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WoW Insider interviews WoW manga series writer Dan Jolley

Lesley Smith

In the second of our two exlusive interviews, we sat down with Dan Jolley, the writer behind TOKYOPOP's latest Warcraft manga, Warcraft: Death Knight, which is due out later this year. You can also read our interview with TOKYOPOP Series Editor Troy Lewter here.

WoW Insider: How did you get involved with the Warcraft manga?

Dan Jolley: I've been writing for TOKYOPOP for a number of years now, and when I heard they were going to do Warcraft manga, I called them up and basically did the long-distance, over-the-phone equivalent of jumping up and down and holding my breath until they agreed to let me write some of them. (Tantrums aside, I think I'm also a bigger Warcraft geek than anybody else there, so that was another factor in my favor.)

Did you have particular plots in mind for 'How to Win Friends' and 'Miles to Go' when you were first approached?

I actually turned in quite a few story ideas – just one-paragraph pitches – for Blizzard to choose from. Lucky for me, they liked several, and 'How to Win Friends,' 'Miles to Go' and 'Crusader's Blood' were among them. There was another one involving Booty Bay and some goblins, and that one didn't make it through, much to my chagrin. But I do have another short story coming up that centers on the Bloodsail Buccaneers, so that sort of makes up for the goblin loss.

Can you explain the processes you went through from story idea to finishing the story?

I can't really go into the intricate web of editorial machinations and influences surrounding these projects, but as far as me personally, there's nothing really remarkable about the process. I usually start with the pitch, break that down into an outline, figure up the exact page count and panel breakdown, and then write the script accordingly. It's all pretty workman-like.

Do you play WoW at all? Horde or Alliance?

It's all Horde, all the time for me. In fact, right before I sat down to answer these questions, I finally got my Tauren Enhancement shaman to level 80. He's the second 80 I have, following a Blood Elf Arcane mage. I would have more characters at 80 by now if I had more time to play, but between my day job as a content writer at Fallen Earth and an ever-increasing load of freelance work, my spare time is at a serious premium.

If you do play, did you start before contributing to the anthologies and did it give you a more in depth knowledge of the world?

I've been playing for about three years now, and it's definitely given me a much firmer and richer foundation for this kind of work than I would have had otherwise. Every time I write one of these stories, I go into the game and take my character through all of the locations (unless, of course, the locations don't exist in the game, which also happens), and make sure everything is as accurate as possible.

Do you think the anthology format of Warcraft: Legends makes it easier or hard to craft an interesting story?

I don't know that it makes a huge amount of difference; comic book writers learn to work within the very rigid constraints set before them, so whatever page count I'm given and whatever panel count I'm allowed influences what kind of story I set out to tell. As far as difficulty goes, really to me the only difference between a 40-page story and a 160-pager is that the 160-pager takes longer to write.

Why do you think the Warcraft manga have been so popular?

Well, the nature of role-playing games involves putting yourself into a story, so these kinds of games are carefully engineered to provide enormous amounts of story material. The manga seem to me like a perfect extension of Warcraft. They're opportunities to see the familiar elements of the game world in new ways and, aside from being top-notch fantasy stories, it's a little bit as if each story is a game expansion with new content.

Do you think the Warcraft universe translates well to so many formats, from comic books and manga to other media like figures and board games? Why?

The designers and writers at Blizzard have done a truly masterful job of creating a world that's not only fascinating on its surface, but also very nearly perfectly balanced. Basically, no matter who you are, you can find at least one aspect of the game that speaks to you, that you can connect with. (Personally I feel a huge amount of sympathy and affinity for the Forsaken.) When you have a setting that's that universal, it can translate into pretty much any medium and succeed.

You're currently working on a Death Knight manga centered on the character of Thassarian, who has a pivotal role in Wrath of the Lich King. Where did this idea come from and how did you become involved?

For the short stories I did in Warcraft: Legends, those mostly arose from short pitches I generated myself. For Death Knight, I was lucky enough to be given a broad-strokes outline of what Blizzard wanted to see in the story. There's still a huge amount of room for me to inject my own ideas and my own take on things, but I had a guiding hand this time. I also have to give huge credit to my editor, TOKYOPOP's Troy Lewter, for suggesting to Blizzard that I was the right writer for the job.

What can you tell us about the storyline? Is it a contemporary story or set prior to Wrath of the Lich King?

I can't tell you much at all about the story at this point, but I believe I can safely say that parts of it take place in the past, and parts of it will be very familiar to those who've played the Alliance side of WotLK. I departed from my natural Horde tendencies and created a draenei death knight so that I could play through the parts of the game that correlate with the story.

Do you think fans of the manga and the game will find a storyline focusing on Death Knights different from previous manga?

Well, certainly the story material itself will be different, since the whole death knight experience is new to the game. Tonally, though, I think it'll fit in well with some of the more serious manga stories TOKYOPOP's been publishing. I've got one coming up called "Crusader's Blood" that shares a few thematic elements with Death Knight. One thing's for damn sure: there are no gnomes in this one.

What else are you working on at the moment?

Also published by TOKOPOP, I'm doing manga spin-off projects based on Erin Hunter's prose novel series Warriors and Seekers. Lerner has me doing a lot of their Twisted Journeys books as well as a bit of novel-to-comics adaptation work. Outside manga and comics, I'm writing a lot of prose myself, some of which is from TOKYOPOP as well: they published my Young Adult novel series Alex Unlimited, and I'm currently Web-publishing an original sci-fi/superhero novel called Redeemer's Law. It's being serialized, two chapters per week, and is completely free for anyone to read.

I have a number of other projects in the offing, some of which involve television, but those are still too nebulous to talk about yet.

Gallery: Dan Jolley | 7 Photos

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