The Fighting Fantasy game books thrilled RPGers in the 1980s, and now arguably its biggest title is coming to comic books from an avowed super-fan. On May 17, Freeway Fighter returns as a miniseries from Andi Ewington, Simon Coleby, and Len O'Grady, and they've got room for a unique fourth overseeing the project: the game's original creator Ian Livingstone.
Inspired by the Mad Max films, Freeway Fighter mixes car culture with a dystopian future as seen over the shoulderer of Bella De La Rosa and a I-400 Interceptor as they intersect with a marauding gang called the Doom Dogs.
With just month until release, Newsarama talked with Ewington, Coleby, and Livingstone about their various perspectives on Freeway Figher and its revival 32 years after the original game.
Newsarama: Ian, can you tell us how this Freeway Fighter adaptation came about?
Ian Livingstone: I met Andi Ewington through a mutual friend, and was bowled over by his knowledge and enthusiasm for the book and the genre. He was not only a Freeway Fighter fan, but also an experienced comic book writer. He was also really well-connected in the industry and assembled a fantastic creative team for the project. I was sold on the idea pretty quickly!
Nrama: Andi, Simon, how would you describe this Freeway Fighter miniseries itself then?
Ewington: I see it as a high-octane origination story that charts the fortunes of the original owner of the iconic I-400 Interceptor. It focuses the ‘how’ and ‘why’ the Interceptor ended up in New Hope at the start of the original '80s gamebook.
Simon Coleby: It's a brutal, no-nonsense, dystopian, post-apocalyptic story. Action-filled and character-driven. Hopefully it's work worthy of the iconic Fighting Fantasy brand.
Nrama: Who are the primary characters of this?
Ewington: First off we have Bella De La Rosa, she’s a former I-400 racing driver, daughter of Frank De La Rosa; a legendary champion of the I-400 arena. Rosa’s been on the road ever since the virus outbreak, surviving on her wits and driving skills, scavenging for supplies wherever and however she can. Our second character is the I-400 car itself, Bella talks to it as if it’s a real person and we get to see that Bella’s time on the roll has taken its toll on her mental state. Her Interceptor is the closest she’s got to a friend out in the hostile wastes… and the only thing she trusts.
Coleby: The main character was inspired by a couple of my real life friends. She's a tough lady, fighting to survive in an unimaginably hostile environment. I wanted her to look contemporary, and to give her an air of strength and independence. She has dreadlocks, because I thought they made sense in an environment where such things as hair-care products would be long gone. That was a simple, understated visual clue of how she's adapted to her world. Her companion in her journey is a foil to her toughness. In this kind of story, I feel it's often most effective if characters combine to make a 'whole person' -- she is the tough side of the person, he is a little more sensitive, hesitant and vulnerable. Throughout the story, they perhaps bring out the hidden and complimentary side of each other’s' character.
Nrama: And who or what are they up against?
Ewington: Beyond the post-apocalyptic environment, the main antagonists are the Doom Dogs, a dangerous marauding gang who target Bella and her I-400 Interceptor. Bella soon discovers that the Doom Dogs aren’t an adversary that should be considered lightly, they’re a relentless force who will stop at nothing in the pursuit of their prey.
Nrama: You're working with Simon Coleby on this - what do you think he's bringing to the series?
Ewington: Simon and I have been working together on a few projects now, including Dark Souls II and Just Cause 3 one shots. I know his work ethic is impeccable, he’s the consummate professional and his art is absolutely gorgeous. He’s an ease to work with and really puts his heart and soul into each and every panel. Add to that Len O’Grady’s colors and Jim Campbell’s letters and you’ve got the makings of a superb body of work.
Nrama: This has a heavy Mad Max vibe- are you steering into that, or trying to avoid it?
Ewington: The '80s Freeway Fighter gamebook certainly tipped it’s hat in the direction of the original Mad Max movies. I’d like to feel that this comic also recognizes the importance of that franchise while defining its own road. There’s always going to be parallels drawn against it, but there’s a lot of conscious writing and development that has gone into Freeway Fighter. Our world feels a little more contemporary, and there’s recognizable environments that echo the dystopian decay of The Walking Dead, rather than the bleak sand dunes of Mad Max.
Coleby: For me, neither, to be honest. Of course, Mad Max is so iconic, it's virtually impossible to avoid some level of influence, but I hope our work is something distinct, which has its own merits. Maybe we should have included a Tina Turner scene, somewhere?
Nrama: What's the world of Freeway Fighter like?
Coleby: Tribalized, fractured, barely survivable, unpredictable, offering threat and danger at every turn and torn asunder by past events. Think; 'post-Brexit Britain', about five years from now..!
Ewington: It still has some semblance of familiarity. Highways, towns and buildings still stand but have been looted and badly weathered in the 18 months that have passed since the outbreak. This is a civilization on the brink of survival, yet we still see fragments of our lost past in the narrative. Survivors have banded together to form fortified settlements, while scavengers and raiders patrol the open landscape. It’s certainly a hostile and lawless world, but there is hope and salvation if you can find it.
Nrama: Simon, how much did the original book and illustrations by Kevin Bulmer affect your work on this miniseries?
Coleby: Those illustrations are brilliant! They have provided a basis for a few elements of our story, and I had great fun adapting Kevin's designs into my style. Obviously, Kevin's drawing style was very different from mine, but the ideas and concepts were absolutely solid, and perfectly suited to the story. Where we drew upon that work, I just made them a little more gritty, and updated the aesthetics very slightly.
Nrama: How involved is co-creator Ian Livingstone in this original spin-off miniseries?
Ewington: Ian’s been instrumental in the development of the Freeway Fighter story. Since the beginning, when I pitched the initial idea, Ian has been there as a guide, ensuring that the team have kept on point to his original idea, while giving us the freedom we needed to build our narrative. Every character, every panel, every word has passed under Ian’s meticulous eye. It’s been a dream to work with someone who has been so influential throughout my childhood.
Nrama: Ian, Why do you think Freeway Fighter is so memorable for people, over 30 years later?
Livingstone: People never seem to tire of post-apocalypse dystopian futures. And with the story emphasis on a car and its driver, hopefully the road will go on forever.
Nrama: Would you like to see more of your Fighting Fantasy titles come to comic books?
Livingstone: Yes please! In particular, I would like to see City of Thieves and Deathtrap Dungeon in comic book format. Both books have rich back stories and tough environments that lend themselves well to an extended series adaptation in the same way that Freeway Fighter does.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals for this miniseries?
Coleby: Primarily, I hope we've told an entertaining story. If we've created something which is worthy to carry on the fine tradition of Fighting Fantasy - the superbly original and exciting books I loved as a geeky teen - I'll be quite happy.
Ewington: Firstly I’d love Freeway Fighter to be so successful that there’s demand and interest to keep the story going. There’s a lot more we can do in the Freeway Fighter universe; this is only the beginning. Secondly, I really want to write a Deathtrap Dungeon, City of Thieves or any of the other Titan-based stories from the Fighting Fantasy stable. I’ve already drafted up a Deathtrap Dungeon script and I’d love to bring that to life.