Review by Peter Duncan
Expectations for comics promoting other types of entertainment tend to be low. Writers are limited by the decisions made by screenwriters, game designers or committees of executives. Artists can only try to reproduce what has been designed by others, for a different medium. What’s more, the comic is often seen as a by-product of the main feature, part of a short-term ad campaign to get the movie, tv show or game some quick name recognition. It’s not surprising then, when the results are often disappointing.
What a joy, then, to find a game tie-in that works as an individual comic and, even more surprisingly to discover that it’s an intriguing first issue in a six-part mini-series. One that leaves the reader looking forward impatiently to the next installment.
Crayta is a free, monthly, online comic written by Dan Abnett, that provides a meta-story for a real-world games-design platform. One where users at almost any level of experience, can create and, potentially, market their own games. In effect, it means that by logging onto the platform you are already entering a game, set in another Earth, at another time, with your creations being part of the world created by Abnett and the project’s art team.
It’s a fascinating switch, where the real-world website is embedded in the fictional world of the comic, a strange twist on the red pill, blue pill dilemma from the Matrix movies. A theme that Abnett seems keen to develop in the series.
Everything about the package exudes class. The cover, which combines background images from Mark Harrison, with a stunning space-station, provided by illustrator, Neil Roberts, is drawn together by graphic designer, Emma Price, creating an overall look that holds together a comic featuring a set of diverse art styles from three different, talented artists.
Gustavo Vargas, a UK-based Peruvian, is the lead artist, responsible for the main story sequences and most of the design work for the comic. The writer/artist of a trio of impressive cyber-punk adventures that have a distinctive and dynamic style, here, his colours are a little more muted, but perfectly suited to the story being told.
He is backed up by X-Factor artist and Bitch Planet co-creator Valentine De Landro and Mark Harrison whose distinctive style, familiar to 2000AD readers, can be seen in a short ‘in-game’ segment that provides a violent interlude to what is mainly a dialogue-driven issue.
The danger of a single comic using different artists is that the change can be jarring and disturb the narrative. Not so here. De Landro, working from the designs of Vargas, provides art for a separate sequence of events, in a separate location and the change, while noticeable, seems natural and in the context of the story a useful and successful switch of styles.
Abnett allows his story to develop slowly, to emerge naturally from the dialogue. Unpeeling revelations about this strange new world like the layers of an onion skin. He starts with a personal, small-scale tragedy that draws the reader in, before revealing a full-scale world catastrophe that in any other comic would be the major theme, and yet that revelation is another feint. The real conflict, the real interest in this story lies elsewhere, but he isn’t giving that away easily.
At first glance, this is a combination of familiar science fiction themes, but with a more subtle consideration of the questions and ideas raised than you’ll find in any movie.
On this occasion a free, promotional comic, may be the only way this story could have been told in the English-speaking comics market. Too slow for 2000AD, it needs the space of a 31-page comic, too little action in the first issue for the US market, the only real alternative would be a European-style album or serialisation in a magazine prepared to give the story the room it needs.
Dan Abnett has taken advantage of an opportunity here and with a talented team of artists and designers behind him has produced, in Crayta, an excellent first issue that promises much for the future.
• Crayta Game Platform: crayta.com
• Comic Download: crayta.com/comic
• Gustaffo Vargas Big Cartel Page: gustaffovargas.bigcartel.com
• Valentine Delandro: valentinedelandro.com
Crayta the game will be available for free in Stadia Pro and allow players to create and play multiplayer games across TVs, laptops, desktops, and select tablets and phones. Novice players can create and publish simple multiplayer games in a matter of minutes without the need to code or use other specialised skills, while more advanced developers can create complex games limited only by their imagination. Creators will also have the potential to earn money within Crayta from day one, initially via a monthly prize fund.
• if you’d like to see a few more sneak peeks at some of the artwork for Crayta: Sunset then head over to the newly-launched Instagram channel here
• Unit 2 will also be sharing a fantastic interview they had with Dan and Gustaffo over on our YouTube channel this Wednesday (10th June 2020)