If you're not an avid gamer, there's a good chance you're unfamiliar with Liithos. However, with a team that's comprised of industry veterans such as Days Gone co-creator John Garvin and The Last of Us executive Michael Mumbauer, they're clearly worth keeping a close eye on.
The company's first project, Ashfall, was announced last June, and an upcoming comic book – and TikTok series – looks set to introduce us to that world for the first time. The story takes place in the climate-change-ravaged Pacific Northwest where Seattle has been submerged beneath the ocean for hundreds of years.
The Trace – deadly pockets of dark energy – has brought mutation, ruin, and chaos wherever they appear. With civilization devolved into factions and enclaves and humanity fighting over resources and differing ideologies, Ash Naranjo, born without arms, is taken by the Order of Life Science, who give him TechGyn prosthetic arms and other nano implants, changing him forever.
Now one of the Order’s Ghosts, Ash fights for the United Enclaves, vowing to destroy the oppressive Freelanders who have taken his family and destroyed his homeland.
Earlier this week, we were able to ask John and Michael some questions about Ashfall over email. As well as offering some insights into their plans for this franchise, how the comic book came to be, and whether they're plotting a big or small screen adaptation of the game, we hear from them on the Days Gone movie that's in the works and get their thoughts on HBO's The Last of Us.
You can read our full conversation below, while more details on Ashfall's launch can be found here.
There’s obviously already a lot of excitement for Ashfall, so what led to you both deciding that the world of comic books would be a good place to introduce gamers to this world?
Garvin: Michael and I are huge comic fans. I started reading them in the late 1960s when they were starting to be replaced by television as kids’ “go-to” entertainment source, but they were still huge. I still remember buying Jack Kirby’s Kamandi issue one off the stands. As a medium, it has a lot in common with games: genre stories (for the most part), strong action, powerful visuals, and narratives that come in bite-sized chunks. When I write cutscenes for games, for example, I try to keep them to a page or less – that’s about a minute of screentime, which is the Hollywood standard for screenplays. For the Ashfall comic, I was doing the same. I tend to write densely – old-school six-panel pages – so I can have a full story beat on almost every page. It’s fast-paced, just like the best parts of my games.
John, I know you’re no stranger to comics, but what has it been like returning to them? And how much does the approach to storytelling differ in a comic book compared to a video game?
Garvin: The biggest difference is that in comics, the action is on the page! In my games I almost never wrote action sequences for the player to “watch,” because I wanted the player to experience them by doing them. Other than that, my approach is the same. I like tight plots that move quickly with a heavy emphasis on world-building and character development. You want everything that happens to be interesting, but also relatable and realistic. And you want the player or reader to be surprised now and then, to feel something – anger, empathy, attachment.
Paul, Brett, and Tony are all immense talents in the comic book realm, of course, but what would you both say about why that team was the right choice to bring Ashfall to life on the page?
Mumbauer: John and I are both huge comic book and comic strip fans, so we put together a wish list of talent that we thought best represented the vision that John has for Ashfall. Nate Murray was the connector that allowed us to secure such incredible talent like Paul. Paul Pelletier has a classic and incredibly dynamic art style that John and I thought fit the Ashfall comic miniseries perfectly. One of my favourite things about comics is being able to debut a new IP with several variant covers that celebrate the start of something brand new. Having talent Brett Booth, Tony Harris and John Cassaday participate in this was quite an amazing and full-filling experience for us.
Garvin: I actually hadn’t worked with any of them before. Michael and our producer put together the team and I was blown away by the work when it first came in. They’ve done an amazing job and I love their work.
What sort of collaboration have you had with Paul, in particular, John?
Garvin: My scripts are really detailed, breaking a page down into panels with tight descriptions of everything you “see.” Where the collaboration comes in is that Paul has the freedom to interpret and embellish. He decides the actual layout and composition, the flow of images from panel to panel. He can add a panel or cut one, if he thinks it makes the page better. He’s added extra characters and other details, surprising me in a good way. There are a few times where we might go back and forth on a panel or character, but for the most part, the work drives everything we do and Paul is a pro at what he does.
Social media is so important now, but how did Liithos’ partnership with Michael Le come about and what are your hopes for that?
Mumbauer: Influencers and Creators play such a critical role in entertainment today and Michael Le was on my radar for a while as someone I wanted to collaborate with. I watch his channel regularly and what I’m so impressed about Michael is his ability to captivate his audience using the power of music, dance, comedy and special effects. Michael feels like a modern-day Elvis Presley, Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin. His talent and natural instincts for telling visual stories in seconds is just awe-inspiring. It was his 50M video on TikTok that really inspired the concept of bringing serialized Sunday Comic strips to life.
Michael, Ashfall is Liithos’ first massive IP, but is there anything you can tease beyond this title? It sounds like you guys have big plans for this property, but are there more stories you hope to tell?
Mumbauer: 100%. One of the key aspects to the underpinning of the world of Ashfall is a sophisticated but user-friendly User Generated Content system that allows players to craft their own vehicles and weapons to survive the harsh landscape that John has envisioned. We’ll refine and perfect this core system and use this concept in other titles we are looking to make in the future. This is also a key aspect of how we’ll achieve interoperability between all the games we’ll make.
We have composer Ludvig Forssell working with us on the score for the series and for the game. Ludvig is best known for his work with Hideo Kojima on games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Death Stranding. We’re thrilled to be collaborating together, again.
Michael, you’ve been part of some of the greatest video game franchises of all time; which of those projects stands out to you as being the one you’re perhaps proudest of?
Mumbauer: I would probably say Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. This was the game that laid the groundwork for everything that we did after in terms of interactive movie-like storytelling in games. It was the learnings from that game that led to The Last of Us, Days Gone, God of War, etc.
Have you had a chance to check out HBO’s The Last of Us yet?
Garvin: Yes. I’m a huge fan of Craig Maizen, the writer and showrunner. He wrote Chernobyl for HBO, which was amazing. I love the way he and Druckmann have adapted the story for television. I’d love to see more of this kind of high-quality adaption. There are some great storytellers in video games.
Mumbauer: Of course. It was surreal to see the game come to life so authentically. Neil and Craig are an incredible team.
John, I loved everything about Days Gone; what are your thoughts on the planned movie (rumoured to star Sam Heughan), and do you think that being a hit could mean we eventually get a video game sequel?
Garvin: As the creator, writer and director of Days Gone I’m excited for the game’s fans for anything Sony does with the IP. A movie, even though I won’t be involved, would be awesome.
For fans of those iconic PlayStation properties you’ve both been part of, is it fair to say we can expect a similar approach to storytelling in the Ashfall franchise you’re building?
Garvin: Absolutely. The big difference is that I’m trying to create a “next-gen” experience, which to me is more than just the ever-improving technology that drives resolution, frame rate and fidelity. To me is also about transmedia – reaching a wide audience of gamers, readers, viewers by creating a world rich enough that we can do comics, TV, movies, a multiplayer online game, a AAA open-world game, motion comics, digital collectables, and more.
Mumbauer: Yes, for sure. Our focus is creating a world and a game that players will love and engage with everywhere.
I have to ask – has there been any talk of an Ashfall movie or TV adaptation and, if not, is that your hope for this franchise?
Garvin: We’re still early in development – we just announced in June of 2022 – so I don’t expect any talk along these lines yet. I know Michael is in talks with a lot of different folks from different media. That’s all I’ll say for now.
Mumbauer: Nothing to announce yet. John is an incredible storyteller and I think the world he’s built would make for a great television show or feature film. We’re designing everything to translate to all mediums.
I loved the first issue, but what would you both tease about what our readers can expect from that, and this series as a whole, ahead of Ashfall’s launch?
Garvin: The first Ashfall comics are a six-issue miniseries that is completely serialized, containing one of Ash Naranjo’s full arcs from the main story that I’m writing. While a LOT happens in the comic, it’s actually just a small part taken from Act II, so consider it a hint as to the kinds of things you can expect from Ashfall: a far future where the world is made dangerous by the effects of global warming (flooded cities, extreme weather); where the Trace – mysterious pockets of dark energy that appeared centuries ago – have ignited the volcanic Ring of Fire; where the Puget Sound War, a series of small civil wars between enclaves in the Pacific Northwest, is tearing apart peoples lives (this is me projecting where our country’s current divisiveness is taking us); and where a young man, born with severe disabilities, is set on a path where he discovers what it means to be human.
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