With Universal’s Jurassic World already breaking records worldwide and Disney Pixar’s The Last Dinosaur is slated to come out later this year, it’s safe to say that our extinct reptilian friends are making a comeback. This news excites nobody more than former game developer turned graphic novelist, Timothy Lewinson, who after working on the 2008 Turok reboot began to work on its spiritual successor, the graphic novel Savage Empire. BNP reached out to Tim to discuss Savage Empire, the rising acceptance of crowd funding, and how he made the transition from game development to writing graphic novels.
BNP: I know when we were first introduced you initially gave me a bit of background on yourself that admittedly caught me off guard. Would you mind telling us your journey for the folks reading?
TL: I’ve been a massive dinosaur nut since I was a kid, and into computers nearly as long. My dad was pretty prescient back in the day, and knew that access would be a leg up for my siblings and I – so he bought a Commodore 64 and I was hooked. I taught myself how to program Basic and machine language by typing in these massive listings from the back of computer magazines, debugged the code and went from there.
In the 90s I took a paycut of nearly 75% just to get my foot in the door at Electronic Arts, applying to join the QA department. I ended up sweet talking reception to get the direct line to the manager’s office after my interview, and kept calling day after day, leaving messages until he finally picked up the phone and told me to start in a week. Learned at an early age that persistence pays off!
Relic was my next gaming stop, taking on the responsibility of building the gameplay balance team for Dawn of War and Company of Heroes. That team was a lot of fun to work with, the RTS pedigree that Relic had established with Homeworld and Impossible Creatures was a high bar to meet, but our studio hit it out of the park. It wasn’t until my next position as a senior designer at Disney that I was allowed to tackle my dream project – TUROK.
Since then I’ve run my own small studio with a partner, worked with Capcom, Microsoft, 2K and Ubisoft on various projects, and launched my own transmedia development company, Likes To Fight. SAVAGE EMPIRE is the first title under that banner, and this is the Kickstarter that we’re looking to crowdfund right now.
BNP: So I guess the most logical question to ask next would be how does someone with your skill set and background make the decision to transition over to graphic novels? And what can you tell us about your company’s first title, Savage Empire?
TL: Fair enough. I’ve always been writing – contributing to the story on Turok 2 (the Disney sequel) is probably the most high-profile project, but it’s something that has always been part of my creative work. Short stories, pitches, and scripts too.
The story of Savage Empire originally started out as a game, but expanded to something that felt even stronger as a graphic novel one-shot. Not that I’d turn down the chance to bring it to the gaming space, but after writing and producing the original eight-page prologue (included as part of the Kickstarter backer reward tiers), I knew it was on the right track. After showing it to more established writers like Gary Whitta and Benjamin Birdie, their feedback let me know that Savage Empire was on point.
Think of the story like Jurassic World meets Black Hawk Down. For years, the government has been experimenting with time travel, moving from theoretical work to more tangible, weaponized forms. Unfortunately, this has been taking place in parts of Southern California, and accidentally triggers the Big One along the San Andreas fault. Millions are killed, more are injured and missing, and a large swathe of the California coastline is now hanging on to the mainland by a thread. Behind that red line of danger, time travel portals are ripping open, allowing dinosaurs – original apex predators along the different timelines – to come roaring through, terrorizing those left behind.
The government is doing its utmost to suppress any information coming from the hot zone. A military unit is sent behind the line to retrieve what data and evidence of government involvement they can… but promptly disappears. Panicked officials then call in the cutting edge of operators, led by a woman named Reyka Gray.
BNP: Sounds interesting enough. Recently we’ve been seeing quite a few developers across different mediums utilizing Kickstarter to launch projects. The site brought back one of my favorite shows Veronica Mars, turning it into a 2014 motion picture, as well as bringing back the beloved Shenmue franchise for a third installment. Why do you think Kickstarter is becoming such a hit with not only developers, but your average consumer looking to spend their hard-earned money?
TL: There are segments of the market that have been underserved for years, if not decades. It’s that simple. For years, the traditional gatekeepers have told creatives that certain genres and projects just aren’t financially viable anymore – turn-based RPGs, diverse comics, adventure games, you name it. Guess what? It might not be viable for them, but the P&Ls make perfect sense for creators who know their audience and can speak to that audience. When you’re starved for attention and you’re finally offered food, you’ll break down the door. Savage Empire has a diverse focus on the protagonists’ side, with multiple perspectives and conflicting agendas that make for great storytelling. Holding up a mirror to reflect our world as it is has done wonders for AAA projects such as Fast and the Furious, and I believe Savage Empire can speak to a diverse action graphic novel crowd who also want to enjoy great stories. Enough room in the tent for everybody.
BNP: As a long time reader of comics, I’ve always been interested in the bond between writer and artist. What can you tell us about your creative team? Did their input influence your perspective on what your book should look like as you went along, or did you have a clear vision from the start when it came to matching the art style with the storytelling?
TL: Collaborating with smart, talented people is like riding a razor’s sharp edge – ALL THE TIME. Constant back and forth, keeping each other on our toes, pushing to make Savage Empire better, this is what we do. Jim Jimenez is an amazing artist who takes my scripts and finds the details and visual flourishes that I didn’t know were possible, then puts pencils and ink to paper. You can see the amazing concepts he creates, I’m really fortunate to be working with him. Daryl Mandryk is a longtime colleague of mine going back to the Disney days. He’s one of the top concept artists in the world, in huge demand, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have him doing me a solid by creating the variant cover for Savage Empire. Daryl has created many covers for Dark Horse Comics, including Star Wars, Conan and others; he also has a game resume a mile long, with Turok, Def Jam: Vendetta and Def Jam: Fight For New York, SSX, Shadow of Mordor, Secret Ponchos and more. Michael Subardiaga’s colors pop off the page and bring Jim’s inks to life in a manner befitting a dinosaur apocalypse.
BNP: So lets talk “the industry” for a second. In recent years there has been a noticeable difference in the way writers tackle characters of color. It seems as though because these companies are becoming more diverse, they are finally able to find a voice for these POC characters and churn out some memorable storylines. What are your thoughts on the current state of diversity within the comic book/graphic novel industry and what are your hopes for the future?
TL: Long overdue. Milestone Media was a revelation to me in terms of what POC characters could be. It wasn’t ahead of its time in terms of what was – and still is – needed for representation in comics, but it feels like the world is ready now. You can have characters outside what was presented as the “norm” sell, and sell well. Independent publishers have created even more avenues outside of the traditional big two, and even Marvel and DC aren’t immune to what’s going on. The demographics are changing. It’s about including women as more than eye candy, or POC as more than sidekicks. It’s allowing new voices to take on traditional costumes and bring new perspectives to the table. You don’t know the feeling in my heart when I found my oldest son reading the Miles Morales Spidey. I wanted to be Spider-Man as a kid! Now it’s a story my own kids can aspire to – and it’s presented as something normal, not outside the so-called “norm”. That’s great. That’s what we need more of, and that’s what I want to contribute to.
BNP: I guess this is the part where we get a little more personal. At what age did you start reading comics? Are there any notable writers who inspire your work? And lastly, when you aren’t writing tales about dimension-hopping dinos, what do you like to do in your spare time?
TL: I started reading comics from the age of 3. I was a voracious reader as a toddler, and my parents were all too happy to give me the Spire versions of Archie comics to read. It was a Christian take on the Riverdale mythos, but I didn’t care. I graduated to the big kid comics pretty quickly, however!
I’ve been inspired by a wide variety of authors both inside and outside of comics. Names like the late Dwayne McDuffie and the late Douglas Adams. Greg Rucka and Christopher Priest. Ta-Nahesi Coates and Neal Stephenson. James Baldwin and Margaret Atwood. When I sit down to write, however, I focus strictly on my own work in order to protect and project my own voice. It’s a work in progress and always will be, but my influences are always a part of me.
When I’m not writing? Spending time with the family, enjoying MMA and talking smack on Twitter.
BNP: Since our time together is coming to a close I want to give you one last chance to sell people on Savage Empire as well as break down some of these awesome Kickstarter rewards packages for those who back your project.
TL: I want to give this opportunity to everyone, to share in what’s been a passion project of mine for years. I want to make my story your story, and by opening up this Kickstarter, here’s the chance to do it. I want a finished copy of Savage Empire in your hands to be the reward, but I know full well that the extras can turn a “maybe” into an “shut up and take my money!”, so here goes.
8 page prologue (digital and physical, no DRM) – Produced earlier this year in conjunction with the team to set the table and backdrop for the events of Savage Empire.
64 page full book (digital and physical, no DRM) – This is what your Kickstarter pledge is backing. My team will take the finished script and provide a one-shot storyline that brings everything I’ve been talking about into your hands. Softcover and hardcover options.
Art book (digital and physical) – Contains amazing sketches, concept art, character and environment pieces from a multitude of artists providing their take on the Empire.
Character cards (digital and physical) – You remember the old-school cards on the back of the G1 Transformer and GI Joe boxes? Inspired by those, we’ve made a few for the characters in Savage Empire.
Limited Edition variant cover art – Daryl Mandryk will work his magic on an LE variant cover for certain tiers. This is a Kickstarter-exclusive, once the campaign ends, this cover version go off into the sunset.
T-Shirts – We have 6 different t-shirt designs (WIP) that you can choose from. What’s your favourite?
Name a character/Eaten by a dino – You can name a character in the book. We’ll work together to create something suitable. Your character will be fleshed out nicely, and then eaten by the dinosaur of your choice. Seriously, what could be better?
Producer credit – Add yourself to the credits of Savage Empire. Flesh out your IMDB page and impress your friends.
Character commission – Jim Jimenez will take your character and create a commissioned work especially for you.
Signature Edition Hardcovers and Art Books – Personally signed by myself with note expressing my gratitude for backing this project.
There’s also a brand new reward for all backers – digital/physical artwork created especially for the Kickstarter by Chris Bourassa, creative director of the Darkest Dungeon (http://www.darkestdungeon.com/
) and former Turok alumnus. He’s creating a special piece, with the characters of Savage Empire rendered in the distinctive Darkest Dungeon artstyle.
I’ve wanted to tell the story of Savage Empire for years. It’s a tribute to a lot of great friends I’ve made throughout the years, and a homage to the great artists who’ve inspired me since I was a child. This volume is as much for them as it is for me.
BNP: There you have it folks! To back Tim’s project, go to savageempire.org. Timothy’s brainchild Savage Empire will be roaring to a shelf near you.
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