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Brandon Graham & Xurxo G. Penalta join in the fun and games with MOONRAY

Come explore the lead-in graphic novel from Living the Line to the upcoming Moonray multiplayer PC game with the writers and creators bringing life to the page!


COMIC BOOK YETI: Greetings! How are you doing today in your respective corners of the world?

BRANDON GRAHAM: I’m doing well. I’m in Las Vegas packing up to spend 12 months in the dystopian fun and sun of LA.

CBY: Ah, well, at least the scenery of the Pacific will be bit more engrossing than Lake Mead! Now, as Moonray appears to have begun with Rodrigo Etcheto’s initial confluence of interests, founding the enterprise with his brother, Diego Etcheto, and Hans Andersson. Can you tell our readers a bit about the process of how you both got involved in this project? How did each party arise in the conversations and planning before a comic was hewn out of the agreed design and narrative elements?

BG: Yeah, Moonray was already started as a game when I came on. The initial trailer is still on YouTube. It has a great, surreal vaporwave feeling to it.

The Moonray guys had seen my work on PROPHET and liked the weird sci-fi far future I’d done with Simon Roy, Milo Giannis, and Farel Dalrymple on that series. At first, me and Farel were working on designs for the game. We played around with some ideas for animated episodes, but in the end, comics is what I’m good at, so it made sense to flesh it out in that medium. Which is a process I’ve never seen done before – to explore a world in comics and then use that as the basis for a game.

XURXO G. PENALTA: I was brought along by Brandon after he had been working on the project for a while. I can’t tell how many issues he had drawn already but at least there was one I saw. He’d also been working on the world building for the game. We worked together on a couple of projects before, Kiem and Prophet, and we’re friends. So I was delighted to hear from the Moonray project.

My story takes place in parallel to the game’s universe, but its locations and characters are not in the game before I draw them. This gave me an aesthetic palette but ample leeway to just be freely creative, particularly beyond the first issue, as I felt I had more of a footing on what we were doing.

CBY: I presume the lead time on developing the game component of this multimedia venture is significantly longer than completing the comic. With a game based on a book used as a sort of storyboard and visual encyclopedia of the narrative universe, how did this creative collaboration deviate from a more “conventional” development process? When did Living the Line enter the conversation?

BG: I started working in a much more conventional way initially, but rather than showing drawings that won’t go anywhere past development, it occurred to the Moonray guys that we could be making finished comics that achieve the same ends.

I got to know Living the Line after they invited me onto their YouTube channel to talk about our mutual love of comics and got along with them so well that it made sense to start to work together- Plus, I think the Living The Line publisher, Sean, does the most beautiful production on his books that I’ve seen in comics.

XGP: I would say we work in tandem with other departments. We meet weekly for show and tell sessions with other creatives for different aspects of the game. That way the teams are informed of what's taking place in the books as the evolve. If things fit or are inspiring, they might go into the game. Also, we provide designs as well as feedback for characters, weapons, environments, color schemes, etc. This way we work independently but remain on the same page, so to speak. Living the Line are great partners and they got involved as the publishing of the first volume neared. They are friends with Brandon, he can tell you more.

CBY: I got to see how Living the Line put together my friend Clarence Dass’s book, Sala ni Yalo: The Path of the Shades. It turned out looking great, so I’m sure the hard copies of Moonray will be very impressive. Also impressive, there’s an interesting 2-page spread with “Moonray Index - The Gods” subtitling the illustration. Deification and factionalism are incredibly important drivers of conflict. Can you share a bit about the interplay between the game development team and the narrative expectations for the comic? What space were you given to add to the lore, and how delicate an exercise was crafting the story narrative in-line with the weighting and attributes of the game factions?

XGP: I did the illustration that you mention but this question is more Brandon’s field, being the writer.

BG: A major theme I’m trying to do in Moonray is to show multiple ideologies that characters can explore. I think especially in modern America things are too often divisive and binary. My hope is that we can use MOONRAY to explore all the different ways societies and people can choose to live. But to those ends we’ve been given nothing but freedom to explore where we want to take things. And I feel like the whole Moonray team has been in sync with the core goals of what we want to make.

CBY: I’m excited to see how that ethos comes together in the game dynamics. The Kickstarter campaign for the comic had over 550 backers, raising more than three times the target funds. One interesting reward that a couple of backers selected was a project consultation with you, Brandon, and Moonray Editor-in-Chief Joseph Keatinge to consult regarding backers’ comic book projects. Can you tell us a bit about how Joseph got involved, and a truncated version of what folks can expect when asking your advice on making creative projects work?

BG: Joe’s an old friend of mine, he was integral in getting my King City book over to Image Comics and then when I was working on the relaunch of Prophet, Joe was doing a relaunch of Glory.

As far as making comics that work – I think that the skills it takes to make a good comic and the skills it takes to sell that comic are two different things. I think it’s important to develop skills on both ends of that – and from my experience, it really helps to be able to connect with people who have done that and get an understanding of what’s involved.

CBY: We’ve talked a bit about how the narrative world came together - let’s turn to the visual world of the comic. I certainly see influences of Moebius and Geoff Darrow, and conceptually, the work of the various illustrators that came together behind the concept of Dougal Dixon’s After Man series also come to mind - what else inspired the look of this comic? How did you contend with delivering a recognizable correlation to the expected visual style when rendered in 3D computer modelling for the game release?

BG: Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s work, especially his Barlowe’s Inferno series, was a big inspiration, where he shows his version of Hell. One aspect is that the only building material they have is human souls – which is very in-line with the Moonray idea that the Miium material the gods are made from can become anything, from buildings to weapons to people.

Xurxo and I are definitely from the school of Moebius, along with Herge, Darrow, Sylvain Despretz. Also, Fil Barlow who did a lot of work in animation (Extreme Ghostbusters, ALF and the exceptional comic, Zooniverse) is a big influence on what I’m doing for Moonray.

XGP: My style in Moonray is pretty much the one I’ve used in comics and illustration for the last 10 years. I would say it’s a clear ligne inkwork, like you see on European books since Tintin, and afterwards a lot of colorwork very inspired by classic cartoons and 80s anime aesthetics. At least those are my goals.

Moebius and Darrow are certainly strong influences of mine, but I must admit I’ve never heard of After Man by name, but I may very well be influenced by it through indirect sources. For a world-building balance I’m often thinking of Miyazaki’s simplicity and Juan Gimenez’s baroque and atmospheric visuals. There are so many others of course. The visuals of the books are there to inform the game, which itself has its own aesthetics partially determined by the media and the tools they use to develop it.

CBY: I noticed on the Epic Games site, Moonray is expected to involve the use of Blockchain, NFT technology, or Cryptocurrency. What sort of experience do both of you have with these financialization technologies as creative professionals? Will this merely involve minting a cryptocurrency or NFT tokens as an in-game currency, or is there a broader role for these technologies in the brand that also encompasses the comic-related elements? What role do you see this tech having regarding physical media such as graphic novels and comics?

BG: It’s my understanding that when the Moonray guys first started developing the game they were interested in how Blockchain technology could be used in games. But on the comic end, it’s evolved so much since then. We’re focused on just getting printed books out that readers can enjoy without needing to know anything else about Moonray.

XGP: I have no experience with these technologies. I know they’ll be involved in the game as it evolves.

CBY: I suppose that’s a separate conversation worth having with the game developers, as I’m quite curious as to how it can be effectively integrated separately from the tarnished reputation these valuation systems have garnered in the last year or so. Now, we talked a bit about the illustrative inspirations for the comic, but what sort of video games provide inspiration to both of you, concerning visual grandeur, immersive experience, and narrative stakes that keep you engaged? When you’re trying to communicate a world where the fundamental rules of nature have moved beyond our own, what helps you set a frame of reference in building something new?

BG: I liked Shadow of the Colossus and Death Stranding as far as feeling huge and certainly with Death Stranding, some elements of feeling out a world that is somewhat familiar with strange new elements in it. I’ve also played a lot of DOOM!

XGP: I try to develop the book as an immersive experience as much as I can, within the limitations of the media. I try to think about the details of the world at-hand and attempt to portray some aspects of how inhabiting such reality would be, incorporating mundane activities we can all relate to, and combining them with the strangeness of the propositions this story brings forth or makes possible. That is, in fact, one of the more interesting parts of the telling of the tale. To inform this, I recrew ideas mostly from my own experience, stories I’ve heard and also – but to a much lesser degree – from films and series as they easily become stereotypical.

I hope some of that enjoyment transfers to the readers as well as to the team developing the game, which has its own nature of possibilities and limitations brought forth by its respective media.

CBY: Oh, Shadow of the Colossus and its predecessor, ICO, were both visual masterpieces, and I’ve been hearing enough about Death Stranding to know I have to get around to it at some point.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by raising the topic of “miium,” the elemental life force that drives our protagonist and other creatures in the Moonray world. Since I’ve only seen it written so far, can you clarify how it’s pronounced? Is it said, “me-ium” or “mai-ium”? There are a number of other aspects of the biosphere in the world of Moonray depicted in some detail - should we expect them all to make an appearance in the game?

BG: ME (as in Me myself and I) UM (and Um, like umm, umbrage)

XGP: I believe it’s “me-um”. Heh. It’s a central part of the game lore, therefore it’s present in the game.

CBY: That’s good to know going forward – thanks for clarifying! Returning again to the art - I loved the number of two-page spreads and scope of the scenery across the entirety of the book. Can you discuss the choices around the illustration techniques a bit more deeply? It looks digitally inked and cel-shaded, so perhaps you can share a bit more with our readers about your process?

BG: For my pages, I draw everything on 11 by 17 bristol paper. I order the stuff in bulk from office supply places. And then I scan the pages into photoshop for color. For me, there’s an advantage of working on paper in that I like the fear of having to get permanent lines right on the board – and then I color digitally, because it gives me a much better control of how it will look in print.

I also letter the pages mostly digitally; I made a font a while back to letter a friend’s Image comic (Boloero) and got help from Fil Barlow and Sean at Living The Line to smooth it out. That’s mostly for speed.

I’m certainly a fan of using 2-page spreads to show largescale big environments.

XGP: I often use 2-page spreads to tell the story because when I see the printed format, I take it as a single view with several panels within it. Particularly on this project the widescreen view is especially useful to try and immerse the reader on an enveloping large landscape, but full of detail to slow its intake. At least that’s my intention. In my case, it’s drawn digitally for a question of time, but my methods are purely traditional when it comes to drawing; Lots of sketching, vanishing points and the like. Digital just saves time in scanning and erasing.

For the coloring, the digital resources are much more useful as it allows for changes and adaptations.

CBY: Before we close, I always like to offer the opportunity to guests to share with our readers other comics, films, art, literature, music, etc. keeping your attention lately. What other media should everyone make sure they check out after giving Moonray a look?

BG: I always enjoy going back into comics history, there’s such a wealth of work. Recently I’ve been looking at Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and Wendy Pini’s Elfquest.

XGP: Moonray is pretty strange, but hopefully it would fit well serialized within the pages of the 70s/80s sci-fi magazines, like Metal Hurlant, 1984 and the like.

The same could be said about our prior, and hopefully future, project of Kiem that Brandon and I did for 8House at Image.

I recently saw a film called Vesper that had a feel for some of the fantasy feel but much murkier. I love the original Dark Crystal as an immersive portal, as well as many parts of Labyrinth. Most of Miyazaki is spot on for a variety of reasons and always Moebius, of course.

Dersu Uzala by Kurosawa, Ridley Scott fantasy and everything else, and always Otomo’s work on both media, and many more but not to go on list mode here…

CBY: I think you’ve given our readers plenty of material to check out, guys! Thank you both for your time and participation. Moonray is a unique entry into the graphic novel landscape I look forward to seeing in print. If you both have social media and portfolio links to share, please include them below and we’ll be sure to publish them.

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