David Rodriguez: Writer, Video Game Designer, Director, Artist and World Conqueror!A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Egg Embry
David A. Rodriguez is the writer/creator of Arcana Studio’s Starkweather as well as one of the writers behind Xbox’s Hunter: The Reckoning and Hunter: The Redeemer.
His comic book mini-series, Starkweather, follows the adventures of Alexander Starkweather, an everyman who discovers that he is a witch. He is plagued by self-doubt and tormented by prophetic dreams. In his dreams, Dany Golden is being crucified, and when she dies, reality as we know it... unravels. Armed with power he can barely control, an inferiority complex, and a belligerent, talking iguana, this former line cook is the only person who can save Dany Golden and the only witch willing to stand against his own kind.
For a review of Starkweather, try SilverBulletComicBook’s recent Sunday Slugfest reviews of issues one and two! And for a free download of Starkweather #1, click HERE.
David is one of the original members of Arcana’s family, yet until I conducted this interview I had NO idea about how much Dave has done beyond comics! He is a true Renaissance Man in the entertainment world! But, I’ll let you read about it…
Egg Embry: Hi, Dave! How are you?
David Rodriguez: Doing fine thanks, and yourself, Egg?
Egg Embry: I'm fine.
David Rodriguez: Cool.
Egg Embry: Did you want to do the interview now or wait?
David Rodriguez: Lets go ahead and get it going!
Egg Embry: Ok, Dave, for the reading audience, tell us who you are, what you do, and why Starkweather is better then sliced bread!
David Rodriguez: All right, I'm David A. Rodriguez and I am a fulltime Video Game Designer with High Voltage Software, and part-time Writer/Creator of Starkweather. As far as why Starkweather's better than sliced bread, I'm not sure. I'm not real good at the self-promotion thing, but I’ll always go back to the characters. I like to think they have a solidity to them. That they feel real to the audience, and fan comments seem to support that.
Egg Embry: I think your dialogue and situations in Starkweather are genuinely believable… if we lived in a world with magic, clay golems, and Templar Knights in the streets of Chicago! But, having met you, you seem like a pretty straight-laced kinda guy (I mean that in the nicest way possible), so why a story about deviant witches and the Templar Knights who are after them?
David Rodriguez: Straight laced huh... well I was in public... :-)
Egg Embry: Ahh... that could explain it!
David Rodriguez: Well, the truth is the story has more to do with religion and myth than just the witches. And I have always been incredibly interested in both.
Egg Embry: Really? In what way?
David Rodriguez: In the sense that a large number of the people who follow a particular religion might not really know the shared history of it, or its source, but choose to yell about it anyway as if they were an authority... Since I was younger I wanted to know more, and I was lucky and found some professors who helped me research it.
Egg Embry: Ok. Now, let's pull back from work in comics and move over to your day job for a bit. You're a fulltime game designer; what do you do specifically?
David Rodriguez: It tends to depend on the game, but usually my job is to create the framework of a video game and define the systems that exist within it, such as combat, A.I., climbing, etc. Then I work with artists and programmers to implement it into the game.
Egg Embry: So, do you write the story and dialog for the game? Or the mechanics? Or both?
David Rodriguez: I also work on the story and cut scenes and all that good stuff. Even though I kinda don't like excessive story in games. I work on both the story and the mechanics. I worked on Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy for the PC, and Hunter: The Reckoning as well as its sequel, Redeemer, for the Xbox.
Egg Embry: Three games. Have me the one-liners on each of’em, if you would!
David Rodriguez: Ok.
Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy for the PC – An RTS expansion set in a tech heavy future. It had space travel and mechs and all that good stuff.
Hunter: The Reckoning and Redeemer for the Xbox – were horror/action titles based on the White Wolf tabletop Role-Playing Game.
Egg Embry: How long did each of them take to develop? And how many are you working on now?
David Rodriguez: Ground Control was a short project, about 6 months, the first Hunter was a little over a year, maybe 14 months, and Redeemer was about 10 months or so, it all kinda starts to blend together. And due to Non-Disclaimer Agreements I can't say what I’m working on right now… :-)
Egg Embry: Ha. That's very cool! I guess... ;-)
David Rodriguez: I’m very excited about my new project if that means anything.
Egg Embry: Then I’ll check it out! But tell me, why was Redeemer shorter to produce?
David Rodriguez: Redeemer was built on an existing game engine. The first Hunter was a new game from scratch almost.
Egg Embry: Hmm. That's interesting. Now, you mentioned that you don't want to flood video games with too much story... yet Starkweather is a deep, twisting narrative! There’s a LOT packed into each issue! Which makes sense because it's a comic book instead of a video game, but is it hard to make that jump from letting the players complete the story on their own to telling the story completely from beginning to end?
David Rodriguez: Yeah it is, especially when you are first starting out. You tend to build this story and then you let the player sort of walk from point to point and experience it. Which in certain games is ok, but, and this is obviously just my opinion, I feel games offer so much more than that, yet that is rarely taken advantage of.
Games are the only medium that allows the player to actually create their own story if given the proper goals and tools, and too often we confine them to live "OUR" story. I get to the point now where I get angry if I have to sit through more than 30 seconds of a cinema, and if you look at the first Hunter you would smack me for saying it…
Egg Embry: Ha. So, how do you make the jump? I mean, could Starkweather be a video game and still be just as fun and interesting or could Hunter: The Reckoning be a really breath-taking comic?
David Rodriguez: Well the jump I think is in the execution. I think Hunter has great characters, setting, and back-story that could totally be elaborated upon in a comic book. They would jump over very easily.
I also think Starkweather could make a great jump into video games, but I don't think I’ll elaborate too much on how. :-)
Egg Embry: Ok... I'll let you keep us in suspense! But, let's get into Starkweather itself. First, who is working with you on it?
David Rodriguez: The Starkweather team members are, John Bosco on Pencils, Alexander Silva on Inks, Arcana White Castle on Colors, and Jim Keplinger on Letters. I also receive editorial assistance and proofreading assistance from my wife, Jesica. Oh, and she puts up with the whole thing..:-)
Egg Embry: That's VERY nice of her! How did Starkweather get started? And how did you meet John?
David Rodriguez: Well, I'll do the easy one first. I've never met John…
He lives in Brazil, and I'm pretty sure we've never even had direct contact over e-mail. I think he primarily speaks Portuguese.
Egg Embry: Thank Yahweh for the internet! Anyways, how did you happen upon John? I mean, ya'll don't speak the same language so how did ya'll hook up?
David Rodriguez: When I first started working on the serious pitch for Starkweather I did some internet searching.
I tried the "collaborating" thing with people and it just really never worked out. So I decided that if I wanted an artist to behave like a professional I should treat them like one and pay money.
Egg Embry: What year was this?
David Rodriguez: This was back in... 2000.
Egg Embry: That's terribly cool! So, you've been working on this for a good while! How long is the actual series?
David Rodriguez: This story arc is 5 issues, but issues 4 and 5 are extra sized to make sure the story doesn’t get cheated. Like 10 pages each. And Starkweather is already about 3 to 4 pages longer than an average book.
Egg Embry: Wow! That's VERY cool! And all for the same price?
David Rodriguez: Well, Arcana sets the prices, but yeah I’m pretty sure on that one…
Egg Embry: That's a total win!
David Rodriguez: Damn straight!
Egg Embry: So, you're doing 5 issues, most are oversized and you started this in 2000... I don’t mean this in a negative way, but what took you so long to get it published?
David Rodriguez: Well, originally I only had five pages penciled and inked. That was my proposal. I took that to cons, mailed it out to places and tried to find the right publisher. I was told stuff like, "This is too Manga" or "This isn't Manga enough."
Egg Embry: Ugh... no ones ever happy!
David Rodriguez: Or sometimes just "no…"
Egg Embry: How many publishers did say "Yes" before one actually took it to print?
David Rodriguez: At one point I got picked up by a publisher, but they totally flaked and never sent the contract. I'm glad they didn't though. He wanted me to change too much of the story anyway. Then I hooked up with a second publisher. And due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, we never went to print. And then as luck would have it, Sean and I talked, and he decided he had to have Starkweather.
Egg Embry: Thank Yahweh for that! Say, any specifics on what the first publisher wanted to adjust?
David Rodriguez: Hmmm, he demanded I get a new inker. He wanted it to have like a G-rating or something. So a lot of the PG-13 language had to go. Stuff like that.
Egg Embry: Hmm. That's no good. So, four years to do Starkweather the comic book. Yet the video games are a year and some change, tops. That's refreshing!
David Rodriguez: [Laughing] Well... Starkweather is even older than that.
Egg Embry: No, no, no! Four years is PLENTY of time, Dave! Plenty!
David Rodriguez: I did the first story arc (never completed), when I was in college. It was in a local magazine called the Ecclectic Screwdriver. My friends started it.
Egg Embry: Hmm. Are we going to have that in the trade? [Note: Later in 2005, Arcana Studio will be doing a trade/collection of the Starkweather mini-series.]
David Rodriguez: I am seriously considering putting that in as a bonus feature. Though I am loathe to show my artwork... :-)
Egg Embry: You drew the original story?
David Rodriguez: Well actually, I drew and inked the original sixteen pages.
Egg Embry: Well, are you a better artist or writer?
David Rodriguez: Well, my mother will tell you that I am practically perfect at both. However, I tend to believe I am way better at the writing aspect than the art. I look back at the work with fondness but with no illusion of the... how do I say... rawness… of it. But it was fun.
Egg Embry: Ha. My mother tells me I'm beautiful... my soon-to-be wife tends to correct her.
David Rodriguez: I choose to stay out of it…
Egg Embry: Jeez... no one supports me! Ok, so you're working on Starkweather and have done... well, Starkweather before... plus you've done a number of games. Any other skeletons in your closet?
David Rodriguez: Uhm... well I wrote and directed plays in college.
Egg Embry: That's unexpected! Were they original products or works that most people would know?
David Rodriguez: I only directed one play I didn't write. And it was a Neil Simon play. I did it just to prove I could direct a play without fight scenes. The other 4 were written by me.
Egg Embry: Ha. What's a play without blood?! You know at Arcana Studio we need to put you down as:
David Rodriguez - Man of Many Talents - Writer, Artist, Director, Game Designer, and World Conqueror!
David Rodriguez: [Laughing] My major in college was Theater, and strangely enough it translates into Game Design pretty easily...
Egg Embry: Now, how did you get into game designs?
David Rodriguez: When I was in high school and college I played a lot of table top Role-Playing Games, but I always preferred creating my own worlds/adventures rather than using ones from books. And then I started just sort of making up new rules and sometimes just new games.
I heard that High Voltage was hiring back in 2000 and submitted some of my plays, and game writing to them. I also wrote a pitch based on a dare called "Car Washer the Video Game". They called me in and I got hired, like, 4 days later.
Egg Embry: Wow. And they never made Car Washer the Video Game? Or is that the basis for Grand Theft Auto?
David Rodriguez: I’m not sure they ever expected someone to actually write it up. They had it posted on their site as kind of a joke. I think the fact that I actually did and made it kinda sound fun helped. And I wish I had something to do with GTA...
Egg Embry: I do too. Then I'd ask you to put more car chases into the comic and use taglines like, "Violence and car chases by one of the degenerates that created GTA!"
And then we'd get sued!
So, getting into video games was easier then getting into comics? Is there more or less competition to get into video games versus comics?
David Rodriguez: Well I skipped over the 6 month wait before they called me in... :-)
But I think from the standpoint that a videogame company will interview you based on a resume, etc. helps.
Comics are such a weird system that it’s hard to say.
Egg Embry: I agree.
Egg Embry: So, what's the biggest creative difference between a video game and a comic?
David Rodriguez: Truthfully? I have almost total control over the Starkweather comic book. It’s mine, mine, mine.
In games you work for a company who was hired by another company to develop a licensed title. So you work within those boundaries. I'm sort of more like John (my penciler) in the sense that he draws what I ask him to because I pay him.
Egg Embry: Ah. I can follow that. We've got some licenses at Arcana Studio and they're fun, but it is not the complete control that an original property is!
So, how much direction are you given by the hiring company?
David Rodriguez: Depends on the game. Some publishers like to just critique and offer guidance, while others like to be more hands on.
Egg Embry: Well, obviously you're going to continue in video games. But you're also expanding beyond comics, correct?
David Rodriguez: Well, it's in the early stages, but a Starkweather Novel is in the works right now. It’s sort of the Zero Issue of Starkweather.
Egg Embry: Is it straight prose? And what age range is it intended for?
David Rodriguez: It will be straight prose with spot illustration. And my target age range is Young Adult-ish. But accessible for an older crowd.
I'll still go back and read books that I've had since I was 14 or 15 and realize they still have something to offer. Like the Chronicles of Prydain, Narnia, you know.
Egg Embry: I mean, plays, video games, comics, now novels... do you like to try new things or what?
David Rodriguez: Hmmm, I don’t really think they're new things so much as just different ways to tell a story. I like to tell stories, and engage an audience. Whether directly like when I was acting/directing in theater. Or with games and comics.
But yes, I do have a lot of interests.
Egg Embry: Well, that's VERY cool! Anything else you'd like to add?
David Rodriguez: I think I've rattled on long enough. Just be sure to go out and ask your retailer for Starkweather and Arcana's other fine offerings...
Egg Embry: And I'd like to thank you, Dave! It's been fun.
David Rodriguez: My Pleasure Egg, this was a great time.
For more on David Rodriguez, try www.ArcanaStudio.com, www.GoldenGoatStudios.com, www.3PennyStudios.com, www.High-Voltage.com, or Starkweather, currently available at your local comic book retailer! And for a free download of Starkweather #1, click HERE.
For more on Egg Embry, try www.ArcanaStudio.com, www.KamenComic.com, DEAD@17: Rough Cut #1, or MORE FUND COMICS #1.