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Interview and Preview: ‘Minecraft,’ Volume 1

Today is the release date for volume 1 of Minecraft, the first officially licensed Minecraft graphic novel, and we have an interview with the creators, writer Sfé R. Monster and artist Sarah Graley as well as some exclusive preview art from the new book.

Minecraft is an insanely popular video game, with over 90 million monthly players, that can be played in a number of different modes. The game itself allows for a lot of creativity, as players collect resources and craft various items out of blocks, but it also allows users to collaborate, create videos, and even make virtual computers. The game is appropriate for all ages, and there’s even a special education edition.

How did you come to Minecraft? If you played, did you write fanfiction or create videos? 

Sfé R. Monster: I’ve been playing Minecraft for about seven years—basically exactly as long as I’ve been making comics! I’m not a big gamer, and I don’t like games with a set plot or route that you have to follow, so I got into Minecraft because I saw videos of people playing it online and I was really enamored by the idea of an infinite world with infinite possibilities where you can create and explore and make the game basically whatever you want it to be.  

Sarah Graley:  I first started playing Minecraft with my partner a few years ago. We love playing video games together, and the world ofMinecraft was a really fun one to explore! We started a world on survival without much knowledge of the game, and between trying to build cool bases and getting blown up by Creepers, I think we learned quite a bit! The internet is thankfully full of great guides and tips, and we were mining for diamonds in no time.

Minecraft seems like it offers a lot of freedom to creators, compared to other video games with defined plots and casts of characters. How much freedom did you have to create your story?

SRM: I had so much freedom it was, frankly, a little intimidating! When I was invited to write the comic, I was told I could do basically anything (within reason) so long as it related to Minecraft. I really had to think about what that meant, because the scope of what you can do and achieve in the game is so much that it took me a little while to narrow it down! Dark Horse, Mojang AB, and Microsoft were great to work with and super flexible with what the story could be about, though, and the one that stuck was the idea of a group of friends playing the game together (which is great because that was my favorite idea in the pile!). 

One of the challenges, for both writer and artist, is balancing the look of the game with the more “realistic” aspects of the human characters—they don’t look like Minecraft characters. How did you handle that?

SRM: I really wanted the in-game parts of the story to be as relevant and important and real to the kids as their offline time, so it was important to show that when they’re playing the game they’re still themselves, and their dynamics and relationships (and conflicts) carry over. However, I really like the stylistic look of Minecraft, and it wouldn’t be the same story if they were playing in regular looking fields with regular looking buildings and houses that had none of that classic blocky-ness! I made a point in the script that while I wanted the kids to look like their offline selves, the in-game world should still look and behave like the classic Minecraft everyone knows, and Sarah did an absolutely incredible job capturing exactly that energy.  She got it perfect! 

SG: I definitely wanted to keep everything from the Minecraft world on the model—for example, in the character’s main Minecraft base, it’s full of bits and pieces that they’ve collected throughout their previous adventures, and all of this should be super recognizable for players of the game! It was nice getting to put my own spin on the style of the characters, and I think the combination of the Minecraft world with them works really nice together. I think it gives our book a nice unique look.

And you also have an in-game story that interacts with a real-world story. What interested you about that dual storyline?

SRM: I feel that it’s important to show how online and offline interactions carry over and influence these characters. When something’s bugging you—be it online or offline—you’re going to take that mood with you no matter where you go. Our protagonist, Tyler, has moved across the country and is in a new city and school, super far away from all his old friends and everything he’s familiar with, and that both weakens and strengthens his friendships and influences how he feels online and offline. I wanted to show that the in-game side of things is just as significant as their offline interactions, and when you’re having a bad day offline, sometimes chatting and playing a game with a friend online who’s very far away can make things better for you overall.

SG: I think it’s really cool showing how the characters deal with their real-world problems while playing the game—for them Minecraft isn’t just a place that they come to play a video game, it’s also where they get to hang out with their friends, and I think Sfé’s story shows this in a really nice way! Online video games are a really social thing, and even if those human connections are in a virtual space, they’re still incredibly real and important.

What was the most challenging part of making this graphic novel—and what was your favorite part?

SRM: For me, the most challenging part was just narrowing the scope of Minecraft down! I had to make peace with the fact that no matter what I’d have to leave out some of my favorite parts and places and elements of the game. My favorite part, though, was having the kids tell anecdotes about their favorite memories of Minecraft that are really just situations I remember fondly from my experience playing the game.  

SG: I think getting the Ender Dragon looking good was the trickiest part for me—I really wanted to make sure it was as menacing and epic as it appears in the game. It is one of the most iconic bosses in the Minecraft world, so I definitely spent some extra time making it look just right!

My favorite part was coloring the book—it’s a bit of the art process that I love as it really brings the final artwork to life! I think the aforementioned Ender Dragon pages might have been my favorites in that regard.

Are you assuming the readers already play the game? I notice you don’t stop to explain Minecraft-specific terms and concepts. 

SRM: Minecraft is one of the most played games in the world (second only to Tetris!), and I found that in my experience even people who have never, ever played a video game in their life know vaguely whatMinecraft is. That gave me a bit of confidence as a writer that hopefully most people picking up the comic will understand the basic mechanics of the game, though I was excited to give each of the kids in the group an in-game expertise and focus so that they could explain some of the more complicated concepts and game mechanics that even I was unfamiliar with (like how to find The End and locate an Ender Dragon).

SG: I think Sfé wrote a story that is a nice introduction to the Minecraft world without stopping and getting stuck in the more basic concepts. The characters in the book have been playing for a while, so they’re quite confident with the game, while still learning new stuff all the time!

In this first volume, you had the characters go on a quest for the Ender Dragon, which actually ends the game. Why did you decide to go to that extreme in the first book, and what does that leave for the future?

SRM: Fighting the Ender Dragon was honestly the fulfillment of my own personal Minecraft dream, which I realized I’d never be able to accomplish on my own (I’ve played a lot of Minecraft, but I’m actually very, very bad at combat in the game, so taking on the dragon would be impossible for me). The Ender Dragon is a pretty lofty goal, for sure, but the great thing about Minecraft is there is still so much to explore within the game, and it’s constantly updating and expanding to add exciting new places and biomes and challenges to overcome! I’m not really worried about not having anything to explore in the future, as much as I am hoping that we can get to all of it!

SG: I agree with Sfé—Minecraft is always expanding, and there are so many stories to tell! It’s pretty rare that you find a player who got to the Ender Dragon and then stopped playing—you could see it as the end of a chapter, but with Minecraft, players are always making up new ones.

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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