Video game designer, screen writer, and film maker Jordan Mechner is once again adding "comic book writer" to his already impressive resume. Mechner, most known for creating the original "Prince of Persia" video game back in 1989, is now tackling an all-new graphic novel property with Templar. Templar, released in early July, tells the story of a band of renegade Knights Templar that are on the run after their order is arrested on charges of witchcraft, heresy, and various other crimes against Church and King.
Illustrated and fully-colored by some of Mechner's past collaborators LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, and clocking in at almost 500 pages, Templar is definitely an epic in its own right. Newsarama talked to Mechner about the project, the difficulties of writing for different mediums, and the influences that made Templar what it is.
Newsarama: Jordan, how much research went into the creation of Templar? How long had you been working on it before things started coming together?
Jordan Mechner: It took me about six months to crack the story and write the script for the first book, and another six months to write books two and three. Before that, though, I'd spent a good ten years (off and on) researching the Knights Templar and Middle Ages for other projects that never came to fruition. One was a half-finished screenplay I set aside in 2001 to do a video game instead, which was "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" with Ubisoft. Because of those previous projects, I was already familiar with the Templars' historical period and background, so I was able to hit the ground running on Templar.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Templar? There's a slew of them here.
Mechner: The story takes place in 14th century France, when the Knights Templar have just returned from the Crusades. At that time, Templars had this great reputation as popular heroes -- not just the best fighters, but the most pious and virtuous knights, because they serve the Pope, not the king.
Our two main heroes are Martin and Bernard -- both Templar Knights, but of very different sorts. Martin's a true believer and tries to stick to his Templar vows, but he has a dark side and his passionate nature gets him into trouble, especially when he drinks. Bernard is more of a cheerful scoundrel, who figures the vows were never meant to be taken literally -- chastity and poverty in particular. They're not the noble leaders, they're just soldiers, ordinary rank-and-file knights -- but they're the small fry who happen to escape when all the other Templars are rounded up and arrested by the king. So they're the only ones in a position to fight back.
The villain of the book is Guillaume de Nogaret, a real historical character -- the king's chief minister, probably the second-most powerful man in France at that time. He masterminds the plan to destroy the entire Templar order on charges of heresy and witchcraft so the king can get his hands on their treasure, which he believes is stored in their Paris fortress.
And then there's our heroine, Isabelle, a young noblewoman whose brother is the archbishop in charge of the Templar trial. She's the girl Martin loved and lost 12 years earlier, when her family made her marry someone else, and he joined the Templars to get over the heartbreak. Now he comes back into her life again, but as a wanted fugitive. Martin, Bernard and Isabelle form the core of a gang of former Templars-turned-outlaws who set out to heist the Templar treasure from its impregnable fortress before Nogaret realizes it's there.
Nrama: What went into deciding on choosing LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland for the artistic duties? What was your relationship like working together?
Mechner: Our working relationship was extremely close. LeUyen and Alex would give me notes on the script, I'd give them notes on the storyboards, and we would revise and discuss it all until we were satisfied. The process lasted five years, during which they had two kids, and we became close friends as well. We had so much fun making the book together that when it was over, we made an e-book about it.
LeUyen and Alex had previously illustrated the 2008 Prince of Persia graphic novel, so I knew and admired their work, but oddly, because of the timetable and other peculiarities of that project, and because I wasn't writing it myself, we hadn't actually worked together on it -- the relationship was more arm's length. Part of what appealed to all three of us about doing Templar was the chance for a true collaboration where we could really roll up our sleeves and work together.
Nrama: You're responsible for creating one of the greatest selling platforming games of all time, as well as dabbled in Hollywood screenwriting. Did you find any challenges in terms of structure and style when writing a graphic novel?
Mechner: Graphic novels are a very different medium from film or video games, and demand a particular craft. The form imposes limits but also gives you some huge freedoms. LeUyen and Alex and I dig into that a bit in the "Making Of" e-book, especially in the chapter about writing action. The way action plays on the graphic novel page is very different from how it works in a movie or video game. I had a lot to learn.
Nrama: What is it about medieval lore that inspires you as a creator?
Mechner: I've always been attracted to the Middle Ages. For me, it resonates so strongly with our own time -- it has the main institutions and a lot of the problems of our modern world -- but it was a simpler world, built on a more human scale. People were fighting with swords, delivering urgent messages by horseback, building castles and walls to keep out dangers, going to church; things were experienced physically and in person that now we experience as virtual or abstract concepts. For those reasons, the Middle Ages make a great visual dramatic setting, especially for action-adventure stories, which I love. I think we're drawn to historical and fantasy stories in part because they're a reflecting mirror, a way to understand aspects of ourselves and our modern world, which is sometimes easier to do when you don't look at it directly.
Nrama: It's been cited that such films as "In The Name of The Rose" and "Ocean's Eleven" are influences for Templar, was there anything else out there that went into the mix?
Mechner: The novels of Alexandre Dumas are a huge inspiration -- he weaves in so much real history and complexity with these colorful, larger-than-life fictional characters, without dumbing it down, but also without having it ever be not fun. The movies "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "Seven Samurai" were definitely touchstones for our main heroes -- the sense that they represent a kind of hero whose time has passed, and they're starting to realize it, but they still feel obligated to try to live up to a code that the rest of the world has given up on. The heist element of Templar of course owes a debt to the whole great tradition of heist movies, "Ocean's Eleven" being a recent example, but also going back to movies like "Topkapi" and one of my all-time favorites, "The Sting" (Newman and Redford again).
Nrama: Why was this story important to tell for you?
Mechner: The Templar trial resonates deeply with me because it reminds me of so much 20th-century history. The use of the Inquisition and torture as political weapons, the idea that people in power could destroy their enemies via public denunciation and accusation even without a factual basis, was a new idea in the 14th century, but it's still very much with us. My father and his branch of our family experienced tyranny directly in Europe in the 1930s, and were lucky to survive and get to America. I grew up hearing their stories, and was fascinated by the special flavor of how people who seize and abuse power defend their actions as being legal and necessary, how tyrants can actually be sticklers for legality, as the Nazis were. It's amazing to me that even today, some people still justify the practice of torturing prisoners, despite hundreds of years of evidence that it's a bad idea.
Nrama: What can your fans anticipate from Templar?
Mechner: I hope readers will enjoy Templar as a book they can sink their teeth into -- a fun, romantic tale of action and adventure and heroism, with humor and colorful characters, but grounded in real history. It's very much a novel -- it's a full meal, not a snack -- and I hope it will appeal to people who enjoy graphic novels, or just historical fiction in general, as well as those who might be curious about it because of the Prince of Persia video games.
For anyone who hesitates about taking the plunge to buy such a big book, our e-book "The Making of Templar" contains a lot of behind-the-scenes information about the project and our work process, as well as about the Templar history; so fans who'd like to know more can start there! The e-book can be downloaded from jordanmechner.com/templarbook.