It must be difficult to be a comic book writer with a hit video game license. Oh sure, there is the joy of working with an established property that has a built-in fanbase, but think about the pressure involved. Most of the other media based on video games must appease fans of the source material and bring new converts to the series. On top of ensuring wide appeal, there are all sorts of choices to make about the direction of the comic. If the writer has little experience with the game, there might be a desire to write a spin-off story built on basic elements of the original property. The hope is that established fans will appreciate fresh adventures for their beloved characters while those who have no ties to the video game will still have a solid comic to read.
On the other hand, there are writers who are massive fans of a licensed property and just want to see the video game translated directly onto the printed page. They are not trying to create new worlds for heroes to explore or insert characters of their own design to tag along for the ride. These video games are popular for a reason, so why mess with success?
In the past, I have criticized IDW Publishing for taking creative liberties with their video game licenses. The Belmont Legacy strayed rather far from the path of Castlevania and I think the comic suffered for it. When it came time to publish a series based on Metal Gear Solid (September 2004), writer Kris Oprisko followed Solid Snake’s near-silent footsteps rather directly. He realized that, “the story in the game is already a great one,” and he was “not trying to change the elements that made the game so popular.” Oprisko believed that the high tension and suspense of Metal Gear Solid’s story juxtaposed against action-packed gameplay would translate quite well to the pacing of comic books. The resulting product was extremely faithful to the original script of the game and managed to present the property in a new format that flows smoothly from page to page.
Staying true to the plotline of the video game is only part of the equation, though. The artwork has to maintain the spirit of the game and manage to stand out from the original as well. For this project, industry veteran Ashley Wood pulls off just such a look. The artwork for Metal Gear Solid features Wood’s typical use of mixed media, with some scenes painted with soft features against moments of bold line work through digital techniques. Generally speaking, when the plot becomes more information- or stealth-driven, the art seems muted with blurred edges and soft features for character designs. These pages enhance the mood of secrecy within the plot just as harsh lines and bright colors heighten each fight scene. Unique paneling methods blend the codec scenes and piles of background information rather seamlessly into the narrative so Solid Snake can keep moving through the story without breaks in the action. Mr. Wood does a fantastic service to the source material, and he would go on to illustrate a comic for Metal Gear Solid 2, as well as work directly on a video game in the series, MGS: Portable Ops.
In the world of comic books based on licensed properties, there seems to be a mix of spin-offs and faithful adaptations. Some series use this print medium to provide new tales for the source material, and quite successfully. There are defunct television shows and movies that have gone on to thrive in the comic book community and provide hope for seemingly forgotten fans. At the same time, comics that remain true to the original can tell a familiar story in a new light and bring people who may have missed out to take a chance on a beloved classic. When either form works, the result can be engaging and entertaining for fans both old and new. It all comes down to which sort of story will suit the original best, and just what kind of adventures readers want to have next.