Blizzplanet’s Eldorian and Medievaldragon had the opportunity to speak with New York Times best-selling author Micky Neilson and Sean “Cheeks” Galloway to discuss details of DC Comics’ World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria graphic novel. The transcript is available afterwards. Listen to the interview. Subscribe to Blizzplanet Gaming (YouTube).
Hey there, Wacraft fans! I’m Eldorian from Blizzplanet.com
We have a special episode today. We are going to talk about a new graphic novel that’s coming out. It’s called WORLD OF WARCRAFT: PEARL OF PANDARIA.
With me today is my partner in crime to help me ask some questions, Medievaldragon, and today the two of us will be interviewing the masterminds behind the book itself … Micky Neilson and Sean Galloway.
I just want to say guys thanks for taking your time out, today, talking to us about the graphic novel.
Neilson: Absolutely. Thank you.
Eldorian: First question for both Micky and Sean. For people who may not know who you are and what you do, Micky, what’s your title at Blizzard Entertainment and your general duties there? And Sean, what are past projects that you have worked on?
Neilson: The title is Publishing Lead, which means I run the Publishing Team. And the Publishing Team is responsible for Novels, Comics, Short Stories, a lot of lore-related Web Content, and some other fun projects that we get to work on.
Galloway: Past projects I have worked on was lead character designer for THE SPECTACULAR SPIDERMAN ANIMATED, the character designer for HELLBOY ANIMATED, I did covers for DC Comics for TEEN TITANS GO for two years, I did some design for HASBRO, MATTEL, and most currently I wrapped up a 3 year stint of leap frog designing a game for them called Leap School.
Eldorian: How did you become involved with this book?
Galloway: I became involved with the book, because Blizzard had reached out to me, as well as DC Comics and they asked me if I’d be interested, and I tried to do my take on their universe.
Medievaldragon: When in the timeline do the events of PEARL OF PANDARIA take place in relation to World of Warcraft: Cataclysm?
Medievaldragon: We’d like to know more about Table Taffy Studios since its foundation and the role it plays.
Galloway: Table Taffy was founded by me, and I brought in my buddie Ryan Benjamin to be part of that. Basically, Table Taffy is a group of creative artists that I hand-picked that could potentially expand over a larger volume the way I draw, and also to bring in other styles. So basically, the way that we played for the PEARL OF PANDARIA was that because it was such a big project, and we wanted to have an animation type of approach, the group of artists and I basically made sure that were able to capture my style throughout the whole graphic novel.
Eldorian: Pearl of Pandaria likely began its early development like a year or two ago. With all the iteration and revisions, why did you decide to keep the core of the story pre-Cataclysm?
Neilson: That’s a very interesting question. We started development on PEARL OF PANDARIA quiet a while ago. I want to say we did the brainstorming around the Burning Crusade era. So at the time that we were brainstorming the book, there were no plans for an expansion that would have Pandaren in it, or Pandaria in it.
At the time the book was really going to be a way to explore Pandaria, Chen Stormstout, and the Pandaren culture, because we didn’t believe that there was going to be an expansion. So the story was created back then, and it was written largely all before the events of Cataclysm, and then as the development of the book progressed, we finally found out that there would in fact be an expansion that would include Pandaria, and so we went back and we made some changes to the script.
Luckily, the majority of the story takes place on Azeroth. The first part and the last part are where you see the turtle, Shen-zin Su, which is separate from the island of Pandaria itself. But still that’s something that was being developed for the game. So we had to make a few changes there.
But it worked out, Sean and his team were really great about making artwork changes as well because as the game evolved, that became necessary at few points also.
Eldorian: How were you approached to work on Pearl of Pandaria and what are your early memories talking with Blizzard and DC Comics to draw the initial concept artwork?
Galloway: Basically, I was approached by Jeremy Cranford (Blizzard Art Director). He asked if I’d be interested in hearing about a project and if I liked what I heard if I’d be interested in coming down for a meeting.
Once he told me what the project was, of course I was onboard, wanting to be part of the project. So Blizzard and DC Comics setup a meeting where myself and the editors and the Creative Team at Blizzard sat and we discussed what my role would be for the book.
Of course, I was nervous, but I had an idea of how I’d like to try to approach the project with my art style, but I knew if I did it just the way I normally do it, it would be a little too clean — our art style, so that’s why we came up with the animation type of approach where we could attach the background with a more aggressive type of feel — but before we could go to that point, Blizzard and DC Comics wanted to see what kind of idea I had instead of producing new artwork.
I was already approaching that type of technique with my own personal properties: Bastion’s 7, and Gunshoes 4 Hire. So I sent them this stuff I was doing for my own projects, and it seemed everybody was onboard for that approach.
Once we kinda had an idea of what type of style we’d want to develop the book in, I showed them how I’d like to interpret their characters in my style. For the most part, it was pretty easy to draw them in my style; but there was always the fear: “would they reject it?”, but I had really good support with Blizzard and DC Comics with what I turned in.
Medievaldragon: Micky, who is Li Li Stormstout, and what’s her role in the story?
Neilson: Li Li is the window or the lense through which we see not only the Pandaren culture, but Azeroth as well. One of the many interesting things about Li Li is that she is young, and she is unbiased, and she is unprejudiced, and she has this wonderful innocence about her — especially when it comes to venturing out into the big bad dangerous world of Azeroth, and she’s certainly a bit naive as far as that goes, but she’s also experiencing everything to the upmost, and one of her earliest purposes and goals of this book was to serve a little bit of a travel guide to Azeroth .
Especially for folks who maybe haven’t played the game, or they haven’t played it in a long time, to be able to see the world of Azeroth through the eyes of Li Li; and she’s really the physical embodiment of the theme of the book.
There are a couple of themes:
1. Life is an adventure.
2. Acceptance for other cultures, beliefs and religions.
And so, we get to see all that through Li Li.
Medievaldragon: I really liked the character. In-game and also in the graphic novel — she has a manner of speaking it’s like slap talk. I’m not sure how to describe it. She’s very smarty.
Neilson: Right … Sassy. Sarcastic. Yea, she’s a lot of fun to write.
Medievaldragon: I was clicking her in the game and she starts talking really sarcastic and stuff. It was cool.
Medievaldragon: I heard in another interview that Li Li was based on your daughter?
Neilson: A little bit, yea. My daughter is age 9, and Li Li’s character is supposed to be kinda a tween age, but I certainly did model her behavior and some of her dialogue after my nine-year-old daughter.
Medievaldragon She’s so sweet.
Neilson: Thank you.
Eldorian: This is coming from the Scrolls of Lore — basically the forum that spawned the Red Shirt Guy. So this is going to be an interesting question. Just warning you now. One of the revisions of the concept art found in the back of the graphic novel was the change of the pandaren characters’ eyes from green to gold, and we think it kinda made sense to be jade-like since jade is part of the pandaren culture. We were guessing it was revised because green eyes are also associated with fel corruption and Blood Elves. Why gold eyes instead of the normal black eyes?
Neilson: The theory is very interesting one regarding fel corruption, and in a way, that’s kinda correct. Actually, what we found out in the development of the story was that some cultures, and I believe this is specific to some Asian cultures, believe that green eyes are a sign of demonic corruption — so that’s why when you say fel energy and fel being demonic you are not so far off the mark. So in the interest of being sensitive to other cultures, we went in and we decided to change the eye colors.
The MISTS OF PANDARIA cinematic actually had Chen with green eyes, originally, and they went in and they changed that; and we decided to request the change for PEARL OF PANDARIA — and another interesting little tidbit is that Sean and his team had already completed pretty much the entire book at that point — when we found out about this, and this speaks volumes about Sean and his team that they were dedicated enough to go back in and change just about every panel in the graphic novel and make that conversion from green to gold eyes.
Eldorian: *Sarcastically* That’s easy in Photoshop, right? Just find and replace colors?
Neilson: [laughs]. Find and replace.
Galloway: We were fans of working with many layers. Sometimes finding that red layer was very tough, but we are all in it to produce a great book, so it was a no-brainer. So we’d go back and make those changes.
Eldorian: At the end of Pearl of Pandaria, fans can visualize some of your early concepts and revisions. Could you share some of the core changes the project suffered throughout the evolution of the project?
Galloway: Everybody knows about the expansion, so we had done the first 10-pages, and then we put a hold on it so that we could have the pages reflect the new expansion, so there was that, and then design-wise for Chen it was just a matter of putting the ponytail on Chen to give him a nod to Samwise for creating such a fantastic race, and then for Rahjak I went all overboard and tried to redesign him — respecting what the fans’ reactions would be. So we pulled that back and designed more toward what fans are used to, but just in my style.
Medievaldragon: What can you tell us about the villains in the story? Why did you choose Zhahara, Brokk, Rahjak and Rumblefitz?
Neilson: That came from the early brainstorming sessions that I had with Chris Metzen and Samwise. We knew that we wanted to have new unique villains for Li Li to be going up against in the book, and those were characters that you just dont see that much in the game. I don’t remember the last time we saw a goblin alchemist. I think it might have been Warcraft III. I’m not even sure.
And the Blademaster they are not in the game, and if they are it’s very rare that you’d see these characters. We thought it would be very interesting to choose characters that you don’t see very often.
With Zhahara, you definitely see a lot more of the naga and sea witches and things like that, but she was more a part of the plot and that’s where her character arose from.
Eldorian: I was wondering, it seems like a Warcraft III neutral heroes party there. Was that intended?
Neilson: That was certainly a little bit of it, because one of the things we thought was — ok, “What kind of characters do we really love and that we connect with that we haven’t really been able to revisit in World of Warcraft?” — and that’s actually a big part of where the whole idea for the book came from. Being able to go into the pandaren culture. Like I said before, we wouldn’t be able to do that in an expansion, and so the villains were kind of a reflections of that and being able to explore those types of characters a little bit more.
Medievaldragon: Were you able to play World of Warcraft for the sake of getting acquainted with scenarios like Booty Bay, Ironforge, and the Valley of Heroes in Stormwind? Your renditions look really great and detailed. How was the research and learning process for you?
Galloway: Unfortunately, no. I had a busy schedule. I wasn’t able to. I was familiar with the project, but not as familiar as one should be for the project itself, so I brought in my Table Taffy studio mates to work on the project.
Dave played the game for quite some time, so they knew the property like the back of their hand. They had my back while were on the project.
Eldorian: The final pages of Pearl of Pandaria shows some changes made to the villains’ outfit and weapons. What was the process here, and how did it end up?
Galloway: Basically, as a designer you go in with a vision and respect to how the designs are. I’m very minimalistic when I draw to begin with. So working on this it stretchs me a little bit to add more details — which is great because I never really took the opportunity on my own personal stuff to do that.
Medievaldragon: I’m sure fans are pretty intrigued by the fel orc blademaster, Rahjak. He seems to have been originally a normal orc from Azeroth. What clan was he from?
Neilson: He’s a very interesting character, and another one that we sit down and we thought ok the blademaster was certainly a very cool unit type and one that we wanted to revisit, and then we thought “What’s even cooler than that?” … a fel orc blademaster. It’s just keeping cool over cool. We did a little bit of research on that, and the thinking is that he’s probably from the Burning Blade clan, and he went into Outland — and this is probably after Illidan was defeated, but he was able to figure out a way to have demon blood infused into him probably tying into [The Maker] (The Blood Furnace) and those questslines from the game.
In a very broad and general sense the idea was simply, he went to Outland, he figured out a way to be corrupted by demon blood, and he became a fel orc.
Medievaldragon: What’s his ultimate goal and motivations to undergo all these drastic changes in his body?
Neilson: His ultimate goal is to be the best fighter, the best combatant or martial artist on Azeroth. So to him, defeat is unacceptable, and he fought Chen at some point previous to the events of the book, and he was defeated by Chen, and so he couldn’t take that. He couldn’t accept that. So he decided then to kind of buff himself up even more by going to Outland and being corrupted, and he believed that that would raise him to the next level to be able to defeat Chen.
Eldorian: For those who haven’t watched The Spectacular Spiderman animated series, or Hellboy: Sword of Storms, Your art looks like a cel animation as seen in Disney animated films. what technique do you use in Pearl of Pandaria and what’s the process it undergoes?
Galloway: What is special about this book is that every page — the background is drawn separate from the characters. Any time, Blizzard and DC Comics would be able to utilize the art as clip art for whatever reasons that they want. That was the approach. Because there were some changes that needed to be made due to the expansion, it made it not as tough to make some edits.
So basically there’s a couple guys, myself and Derrick, that would be on backgrounds, some on layouts, and then a couple colorists because with this kind of process it’s like an assembly line. That way each page every day could be accomplished with all of us working together. We also had a studio mate who would come in and put the characters on model as well. It’s like animation on paper.
Medievaldragon: I think fans will enjoy some of Li Li’s adventures. She’s in search of her uncle Chen Stormstout going all around Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. You managed to add some in-game elements like professions and the backstory of some holidays. How was the process of thinking, selection, and writing of these type of details into the story?
Neilson: It was all a part of the brainstorming process in just trying to pick out little areas where we could add history, and details and lore that didnt exist. One of my favorites is Brewfest, and being able to for the first time kind of explore where that came from, and how it all came about and everything else. The dwarves are always so fun to write for and to work with. The hard drinking, scottish characters are always a blast. So those kind of things it was such a fun project and being able to step away from what I normally do — books like the WORLD OF WARCRAFT: ASHBRINGER or co-writing WORLD OF WARCRAFT: CURSE OF THE WORGEN with James Waugh. They are very dark. They are very somber. It was a nice departure. It was very fun.
Eldorian: At the end of the book, it says fans should expect a continuation of Chen and Li Li’s adventures in a free online novella titled Quest for Pandaria. Will the online novella gap what happened between Pearl of Pandaria and Chen and Li Li’s appearance in-game?
Neilson: Yes, it does — and one thing I wanted to mention is the graphic novel PEARL OF PANDARIA. I think is now scheduled to be released on September 25th — so PEARL OF PANDARIA will be released a little bit after the first installment of QUEST FOR PANDARIA is posted on the website.
We’ll actually put up a message for people saying if you want to avoid spoilers we recommend that you read PEARL OF PANDARIA before starting QUEST FOR PANDARIA — which is going to be a four-part, a series of short stories.
It will detail the events that happened after PEARL OF PANDARIA, and leading up to the game and where you see them in the game.
Medievaldragon: Micky, there’s a cliffhanger in the story that is not concluded in Pearl of Pandaria, concerning the whereabouts of the Pearl and the Fisherman. Will this be concluded in Quest for Pandaria, or will fans have to wait an see in-game?
Neilson: The story of the Pearl will be continued in Quest for Pandaria!
Eldorian: This question is for both of you on the story and artistic aspects. Why should fans of the game get a copy of World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria?
Neilson: For me it’s really different, and I fell in love with the character of Li Li, and I fell in love with the lot of the other characters. There is also a lot of history that is conveyed — a lot of history about Chen Stormstout, a lot of history about Pandaria and the turtle … Shen-zin Su. It’s sort of a time-capsule glimpse into Azeroth before the Cataclysm, before the game changed. So there’s all kinds of reasons, and of course, fantastic writing. Number one reason.
Galloway: Of course, that’s the number one reason. (chuckles)
Neilson: Hehehehe! … and good artwork too!
Galloway: It’s ok — why wouldn’t they want to pick it up? Like Micky said, the writing is fantastic, and his track record writing these books is fantastic too. I think fans would want to take their chance with the book. It’s different from what Blizzard has done in the past, and I think it’s a nice different approach to the property. We intended to approach it as if it were an animated feature. So we hope people will pick it up and enjoy it.
Eldorian: Thanks a lot for this interview, guys. It was a lot of great information. I really enjoyed hearing all of your answers. I just wanted to say it was a fantastic book, I loved it, and everyone should go out and buy it. Absolutely.
Pre-order DC Comics WORLD OF WARCRAFT: PEARL OF PANDARIA.
Read our recent review of this graphic novel.
Other Pearl of Pandaria interviews held by the community: