SHANE DAVIS: In general, Axcend is about where fantasy ends and reality begins, and crossing that line. Our player (main character) Eric Morn is approached by an AI that invites him to beta test a game and he ends up literally being sucked into the game into this virtual world with two other players. It’s a deathmatch–type scenario with the players battling each other and gaining various power-ups and playing different game modes like capture the flag. But when he logs out, something from the game world follows him back into the real world.
That’s when our antagonist, one of the other players, starts trying to gain XP in real life by killing heads of state or battling armies. Eric has to team up with the other player from the game and try to defeat in real life the guy they could never defeat in the game. They don’t know if they’ll respawn anymore or if they have extra lives in the real world.
N: Do you think there’s danger in people losing sight of the line between fantasy and reality when it comes to video games? Can we be too obsessed with escapism?
SD: The first issue focuses on Eric and the second issue focuses Rain, who is actually a pop star, and the third issue will focus on the villain, Ruin. In each issue I deal with the escapism in different ways, I mean, they are all dealing with bullying, in a way. Eric is using games to escape the reality that he is a surviving twin and that people expect him to deal with his lose and move on, but every time he looks in the mirror he sees his twin brother. He doesn’t even know how to interact with people anymore. With Rain, she’s escaping tabloids.
I do think there can be dangers in obsessing over escapism and I’m trying to deal with that differently with each character.
N: Are you guys gamers?
SD: Yeah, all the way back to my old school Mario/Duck Hunt combo. I started as a guy who was blowing dust out of my cartridges to now digitally downloading all my games.
MICHELLE DELECKI: I was a Sega kid. I loved my Sega Genesis. I eventually moved on to a PS One and obsessed over Final Fantasy VII. Fighting games are my favorite, though.
SD: We actually made the variant covers for issue #1 fit together to look like a fighting game. It’s a big throwback to Street Fighter, Tekken, and all those great fighting games and the “versus screen” you see before the game starts.
N: I think there’s something kinda romantic about a Nintendo player and a Sega player falling in love and getting married.
SD: It’s true! I think a lot of kid’s parent bought them one of the two systems. I grew up chasing mushrooms.
MD: I was collecting rings.
SD: I couldn’t believe how good she is at Sonic. I didn’t believe her and then we bought a copy for PS3 and I watched her do a run through and it was insane. It was like record time.
MD: Growing up, I had to hide the fact that played every night until midnight from my parents. My mom used to feel the system and she could tell how long I’d been playing by how hot it was.
N: Shane, most people know you as a comic book artist, what’s it like working in the writer and artist role on this series?
SD: I kinda wanted to work with a writer, but once I had everything down that I wanted to do in the series, there wouldn’t have been anything for them to do. At the most, they would have been dialoging. When I came up with this idea, I knew how it would end. Axcend does have a hard ending. This isn’t my first outing as a writer; I did a little with DC on a Legends of the Dark Knight issue.
It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I’ve mapped out what happens in every issue. I know where everything is going. Image Comics have been great and supportive, but also really hands off, so it real falls back on me. That’s why it’s so great doing the book with Michelle, having somebody to springboard ideas off of. It’s been a blessing to have her on board.
N: What’s it like working your spouse? Is there any tension?
SD: We warn each other when we are starting to look sluggish, like “hey, you should take a break and go to the gym.” We definitely help each other know when it’s time to step away.
MD: I think we work really well together. It’s almost like we collaborate with our lives, not just the work. He really pushes me to go to the gym, which is good because I personally lose track of time. I’ll forget to eat. We try to encourage each other to do our best work. That’s the basis of a good comic.
N: Is there anything else you want people to know about Axcend?
SD: It’s definitely not a superhero book. I’ll be tackling a lot of real world issues, so it’ll have some heavy stuff in it.
MD: You’re gonna think you have stuff figured out, but there’s a lot of twists and turns. Readers are going to be surprised.
Be sure to check out a preview of Axcend below and pick up the first issue when it launches on October 7.