The Best of Both Worlds: Creating a New Character for Marvel’s Contest of Champions [Interview]
Marvel's no stranger to the fighting game space. Though most people probably think of the fan-favorite series Marvel vs. Capcom first, Marvel's attempted a few different solo takes in the genre with varying success. The latest effort, Marvel Contest of Champions, debuted last year as part of Marvel's initiative to be more aggressive with its licenses in the mobile arena.
Developed by Kabam, Contest of Champions follows a galactic tournament where everyone from Marvel's vast catalog is duking it out for bragging rights. The game has proven to be so successful that a new comic series spinning out of Secret Wars takes place within that universe, from Al Ewing and Paco Medina.
Along with that new series comes an entirely new character, Guillotine. Making her debut both in-game and in the pages of the monthly Contest of Champions book, Guillotine is one of the first entirely new characters from a Marvel video game to make the leap to the page. While at New York Comic Con, we talked with Contest of Champions' art director Gabriel Frizzera about the game, creating a new character for Marvel, and the advantages of working in Marvel's mobile space.
ComicsAlliance: This is one of the first games that Marvel's decided to make a comic out of rather than having a game spinning out of a comic. When creating this world, how much of it is from what we've seen in the Marvel Contest of Champions game and how much of it ties into the actual Marvel Universe?
Gabriel Frizzera: Since the beginning, we were all Marvel nerds. We wanted to pay homage to everything we love, and we wanted to have all these different characters from different universes and storylines. We always try to be as loyal and authentic as we can, that's number one. As time progressed, Marvel started having a closer relationship with us, and they understood that we understood their characters and respected them. Then we started collaborating on stories and ideas.
We have weekly calls with Marvel, and when the comic came about, we said we didn't want it to be a promo comic. We've seen too many that were just to sell the comic. Marvel agreed, and said, "We want this to be the best Marvel comic out of all of them." That's cool; that's ballsy.
By then, they knew we were creative guys, so they said bring some ideas. So me and Al Ewing, the writer of the comic, we met and we discovered that he has some of the same ideas; he had a very lofty, cosmic, epic feel for the comic. We decided, you guys do whatever you want, we're going to do what we want, in terms of story, but let's touch base in the important areas. What are the motivations? Who is the big guy behind it? What is the meaning behind the Contest of Champions?
All this stuff is in common, but they have the freedom to do what they want, and us the same. That's the best of both worlds for me, as the creator, I want to be able to create my own storylines with the sanction of Marvel.
Every once in a while we'll talk, "What are you doing in the next issue?" Maybe we'll do that, too. And the opposite is true. For Guillotine we did a short animation to announce the character, showing a little bit of her backstory. There were some moments where Al looked at it, and wanted to put that stuff in the comic. It's a great relationship.
CA: For the most part, you've used existing characters or different versions of existing characters from Marvel's history, but now you're introducing a character brand new to the game and the comics. How did Guillotine come to be, how did she become involved in the Contest and why go with a female sword fighter?
GF: The first time Al wrote about or talked about Guillotine was at one of the Marvel retreats. When he sent us a little bit of the outline for the comic, she was a blurb, this mysterious, French/Algerian woman that inherits this sword. It was really interesting to me, so I just started sketching. I didn't even wait until they wanted to talk about designing her. I was so excited, I just started sketching. I sent it to Marvel, and they said it was great and wanted to start developing her.
Marvel sent the designs over to Paco Medina, the artist on the comic, and Paco pushed the design a bit more. He made it a bit more for a comic. Being from different media, we tend to put a lot more detail in, so he simplified it a bit, which was good. Then I designed the sword. It was really a true collaboration.
From that backstory blurb, we started thinking, if she has this cursed sword, how would she move? What is her combat personality? That informed them by showing some of the moves and powers she could have in-game, and Al said maybe we can incorporate that into the comic, too. So her personality was really built from the ground up, even from the way she moves and dresses. It's a really interesting way to build a character. I don't know what the future is for Guillotine, but right now she's in that fertile ground where she lives in two worlds.
Guillotine looks cool, she fights cool, but she also has a really good backstory that we can work with. Her father was to be the Guillotine, he was a secret agent for the French government, and the previous holder of the sword. She finds the sword for the first time as a kid going through her father's things in the attic, and she wants desperately to be in her father's world. He used to be a mysterious, distant character. Things started taking shape where we made this animation of her picking up the sword, and the sword starts talking to her. It's a really human story, trying to grow up to be your dad, and you find out your inheritance has a dark side. People really responded to that.
CA: So often when we see new characters added to existing properties, they're aliens or men, and you're bringing another strong female character into the mix now. Was there any pressure, because of how new she was going to be, to make her stand out?
GF: Marvel's always talking about diversity with us all the time. Right now it's much better, but growing up reading comics, there wasn't a lot of strong female characters. Because the comic industry is so varied now, both the readers and the creators come from different background, and we're just trying to reflect that. Guillotine is of mixed decent and a strong female who's trying to find her place in the world, and I think a lot of people can relate.
I have a little girl, and I want her to grow up with strong models like that. We draw a lot of big, muscled guys, but she's different. My daughter already likes to play Guillotine because she sees me drawing her. She'll go grab a stick and say, "I'm Guillotine!" She starts beating the hell out of me. I'm all for it. I'm from Brazil, and I never saw myself represented growing up. It's good to see more variety.
CA: Dozens of characters have been released to this point, and you've got a lot more on the way. When you're picking who's going to be next, is that tied to what's happening at Marvel, or because Contest of Champions is still relatively new, do you find yourselves gravitating towards more classic characters first?
GF: It's a little bit of both. Marvel never forces us to do anything, but they suggest some ideas. Like with Age of Ultron, they thought it would be a good promotion. Age of Ultron was going to be big, so we thought it was a good fit for us. We have big discussions to brainstorm which characters we want to bring in as fans. Right now there are no movies, so we can go really heavy to put everything we really want in. Captain America: Civil War is coming, and we'll have Civil War content. Right now, we get to mix in the classic characters, and we proved that even niche characters like Moon Knight can be well received.
CA: Contest of Champions the game has been going strong for a while now, but with regards to the fighting game space, this genre has typically been tied to the console/arcade platforms. Some of that has to do with the complexity of the controls, but on mobile you're much more streamlined. Do you find you have more users checking out Contest of Champions since the barrier for entry has basically been removed?
GF: I think that's true. First because it's free-to-play, so you can delete it if you don't like it, but I find that the time investment for complex games is too intense sometimes. With mobile, if you have a cellphone, you have a console in your pocket. Those things are so powerful now graphically, and they're getting better. If you have five minutes you can just play it.
Our game was built from the ground up thinking exactly about that. If you want to get really deep into it, there are people that play like 12 hours a day, but you don't need to. The fights are easy, and you can just play five minutes if you want. I play a little in the morning, go to work, and I play at night when I'm in bed. Sometimes I have a boring meeting and a sneak a game in. I'll never bring myself to the living room after a long day to sit down and play at a console. I come from the console space, and I love mobile because of the ease to create, how quickly you can respond to the community, and it's much more agile creatively.