Warren Spector has a storied history in the world of video games, having worked as a producer on celebrated titles from Wing Commander to Deus Ex to Epic Mickey.Now he's tackling another creative endeavor, and making his debut in the world of comic books writing the DuckTales ongoing series from kaboom!, the all-ages imprint of BOOM! Studios. It's based on the cartoon series starring Uncle Scrooge (and many other ducks) that ran from 1987 to 1990, to this day considered the crown jewel of the Disney Afternoon lineup. Spector's joined on the comic by artists Leonel Castellani and Jose Massaroli. With issue #2 in stores this week, Newsarama talked with Spector over email about making the adjustment from video game to comics, the timeless and age-defying appeal of DuckTales, and writing two very different Disney icons in Mickey Mouse and Uncle Scrooge. And for an extended preview of the now sold-out DuckTales #1 (second printing coming soon), head over here. Newsarama: Warren, obviously folks are familiar with you through your vast work in the world of games, but unless there's something I'm overlooking, I believe that this is actually your comic book debut, though I know you're a big fan of the medium. Which begs the obvious questions — how long have you been looking to get into this type of work, and what kind of adjustment or learning curve is there between writing games and writing comics?
Warren Spector: You’re right. This is my first comic book work. My wife, Caroline Spector, and I pitched some comic ideas to various publishers back in the ‘80s, but nothing ever came of it.
I’ve wanted to try my hand at comic books since I was a kid so, in a sense, I guess you could say this has been five decades in the making… But I can’t say I was actively looking for the opportunity when it came to me – my day job keeps me plenty busy! What happened was Christopher Burns at BOOM! Studios asked last year (I think it was at New York Comic Con) if I’d be interested in doing some writing for them. I was amazed, incredulous and crazy excited. The fact that they were willing to work with a complete amateur still amazes me! They’ve been… heck, they’ve had to be patient and super helpful to me.
I really am an amateur at this and comics and games are very different storytelling media. I mean, I went into this thinking “I’ve plotted a bunch of games, written a novel that actually got published, written a bunch of choose your own adventure books and roleplaying modules in all genres… I’ve even written some movie scripts, for fun.” In other words, I think I’m a decent writer. But my next thought, following on from that was “How tough can comics be?” I don’t know what I was thinking…
Let me tell you, writing comics is as hard as anything I’ve ever done — for me, at least. I’m now officially in awe of guys who can crank out multiple books a month and maintain a high level of quality. Comics are completely different than any other medium I’ve dabbled in. I could go on and on about the unique qualities of comics that are forcing me to think in new and different ways. I’m using creative muscles I didn’t know I had. I mean, half the story is told between panels (something I read in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics but never really grokked until now)… You can’t have any movement within a panel… If you put too many panels on a page, or too much dialogue in a panel, your pacing and comprehensibility are toast… So, yeah, there’s been an adjustment period! But it’s been great fun taking on a new creative challenge.
Nrama: Around the time Epic Mickey was released last fall, you professed your desire to work on DuckTales. Now, I know you were a bit outside the target demographic when the show started back in 1987, so what is it about the show that appealed to you so much? I'm guessing that it at least partly has to do with the fact that the cartoon drew heavy inspiration from the classic Carl Barks Duck comics.
Spector: That’s exactly right. The fact that a whole new generation was being introduced to the Ducks was huge for me. As a Disney fan I was thrilled by that. On top of that, the animation was – for its time, at least – top notch. So much of what passed for animation on television back then was terrible. The stories were bad. The voice acting was bad. The animation gave new and unfortunate meaning to the word “limited.” I looked at DuckTales and the rest of the Disney Afternoon shows and saw folks who, while working within a budget, clearly cared.
Nowadays, animation is everywhere and the tools and techniques have become so refined you can find quality work everywhere. When DuckTales debuted that wasn’t the case. I may not have been in the target demographic for the show but there was enough adult content (in the best sense of the word “adult”) to appeal to me and the animation appealed to the cartoon junkie I was and always will be, regardless of my chronological age.
Nrama: Out of all the Disney Afternoon cartoons (though DuckTales actually pre-dates that labeling), DuckTales is kind of the unanimous critical favorite, and even produced the most episodes (100, pretty unheard of for a kid's cartoon of that era). What are your favorite episodes or story arcs from the series?
Spector: My favorite stories are the ones inspired by Carl Barks stories. I do wish the writers had stuck more closely to the original storylines in some cases, but enough of Barks remains to appeal to me. I think "Status Seekers" and "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan" were swell. I also like the feature film — Treasure of the Lost Lamp. "All Ducks on Deck" is cool because it features the Phantom Blot in a very rare cartoon appearance.
Nrama: You recently wrote Disney's MVP in Epic Mickey — obviously Uncle Scrooge is a very different type of character, but similarly iconic. You've said in the past that he's your favorite Disney character; what kind of qualities are you looking to highlight in the comic book?
Spector: I think to capture Scrooge’s heart, you have to see him as an Indiana Jones type of character – smart, tough, adventurous, willing to go where others fear to tread (in search of historical artifacts, in Indy’s case, in search of treasure, in Scrooge’s). You have to respect his work ethic – he gets what he wants by being smarter and working harder than anyone else. And I think you want to play with the tension between his love for his family and his desire to remain the richest character in the world, to grow his fortune through acquisition and penny-pinching. He’s a giving guy who doesn’t like giving. Interestingly, this is an aspect of Scrooge’s personality that I think came through more clearly in the DuckTales series than in the comic stories by Carl Barks and others. I like that and hope to play with it.
Finally, Scrooge embodies something I’ve played with in a lot of the stuff I’ve done over the years – he’s a guy who’s too old to be doing what he does but does it anyway. That’s a great character for me and a great starting point for all sorts of stories. Interestingly, it hasn’t been explored much in the comics. I hope to get into some of that.
Nrama: Uncle Scrooge is obviously the star, but a big part of DuckTales is the ensemble cast. How important is the larger crew in the story you're telling? Webby has a pretty sizable role in the first issue.
Spector: The DuckTales ensemble is clearly critical. There’s the core set of characters — Scrooge, Webby, Launchpad, Huey, Dewey and Louie… Plus there’s Gyro and Duckworth and Mrs. Beakley and so on. The cast is huge. And that doesn’t even take into account the villains – or the opportunities afforded by merging the DuckTales universe, the Carl Barks universe and the Darkwing Duck universe!
Interestingly, dealing with the large cast has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I don’t even make multiplayer games much, so dealing with multiple characters is something new for me – or, rather, something I’ve had to recall from my days as a roleplaying adventure designer where the party was everything!
I’ve kind of approached it by starting the characters together, dividing them into smaller groups (in story-logical ways) and then bringing them back together. Trying to deal with six or more main characters together, all the time, would be madness. At least it’s beyond my capabilities!
And, yes, you’re right about Webby playing a big role — I really like the idea of a smart, caring little character whose big heart and quick wit allows her to play with — and beat — the big boys.
Nrama: DuckTales ran from 1987 to 1990, but it really had a timeless quality to the stories that (for the most part) didn't peg it too specifically to any time period. Is that pretty much the case here, or is there some degree of contemporary touches seen in the series?
Spector: In the first couple of issues, I’ve tried to keep the timeless quality of the original comic stories and TV episodes. Over time, though, I think there’s merit to bringing in some contemporary touches — nothing crazy. I mean, we’re not going to put Scrooge in biker shorts and give him a credit card instead of Number One Dime!
Nrama: When the DuckTales series was announced back in February, it was classified as an ongoing series. With that in mind, are you planning on sticking with the book for the long haul?
Spector: I don’t know about the “long haul.” I committed to a four-issue story arc. Beyond that, I have a bunch of ideas about DuckTales/Darkwing Duck crossovers as well as some things I’d love to explore after the initial “Rightful Owners” arc wraps up. We’ll just have to wait and see if BOOM! likes my work enough and my day job leaves me with time and so on. I’d certainly like to keep writing comics for a while. Who knows what’ll happen?Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!