Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your comic book series, Half-Life: A Place in the West! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the series’ premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Ross Joseph Gardner: Thank you! A Place in the West is set in Valve’s Half-Life universe, in which a totalitarian alien organization called the Combine have taken control of Earth and instituted a brutal police state. Our story begins with a group of mysterious commandos kidnapping children and follows three characters – a troubled father, an intrepid young scientist, and an ancient alien warrior – who are drawn to the strange city from which the attackers sprung: New Franklin, one of the last remaining human enclaves in North America. Once inside, they discover a powerful secret that could well tip the balance in the war against the Combine...or prove to be their annihilation.
We’re huge fans of the Half-Life series, and we really wanted to bring our own sensibilities to Valve’s unique and fascinating world in the medium dearest to our hearts: comics. We’d been working in the gaming community for some time prior to that, so we had all of these ideas swirling around in our silly brains, and they came together to create A Place in the West...
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in adapting the series from its original video game franchise, and what have been some of your creative influences? Likewise, what can you share with us about your work with the additional members of the creative team?
RJG: So, one of the great things about comics is that whatever you imagine you can bring to life on the page – you’re not in any way restricted by budgetary limitations. With making games, there were all of these alien creatures we wanted to play around with, but they needed to be modeled, animated, textured, and so on, and in the amateur world of modding that is an incredible amount of work, and unless you’re lucky enough to have assembled a deeply talented team, it’s not going to happen. Not so with comics, and so we had a lot of fun indulging some of our fantasy scenarios in that regard. There’s also far greater scope to dig into the characters and their stories as you’re not focused on developing gameplay sequences, and we took full advantage of that.
A lot of our early influences for A Place in the West were things like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud (1957), and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, the latter of which we very nakedly ripped off – there was something sinister and intriguing about the kidnapping of children, and we saw our own opportunity there…fortunately, he’ll never read it, so he’ll never have to be angry with us. I couldn’t take that. Please don’t hate us, Philip.
We love our art team. Currently, we are working with Kristian Rossi (Trespasser, Moonshine), Ester Salguero (The Lincoln Brigade), and Javier Puga (Dark Beach). The team has previously consisted of Heath Heil, Rachel Deering, and Ivan Miranda too, all of whom are hugely talented artists. We’ve been very lucky.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
RJG: I think we just hope readers enjoy the journey and find themselves sufficiently invested in the characters to see it through to the end. Half-Life was a great bit of B-movie horror, and its sequel, Half-Life 2, was very much just a really exceptionally told science-fiction story...I’d say we’ve tried to use the medium to add more thematic depth to that world, whilst trying to stay true to the original underpinnings of the games – the emphasis on science, the quirky, weird techno-babble, and the vague hints of mysticism! For fans of Half-Life, we hope they’ll find it a welcome contribution to that expansive mythos, and for new readers, well, we just hope they enjoy the ride.
BD: With 5 issues of the series currently available, how many issues or series arcs do you have planned?
RJG: Our plan is to wrap up the story in 13 chapters, each at approximately 30 pages each. Each of these chapters have completed first drafts, which has proven very liberating: It’s profoundly useful to see the entire story laid out ahead of you. Of course, writing is a very organic process, and I imagine there will be changes and detours and previously unseen roads to be taken in the years ahead. Chapter 5, which we released over the summer, completed a series of arcs we set-up in Chapter 3, and we’re kicking off a whole new series of arcs with Chapter 6 which has just gone into production!
BD: Do you find that fans of the video game have ventured into the sequential art medium via Half-Life, and vice versa?
RJG: I’d love to know the answer to this question myself – I certainly don’t have it. A Place in the West is confined to Valve’s Steam platform, which is first and foremost a digital distribution platform for video games, with some movies and software on the side. Indeed, we had to create our own app just to be able to display the comic, although we have now made PDFs available for users for ease of access. So, we’re in this weird space where we have all the major hurdles of a first time comic book production whilst going up against an immense library of video games! I’d like to think there’s been some crossover, but I couldn’t say for sure. Something to ask the community, I suspect.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
RJG: Yes! And no, haha. We currently have two original concepts in mind that we are very keen to put into production next year, but both are in the very early stages of planning. The one with the most creative investment so far is a neo noir piece set in 1980s Miami, and it’s a story that’s been with us for quite a few years now...as soon as we have more to share, we’ll let you know.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Half-Life?
RJG: The Combine Overwiki is a fantastic source for all things Half-Life related, and we frequently use it to ensure we remain faithful to the world! Our comic also comes with a short prologue that introduces readers to the world, but honestly, if you’re a fan of video games and science fiction and you haven’t played the games, sign up to Steam and get yourself a copy of the Half-Life games – they’re still quite a marvel, even now.