Reading Ludocrats, I encountered a comic unlike anything else on the shelves. Unfortunately, the Image series will have to wait a while longer to hit the stands. It was scheduled to release on April 1, 2020, the first week without new comics in recent memory. I interviewed Jim Rossignol, the co-writer of the series, about collaborating with Kieron Gillen, worldbuilding Ludocrats, and seeing his first comic delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Did you meet Kieron Gillen when you were both working in games journalism?
That’s right, yes. Kieron had been working at PC Gamer for over a year before I turned up, and we then worked side by side three years, with us both leaving in around 2003 to pursue freelance opportunities. Gillen had already become interested in comics as a possible future, and we both visited comics cons and even interviewed Warren Ellis together (as he had written the script for the video game Hostile Waters.) My most interesting trip to Southend, that.
What made you two click? Do you share similar storytelling sensibilities?
Not really similar creative sensibilities, no. My work is quite different and I obsess over different writers, creators, etc, but I think that’s the important part of our relationship: we both have a huge overlap of interests, but also have very different creative characters. We share a sense of humour and appreciate the same qualities in others, but from distinct positions of our own. The alloy of these qualities is what makes the friendship strong. We are also both massive, unfixable Warhammer nerds, so that has been a help.
Can you describe your collaborative process with Kieron?
Overall it has been extremely diverse, and with Ludocrats it has been long. It was originally a series of letters between these characters, often written late at night after the pub while we were still working on magazines. So Ludocrats has been a good seventeen years in the making. Lately, Kieron has a lot more experience in comic scripting than me, so we basically took our original materials, did a little writer’s room thing with them, and then I wrote it up suggesting scenes and reams of dialogue, which Gillen then parsed into comic script. I then wrote additional back matter, often inspired by Jeff’s work. It’s been enormously rewarding.
How has Ludocrats evolved in the years since it was first announced?
Well, it has had a bit of a journey, but I think it has been a little kinder and friendlier. While it’s still as wild as when we first plotted it, I think the characters of Otto and Hades have become a little less vicious. I mean, there’s a beheading in the first issue, so these things are relative, but the drift is clear: Gillen and myself knew there needed to be more sympathetic ground for the material to work. It has benefited from that.
Jeff Stokely’s past comic art was quite different from the style he adopted for Ludocrats. What convinced you and Kieron that he’d be a good fit for the series?
We both loved Jeff’s work and were keen to see what he would do with it. When someone is as good as Jeff then you can trust that they will know what to do with the material. What convinced me personally was Jeff’s enthusiasm. He had no qualms and engaged with everything with gusto. It’s been amazing to watch.
How did you and Kieron make sense of a world that is literally designed to be ludicrous?
I think it was a process of just letting ourselves get carried away. There’s a sort of recombinant, escalating creativity to that sort of process, where you have to avoid curbing your silliness, as you might want to in other creative works. In this we could just let go and let the words come out, logic be damned. Sometimes just coming up with names and images that sound funny and working out what they mean later is a valid creative process, it certainly was for this.
Did you need to nail down the rules of ludocracy before crafting a story?
Not really. There’s a fundamental drift towards wildness and insanity, so the point of this was that they change the rules so as to remain ludicrous. I don’t think we really had any constraints on what we wrote. There was, perhaps, a touch of the Roger Rabbit Rule: which is, as that character explains in the movie, that he can do anything, so long as it’s funny.
How does your background in game development influence the series?
I’m not sure it does, really. There are certainly creative similarities in Sir, You Are Being Hunted, which is about a silly-but-sinister robot aristocracy hunting the player across British landscapes, but I think that speaks to the wider influences on my thoughts generally. I love to play with the idea of class and to mock the conceits of nobility. (That is certainly on display in Ludocrats, as it was in Sir.)
However, my attitude in game development is very much about environment-building and systemic stuff, which does not feed directly into literature. If anything it’s a general attitude towards creativity that both share, with both mediums having allowed me to explore in very different ways. I think there’s a sort of strength in diversifying: exercising your brain in a very different way gives you a different kind of strength in that media, like doing one set of workout exercises to supplement another, different part of your body.
Was there a learning curve to writing comics for the first time?
Absolutely. I am very much the beginner when it comes to comic scripting. Watching Gillen build these, and offer different potential solutions to panel layouts and the beat of the story as told through images has been a special education. I have a little way to go before I will be confident enough to strike out on my own, and I feel like I’ve learned a huge amount in being able to be a part of this.
Has writing your own comics given you a new perspective on the art form?
Absolutely: both in the writing part and in the collaborative enterprise part. I wrote a few vestigial comics when I was younger, but coming at it now with mature and professional collaborators has demonstrated how the process works when it is running at full speed, and that’s been a delight to watch. You see the names on the cover of a comic and know it’s a group effort, but actually seeing all that clicking together in real time, and seeing your own work pulled into that process, that is a perspective.
The second name in the credits often gets overlooked. How do you show the comics industry that, while Ludocrats is co-written, you’re a talented writer in your own right?
Well, we shall find out together! My next impending work will be a videogame, Ancient Enemy, out next month, which I wrote and art-directed, but beyond I am currently working on a rather different sort of book: an illustrated tome built with the amazing concept-art illustration of Ian McQue. Not a comic this time, but very much another collaborative adventure, a meeting of words and pictures that I think will delight those who encounter it. It’s called MILESHIPS, and is about the flying vessels (and crews) which operate in an archipelago of weightless stones in the sky. Whether I will return with a new comic after that…? Let’s just wait and see!
What was it like to hear that, so close to the first issue’s release date, Ludocrats was delayed along with all other comics for the foreseeable future?
It’s hugely disappointing, but there’s plenty to still be thankful for, given the circumstances. When this passes, and it will pass, then we can properly take on board the implications.
Thanks to Jim Rossignol for an enlightening interview. You can find him on Twitter @jimrossignol. Ludocrats no longer has a release date, but I highly encourage you to check it out once it reaches stores.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with creators or players in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.