The Last of Us: American Dreams, launched last week, turned out to be a lot more than just another tie-in book. We got a chance to sit down with Neil Druckmann, the writer of the comic and key member of the game’s team, and Faith Erin Hicks, the artist, to talk about how the book came together, and how it ties into the game.
Gamma Squad: How did The Last Of Us: American Dreams get started, as a project?
Neil Druckmann: There were two things that were happening concurrently, thinking about Ellie’s backstory, what was her life day to day, just so I could work with Ashley Johnson. At the same time, Dark Horse approached us and said they’d like to do a comic. Initially I was resistant, I didn’t want to just create a licensed piece to sell the game. That’s when I told them, what if we did a story that’s not like horror, lots of action, but a coming of age storry. And the first thing they asked for was an artist. I’d just read Friends With Boys, and I found it really moving. The tone seemed very appropriate to what I wanted to do.
Gamma Squad: Faith, you have a background as an animator, did you see any animation or other materials from the game as you were working on the book?
Faith Erin Hicks: Absolutely! Right when we first started working together, back in late summer of last year, Naughty Dog and Neil sent me all this stuff from the game. I got to read the script and see video of the motion capture work, which was really helpful. I’m a big believer in acting in comics, expressing emotion that matches with the words they’re saying. It’s not terribly common, and it’s something I feel is really important in comics. It was really good to see the actors working, Ellie especially, and get their take on the characters. It’s her story. To just see all the environments and everything that Naughty Dog created for this game was really wonderful.
Gamma Squad: Neil, this isn’t your first foray into comics: You’ve done the Eye of Indra for Uncharted and A Second Chance At Sarah independently. How does writing for comics and writing for games differ?
Druckmann: The similarities are the basics of storytelling, your characters, what they want, their obstacles. The difference is execution and details. Comics have a certain pacing, how many pages you have. In games, you have to ask how soon gameplay comes in, how many minutes of cinematics am I chewing through. When Faith and I were putting the story together early on, I found the discussions very similar.
Gamma Squad: Speaking of the city, I notice the book is set in Boston. How did you put together a post-apocalyptic version of a real city.
Hicks: Naughty Dog sent me a massive reference folder, all these photos of buildings. I’m a big believer in reference, and giving comics an important sense of place. They did all the work for me! (laughs)
The comic is different from the game, though. Most of it takes place in night and in a city, and in the game they’re already out of the city.
Druckmann: They start in the quarantine zone, but pretty soon they leave.
Gamma Squad: Are there any challenges working within a licensed property, artistically or otherwise? Did you build off the concept art or take cues elsewhere?
Hicks: I know for me, I’m mostly a creator-owned artist. This is my first time doing a licensed comic, beyond a short thing I did for Marvel. I was really attracted to the Last of Us world. I thought Ellie was great, an unusual character to have an action horror game. My goal is to honor the Last of Us, but I still need to allow my own creative voice to come through. It’s a lot of fun to play in someone else’s sandbox, though!
Gamma Squad: Rachel Rosenberg did an interesting job on the coloring work, unique from the game. Was that a conscious choice?
Druckmann: I thought it was great. For the game, we really try to avoid the dark and grimy and brown look that stories in this genre tend to have. There’s something really beautiful about nature reclaiming our domain, and I felt like that was captured in the comic.
Gamma Squad: Is there anything in the comics that might be reflected in the game?
Druckmann: Yes, there are a few big events in the comic that have a big influence in the game. If you read the comic, and play the game, you’ll get a lot more depth out of the decisions made as you play.
The Last of Us: American Dreams #1 is in stores now.