From Phage To Page: The Last Of Us Comic Interview
If you’ve finished up Naugthy Dog’s superb The Last of Us, and still hunger for more adventures set in that universe, check out the recent The Last of Us comic books, which are a surprisingly decent read.
Dark Horse recently released a four issue miniseries based on Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. Created by The Last of Us writer and director Neil Druckmann and comic creator Faith Erin Hicks, the series was a prequel that detailed Ellie's history, but it also introduced Ellie's friend Riley Abel. Those who played through the entire game have heard Riley's name before, but if it hadn't been for the comic that character might not have existed at all. We sat down with Druckmann and Hicks to talk about the comic and how it influenced the creation of the game.
Why did you guys want to create a The Last of Us comic?
Druckmann: It started when Dark Horse approached Naughty Dog to potentially do some kind of licensed book. They did a good job of selling it, like, “Look, we want the people writing the game to be involved in the comic book.” So we became interested. And then they asked “Who would you want?” and I suggested Faith. I was a big fan of her writing and her art style.
Hicks: I had a relationship with Dark Horse previously. They published a book of mine called The Adventures of Superhero Girl, so I got an email from my editor on the project – a one-line email asking me if I played video games. I responded “Yes,” I was very familiar with games. I was actually aware of The Last of Us, so I replied back “Yes, of course.” She emailed back and said “Potentially we’re doing this Last of Us prequel and your name came up as a potential artist on the project. Is that something you’d be interested in?” I of course replied with all caps and fifty exclamation points and “Yes, yes.” I’d seen the E3 trailer that they released. I was extremely intrigued, especially because of Ellie.
Did you get to play an early build of the game?
Hicks: No, they didn’t let me do that. I actually haven’t played it yet. Neil just gave me a copy. I just finished drawing the comic not too long ago and then immediately when on to my next project, so I haven’t actually had time. Now I have a copy and I’m really excited to play it. Oh, I did get to read the script that Neil wrote ahead of time which was good to get a sense of the characters — especially Ellie. For a while, I asked Neil not to tell me the end because I actually wanted to play the game and didn’t want to know the ending ahead of time.
Druckmann: But I was like “You’re writing the comic book. You need to know everything that happens in the game.” We sent her the script and we sent her a bunch of concept art and videos of a few levels.
Hicks: I got to see the actors working, which was really cool.
Druckmann: There were some scenes that we just shot but weren’t animated so we’d send her the motion capture footage of that.
Hicks: It was great. It was really wonderful to have all that stuff so I could just immerse myself in research that the Naughty Dog art team had done. It was really helpful.
You should have just lied to her and told her everybody dies at the end.
Hicks: No, that’s horrible!
A bomb goes off and just destroys the world.
Druckmann: You know, the ending was very much affected by the comic book. Everything Ellie says about Riley and how much Riley affected her — the ending used to be different before we worked on the comic book. These things really influenced each other. And likewise, some of the stuff that happened in the game made changes in the comic book.
Hicks: That meant so much to me. I was such a little gaming nerd, you know, when I was a nerdy teenager, so it made me really happy to have the chance to contribute to this game.
Druckmann: That’s the other thing. I was like, “Faith need to be in the credits.”
Hicks: You didn’t even tell me.
Hicks: You didn’t even tell me that my name was in the credits. So I had people on Twitter, like, the day after the game was put out, “Hey, your name is in The Last of Us’ credits. What’s that about?” I was like, “It’s there? What?”
What’s the setup of the comic? Is it just kind of like an origin story or a back story for Ellie?
Hicks: Well, it’s basically a day in her life. It takes place a year before the events of the game, and it’s basically her going into this new school environment. It’s a military school – very repressive. You know, she’s in situations where she’s beaten up or bullied or that sort of thing. And she meets this girl, Riley, who seems to kind of have a better handle on how life is. Perhaps, she’s more of a rebel than Ellie. So the two of them basically go out and have this adventure that goes slightly, horribly wrong over the course of the comic. But yeah, it’s like, what would it be like to be a 13-year-old in this really devastated post-pandemic society.
Can you give an example of how the comic story influenced the game? Some things you guys changed?
Druckmann: Yeah, obviously in the last speech Ellie gives [in the game] she talks about people that have died on this journey, and the first example she gives is Riley. She talks about — I’m spoiling, obviously the ending of the game — she was the first to die. And she was there when Ellie was bitten, and they were both bitten at the same time. Obviously that little snippet influenced a lot of — you have to build that relationship up to be meaningful, and so much of what happens in the comic book is Ellie kind of learning to break out of her shell. The way she behaves is that she learns from Riley.
Hicks: Riley’s like her mentor.
Druckmann: Yeah. And then there was this other bit that Faith wrote about that game The Turning, which is our Mortal Kombat rip-off, and she came up with the character Angel Knives. She described this fatality in the comic book and it comes up as a side conversation in the game when you find that arcade cabinet. If you happen to engage with Ellie in the game then she starts telling you the story Riley told her in the comic book. Then, when you’re playing winter there’s a few artifacts in Ellie’s backpack, and you get to see how Ellie got some of those in the comic book. And that was something that came up very late, when we had to make some changes, but I really felt like it helped tie those two stories together.
So Riley wasn’t in the game at all initially?
Druckmann: Initially, no. We had some inkling that maybe Ellie was with somebody when she was bitten, but it wasn’t flushed out at all.
Hicks: I’ve seen a lot of times where people do these licensed books, and they either say, “It’s not canon,” and just hand it off to someone and anything goes. Or they do a side character, like, “Well, if they screw it up, it’s a side character.” For me, it was like, “Let’s say that it’s canon, and let’s put Ellie, who is maybe the most important character in the story, in it, so that we’ll fully be invested in this.” And that was kind of the way that we did it.
Have you guys thought about doing a sequel? Maybe with Joel?
Hicks: I have an idea, actually. So in issue two of the comic, we meet this character, Winston, and he is a soldier in the army. He’s a really grumpy, kind of down on his luck guy, and he has this kind of cantankerous relationship with Ellie and Riley. He has a horse that is actually referred to in the game. I love Winston, I love those grumpy kind of Wolverine-like characters. You know, grumpy old man, having to deal with these young teenage whippersnappers and that sort of thing. I think there should be a spinoff comic specifically about Winston and his horse. Winston will just ride around and complain about the old days, talk about girls he dated, and that sort of thing.
Maybe he runs into Joel?
Hicks: Yeah, yeah, maybe they’re buddies or something like that. I don’t know. But I’m totally up for a Winston spinoff comic. I love Winston.
The complete run of The Last of Us comic is out now, but you can buy the collected edition this November. Wait, we have more The Last of Us stories you can read. Learn why we think The Last of Us shouldn’t get a sequel, and discover how we avoided playing the game in front of our children.