With the release of Life is Strange volume 4 on the horizon, we got the chance to talk with the comic’s writer Emma Vieceli and artist Claudia Leonardi. Personally, I’ve been a big fan of these comics even since the first issue, so I was excited to interview the two people responsible for creating them.
GT: I often listen to music while reading, do you have any recommendations for readers or songs you listen to while you work?
Emma Vieceli: I actually listen to Life is Strange soundtracks a fair bit while I’m writing the scripts. It really evokes the mood for me. But I generally love game soundtracks; especially Jessica Curry’s amazing work from Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and others! She’s just brilliant. I’m also digging the Genshin Impact soundtrack, as I love the game.
Claudia Leonardi: I usually listen to audiobooks or podcasts while I’m working, But my go to music when I work is usually retrowave/synthwave, 80’s inspired music or games/movies soundtracks, it depends on the moment and what I’m drawing.
GT: Max and Chloe are important characters to a lot of people (myself included), and fans have been impressed how well you’ve continued their story here. What’s your process for taking their characters further in a believable and natural way?
Emma Vieceli: Well, they mean a lot to so many of us, like you say. And that’s because they were so well realised initially in the game. We felt like we knew them. As a writer, that’s a gift. It means that I had a decent chance of getting into their heads. I used to play a game when I ran story workshops called ‘the bowl of peanuts’. Your characters are all sat around a room and, in the middle of the room, is a bowl of peanuts. How do they react to it? When you write stories that are inside-out (so, from the character and outwards rather than from story and inwards), knowing details about your characters and how they’d react to something simple can help you understand how they’d react to something huge. We’re all weak against our programming. Knowing Max and Chloe enough from the first game to understand how I think they’d react to certain situations helped me take them down what felt like natural emotional paths for them. I’m glad that’s translated to readers. Of course, some players may have taken different choices from me, walked different paths…but hopefully the core programming of Max and Chloe as people doesn’t change too drastically, so their choices and reactions in the comic should still feel ‘them’.
GT: How did you find your art style for the comics?
Claudia Leonardi: This is a question that I don’t know if I have an answer to. I started making fanarts of the game while I was still playing it, so I guess I started finding my way of drawing Max and Chloe way before I was asked to be part of the team for the comic. The main thing I knew when we started was that I had to leave a lot of space to the colours when it came to this comic, but other than that the style came natural, like it developed the more I worked on this comic.
GT: What was the inspiration for this storyline of Max traveling across dimensions? Do you have plans to continue writing in the Life is Strange universe after this arc is concluded?
Emma Vieceli: Well, it’s weird to say now, but my initial plan was just a simple four part story about processing the BAE ending of the game. I introduced flickers there as a way of acknowledging the many paths readers may have taken, but it was never really a plan to deep dive into that. Obviously things changed when the series went ongoing, so then it became – where can this story go? I’d added an epilogue page in my first draft of DUST, just a little nod to say ‘who knows…maybe somewhere in the cosmos, Chloe and Rachel did go to LA like they planned’. And the general thinking from Square[Enix] and Titan was that it could be interesting to follow that path and see where it lead[s]. Suddenly, we were dealing with a multiverse! But, in hindsight, the flickers were a great little way of igniting that spark.
I have a story I want to finish. Becoming an ongoing series has been amazing and has allowed us to really play and introduce so many new elements and characters and I’m so grateful for that, but I see it as a longer, more meandering road toward the same destination I’d always planned for the end of that initial, humble four-parter. We’ve had so much more time to spend with these wonderful characters than I ever dreamed and it’s just wonderful! Beyond that…who knows? As we’ve learned in the comics, literally everything is a possibility!
GT: Do you think we’ll see some of your original characters, such as the members of the High Seas, in future games in the series?
Emma Vieceli: Gawd, that would be a dream. Knowing we’ve been able to add new characters into the Life is Strange universe is so, so special. There were noises early on about minor easter eggs during True Colours’ development, but I get the sense that it’s not nearly as easy to pop references into the games as it is into the comics. If the team decides they want a reference in the comics, it’s just a case of writing it and drawing it in. It’s rather more complicated the other way around. I can hope, but I wouldn’t expect it.
Claudia Leonardi: That would be amazing! I’d go crazy even over just a mention of our characters, but I don’t know if [it] will ever become a reality. I’m quite content with the fact that I’m already working on this amazing comic!!
GT: Besides Max, Chloe, Rachel, and Tristan, who are your favorite characters to write/draw?
Emma Vieceli: Well, the High Seas, obviously :) They’ve become so real to me and so their dialogue comes easy. I’d happily go on a road trip with them, you know you’d have a great time! I still can’t quite believe I got away with creating a pirate band with a pun name and was allowed to make them a part of this universe! But the individual characters that make up the band are proving over time that they are way more than a gimmick band with a punny name.
Claudia Leonardi: The High Seas and, between the new additions Lawrence’s dimples and Natasha and Sophia (the two twins that we met in Tombstone in issue 2 of Tracks, if I remember correctly).
GT: In the newest volume, I was impressed at how clearly you communicated which universe the current scene was in. Did you have any difficulty or worries that these scene changes, often taking place in the same location, would confuse the reader?
Emma Vieceli: Very much, yes. Maaany difficulties. Maaaaany worries. I had to try not to doubt myself as I wrote, and not to doubt that Claudia and Andrea could pull this off…also not to doubt our readers; who proved right from DUST – when we threw flickers at them – that they were up to this. When you’re working with a concept like this, you just have to hold your nose and dive. It has to be approached with confidence in your team and your readers, or it won’t work. We are so lucky in this title to have readers who know how to think, how to analyse…I trusted them to see what we were doing. I hoped I’d put edits and clues where they were needed; given just enough to separate the strings until readers got used to them. And Claudia and Andrea just rocked it. Again, right from DUST, they proved that they were so up for this sort of challenge. The flickers were handled so perfectly, and they’ve only got better and better as the series has gone one, so yeah – I trusted them to be able to show two parallel universes, and they did!
Claudia Leonardi: I was worried I didn’t work hard enough to differentiate the two universes! I guess in the end it all came together, but I think a lot of the merit goes to Emma and how she wrote the transitions to one universe to the other.
GT: How do you decide where each volume/issue should begin and end?
Emma Vieceli: Well, interestingly, series one of the comic (up to the end of Strings) was very much created arc-by-arc, as we were still in that stage of ‘will there be more? Oh! Yes, there will’. Series two was set to be much more interesting in terms of arc ends because it was planned more as one complete series. On the one hand it’s been amazing as I’ve known throughout where I’m going (a story like this just wouldn’t have worked if I hadn’t had that confidence in the full series being told), on the other, it was harder to place the arc endings. In the end, I went with emotional beat reveals rather than high octane action cliffhangers. Again, I think this series, and this readership, means that’s possible.
GT: Do you have set rules as to how Max and Tristan’s powers can work (in both writing and illustration), or do they function more on however the story needs them to work/look cool?
Emma Vieceli: Everything I write has a rule to it. For me, I can’t write science fiction – or even fantasy – without a core set of rules I’m writing to, you know? It has to make sense to me, even if those core rules aren’t explicitly shared with the audience. With Life is Strange, we have an extra twist in the fact that there are unexplained elements of the game which we inherited, which are meant to stay unexplained. Those are the rules. The questions are, after all, a big part of that first game. So, by creating the transect and Tristan, and exploring new avenues of Max’s power, I’ve been able to come up with rules for the comic-specific science-fiction that don’t need to retroactively explain anything from the game. This leaves us safe to play within the transect’s reach. How the powers work with the story…well, I write inside-out, so the powers and the characters using them are very connected. Then it’s up to the characters to work out how they can use what they have. the powers came from the people, not from the story – if that makes sense.
GT: What are some books/comics/movies/games you’re enjoying right now?
Emma Vieceli: Genshin Impact, Animal Crossing, the FFVII remake and It Takes Two, most recently (strong recommendation for a fun couch co-op!) on the gaming side.
Comics: You know I recently went back to rediscover the comics that got me into comics. It’s been a really fun journey back to what first made me love the medium. I finished re-reading Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2 and am now working through Clamp’s X1999 masterpiece again (still sadly unfinished). The latter made me want to weep at just how fricking beautiful every damned page is. It’s no wonder I was inspired early on! I can only dream of getting to where they were back in the nineties! I also just finished reading the collected Skyward by Joe Henderson and Lee Garbett – great science fiction premise, and I love Lee’s character work.
Movies: I’m awful at watching stuff. I like entertainment to be interactive, haha! but I bloody loved WandaVision and was really impressed with the unexpected creative soul analysis in Pixar’s SOUL. That one hurt. I felt very seen.
Claudia Leonardi: My heart is still stuck on The Last of Us part 2. It’s been almost a year, but I still have to find something that I enjoy as much. I’ve been playing Death Stranding for almost a month and I’ve been waiting for Disco Elysium for PS4 for some time! (it was released some days ago, so it will be the next for sure!) I have to say I try not to play games too much, they tend to become addictive to me: I had to eliminate gaming on my computer because I have to work on it and having games installed on it was [a] huge source of distraction!
I’m not reading any books at the moment, (or any comic, it you mean REALLY read it and not just looking at the art, Death Stranding is proving to be quite time consuming and addicting) but I’m listening to Dostoevskij’s novels read by a great italian narrator I found on youtube.
As for series I’m rewatching a series called Eyewitness that came out in 2017, a thriller that has some of Life is Strange vibes minus the supernatural element.
GT: Finally, is there anything you want to say or add?
Emma Vieceli: Thanks for such a great set of questions. I really enjoyed exploring these answers. ^_^
And hey, while I’m here…if Life is Strange readers are after more emotion-driven, coming of age queer drama romance, do check out BREAKS at www.breakscomic.com! ;)
Claudia Leonardi: Thank you so much for these questions! I had a lot of fun answering them! Also, I’m quite social media shy, but I’m on instagram, I guess? So if you want to see what I’m doing you can find me there @l.claudia.8.7 I post sometimes!
Thanks to Emma and Claudia for taking the time to answer my questions, and I look forward to reading more of their work. For more on Life is Strange, stay tuned to Gaming Trend.