Who needs a dog when you have The Darkness!! Ain’t that right Jackie?
Today we had the pleasure of sitting down with the one and only Marc Silvestri, renowned illustrator and creator of the character behind the upcoming game The Darkness which is due to hit stores towards the end of this month. We picked his brain about the new game, the comic, his influences, and the state of the comic book and video game industry today. Enjoy.
Chad: What did you want to be growing up?
Marc: Oddly enough I wanted to be a doctor, and then I realized you had to be smart for that.
Marc: It wouldn’t have worked out, trust me. I don’t even remember why I just wanted to be a doctor for a while. Then an astronaut, of course when I started to grow beyond 6 foot that wasn’t going to happen.
Chad: Well some of us never hit 6 feet so you should be happy!
Marc: Ha-ha, so yeah I just wound up in comics, it seemed like an easy gig so that is where I went.
Chad: How did you get started in comics?
Marc: You know, I wasn’t a huge comic book reader when I was a kid, my cousin was, to this day he has an enormous collection. I would go to his house to hang out on the weekends and pick up something that I looked cool and usually it was something by Jack Kirby or Neal Adams, something like that and read those comics. Unfortunately back then I would usually only read one part of a two or three part story because I never really got to see them in any real order, but yeah that was my exposure back then. I would go over his house, hang out and check out what I thought looked cool.
Chad: What was your favorite comic?
Marc: You know I was a big fan of Kirby’s stuff. I loved the horror stuff, the old E.C. Comics, all the black and whites. They had some amazing art and some really cool stories, really cool writing. That is what I was really drawn to.
Chad: Very cool.
Marc: I remember being drawn to the dynamics that John Buscema had brought to the field. I thought Neil Adams stuff was kind of interesting at that time. All the old illustrators of course anything that Frank Frazetta did, I snuffed that out and loved it. To this day he is a main influence on what I do. Later on I got to appreciate guys like Walt Simonson and Buscema was always with me all the way through my comic career. I was into his work, all the stuff that he did but that was primarily what I was checking out. Those guys, if they did something I would ask my cousin, hey any issues with so and so and he would pull them out for me.
Chad: What was your inspiration for The Darkness?
Marc: As a kid, again I always dug the horror stuff. I loved Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, and all that stuff. I always wanted to do something that kind of scared me. Around the time we were doing Witchblade, in fact The Darkness was created before Witchblade, the concept for it anyway, and I kind of put it in a drawer and didn’t think about again until Witchblade became popular. But I always wanted to do something that was super hero horror, which was not what anyone else was really doing … Marvel wasn’t doing anything like that, and DC wasn’t doing anything like that. I was always fascinated by a character that would have to live in the dark both literally and figuratively. I started to think more about what was scary about the dark and what was scary about the dark part of us as human beings. Stuff just started to come to the forefront and the more I thought about it the more I kind of liked the idea. I remember pitching the idea to David Wohl who was Top Cow’s Editor and Chief at that time. He kind of responded to it so I pulled it back out of the drawer and with the success of Witchblade we thought, you know what there is a market for this super natural super hero stuff going on, so let’s find ourselves a writer. Let’s look for somebody that could bring a fresh spin to this kind material and Garth Ennis’s name came up. He was just starting to blow up at that time; people were starting to take notice, so we gave him a call.
Chad: In terms of the game how big of a team has Starbreeze Studio dedicated to the design and the development of The Darkness?
Marc: You know, I am not sure of the exact number but I do know that they were using this game to kind of help grow the company staff wise. I do know that as the game started going on and on and the excitement level was increasing. We moved over to 2K as a publisher, and more money started coming in for the game. They began ramping up and staffing up, and the game became more of a priority for them to get the game to not only look as good as it possibly could, and it looks amazing. They have really taken advantage of the next generation platforms and I think it’s going to blow people away.
Chad: In developing the game, how important was it to you that the developers stick to the comic storyline as much as possible?
Marc: Well I think the main thing we were looking for was not so much someone to stick to the storyline, but stick to the concept of the character and the world that he inhabited, meaning we wanted Jackie to be in the game and we wanted The Darkness to be in the game. Those were our priorities. We had been approached over the years to do something with us, The Darkness, Witchblade what have you, and nobody really came to us understanding what The Darkness really was and how he could be turned into an entertaining game experience until Starbreeze came along. They did so much incredible preproduction work that just blew us away when we saw it. These guys just got visually what The Darkness should be, and then they pitched us the idea of how the game would work. They were very respectful to us, and very respectful to The Darkness, and very respectful to all the history that we have had with that character and how important that was to us. We realized you know what; these guys have done Riddick which obviously impressed the hell out of everybody. They were ready to step it up to the next level. They really wanted to have a game that proved that Riddick was not a fluke, and that they could not only do it again, but do it better. So it was like wow ok so far so good here. So, to get a developer like Starbreeze, AND they get it, AND they want to make it … so it was like ok, let’s go! Another thing we had to tip our hat to them on was the fact that they actually wanted someone closely associated with The Darkness to work on the game with them, which was Paul Jenkins who actually wrote the game and for fans of the book, he actually wrote a lot of the issues of the book too.
Chad: That kind of leads us in to the next question. Does the game follow a specific series of events that are outlined in the comic, and if so what issues do you think it touches the most?
Marc: Actually, oddly enough that is something Paul did although I never asked him directly (ha-ha) but a lot of what he put in there kind of follows some of his story lines in the book. I don’t want to give too much away because a lot of that is revealed in the game play, and for those who have not read the book I don’t want to spoil that for them. The brilliant thing that Starbreeze did was that they managed to make an origin game, in that they teach you what The Darkness power is and they teach you about Jackie’s world while you are playing the game which is really entertaining. There is no need for a lot of explanation; you just kind of get it organically and we thought that was really smart of them, especially when we saw HOW they did it. It was like wow you guys actually pulled it off. It sounded great on paper, but they actually pulled it off. So for us it was like, here is the concept, here is the feel for Jackie’s world, here is the feel for Jackie himself, you take it from there. Having Paul work closely with them, and he did work very closely with them, he literally wrote the game with them and he worked closely with us. I think that fans of the comic are not only going to NOT be disappointed, but they are going to be pretty impressed that Starbreeze was able to stay so close to the spirit of what The Darkness is and Jackie especially.
Chad: Did you contribute any sketches or storyboards for the games cinematic sequences?
Marc: Well we were so impressed with what they had done artistically, that we kind of just went you know what, you guys just do what you need to do … you obviously know what you are doing, certainly better than us. I think one of the things that also was very fun for us was that Starbreeze pulled a lot from our library of Darkness books. They actually used a lot of our artwork as inspiration, whether it was my work, or whether it was Dale Keown’s work, or some of our other guys, you know they pulled from that. So a lot of what The Darkness is in the comic is translated into the game. In fact the ONLY difference actually that people would notice who are familiar with the comic is that Jackie is not technically in his super hero costume in the game. He is wearing a trench coat, which we thought was a very smart move on Starbreezes part … that was their suggestion.
Chad: Ok, that is a little bit different from the comic.
Marc: Yeah, I mean he still looks like Jackie, although he just isn’t wearing a costume in the game, which is cool with us because there is so much other stuff that Starbreeze put in there that IS about The Darkness. That was something we talked about very early on in the development because they were kind of worried, like I said they were very respectful of us and the property. They said we would kind of like to NOT have Jackie in the costume and this is why, all these cool things are going to be happening around him. Make him just a regular looking guy, like he is in the comic, and then have all this really cool darkness crap going on with all these demon guys running around and that’s all you really need. And you know what, they were absolutely right, that wasn’t something we had to go back and forth about.
Chad: How many villains from the comic will be in the game and can you name a few?
Marc: Recognizable villains that people will see in there from the comic; Uncle Paulie who was a fixture in the comic, especially in the Paul Jenkins issues. He is kind of the main mortal lord in the book and he has his guys that work for him and then there is another place, another part of the game which we have hinted to in the press, called The Other World, which is the supernatural world of The Darkness. You as Jackie will play two fifths of the game in that level, which is actually pretty cool supernatural villains for Jackie to go up against so he’s not just fighting mobsters the whole time.
Marc: Starbreeze was really smart in making sure that Jackie, when he goes up against junior antagonists, there are a lot of them and they can do a lot of damage to Jackie. They were also very smart about taking it to another level when you get to the point that Jackie is fighting these OTHER things that are NOT people. So that was pretty cool.
Chad: Having seen the game in progress, what are your thoughts? It sounds like you like it a lot.
Marc: You know, we have had experience with working with other media, and working with people with various levels of success you know, and it’s always a crap shoot. Before I got any taste at all of the movie or TV business I always wondered how anyone could spend so much money on a movie and still have it come out like crap, ha-ha.
Chad: Ha-ha, yeah.
Marc: So once I got into the business and saw how things operate, I completely reversed my thinking and went WOW, how do they even make a good movie? You know?
Marc: There is so much going on, and so many people with their input that the chances of coming out with something good are so loaded against you, it’s not funny. So when we got into something like a video game, which is not all that different from going into a movie or a TV show deal, you kind of go you know what, all we can really do is get the best people in play that we feel understand whatever it is that we are producing with them, and hopefully they are the best there is at what they do, and in the case of Starbreeze I believe that is true. Then we work with them as much as we can and kind of just sit back and let them do their job to be honest.
Chad: That is a great outlook.
Marc: Yeah, it came out terrific. You know, all you can really do at a certain point is cross your fingers and hope that you made the right decisions and you are involved with the right people. In the case of The Darkness game, you know what, without sounding like I am hyping it too much, it FAR exceeded any expectation I could have hoped for. The end result was just amazing to me.
Chad: Well you just answered my next question.
Chad: So it exceeded your expectations.
Chad: Did you get a chance to play the game at various stages in its development cycle?
Marc: Yeah, they actually showed us early builds of the game almost from the get go. They had started doing work on it pretty quickly. So even three years ago, we got to see some early builds of it and even back then before any kind of polish was done to it, it was already impressive. The work that they had done, the fact that they are artists over there at Starbreeze as well as programmers which I think is a great advantage for them. So not only are they gamers and programmers, but they are artists as well. So the world that they were building, even in its early stages, was very tactile and very immersive, and that was already a great start. Then as the months went on they would show us more and more. Each time we saw it we got re-blown away by it. It was like; man I thought it was cool last month. It was an interesting process for me because it’s not a world that I am used to. To see how it improves almost on a monthly basis. Even the things we saw, they go back and tweak it and polish it and fix it. You may have thought it was great before, it becomes something even that much greater.
Chad: That actually brings up another question. How different is the world of video game production from the world you experienced previously with comics?
Marc: As far as the differences are concerned, for a comic book, for me it’s like I am completely in charge of that process. I can stick my nose in there as much as I want. It’s a business that I completely understand. If we create something we think is cool we put a team together, if it’s not me it’s somebody else, and we publish the book, it’s that simple, and the cost compared to video games and other media are really relatively small. In fact they are just a fraction of the cost of putting together a video game. And the time involved is also a fraction of the time. Literally we can put out a comic book within six months, from conception to hitting the stands. With a video game like The Darkness, they have been working on it for three years by the time it comes out. And they have spent millions and millions of dollars on this game, which is something we don’t do in the comic book business. No matter how expensive that book, no matter how much advertising you put behind it, it’s not going to cost you millions and millions of dollars. So that’s something to me that’s so startling. You’ve got a company that literally spends three years creating something, spending all this time, spending all this money, and they have so much riding on it that you go WOW that is a scary business to be in. These guys know what they are doing, we knew that from the get go and we have all the confidence in the world that people will not be disappointed by it.
Chad: In terms of the game itself, if you had to pick one thing, what would you say impressed you the most?
Marc: The thing that impressed me the most about the game was just, how they captured the spirit of Jackie Estacado. How they captured the spirit of what The Darkness can be, and how they pull that together into something you can actually play. It’s one thing to do a graphic illustration of the world. It’s one thing to write a description of the world. But what they had to do was both of those things PLUS make that world playable. Make that world so immersive that when you grab the controls and you are looking at the TV, you feel like you actually ARE Jackie Estacado and you are in that world. The fact they were able to do that, and I can’t really single out one scene because there are so many really cool ones, just the fact that they were able to make that happen, to make that transition from a comic into a playable video game, that’s what really impressed me the most, because that’s just not something that is easy to do.
Chad: Do you play a lot of video games yourself?
Marc: No, I make a great target in Halo. Ha-ha.
Marc: We have it set up over at the office, and all the guys when we are working late nights, will challenge each other and get together. Four or five of us will get on the monitors and play. I play some games at home. Honestly, from what I have played and what I have seen, The Darkness and what Starbreeze has done with it really takes all that stuff to a new level. I am just really pleased to be a part of all of that.
Chad: Outside of Halo, are you familiar with any other first person shooters on the market?
Marc: Let’s see, what have I played. I have played things like FEAR, Grand Theft Auto, and Tomb Raider. I play a lot of those games. I don’t play them for hours and hours on end, but I definitely have played them enough to say well this is pretty cool, or this is kind of interesting. Yeah, I certainly feel I have played enough games to compare what Starbreeze has done with this.
Chad: Do you have any plans to work on any other video games in the near future?
Marc: Yes. We would love to work with Starbreeze again in the near future. It has been such a pleasure working with them. They have been so collaborative and so concerned that WE are ok with everything they are doing. We would love to do more with them and 2K has been great. We do have a couple of projects that we are working on right now that hopefully we can make someone else move on, but I think as the technology improves, and the developers out there are getting better and better and can interpret what we do more and more into video games, yeah you are going to see a lot more stuff.
Chad: Do you believe that comics have become increasingly more violent in the last twenty years or so, having been in the industry?
Marc: Well I think there has been an increase in a lot of things in all media, and I think that just happens … naturally. I remember when I was a kid if you saw somebody get hit with a gunshot, even if it was just moving their clothing, you were shocked by it.
Marc: Today certainly, that’s not going to shock anybody. You know, in the case of The Darkness in both the game and the comic, here it’s his world … and we have to kind of be true to that world, or you are not really being true to that character. So, you know I think you can probably say that everything around us has probably been wrapped up a little bit. I don’t think it’s to the point where anyone is desensitized by it. I think people still react, and always will react to the real thing as opposed to something that is manufactured. So if there are any concerns there, it’s not really concerns with me. I think it’s just part of the way things move.
Chad: So that brings me to my next question. What do you think of all the criticism surrounding violence in video games today?
Marc: I don’t think there is a real ground for it. Again, I don’t think that people have a problem separating fantasy from reality, and if they do, well that’s a whole other issue.
Marc: I think it’s up to the individual. I think the vast, vast, vast majority; if not all but a few, realize its entertainment and once entertainment is done its put away. I don’t think there are a whole lot of people out there that can’t make that distinction. I think it’s a whole different social issue that really doesn’t have anything to do with video gaming.
Chad: We agree with you.
Chad: Now we have three questions from readers on the site.
Chad: Derek asks: Will we see any other marvel characters in the game as enemies?
Marc: Marvel characters?
Chad: Yes, Marvel characters. Ha-ha.
Marc: Um, no we aren’t going to have any Marvel characters in our game, ha-ha. There isn’t going to be any cross pollinating with other publishers there.
Chad: So there are no crossovers whatsoever, even outside of Marvel?
Marc: No, not with the game.
Marc: Not currently anyway.
Chad: Ok this question is comic related. Arha asks: Will Capris play a greater role in the next volume of the Darkness after the level issues? And will we see a return of Ripclaw from Volume 1? They were amazing characters.
Marc: I am going to answer a tentative yes on that, only because we do have plans and I can’t stand spoilers.
Marc: I don’t want to say anything that is going to make somebody go “oh you just ruined it for me!” but keep your eyes peeled.
Chad: Ok, the last question is game related again. Spider78 asks: Will there be any hidden Easter Eggs in the game you can tell us about?
Marc: I think there are things that people can find in there. I think Starbreeze was very clever in giving people some rewards if they looked around. It’s not a game that has to be played in any linear fashion I don’t believe. I believe it is very free roaming. I think, as far as I know, that if someone looks around, if they’re smart, they can find some things.
Chad: Ok. That’s it Marc. Thank you very much for your time.
Marc: My pleasure. I appreciate your support of the game.
Chad: Thank you!