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INSIDE THE HALO GRAPHIC NOVEL
At the end of the month, the Halo Universe expands again. While the movie and Halo 3 are still a ways off, respectively, July 19th marks the date the Halo Graphic Novel hits shops, marking the franchise's entrance into comics.

Sporting a cover by Phil Hale, the graphic novel has stories written by Lee Hammock, Jay Faerber, Tsutomu Nihei, and Brett Lewis; with art by Simon Bisley, Andrew Robinson, Ed Lee, Tsutomu Nihei, and Jean "Moebius" Giraud.

The solicitation for the graphic novel reads:

Bungie Studios, part of Microsoft Game Studios, has joined forces with Marvel Comics to release a highly-anticipated graphic novel inspired by one of the most popular franchises in the history of the video game industry.

The Halo Graphic Novel (HGN) brings the Halo universe to life for the first time in the sequential art medium. The HGN is a 128-page, full color, high quality, jacketed, hardcover graphic novel. It features an anthology of original stories, including one lengthy story, and three shorter tales.

128 pages/RATED 17 and Up/$24.99

We spoke with Brian Jarrard, Bungie Studios Community Lead and Executive Producer of the Halo Graphic Novel to get more on the upcoming graphic novel

Newsarama: Let's go back to the beginning - how did the Halo Graphic Novel get rolling in the first place? Was it something that was solely conceptualized within Bungie, or was it done in conjunction with the publisher?

Brian Jarrard: The Halo Graphic Novel was solely conceptualized within Bungie Studios. Our team had long sought to bring the Halo Universe to the sequential art medium and Lorraine McLees, one of our art leads, planted the seed for the initial idea and pushed to get the project off the ground. Our goal was to create something great for fans of Halo and comics alike. At the time we had no idea how we'd publish it or who we'd partner with, our primary concern was creating an unprecedented team of artists and writers and making a book that could redefine what a graphic novel could and should be.

NRAMA: How did it ultimately end up at Marvel?

BJ: Once the book started taking shape, we began working with our colleagues in the Microsoft Game Studios Franchise Development Group to solicit potential publishing partners. We could have self-published the book but we felt that would be a disservice to the great work we had created - we needed to find a partner who could really get this book into as many hands as possible.

Marvel was one of the first groups we met with and from the very beginning they were extremely passionate about the project. They were excited about the Halo franchise and recognized the huge potential of this book and the pedigree of talent who contributed to it. Marvel's leadership and experience in the comic industry and their ability to deliver a top quality final product and put a tremendous amount of promotional support behind it made them the perfect partner for us. Within the Marvel Group, we worked very closely with Ruwan Jayatilleke, who became the champion for the project and devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to helping us realize our vision and get the book out into the world.

NRAMA: Halo has the game series as well as novels. Why expand into comics? What can you do in comics in terms of exploring the Halo universe that you can't do in other media?

BJ: The sequential art medium is a natural fit for Halo both in terms of being able to expand the compelling fiction that already exists and leveraging the wonderful artistic assets of the franchise. As a video game, players are introduced to the primary story arcs that play out in a completely visual and sensory experience. In the novels, it's entirely about the story itself. Moving into comics allows us to combine the best of both worlds and play upon the strengths of the Halo Universe that fans have come to love - story and art.

NRAMA: Format wise - was it always planned as a graphic novel, or were other options explored?

BJ: The initial discussions did revolve around a more traditional comic book series but after further thought, we felt that the Halo debut into the realm of comics should be something more unique and special. A graphic novel allowed us the opportunity to tell a variety of stories, to deliver a very high quality product and assemble a varied and amazing team of artists and writers.

NRAMA: Speaking of the approach, you have a variety of artists and writers working on individual stories/chapters. Why did you choose to go this route, rather than one, epic story?

BJ: Partly it stems from our over-abundance of stories we're dying to tell. The Halo Universe is rich and vast and spans two games and three novels but even they only barely scratch the surface. The stories that happen off camera, the parallel events to the arcs that our fans know from the existing mediums, are the stories we really wanted to tell. There are dozens of these types of stories and they help us to fill in the greater overall fictional world of Halo while still reserving the major big storylines for larger projects like the upcoming Halo 3 for Xbox 360. And lastly, making an anthology graphic novel gave us a chance to work with a greater variety of artists and writers.

NRAMA: So what went into the selection of the creators who ultimately ended up working on the graphic novel? What kind of criteria did you have?

BJ: Bungie artist Lorraine McLees sat down with our external producer and designer, Maria Cabardo, and began putting together a "wish list" of writers and artists that we all admired and respected in the industry. Our criteria was simply to find the people who we respected and admired, the people we all have followed over the years as comic fans ourselves.

NRAMA: Right, but still - some of your artists are major coups for any OGN, let alone a Halo OGN. Probably the one that still has everyone scratching their heads is Moebius. Can you share how you landed him on the project? Is he a closet gamer and Halo fan?

BJ: Most everyone at Bungie shares a love of comics and anyone who has followed the medium knows of Moebius and the rich history of his work. Quite simply, he's someone we admire and respect, a hero of sorts, and we figured it was a long shot but we put him at the top of our list of prospective creative partners. He landed on the project solely due to the influence and connections of our partner and friend, Maria Cabardo. When we hired her to help on the Halo Graphic Novel, we did so for her extensive comic design and production background but also for her outreach and connections deep within the industry. She approached Moebius and all the artists and writers and she landed them all for us.

I don't think Moebius is necessarily a "closet gamer" but he quickly understood and got the essence of Halo and became very interested in the franchise and our established Universe. We sent him a variety of reference materials including the game itself, which I believe he dabbled in a bit with his son. I'm honestly not sure if he was necessarily a huge Halo fan prior to this project, but we did turn him into a fan over the course of working together.

NRAMA: What was at the root of the stories? That is, did the creators come in with ideas, or did they have a pool from which to select certain areas of story or specific ideas?

BJ: The basic ideas themselves started internally at Bungie. We came up with a number of prospective story snippets and as the teams were assembled, we worked with each group to find the story arcs that seemed to fit best with each group. At Bungie, we're very passionate about the Universe we've created and we go to great lengths to ensure continuity and keep all our projects aligned with the central "story bible" we maintain internally. As such, it would've been a lot more difficult for an outsider to come in and know all the nuances and rules of engagement, some of which are public but many of which are still shrouded in mystery. Our goal was to provide a suitable framework for the story itself but give the writer the freedom to tell a great story in their own voice.

NRAMA: That said, what makes, for lack of a better phrase, a Halo story a "Halo" story? That is, what crucial elements have to be there, aside from setting and props, that make these stories something unique, something different?

BJ: The Halo Universe has expanded quite a bit over the years, since the original game debut on the Xbox. To most, Halo is personified by the Hero, Master Chief, and his battles to protect humanity. As the franchise has broadened, we've introduced new characters, new foes, but the central themes of conflict, of the larger fight for humanity, the mysteries of the ancient Forerunners and Flood - they continue to provide the baseline of what makes Halo, Halo. The core Halo stories to date are about overcoming the odds, maintaining hope in the face of overwhelming threats, the difference a small few can make against the many... These themes go beyond a genetically enhanced super soldier picking up two guns and kicking some alien butt.

I think one of the most interesting aspects of the Halo fiction is the diverse reactions and perceptions our fans have. Ask ten fans what they think defines Halo, and you'll likely get ten slightly different answers. It offers a little something different to everyone apparently, which is partly why the characters and stories themselves have resonated so well within our devoted fan base.

In the Graphic Novel we didn't tell stories of Master Chief, as those stories are handled quite well by the games and novels. We told the offshoot stories of supporting characters, of events that were previously undocumented. However, through them all, readers will recognize the familiar Covenant threats or the menacing Flood or the overall conflicts between a struggling Humanity and these all-powerful threats.

NRAMA: Was there any larger goal to the individual stories or the overall OGN in terms of filling in the larger storyline of the games/between the games? For example, the gap between 1 and 2, and Sgt. Johnson...?

BJ: One of our goals for these stories was to expand upon existing elements and shed new light on aspects of the backstory that fans had not been privy too prior. For example, at the start of the Halo 2 game, players take up the role of Master Chief as they try to drive away Covenant invaders from Earth. However, the game itself takes place in a very narrow window of the overall planetary invasion. Where did the Covenant make first landfall? Did the intelligence officers at ONI know something that the rest of us didn't? What was the impact like to the civilians in the streets? In the HGN, readers will get a different perspective on these events. The circumstances surrounding the fate of Sgt. Johnson are similar - in the first Halo game, we were led to believe that the Sarge was overcome by the Flood yet we see him again at the start of Halo 2. What did happen down there in the bowels of the Halo ring world? How did he manage to make it out? We shed more light on this in the Halo Graphic Novel.

NRAMA: Wrapping things up, for readers who've never played Halo - what do you hope they get out of this?

BJ: First and foremost, we hope they will get a book full of amazing artwork and compelling stories. Even if you don't know the first thing about Halo, the collection of art in this book is awe-inspiring and the artists and writers who contributed are the best of the best in the business. If that's the only thing a first time reader gets, then we'll be happy. However, beyond that, we hope that newcomers to the Halo Universe might be intrigued and enticed to learn more about the characters and worlds we've created. Perhaps they will be spurred to pursue some of the Halo novels or try out a Halo game to expand the stories for themselves and get a deeper involvement in the overall Universe.

NRAMA: And for readers who have played Halo - what are you hoping they take away? A broader view of the world?

BJ: Right, but even fans of Halo are going to hopefully take away an awesome collection of artwork and great stories above and beyond anything else. Once that has sunk in, fans of Halo are going to relish the chance to expand their insights into the Halo Universe, to see new sides to characters and events and help them fill in the gaps. I for one was inspired to go back and revisist some of these familiar locales in the Xbox games after seeing them realized in these new ways and new contexts.

NRAMA: Larger strategy-wise in regards to the franchise, where does the OGN fit in? Would it be safe to say it's part of a rollout of Halo product and stories that are ultimately leading to the film? To Halo 3? Or are you looking at establishing Halo's own comic book identity?

BJ: Strategy-wise, the Halo Graphic Novel is kind of all across the board. It doesn't necessarily lead up to any specific future product like Halo 3 or the upcoming Halo movie. Instead, it fills in some gaps and broadens the existing base of fiction. The project itself really began over two years ago, well before we had any notion of a movie and the seeds of Halo 3 were just being planted. It was a means for us to expand Halo into new mediums and to offer Halo content for our fans between development of the games.

All of the existing Halo products are intertwined but they don't impede on one another. I think we would love to see a niche for Halo established in the comic space, but it will also be tied back into the games and novels and whatever else we do.

NRAMA: And finally, if the OGN is well-received, what are we then looking at - another OGN down the road? A monthly comic series?

BJ: Well, we certainly hope the Halo Graphic Novel will be well-received, the final product is something a lot of people have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into and it has surpassed our own expectations. Considering the momentum the Halo Universe has, the natural fit for the franchise and the comic medium, the fact that we now have a great partnership with Marvel and the fact that Halo is only going to get bigger in the years ahead, it seems completely reasonable to expect to see future Halo projects in the comics realm.

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