You might think a graphic novel series would be a logical spin-off for World of Warcraft, what with the game's unique art style and wealth of lore. And out of nearly 11 million players, surely one or two might be into comic books... But in fact it was only last November, three years after WOW's release, that the first graphic novel hit the shelves. WildStorm is now working on volume 2, with plenty of plans in the pipeline for the release of new expansion Wrath of the Lich King.
In this interview, WildStorm general manager and editor Hank Kanalz discusses what's next for the series. Plus penciller Jon Buran talks about what it's like to draw WOW for a living, and reveals an in-joke serious fans should look out for.
Eurogamer: How did the project first come about, and how did you get involved?
Jon Buran: I met Hank [Kanalz] at last year's New York Comic Con and showed him some of my work. A few months later he asked me if I wanted to work on a project, but didn't tell me what it was. I said of course; I was trying to get as much work as I could.
When they told me it was World of Warcraft I almost fell over. I was a huge, huge fan of WOW, and of Blizzard in general - I've played everything they've ever put out. So it was a huge thrill for me.
Hank Kanalz: When I first met Jon, he showed me some sample pages he'd done for Hulk. I was flipping through his portfolio and he had left in a dwarf he'd drawn, I think by accident. He was just doodling but it was really well done. When I called him up I was remembering the dwarf picture, thinking, 'If this guy can draw the Hulk like he does and dwarves like he does, obviously he can draw orcs...'
Jon Buran: Just shave the Hulk and you've got an orc, right? [Laughs]
Hank Kanalz: I didn't know he was a hardcore player till I called him. Then his enthusiasm for WOW and for the project really came out.
Eurogamer: So you were already hardcore, Jon?
Jon Buran: I played the game for a long time. Then I realised I wanted to get into comics, so I probably needed to quit playing and get some work done, get samples made. So I stopped. Sure enough, when I got they job they were like, 'Hey, we're going to get you an account, we need to get you playing.' And I was like, 'Nooooo!'
But it works out. Sometimes when you're drawing for ten, 12 hours a day, you need a break. I'll jump on and play for a little bit and it's like a refresher. It reminds me that the world is so vast, the aesthetic and so beautiful, and that's why I'm having a good time drawing.
Eurogamer: With such a huge fanbase for the game, there must be a lot of pressure...
Jon Buran: There's pressure every single day you pick up a pencil, with every line you put down. When I do an armour set I try to make sure it's exactly like it should be in the game, because if it's not, I know that as a gamer I'd be like, 'That's not the Warbringer armour set! That horn shouldn't point that way!'
It's really nerve-wracking; even more so because I'm a big fan, I think, and I want to see everything perfectly laid out. It's very stressful in that regard. But it's also rewarding when you put a page down and it looks like it's supposed to.
Eurogamer: With such a massive world and wealth of lore open to you, how do you pick what to focus on within the comics?
Hank Kanalz: The writers, Walter and Louise Simonson, put together an issue-by-issue outline. Actually they just turned in outlines to take us through issue 25. We review that with Blizzard, and they might say, 'We really love this direction, we like this other aspect over here, we'd like to introduce a new character there...' It's a very collaborative process.
Eurogamer: So how much influence does Blizzard exercise over what goes into the comic?
Hank Kanalz: They have a lot of influence. Like I say, it's a true collaboration. When you start reading the comic book you're going to be pleasantly surprised at how much lore is in the book and how much it plays into the game, and the events they've got planned.
Jon Buran: They have final approval on everything, but you feel like you're in good hands because everything they put out is solid, perfect. It's good when they approve stuff because that means we're doing our part.
Eurogamer: Do you have big plans for when Wrath of the Lich King comes out?
Jon Buran: Yes. There's a lot of stuff with this, and also the Ashbringer series Ludo Lullabi's doing, that's going to be tied in heavily. The stuff we're doing in the main story arc ties into it. There will be a lot of payoff for fans who are reading this story then pick up Wrath of the Lich King; you're really going to feel rewarded for paying attention to the lore.
Hank Kanalz: The Ashbringer series is four 40-page comic books telling the story of Ashbringer. It'll tie into the Lich King release as well. A lot of what we've been doing in the comic book, you can see the results in the beta right now.
Jon Buran: They gave me Lich King beta access a little while ago and there's some really, really nice stuff in there. They want to show us a really low percentage of what they actually put out, I think, so when the game finally drops it's going to be huge. It's really cool.
Eurogamer: As an artist, do you ever feel constrained by the Blizzard art style?
Jon Buran: No, not personally. I can see how some people might, because they do have their own style. You have to make it fun and energetic, and make things look as cool as possible. But that's the style I was going for before I was even on the project - because I was influenced by these games throughout my childhood.
Eurogamer: Which race is the most fun to draw?
Jon Buran: I like drawing Broll, the night elf druid, because I'm a huge druid fan. Also he's a bigger guy and he changes into different forms. Lo'Gosh is obviously very fun as well, he's a pretty sweet character. They're really setting up Lo'Gosh as the next Arthas; he's going to be above Arthas in terms of the next coolness factor.
We're a month ahead, and the storyline we're working on... You guys have no idea what's about to happen. It's going to be wild. Lo'Gosh is going to be an awesome character for many years to come in the lore.
Eurogamer: Do you put in a lot of in-jokes for hardcore fans?
Jon Buran: I don't think anybody caught it, but there was a big crowd scene I did where I put a Pandaren in there, just to see if anybody noticed. I've got to give the colour guy some notes just to make sure they get it right... So yes, I try to throw a few things in there.
Eurogamer: Will there be any announcements relating to the WOW graphic novels at the next BlizzCon?
Hank Kanalz: Yes, we have a couple of special BlizzCon announcements about what we're doing next year. We just had a meeting with Blizzard yesterday and they like the concepts of what we want to do.
Jon Buran: As a fan, when they told me, I was literally floored; I was like, 'Oh, this is gonna be good...' So anybody who plays the game, who loves the lore, you're going to be very excited.
Hank Kanalz is the general manager of WildStorm and the editor of the World of Warcraft graphic novels. Jon Buran does the drawings.