John Layman is the writer of Champions Online.
"Meet the Team" InterviewEdit
Q: What do you do as the Champions Online writer?
A: I come up with many, if not most, of the missions, as well as figuring out the big picture "overplots" for various neighborhood maps and the game's overall story. A lot of this involves coordinating with Jack Emmert and making sure the stories match his vision and his ideas, and talking things over with Steven Long at Hero Games to make sure that stories effectively utilize existing Champions lore whenever possible. I work with designers to get the missions into the game and provide them with villain and henchmen dialogue and mission-giver text and flavor. It's a job that provides a great deal of variety and opportunities to write in different tones and styles, a challenge which I enjoy.
Q: How long have you been working in the gaming industry, and what did you do before working on Champions Online?
A: I've been at Cryptic for about nine months now. Before that, I did freelance writing for games for about three years, but as a freelancer I was more on the periphery of the game industry than actually in it. I don't know the game industry like other people at Cryptic do, but get the sense that Cryptic is a very different environment than most game companies. As a comic book writer, I was able to sit on my couch in my underwear all day and type on my laptop. Sometimes I get into my cubicle at Cryptic and strip down to my underwear in order to work, and so far nobody has said a word.
Q: Tell us about the comics you've written.
A: My comic book career is schizophrenic and eclectic. I've written a lot of genre stuff, and a fair amount of licensed stuff, and I like non-superhero stuff as much as superhero stuff. I did a very enjoyable 12-issue run on Gambit for Marvel, and big Marvel sellers include Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness and House of M: Fantastic Four. Non-Marvel, non-superhero stuff includes a Scarface sequel mini, two Thundercats minis, two Xena minis, and Tek Jansen, which should start coming out regularly this summer. I created Bay City Jive for WildStorm, which is a Big Trouble in Little China meets Shaft '70s action comedy. And I did two creator-owned books: Puffed, about an amusement park worker trapped in a dragon suit and dumped in "the hood"; and Armageddon & Son, a spy-genre deconstruction comedy. I also wrote the Complete Idiot's Guide to Drawing Manga, which isn't really a comic, but is about comics.
In my downtime, which I don't have a lot of, I am slowly – sloooowly – plugging away on a new comic about cannibalism and the bird flu. It's fun stuff!
Q: What is your favorite cultural reference or tidbit that you've been able to work into Champions Online?
A: There are too, too many to mention. Whenever possible, we stay true to Champions lore, but often you have to make things up, such as mission-giver or mission names. That's where my boundless font of otherwise useless cinematic and pop-culture trivia comes into play, along with my degree in literature. And I also very much enjoy puns and wordplay. Some of the references range from the blatantly obvious to the ridiculously obscure. I look forward to players puzzling over the references, figuring them out, and I wonder which ones, if any, will forever remain a mystery.
Q: If you could write for any character, who would it be and why? Who is your favorite Champions character?
A: I have too short of an attention span to crave writing a single character – unless it's my own, and even then I go into a story knowing the ending and working toward it. Besides, I live by a philosophy that every character has a good story in them. The challenge as a writer is finding that story. And then finding one more.
The same goes for Champions. I'm really happy to have an entire, fully-realized and diverse universe of characters at my disposal. This way I don't get locked into any single character type, or voice, or personality, or tone.
Q: What is your secret superpower?
A: I weep ultra-luminous supertears. Often. And copiously.
Buckets of them.
Q: Who are your favorite comic writers (besides yourself, of course)?
A: I read and follow a lot of Marvel characters and comics, but I've always been a little more indy-centric, and my favorite comic creators – writers and artists – are a bit further outside the mainstream. I love pretty much everything by David Lapham and Paul Pope, and I'm a huge fan of Peter Bagge and Kyle Baker. Of more well-known comic writers, Warren Ellis is my favorite, hands down. I'm fond of a lot of stuff by Bendis, Brubaker, Peyer, Kirkman, Millar and Slott, too.
Q: Any favorite comics or comics that you would recommend?
A: In no particular order (other than saving the best for last): The Goon, Stray Bullets, Preacher, Nextwave, Planetary, Walking Dead, Criminal, most everything by Alan Moore, Garth Ennis's Punisher, Courney Crumrin, Sandman, anything drawn by Geoff Darrow, Street Angel, Hate, Hellboy, You Are Here and of course, Teen Boat.
Q: What is an interesting fact about you that players would be surprised to know?
A: I have a Lego collection so vast and impressive and excellent that anybody who sees it in all its assembled, resplendent glory will either go blind with envy, be driven to Cthulhu-esque madness by its staggering enormity, be overwhelmed by the shame of their own inadequacy, or (the most likely scenario) fly into a murderous, jealous rage and try to kill me in order to make my collection their own. It happens all the time!
Q: What awesome music is on your iPod?
A: Alice Donut and the Cramps, man! The only two bands in the world, as far as I am concerned. When Alice Donut released their last album, Fuzz, I listened to it – and only it – for almost eight months straight. And I am a better person for it … though slightly more deaf.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to break into writing comics or videogames?
A: I just blundered into videogames, so I have no good advice on how to do it. I'm still trying to figure it out myself. As far as comics, I would say if you are going to do it, do it for love, not money. Because unless you are one of the very lucky 5 percent in comics, chances are you won't make a lot of money. So you damn well better love it.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?