What happens when video games become reality? And you don’t get extra “restarts?” That’s the concept behind Axcend, the new ongoing from Image Comics written, illustrated and conceived by Shane Davis (Superman Earth One), who is joined by his wife, artist Michelle Delecki (JLA, Venom) and colorist Morry Hollowell (Old Man Logan.) Axcend takes you on a journey with protagonist Eric Morn, a teen who quickly learns that sometimes, playing pretend isn’t exactly the same in real life.
EW spoke to Davis and Delecki about tackling the trickiness of adapting the gaming world to a comic, the best part about working together, and what fans can expect.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me how the concept of this book came together, because it’s such an interesting and relevant topic, but it seems like it’s almost a natural fit for a comic adaptation.
SHANE DAVIS: A lot of it came from the mentality of gaming, and a lot of team violence I see. I’m not saying they’re related, not going exactly there with this, but to me, it wasn’t really the theme about gaming per se — but that mindset of the balance between what’s real and what’s fantasy. And I really wanted to tackle that story with especially a younger set of characters. The three players are all in their teens. I kind of wanted to tackle that type of fantasy disillusionment at an age where characters are given that much power but maybe don’t have the best moral compass. Cause I think that’s interesting. But as being specifically about video games, to that notion, it was about what people would do in a video game versus a real world setting. And I guess maybe in some way, this is a weird social commentary on that.
Shane, you’ve done a bunch of work for DC Comics. What’s the difference between doing something creator owned, and what spurred you to make the change?
DAVIS: It’s definitely different than the corporate type comic structure, because when you’re dealing with that stuff, you have years and years of continuity with those characters. So even when I was doing something like Superman Earth One, where it was re-imagining Superman, we were still dealing with all these pop culture expectations of things even though we were completely reworking him at a different age. Doing something creator owned, I’m basically building the fan base. I can set my bar on what extremes the character will face, or go through or even social issues that are a little more modern today, like bullying in schools, even things like substance abuse or stuff like that. You could almost take any modern day topic in news media and kind of tackle it more into the foundation of the character. I created a lot of characters in DC from the ground up and I definitely wanted to create a solid book that didn’t tie into other books. And that’s kind of why I like Image, and why I like Image books. When you read Image, you’re not forced to read two or three other titles. They’re all self-contained. And I definitely had a beginning and a middle and an end. And I’ve always known the ending and always wanted to get to that ending, so this wasn’t really the type of corporate comic where I get to the 50th anniversary issue and then reboot it from #1 someday. This is a singular story I wanted to tell from beginning to finish.
What’s it like working together and collaborating together? Do you develop the story in tandem or do you bounce ideas off each other and go back and forth a little more?
DAVIS: Well, we work in the studio together so our tables are literally side by side. She’s been there from the beginning, but speaking for me, I kind of pace out and draw out the script and then write the dialogue for what I’ve drawn, unless it’s very high concept or very heavy dialogue pages. And then it’s the reverse, I’ll write out the pages and draw them. But I kind of have a weird system on this book where I write it and draw it and make sure it reads well just as pictures.
MICHELLE DELECKI: We’ve been both working together for covers over the past couple of years, and at some point it was brought up that maybe we should work together on a project. And at that point we were like, “Why don’t we work together on a creator owned project? And that way we can just grow together creatively.” When Shane was designing all the characters, he would bounce a lot of the ideas off of me to get my opinions. And then he would ask me as far as their personalities go, what went too far, especially when it came to Rayne — she’s the main female antagonist. And I felt at least this way, it’s candid and it’s honest and we really wanted to make the book look very unique, very colorful, bright, because it is a video game setting. And we picked Morry to color the book because we felt he’d be the best choice. We had worked with him before too. It’s a very collaborative experience as far as working as a team. All of us just want to make sure the product is very nice at the end and fans are happy.
Did you find you learned new things about yourselves or your work while doing this project?
DAVIS: I definitely learned I’m a little better at things I’ve never tried before. I’ve always constantly tried to make the best out of every scene, and I’ve worked with a number of writers before. I was a little surprised at my pacing and scripting, but it’s still fairly new ground where I’m always second guessing everything I’m doing, but it reads fluid. And I’m surprised stuff flows that well, I’m happy with that. With Michelle, I learned a lot about working together with somebody that closely. You learn about your own personal quirks, or when my wife is going to hit me with a frying pan. [Laughs]
DELECKI: I actually learned a lot working on this project with Shane. He’s actually a really good writer, I found out. [Laughs]. I sort of encouraged him, hey, you’re really good at this you should really give this a try. I think he’s learning to basically…it’s like watching a bird fly. It’s poetic [laughs]. You’re coming into your own as a writer, but you seem to be quite a natural at it. I just think that’s something you didn’t know about yourself because you’ve been confined to drawing all these years. I also learned, because I’ve been editing this book, and this is my first time editing, there’s quite a bit of responsibility when it comes to editorial that I never realized before. So, a newfound respect for editors! And before this, when we were working on covers together, it was basically just working on one piece and afterwards it was over. When we’re working on the project as long as this, you sort of have to pace yourself.
What can you tease about the series for your readers?
Issue two will focus on the female lead [Rayne] and three will focus on ruin. Eric’s still the lead character. Eric is coming into the real world as his video game avatar, and it will seem very fun at first. It’ll seem like it’s a new distraction for what he’s going through, but the truth is, that doesn’t change anything. And that’s something the character will eventually have to come to terms with and face: the bright new shiny toy of his game avatar coming into the new world isn’t going to change anything of what’s really hurting inside. But going forward into the future, it really is a big melting pot when they all come into the new world. So you’re talking about the fact that Eric will really be in the position of having to stop a nuclear holocaust, and he’s the last person to ever be put in that position with his powers.
Axcend arrives in comic shops Oct. 7.