Although it only ran for five issues, Marvel‘s You Are Deadpool, which wrapped last week, represented a huge creative step forward for comics. This seminal miniseries merged RPG mechanics and Choose Your Own Adventure-style interactivity with superhero action to push the boundaries of what comics can accomplish. And according to author Al Ewing, the whole thing started with a phone call.
“Jordan White, the editor on Deadpool at the time, gave me a call at home and asked if I felt like doing a five-issue Deadpool miniseries, out weekly with more than one artist on it,” Ewing said. (The artists in question were Salva Espin and Paco Diaz, on alternating issues.) “I knew I wanted to do it…but I had no idea what it could be.”
However, inspiration soon struck when he went back to the past. “Later I realized that it’d been a very long time since I’d done a Choose Your Own Path-style comic, and with 100 pages [total] to play with, I’d have room to do this bigger and better than anything I’d attempted before.”
Why Deadpool? Or rather, why not apply the formats, usually associated with fantasy, to more out-there heroes such as Thor or Doctor Strange? The short answer, Ewing explained, was that Deadpool’s fourth-wall breakage lent itself to the comic’s narrative shenanigans in a unique way. “Because we had Deadpool, we could keep things light, breezy and friendly—which made it user-friendly, which was very important,” Ewng said. “With Deadpool, we can just have him say, ‘Okay, we’re doing this now!'”
With a figure like Thor, on the other hand, “you could go really heavy on the dungeons, the dragons, the elves and goblins…but what you couldn’t do is have Thor turn to the reader and say ‘this is what the rules are’ or ‘this is how this bit works,'” Ewing said. “The ship of a Thor gamebook would be a lot harder to turn, if that makes sense.”
Deadpool’s mutant healing ability also helped to keep the story going—especially since Choose Your Own Adventure books and the like are known for leading readers to horrible deaths. (Not that I’m bitter about having been eaten by a giant spider in a CYOA novel at age nine. Not at all.) “It made things harder at first,” Ewing admitted. “But because of Deadpool’s healing factor, I had to think of paths out of the combat if the player lost.” Eventually, however, the worm turned. “Deadpool’s status as a comedy character helped us out. At first, we had ‘bad endings’ where there was a nuclear war, or Deadpool was sent to Hell, but by issue #4 we could just have him stabbed by Bullseye and he’d die because it was funny.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, scripting the convoluted gameplay of You Are Deadpool took “about twice as long as writing any other comic.” With so many possible storylines, the writing had to be very tight. Ewing elaborated: “I’d go in with a rough idea of what I wanted to do, and the first thing I’d do would be to make a map—write down events and possible consequences for them, and draw lines for potential decision paths. Once I had a rough map, I’d type out 1 to 20, with 1 as our splash page, 20 as our ending page, 10-11 as our middle minigame pages, and the rest divided into three, which would give me somewhere around 50 ‘slots’ to fit events into, give or take a few.”
He continued, “At the end of all this, I had a very strict map of events, so when I wrote the script, I knew pretty much exactly how much space I had for anything.” Another important step was to “keep at least a page distance between any choice and its consequence…I didn’t want to have readers be able to look around the page and work out what the right choice was at any time.”
More logistically, the strict page limit for each issue confined Ewing, Espin, and Diaz to 20 pages a week. They decided to turn these confines into innovation. Ewing said of the page count that it was “why we ended up having the inventory system we did. We relied on readers being able to spot small objects—some obvious, some not so—and pick them up. So that’s an example of a problem that was created by, and then solved by, the comics medium.”
For Ewing, working on You Are Deadpool has solidified the unique capabilities of comics as a whole. “I think what comics do better than any other non-interactive medium is convey information. With a book,” he noted, “you’ve got to visualize everything yourself; with a film, you have limited time to process the visual information as it comes to you. When we turn a comic into a game, we can provide the player with all the information they need in an easy visual format, and they have all the time they need to process it.
What was your favorite ending in Marvel’s experimental RPG comic? Tell us in the comments!