Growing up as a geek in the 1980s there was nothing cooler that Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy – a series of role-playing books that would see you making choices flicking between different chapters in the book. With the franchise celebrating it’s 35th birthday this year, what better time than to turn one of it’s most infamous titles Freeway Fighter into an all-action comic book series. We catch up with writer Andi Ewington and buckle up for a high octane thrill ride!
Fighting Fantasy was a major part of growing up as a kid in the 80s, how did you get involved with turning it into a comic? Did you pitch it to Titan or did they approach you?
Andi Ewington: It was 2012 when I was slowly finding my way in the comic industry that I pitched the idea of a Fighting Fantasy based comic to Ian Livingstone. Ian had become a friend after our paths crossed several times and he learned how much I revered the Fighting Fantasy brand. I began work on two scripts based on my favourite titles, Deathtrap Dungeon and Freeway Fighter. Ian loved the stories I had written but the huge costs involved in undertaking a project like this was really prohibitive. Unperturbed, I continued to champion the idea, I even did a couple of interviews about the idea of a comic. One in particular featured in Jonathan Green’s You Are The Hero, a comprehensive look at the history of Fighting Fantasy. Fast-forward to 2016 when I was approached by a Canadian chap on Twitter, his name was Matt Mastracci. He said he was an angel investor, a huge fan of Fighting Fantasy, who had chanced upon my interview in YATH. He wanted to explore the possibility of giving us the funding we needed to make this project happen – I couldn’t believe this! Naturally, I was initially skeptical, thinking it was an elaborate hoax but Matt assured me he was genuinely interested in making our vision a reality.
Over the coming months, I introduced Matt to Ian; contracts were signed, the team of Simon Coleby, Len O’Grady, Jim Campbell and Jonathan Green were secured and we began on issue #1 in earnest. I had made initial enquires with Titan several times about Freeway Fighter, they were hugely interested and always wanted to be kept in the loop with the project. Once I had secured the funding, I reached out again and things began to move quite quickly. We signed contracts with Titan and began liaising with their publishing team. We were really lucky that Chris Thompson, who had been assigned as our Brand Manager, was a massive Fighting Fantasy fan. It’s been an absolute joy to have such a dedicated publisher behind this project, I owe the likes of Chris Teather, Andrew James, Will O’Mullane, Lauren McFee and the rest of the guys a debt of gratitude for their tireless work.
For fans who might be new to the series, could you give us a brief summing up of the story and why you were such a fan of turning it into a comic?
AE: Without giving too much away, Freeway Fighter follows the story of Bella De La Rosa. Bella is a former I-400 driver who finds herself switching the racetrack for the post apocalyptic wasteland after a lethal virus lays waste to most of humanity. A chance encounter sets Bella on a collision course with the dreaded ‘Doom Dogs’, a group of marauders who want her Interceptor for themselves. Death is going to be a constant companion to Bella as she tries to make it safely to the settlement of ‘New Hope’. As for why? Fighting Fantasy has been with me since an early age, it gave me so much enjoyment and inspiration growing up that I wanted to give something back to Ian and the legions of Fighting Fantasy fans. It’s a huge honour to now be a small part of this heritage.
Can you believe it’s been 35 years since it was published and were you at all intimidated about turning such a well loved property into a comic?
AE: Not at all, I think I’ve lived Fighting Fantasy for so long that it’s ingrained in me. I’ve also had the privilege of working with Ian on this, he has been hugely supportive of the project. The writing (I believe) is strong, the art, colours and lettering look amazing. I’m really pleased with the production value throughout. Additionally, I have the bonus of Jonathan Green in the background ensuring I’m not laying waste to the Freeway Fighter canon!
How was it working with a legend like Ian Livingstone? Was it a collaboration or did you just take his source material and adapt it?
AE: It was a bit of a hybrid, Ian and I discussed different scenarios for Freeway Fighter, but the one we settled on was the origin story of the Interceptor at New Hope. We both felt it was the perfect way to open the series to new fans whilst keeping the hardcore fans in mind too. Ian let me run with the story with only some minor adjustments along the way. He was also heavily involved with the team ensuing the aesthetics of Freeway Fighter kept within his original interpretation. One thing for sure is this is not an adaption, this is an original story with plenty of edge-of-the-seat car action!
How did you approach changing the multi threaded first persons narrative of an FF book and turning it into a more linear comic story? Did you have to create or adapt characters to make it work? If so how did you make it work?
AE: As it was set before the gamebook, it was easy for me to bypass the complexity of the multi-threaded narrative. My task was to stitch this new background into the original start of the book. I used characters, scenes and set-ups from the Freeway Fighter universe as familiar markers to guide the narrative along its path. To me this was about making the story seem as natural as possible while giving the illusion of ‘choice’ for the protagonists involved.
Did you have any input on the artists and what did they bring to the book in your opinion?
AE: I pulled together the team at pretty much the same time as I finished the first draft. I originally worked out a shortlist back in 2012, however by the time the project was funded, Simon Coleby and I had already worked on numerous projects together. I knew what I was going to get from Simon having buddied up on Dark Souls II and Just Cause 3. His pencils and inks are insane! He also compliments my script and isn’t afraid to bring his own ideas to the table. Len O’Grady is Simon’s foil, the natural choice as colourist. His work breathes a richness into Simon’s inks that I’ve not seen anywhere else. Jim Campbell and I have worked well on other projects including Just Cause 3 and S6X. He’s got the unenvious task of taking my onomatopoeia and injecting it with a shot of drama.
Any plans to adapt any more FF books? If so, which ones would you pick and why?
AE: For sure, everything depends on sales of course but as mentioned I’ve already drafted a Deathtrap Dungeon script. I’ve also got an idea for City of Thieves brewing away in the background. Hopefully Freeway Fighter is just the start of the Fighting Fantasy comic series.
And finally, I’m assuming you were a fan of the books growing up, if so how much of a stickler to the FF rules were you – did you roll the dice and make maps, or did you just pick the best route and keep a finger in the page so you could go back if things went wrong?
AE: I’ve already been told off by Ian for this… so you can guess my answer!
Freeway Fighter is available from Titan Comics on May 17th
Author: Alex Thomas
Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.