Tommy Lee Edwards is no stranger to working with people outside comics. He’s provided art for numerous movies, and has worked with celebrities coming into comics such as UK TV presenter Jonathan Ross on Turf. But his newest project has him veering into strange and new territory, even for him.
The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator is a collaboration between Edwards and director Edgar Wright to tell the story of a writer with a bad case of writer’s block that ends up getting out of control. Not a comic and not a movie, The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator is a hybrid created to take advantage of Microsoft’s new IE9 browser and HTML5, and was in fact commissioned by the computer giant.And if the inventive format wasn’t enough, the project is asking readers to submit ideas that’ll be layered into the story as it’s created. The first episode was released last month, with the second scheduled for later in May. Newsarama spoke with Edwards about this format-bending project, from the debate on whether this is comics, to the story and how the artist sees himself in the titular role.
Newsarama: Let's get into what people will get first from this -- The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator isn't comics in the traditional sense. How would you define it?Tommy Lee Edwards: I don't refer to The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator as a comic. It's not really a motion comic either. It's not a full-on animated feature film, or a game. It's kind of a combination of all of these. I've been calling it an "interactive online graphic story". It's kind of hard to label. That's usually a good thing, though, because it means you're doing something original.
Nrama: The story – what made it interesting to you?
Edwards: What made it interesting, and continues to make it interesting, is the fact that the story is not complete. It's a story about finding inspiration told through the experiences of a fictional character struggling with the same things almost all of us struggle with. Brandon Generator is not a super hero. He's just a guy having a hard time with writer's block and loneliness. He procrastinates, and generally seems very real. But then something happens to give Brandon inspiration. The public. The users can help Brandon, and share their own ideas. They get to steer Brandon's environment by interacting with BrandonGenerator.com. So the story and the look of it, even the sound of it, is shared with Edgar and me. The user should hopefully feel like they are getting to be creative, and are fully immersed in Brandon's world.Nrama: Edgar has said that the character Brandon is based a bit on him, but is there some of you showing through as well?
Edwards: I definitely see more of Edgar than myself. Man that guy can down the espressos. Brandon basically represents all of us creative types in a serious slump, though.
Nrama: Drawing a character with a big case of writer’s block, with a room filled with odds and ends. Do yourself have moments like? How was that to draw this?Edwards: Oh yeah very familiar for sure. Brandon is like many of us. He's not hard to imagine. I tried to fill his flat with many visual clues that can give insight into the character. I thought about what Brandon was trying to "be". Edgar had written Brandon as a struggling sci-fi writer who tries to romanticize his whole existence. Stuff on his desk, walls, and shelves reflect that. He wants to be a pulpy style hardboiled writer, so he's got a fedora and raincoat. He's got an old typewriter. But it's all on the surface. Brandon's car seems really cool on the outside. But on the inside, it's a real piece of shit. I want the public to grab onto that stuff and make it their own. Edgar and I want them to take the details and run with it.
Nrama: What were the big challenges for you in this?Edwards: This project has been kicking my ass all year so far, and will continue to do so until the end of June. It's really challenging and hard and I absolutely love it. Most of the difficulty is self-inflicted, as I try and make the visuals and storytelling as good as possible. There is a monstrous workload, with a limited amount of time and money. So working within my means, I'm very proud of what my small team has done on the visuals. I love putting together a great team and working on a huge collaboration. In comics, the illustrator handles pretty much everything. The shots, costumes, timing, acting, lighting, design, color, and everything are up to you. This thing is very similar, but with an entirely new set of tools with which to work.
The "group-effort" can be a unique challenge obviously that I don't get with comics. Beyond my team, there's Edgar and his team, Julian Barratt the voice actor, David Holmes the composer, the sound guy, the digital agency that builds the website and handles all the HTML tech, the PR group who initiated the project, and ultimately the client Microsoft.Nrama: How did you and Edgar connect to do this story?
Edwards: After several months of casual brainstorming with Microsoft, the concept became a reality and we needed a writer. Not just a writer, but a creative lead. Someone to be the glue to hold it together and take this concept much further. I immediately thought of Edgar Wright. Luckily Edgar loved the idea and jumped right in with loads of ideas. He came up with the title and the character and tons of energetic inspiration.
Nrama: This is a unique approach to writing comics, as you and Edgar created the frame and larger narrative but are encouraging the readers to contribute prose, sketches and audio recordings that could become part of the story. What’s that like for you?Edwards: It's terrifying and exhilarating. We got about two thousand inspiring submissions in the first two days after the website launch. Edgar and I are seeing all of them. Right now, my challenge is narrowing down all the great visual ideas. The crowd-sourced content we are receiving is influencing the next 3 chapters of Brandon Generator. Users will get to see their designs in the finished animation, read their ideas, and see them propel details in the story. Julian Barratt is actually recording voiceover from the submitted prose, and some of the voicemail calls from the public will be in the finished animation. It's super exciting. I love it. Early on at BrandonGenerator.com users begann to see their ideas being shared. It's a great fun outlet for sharing ideas and collaborating with others. Nrama: You’re no stranger to partnering with writers outside comics to tell stories. How would you describe the differences between this and working with someone whom is more versed in the comic script formatting?
Edwards: This whole project is almost a kind of giant experiment. As we dove into chapter 2 (of 4), Edgar and I have really connected. It's like that with any first-time writer-artist collaboration. I storyboarded the first chapter of Brandon Generator from Edgar's narration. It was so inspiring. Then we went through the boards and made many passes getting it stronger in the animation. Edgar has a sort of skeletal structure for the story, but it's primarily open for the user at this point. Edgar's finalizing the script to chapter 2 right now based on the user crowd-sourced interaction. And then I've got only a matter of weeks to tell the story visually. My team and I won't be sleeping much.
Nrama: This is being published, digitally speaking, by Microsoft. That’s a unique partnership – how did it come about, and what does it mean for the story itself?Edwards: I was approached by Microsoft and their PR firm in the UK to create a crowd-sourced "motion comic" to help promote awareness in the realm of IE9 and HTML5. I have a huge aversion to motion comics though. So I partly accepted this challenge as a way to show what you could do with a comic book mindset while embracing the digital medium with a virtual delivery. Getting to play with new tools to create a story for the web initially grabbed my interest, and I've always wanted to direct an animated film with a small hand-picked team. I get very bored doing one thing for too long. That's partly why I work in comics, games, film, animation, books, and advertising. Brandon Generator combines a little bit of all of these things for me.
After we finish chapter four, I'm headed back to my upcoming Image comic called Golden Age, with my Turf collaborator Jonathan Ross. Even though I'll be done with Brandon Generator, I hope Brandon can live on through the audience. The users will have full ownership of the character by then.