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Comic Heroes

Tackling the world of PC games turning into graphic novels, one 'THWAP!' at a time

Games have had every spin-off known - movies, toys, T-shirts, even air fresheners - but comics are set to become big.

A World of Warcraft comic book is set to bogart Forbidden Planet's shelf-space next to titles like BloodRayne, Tomb Raider and Halo.

Walter Simonson, the graphic novel veteran who wrote and drew Thor and Wonder Woman, is behind the publication. The comic will be "tied to the Warcraft lore and history," he tells fans. "If you're a long-time player, the comic is a revelation about some of the mysteries."

There are more revelations in store, reckons Harry Markos of UK comic publisher Markosia (www.markosia.com). "There has been an increase of the adaptations into comics recently and this will continue more so over the next year." The potential audience for these comics is huge, he adds.

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WOW’s comic will build on the game’s backstory.

Markos hopes that his company will reap some of the benefits of comic tie-ins, although with heavyweight publishers snapping up popular game licenses, it's no easy task.

In recent years, Dark Horse Comics (www.darkhorse.com) which publish comics based on Star Wars, Aliens, and Buffy, have released comic versions of Hellgate: London and F.E.A.R., expanding on the games' battle-sodden stories.

Dark Horse's comic editor Dave Land, who worked on a Dungeon Siege II tie-in, explains the process: "Gas Powered Games approached us with the idea of spreading the Dungeon Siege universe across two mediums: a marriage of comics and games. Their backstory was used as a basis for the comic. We wanted to stretch the story to a place where the game could not travel."

In most cases, a developer works closely with the publisher in creating the tie-in. First off, the publisher assigns a writer and artist. The writer plays the game until his/her eyes bleed, while the artist works on refining the hero's pectoral muscles, and at each stage of the process artwork and scripts are sent to the licensor for approval.

The amount of freedom afforded to both writer and artist varies between projects. "Some companies don't like you to stray too much from the game in case it affects potential sequels," notes Markos.

Despite such attention to detail, many comics based on games - from 1992's The Adventures of Roger Wilco to 2007's Assassin's Creed graphical tie-in - appear only to boost the game's popularity. Games like Myst, which received its first adaptation in 1997, suit comics like elephants suit tutus.

"Comics based on games are often promotional exercises," says Markos. "A successful game can generate millions of dollars, so it makes any possible revenue from comics seem pretty small.

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Silent Hill isn’t the most obvious choice for a comic adaptation.

"But it's a great way to promote the game - as a marketing tool more than anything else. Any revenue generated is a bonus."

But some games are made for the comic medium. For example, when Funcom released a tie-in for next year's Age of Conan, it made perfect sense. "That was a perfect fit," nods Funcom product director Jørgen Tharaldsen.

"At the time, Dark Horse Comics had gathered some great artists and writers for the new Conan stories. We wanted to see if we could tie their work into the game - specifically when it came to explaining the game's backstory."

Ed Dukeshire of Digital Webbing (www.digitalwebbing.com), the publisher of the BloodRayne comics, continues: "Although there are plenty of comics set up [as promotional tools], we saw huge potential in Rayne and wanted to contribute to building the character's rich history. To date, we have published 11 issues of the comic book (not counting two specials) and, based on feedback, we are making readers happy.

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