It wasn’t the first Half-Life 2 comic made with Garry’s Mod, but it’s certainly the biggest in terms of scope, storytelling, and impact. James Brandt’s “Apostasy” is more than a web comic, it’s an online graphic novel; the veritable Godfather of Garry’s Mod comic creations. Moody, grim, and gritty, it follows the paths of several characters as they make their way through the world of Half-Life 2, their original stories interweaving with characters from the game itself, such as Barney Calhoun and Judith Mossman. James was recently kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions about his graphic novel, gaming in general, and mobster toilets.
Chris Livingston: The vast, unbearable gulfs of time between the release of new issues of Apostasy lead me to believe that you are either busy with other projects, or are simply cruel and hateful to fans of the series. Provided it’s the former, what have you been working on lately, and what else causes such a delay?
James Brandt: One: Burnout. I did issue 2 too fast and was burnt out on working on the series, so I took several weeks off from working on it… several weeks soon expanded. Once I got back into the idea of doing the series, I had some horrible PC problems that plagued me for sometime.
Two: Another Project. I was working on a project for the people at Ubisoft doing a small wordless comic for their game Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. The comic was for the fans who could edit in their own stories.
Three: Lastly, about this time, the Christmas season hit. Working in retail, there is little time for anything but work and sleep between other holiday stuff to do.
Four: World of Warcraft… no other explanation needed.
CL: Ah, yes. World of Warcraft has claimed several of my friends as well. So, are you a big time gamer? What else have you played in the last couple years?
JB: Yeah, I am pretty massively into PC games… not console really at all… I do not even own one. I have played most of the MMOs that have come in the market recently. Even though I am not a big fan of WoW’s cartoon like style, the gameplay is unmatched. It is simply the best MMO I have ever played.
Other than that, I mostly do FPS games. I played Red Alert 1 so much several years ago, that I pretty much ruined that genre for me forever. Every game I play, I am like… okay, now I have to make this, to make that… then… ARRRGG! I am sick of it. I pretty much cannot play any of them more than once or twice.
Recently, I just finished Call of Duty 2. I don’t feel it was quite as good as the first one, but still probably the best WWII series going. It takes a real good game to make me play yet another WWII game.
Right now I am running through F.E.A.R. and Quake 4. Not so sure about Quake, I think I just do not like that engine as much as source… looks very Doom-like. Everything looks so… dismal. F.E.A.R. I wish I could have an opinion on. I lost the ‘Play’ disc and have been looking for it for several weeks. The first level seemed cool… I’ll have to see how the rest goes.
I hear they just released the date for HL2: Aftermath. Of course, I am looking forward to that, big time. From what I have read about it, I am going to have to slightly alter the ending I had planned for Apostasy. I’ll have to wait and see. I should actually play Lost Coast sometime too… ironically I have not played it yet.
CL: Speaking of the ending of Apostasy, how long of a series do you expect it to be? Do you have pretty much everything planned out? And, since I get asked this a lot, I assume you do as well: Will Freeman make an appearance?
JB: The comic is supposed to be around 10-12 issues long. It really depends on how thing pan out time wise. The outline to the entire story was planned out before page 1 was even started. Making anything (comic, screenplay, book) without knowing where it is going is like driving in the dark with no headlights.
As for Gordon, we’ll have to see.
CL: For the first main character we meet in Apostasy, Markis Meriwether, you chose to use male model #7. This model is used by Clover in his off-beat humor comic series “Jeff“, and it’s the same model I later chose for the lead in my own comic. Do you recall why you chose this particular model to be one of your leads, and why it seems to be a favorite for HL2 comic artists?
JB: Well, I did not even know Clover, or really read many other HL2 comics when I started this. Honestly the answer is more simple… the character looks a lot like one of my brother’s friends from high school… and his name? Mark.
As for that character’s popularity, I think that is pretty simple too. That model looks more like a traditional hero… more actor-like… more like a leading man in the vien of Cary Grant or something. Several of the other models seem older also which limits the choice. The character that I used for Billy was my other choice (can’t remember the model number off hand — he kind of looks like Russell Crowe). Like I said, the final decision was the thing with my brother’s friend.
As for Jack, that model was instantly chosen for him. Has a much more hardened look. Galena was originally named Jennifer and was going to be the Asian girl model… but now that character is going to perhaps have a smaller role later.
Looking back on it, I wish I had used perhaps one of the black models for one of the characters. No one ever uses them at all. If I had known how popular Male 7 was going to be, I for sure would have used something else.
CL: And how did you get involved with PHWComics (now PHWOnline)? Did you know any of the artists before you started Apostasy?
JB: The first person I met was Major.Dump. When I was working on my posing before working on the comic at all, I contacted a couple of people who made a few more serious comics on the FacePunch forums. Major was one of them, I contacted him for his old series Barney Noir. So I have known him longer than anyone really.
A bit after the series came out, I was approached my Michael (jian) about joining. At first I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t really know any of them. I soon warmed up to the idea because everyone there was so cool. Then after a week, it became a mandatory emergency when my images on ImageShack inevitably started failing.
Turned out being great. All the people there are a lot of fun and I have made a lot of friends. I have had a couple of other offers (even some with pretty big sites) but it was just too hard to leave everyone.
CL: Garry’s Mod is an amazing tool, but certain aspects of posing comics can be a bit frustrating. If you had a wishlist of future Garry’s Mod changes, what features would you enhance or add?
JB: First and foremost, fingers. I know there has been some models with fingers, and wishing for them mod wide is not a practical choice, but neither is my second one… working deltoid muscles. You cannot really pose any one’s arms over their heads without it just looking 100% awful. It works out will in comedy comics because it looks silly, but in something serious, you have to just avoid those poses.
These are not so much Garry’s problems though. These are just the way that Valve made the ragdolls. I am sure they never thought anyone would be doing anything with them except knocking them across the room with grenades.
As for the more realistic answers, I must say that I am pretty happy with how it is now. Most everything I really wanted was put in the mod with v8, the face poser was a godsend.
I suppose I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more finesse in the manipulator. Being able to change how sensitive the mouse roller is for example… or perhaps a way to rotate items in a slightly different way. Sometime you just can’t the item rotated correctly and have to spin the item a few times before it gets where you want it. Honestly in logistics, I am not even sure what I mean by this… perhaps almost having something like another arm to manipulate with (now that is just crazy talk).
What I really want is something not from Garry’s team, but the community… MORE MODELS!!! Especially ragdolls with working faces.
CL: How do you plan a single page of Apostasy? The layouts are often very complicated and intricate, reminiscent of a comic book or graphic novel. Do you have to plan them out exactly before you go in and take your screenshots, or do you take the pictures first and then figure out how to layout the page? Do you storyboard at all?
JB: Well usually when I am writing the script for the issue (usually in a pub somewhere), I get a few ideas in my head for how it should look. Sometimes I draw a quick sketch or two of some layout ideas.
The real work starts when I file up Photoshop. In there I start making boxes which gives me the general layout. I do all of this before I even go into gmod. The reason you ask? Easy… if I want a panel to be kind of skinny, I need to know that before I go into gmod so I can make sure everything is tightly together in the shot.
After I get all the shots, then it is just time for choosing the best shots, editing them down, perhaps some design extras (odd borders, outlining, etc).
CL: Speaking of which, how did you develop your layout skills? Is Apostasy your first effort at making a comic, or have you done some old school (ie: hand-drawn) comics in the past?
JB: In college I took a lot of art classes. I had designs on being a comic artist some day. I actually started several comics back then. Eventually I gravitated to writing, then screenwriting… and somehow along the way ended up a computer tech… go figure.
CL: What sort of writing did you do? What sort of screenplays did you write? Is any of it available online?
JB: Yeah some of it is kind of online. I think I will want to clean up the stuff there a bit first though before showing it.
Most of the stuff I wrote before Apostasy was drama with lowlifess. Very modern film noir with drug-dealers, prostitutes, etc… all getting themselves into horrible situations. I also had a few others though. One, for example, was a Hitchcockian thriller in Thailand that I was writing with Brad Pyott (who was also helping with Apostasyat the beginning). We also wrote a ridiculous comedy short that was a hard-boiled detective story that spoofed several films. The main character was a detective who was a toilet brush. All of the characters were things you’d find in a bathroom… for example, there was a crime boss named Don Porcelaini who was, you guessed it, a toilet.
CL: Mobster toilets? Well, I’m interested! James, thanks so much for taking time for this interview.
Apostasy, and many other HL2 comics, can be found at PHWOnline