Today we’re interviewing the wonderful Emma Vieceli, writer of our exceedingly popular Life is Strange series, which spins out of the complex and wonderful world of the Life is Strange video game. The next chapter – Life is Strange: Partners in Time #1 – lands in October. In the meantime, Emma gives us some incredible insight into what happens behind the scenes…
Titan Comics: Let us start from the beginning, how did you end up working on Life is Strange? Were you a fan of the game beforehand?
Emma Vieceli: I was absolutely a fan, right from chapter one, yes! So much so that during the first game’s release – long before the comic was even a notion – I was actually brought on by Square Enix’s marketing side to do a series of illustrations called ‘Friends for Life,’ that coincided with the game chapters being released. They had found me because I’d posted some fanart online! When Titan were making plans for the Life is Strange comic, Andrew (my Doctor Who comic editor at the time) asked me if I’d want to draw it. At the time I was working on a few different contracts and was heart-broken to say that I just didn’t have the time to be able to take on art duties. I was gutted… until he suggested that maybe I’d like to write it! Whilst writing is a huge job, it doesn’t take as much practical time as drawing comic pages does. A lot of it is done in our heads before our fingers reach the keyboard. I’ve been drawing comics for a fair while, but most of my writing was always for myself; either independent comics or small one-offs. So to be given an opportunity to test my mettle as a writer on a series like this, working with a team, was just incredible.
Oh I bet! Teamwork makes the dream work as they say. You’re obviously a big fan so what has been your favourite part of writing the story so far? Have you enjoyed working with the artist and colorist Claudia and Andrea?
Early on in the process I had a meeting at Titan where we looked through the potential artists for the series. We looked at all this gorgeous art laid out and had to choose our artist from them. While they were all lovely, Claudia just leapt out from the get-go. Something in her work was just… alive. Her characters were so engaging. Living and breathing. And something in her test pages just screamed out that she loved this game; understood the mood of it. I’ve never regretted that decision. She and Andrea are just perfect. Small details Claudia adds to the visuals are her love letter to the original title. One of my favourite things has been seeing her take on the new characters! We both have a desire for more inclusivity in comics and, with Life is Strange, we had an opportunity to address that. Creating new characters and adding them to the world has been a total honour! In terms of my favourite thing about writing the story…just having the opportunity to explore; to play with options that never were. To highlight some that may have been muted in the game. It’s a playground of possibilities!
It’s a brave new world and we at Titan love all the new options we have. It’s great that you get to play around with new possibilities. When you first learnt that the series was going to be continued, was there anything you were absolutely certain you wanted to include?
Hmm… I’m not sure it’s easy to quantify what I wanted to capture. It wasn’t so much certain characters or traits as it was the ethos… the mood of what made the game so special and standout. Life is Strange felt so fresh, so new. It was a story about people, connections, consequences; where small things are treated as important. I wanted the voices of the cast to feel present in the comic, so that the general mood of the piece felt like it was being carried forward.
Tell me more about the characters. I want to know more about Chloe, she seems so complex. In the previous three graphic novels: Dust, Waves and Strings - we got to know TWO versions of her. One in a romantic relationship with Max and another who remained in a relationship with Rachel Amber. In this continued series, we see two parallel worlds happening at the same time, both with a blue-haired Chloe. What would you say are the main differences between the two versions, if any?
Claudia, Andrea and I literally researched into how blue hair dye changes over time so that we can make one Chloe look slightly different to the other, for ease of reading. It’s a subtle difference, but the longer hair and fading dye was key to helping distinguish the two visually. But in terms of her character – that’s where it gets really interesting!
Dust Chloe is largely the girl we knew in Life is Strange. A tough cookie and closed off at times, she’s been hardened by her experiences and who can blame her? What she’s been through with Max has shaped them both and bonded them so tightly. She knows what Max is, what Max did. She misses her terribly and will have been in a dark place right after the jump, but now she’s trying to live her life… to open a door that Max can come home through.
Meanwhile, in Waves Chloe we have someone who still lost her Dad, who still felt pushed out by David; but who made a choice to change her life and has since repaired bridges a little. She’s less confrontational, less prickly. She’s had some tragedy in her life (like most of us), but she mostly lives a good life right now. She has a steady girlfriend in Rachel, she’s not had a town sacrificed in her name, she’s not lost her own Mother so that she herself could live.
What we have in Waves Chloe is a chance to meet who Chloe might have been if things had gone differently. She’s witty, enthusiastic, open. But she’s not the girl who Max is in love with. The two paths have been so different and they’ve forged very different Chloes.
I can see that for sure. In Partners in Time, you are writing two universes simultaneously really, and the story is set to weave between the two, with elements and characters – like the two Chloes, and the band, “The High Seas” – echoing between them. What have you found most rewarding about this format and what are some of the challenges of dealing with two versions of the same cast in one book?
No big deal. Two universes. Two timelines… sure. Haha! No, I joke, it can be really, really hard. One of the biggest themes of the game is this notion of how actions have consequences and how decisions can shape a person, so here was a chance to really investigate that. I had to take it! And when it works, it’s so rewarding. I want the comic to provide a layered experience with more to go away and think about than just the story… More characters means more smaller side stories, but also more context to the most important choices being made by the main characters. I’ve set us a real challenge, and by us I mean readers as well as the comic team… but I reckon we can rise to it.
You’re absolutely right there. We’re always ready for our next challenge. But now, let’s hear more about your feelings towards the characters. Other than the main ones from the games, what other characters have you had the most fun writing?
Well, Tristan is an obvious choice. But I think my softest spot is for the High Seas crew. I love how, though we’ve only had a small amount of time with them, they each have their own mindset and viewpoint. I enjoy the emotional beats more than anything when I write… they’re what I loved in the game too. For me, a well-placed turn of phrase or poignant statement holds more power than a punch or a high-octane action scene. These characters prove that. However, I’m not ashamed to admit I act out every scene to myself when I write to make sure the emotional punch is there. I’m so glad that this series lets us really keep those beats at the heart of the story!
Absolutely. Those characters are compelling because of their relatable personalities and experiences. I love the idea of you sitting at a desk acting out all the conversations. I bet you even make the facial expressions too! Other than that, what is your process when writing a new character? How do you go about building the character to make them feel real and multi-faceted?
Not every new character is going to become a featured role in the story. But for me, they have to be real, even if they only appear briefly. My background is actually in acting and theatre, where there is no such thing as a small role… and I apply this very much to comics. So, though the Hamlet cast that Rachel joins is too large for every one of them to become well known to us, I can still tell you their family situations and backstories. If I’m playing a small part on stage who only has a few lines, I need to understand why I say them or they’ll fall flat. So I really do put a lot of effort into giving every character a full and compelling personality and backstory. They all have very human and real attributes that make them feel real in general.
I’m pretty sure I’d be friends with all of them in real life. Going back to the beginning of the first volume now though, what were some of the challenges you faced translating such a successful game to comics – and how have they informed the story we’re now reading?
Aside from the obvious fears of living up to the game and hoping I’d done right by the characters, the biggest challenge I faced going into the project was I expected a 4-part mini series. We all did. I named it Dust and it was to be about Max and Chloe processing what had happened in the game, throwing in some new fantastical element with the flickers, but ultimately having Max and Chloe overcome their experience to be able to really start their life together. It was to be about closure. But as we got to the end of issue 4, things changed! It was decided that the series would continue, but that instead of the originally scripted final scene, we would be using what had originally been planned as a one page epilogue. As it turned out, the decision afforded us an amazing chance to explore possibilities… and the comics have expanded since then, but it was such a challenge at the time for a new writer. Beyond that, it was just about the fear of doing wrong by players of the game.
Well I think you’ve done all the fans justice. People from all corners of the world have picked up these comics. Was it a challenge to make the new #1 accessible, following both a game with multiple timelines, and a twelve issue storyline?
I still think of this issue #2.1 as being issue 13 of the series, honestly. It’s very much a continuation but I think it could be pretty tough for any reader who hadn’t followed the story to date to jump in cold. That said, the first issue is very much a setup for what this series will be bringing. But it’s the first time we’ll be experiencing two parallel universes as they happen!
It’s all very exciting stuff. We’re all just so excited for the fans to pick up the next instalment. You’ve already told us that you yourself are a big fan of Life is Strange – but what do you like most about writing comics in general?
I like making comics, full-stop. I’ve written and drawn, I’ve drawn other people’s scripts and now I’m writing – all of it is rewarding. I guess what I love about writing specifically is living the story ALL. THE. TIME. There’s barely a time when I don’t have a question in my mind or a piece of dialogue forming. It’s a constant immersion, more so than sitting down to draw a page. Where drawing takes a lot of practical time, writing is sort of always going on, keyboard or no. It’s a great feeling when the world speaks to you clearly, and a frustrating one when all it does is throw you curveballs and puzzles to solve.
I think that’s all we have time for. It’s been really lovely chatting with you and we can’t wait to hear from the fans about what they think of the new season.
If this interview isn’t enough to get you excited for the next instalment,
Below you can find the buy links for Life is Strange volumes 1-3 and the pre-order links for Partners in Time #1.
Pre-order Life is Strange: Partners in Time #1
Life is Strange: Dust: Vol 1
Life is Strange: Waves: Vol 2
Life is Strange: Strings: Vol 3