Blizzard Entertainment recently provided Blizzplanet the opportunity to interview writer Aaron Williams and artist Joseph Lacroix to ask questions about the Diablo: Sword of Justice 5-issue mini-series published by DC Comics.
What’s your background as an illustrator?
Lacroix: I’ve been an illustrator and comic book artist since around 2000. Before working on Diablo my previous works included L’encyclopédie du mal (Encyclopaedia of Evil), and a story in three volumes called Pythons. Both stories are dark fantasy/sword and sorcery. I like monsters and grim, macabre atmospheres.
How did DC Comics approach you to illustrate the Diablo mini-series?
Lacroix: Blizzard got in touch with me last spring. Then all was set pretty fast, I did some sample drawings then started designs on main characters.
How did you feel when you were asked to take this project?
Lacroix: I was surprise and amazed. I am huge fan of Blizzard games and comics. For me it was a dream come true.
Have you played Diablo before, or do you keep in contact with Blizzard Art Team for concept art references of locations, landmarks, and characters?
Lacroix: Yes, I played Diablo II after it had been out for a little while. I have very strong memories about it: a long descent into the Burning Hells… the more I went down into the deeper levels of a dungeon the more everything became darker, more dangerous, and more terrible. I do refer to concept art and in game graphics that I have received from Blizzard every day. For example, if I need to visualize the spell of a wizard or the details of the suit of an historic character of the game. I had access to many pictures and graphic works of Diablo III and I was quite impressed.
Did you design Tyrael’s sword, or did Blizzard provide the art?
Lacroix: No, it was provide by Blizzard, it is official design of Diablo III.
Which illustrators have inspired you?
Lacroix: I’m a fan of comic books. Reading them lead me to discover the art of Mike Mignola, Bernie Wrightson and Alex Toth, and it was then that I realized I really wanted to work as a comic book writer and artist. I am also very inspired by European comics artists such as Dino Battaglia, Hermann, Moëbius and older illustrators like Ivan Bilibine, Gustave doré and Daniel Vierge. I am also very passionate about the painting of Jerome Boesch, Brueghel and the etchings of Albretch Durër. . . but I am afraid it is not very obvious in my art.
How did you hone your specific art style?
Lacroix: Working on Sword of Justice demands more precision in the line, more dynamic in the direction, and darker when inking. I needed to be more precise because some elements come directly from the game: sets, characters, suits, accessories. It was more dynamic because narration in US comics is different from French traditional comic books. American comics are smaller, with less panels, and everything has to happen fast: fights, sets, time changes etc.
And it was darker because Sanctuary is a universe made of dust and ruins, where the existence of men is always threatened. The sun does not shine often and when it does, it burns. Sanctuary is a realm of constant fear and darkness.
Which Diablo artwork gave you the most challenge?
Lacroix: When I was doing some early design tests, the big challenge was the barbarians. They have to be wild, powerful and mean. In the comics they are also very big. It was very fun to draw and I have made some good sample drawings that I wish would be in the trade paperback.
Which of those you illustrated is your favorite Diablo character and location to draw?
Lacroix: I love monsters, and the bestiary of Sanctuary is full of them. In the next issues, they’re going to pop up from almost everywhere! I also had a very good time drawing the Black Marsh near the Forgotten Tower in the second issue.
What upcoming projects do you have after Diablo?
Lacroix: Nothing for sure right now. But I wish to continue working on comics in general.
Will we see any major Diablo characters beside Tyrael?
Williams: It’s mostly limited to some small cameos by familiar creatures, locations, and races. Since this mostly takes place in Jacob’s home city in the Dreadlands, there wasn’t much opportunity to try and include some previously explored characters. Future installments, if they come to fruition, might have some, but as the game was being developed as this story was being written, taking Jacob and company into places that were going to appear in Diablo III was avoided. For example, in one draft, I had Jacob heading to the Forgotten Tower. If he’d done what I’d written there, players would wonder why there wasn’t the aftermath of the encounter visible, or why he’d gone there and not seen something painfully obvious when you play the game, etc.
When is the comic taking place in relation to Diablo II and Diablo III?
Williams: It’s happening about 20 years after the end of Diablo II. It doesn’t quite answer the question of what became of Tyrael, but it does chronicle what happened to his sword and some of the aftermath of the mountain’s destruction.
Which are the most important locations the events in your story focus on?
Williams: I’d say mostly the Dreadlands, and an area near the Arreat crater (though not the crater proper). Jacob does a fair amount of travelling before returning to his homeland, and we get to see some ruins near the aforementioned Forgotten Tower, the streets of Lut Gholein, and a strange cave about a day’s hard walk from the city.
Who is the woman in the cover of Diablo issue number 2? The one who watches over Tyrael’s sword.
Williams: That’s Shanar, a wizard character who kind of got snared by the sword while she was looking for it. Jacob taking it up releases her, and she tries to make sure he’s aware of just what he’s carrying and what might be influencing his actions. She’s really familiar with Jacob’s background (thanks to the sword; you’ll see why in issue #2) and is probably one of the more practically-minded characters in the whole story.
Will there be a big bad demon lord involved in the story? Or perhaps an angel?
Williams: It wouldn’t be Diablo without a demon, or at least a demonic scheme, would it? I don’t want to give away the plot, but there are definitely infernal influences at work, and there’ll be a nice payoff in the fifth issue.
Are you going to feature flashbacks to briefly view past events that fit with your story, or do you stick to present events?
Williams: There are a few more flashbacks in the offing, but the bulk are in issue 1 and the beginning of 2. There’s another one later on, but it’s not one from Jacob’s life… though he gets a front-row seat. And I think the only other of any length takes place towards the end when a new character has her own story to tell, which will hold interest not only to those in the story, but to a previously hidden facet of barbarian history.
How will the mini-series affect the Diablo III story?
Williams: That’s another one that Blizzard’s powers that be know more about than I do. I did hear in several of our conversations that they wanted to make sure anything I introduced could work in-game, so I’m betting one or more major elements/locations will make an appearance somewhere.
Any anecdotes while working with Blizzard’s Creative Team?
Williams: I wasn’t able to take them up on their generous offer of a visit to their offices (I’m a relatively new daddy, and our son is a handful), which cut down on the chances for hijinks to ensue. I was kind of amused at the lore’s demarcation between what’s “in-game only” and what’s “not really used in the fiction.” In an early draft, I came up with what I thought was a nice facet to Jacob’s home city’s descent into darkness. Portal scrolls were forbidden so no one could breach the walls, and the waypoint would’ve been buried like a Stargate for the same reasons. It turns out those methods of travel really aren’t part of the lore where fiction is concerned. I guess I should have known, or half the stories would be like episodes of “Star Trek” where most of the plot centers around the transporters breaking down or Kirk losing his communicator.
Have Joseph LaCroix and you been in contact to discuss certain scenes, or does he have full art freedom to interpret your story?
Williams: He has complete freedom as far as I’m concerned. In the scripts, when something on the complicated side needs to happen (say, a particularly intricate bit of swordplay), I may give suggestions or say something like “the point of Jacob’s sword needs to stop an inch from the goatman’s snout for the ‘you want a third nostril?’ line in the next panel to work.” How that plays out is totally up to Joseph. The same for any architecture or what would be “effects-heavy” scenes. I figure my job is to just note what’s plot-relevant, and making it incredibly awesome-looking is best left up to the hands behind the pens.
How do you feel teaming up with him?
Williams: I think his art is a fantastic fit. He’s got a great style that manages to convey an otherworldly “Grimm Fairy Tale” vibe while maintaining a great contrast between the magical and the mundane. The only resentment I might feel is he’s yet another person in the comics industry that reminds me how boring my last name is.
Have you played Diablo games before, or plan to play Diablo III?
Williams: Yes and yes. I’ve got the Battle Chest close by (and after I’m done typing this, I’m itching to re-install it yet again), and I’m seriously considering upping my supply of the numerous caffeine-based products available via the Internet in preparation for Diablo III. The only other thing I have to work on is suppressing any vocalizations I might usually make in times of triumph or despair while playing so my family doesn’t suspect that I’m either playing a game or getting too emotionally involved in my computer’s applications.
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