[Featurama] Interview with Comics vs Games curator Miguel Sternberg

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In Toronto, Canada a trio of events are being held that looks to combine great indie artists and designers under one specific task.  They are presenting to the world the intriguing mash up of Comics vs Games.  Being a huge fan of both comics and video games, I approached the curator of the event, Miguel Sternberg, with an interview.

Miguel’s experience in the game industry is large as his art has been featured in films like Crank, the rear cover of Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together and he was a co-founder of Capybara Games.  As well as curating, he put together the game Black Church Brigandage for this event with Andy Belanger.

What is your role in this event?
I’m the games curator for the event tasked with organizing the teams who made the five original games for the show and selecting a couple additional existing games that fit the theme.   I invited Matt Hawkins from Attract Mode to round out the event and curate the illustrations for the event.

Due to a last minute switch I also ended up becoming one of the game designers for the show, teaming up with comic artist Andy Belanger.

Why are you putting on an art exhibit and what brought this whole idea forward?
I was inspired by the artxgame show that Attract Mode put on at Giant Robot in San Francisco a few years ago.   That show paired illustrators and game developers.  I’m a big fan of indie comics and have a lot of personal connections to the comics scene here in Toronto so the idea of doing something like artxgames with comic creators seemed like a great idea.

I’m a board member for the Hand Eye Society a sort of video game arts and culture organization in Toronto.  TIFF came to us last year asking for possible projects for us to collaborate on, so I pitched the Comics vs Games project which was a bit of a weird fit since it involved an art show. To their credit they agreed to it!

What goals were you looking for when you put Comics vs Games together?
I really want to see more cross collaboration between the indie games and comics community.

I also feel like there are indie comics fans who don’t know that a similar scene has formed around games in the last few years. Also vice versa.  I think a lot of indie game folks don’t realize that there there’s a few decades worth of comics outside the mainstream super hero stuff that they’d dig.

Comics vs Games seems like a simple, but woefully untapped idea. What similarities and differences do you see between the mediums?

They’re both mediums that are often viewed as disposable pop culture.  Culturally they’ve historically existed in the same space, providing adolescent power fantasies.  Comics really grew out of that stereotype a few decades ago by making a lot more varied, diverse and personal works.  I feel like indie games are starting to expand outward in a similar direction now.

That said the mediums are very different in that comics (with exceptions like Meanwhile) are a linear, non-interactive, primarily story driven medium similar to film, novels and television.  Where as games are this much weirder medium.  So much so that the idea that games are even a medium is relatively new.  How do you classify something that encompasses soccer and Super Mario, chess and Passage?

What if anything do you think the genres of comics and games could do to benefit each other?
I’m not entirely sure, I’m kind of doing this to find out!

This event features a number of talented artists and designers. How did gathering them for this exhibit come about?
A real mix of methods:  Asking for suggestions from knowledgeable experts such as Chris Butcher who organizes TCAF and some requests for potential participants on private indie game making channels.  Also, just asking talented friends if they were interested.  Lots and lots of emailing!

If there’s one thing I learned it’s that comic creators may be even busier than indie game makers.  That said there’s also a lot of interest from comic creators in making games.  There’s a surprising number of folks (myself included) who always wanted to either make games or make comics and eventually chose one or the other.

How much time did the artists and developers have to create these 5 games?

They had three months, part time, in between their other projects.

Mashing 5 different programers and artists seems like it could potentially be difficult.  Were there any difficulties in development or planning?
Surprisingly, the fact that most teams were working remotely seemed to be the biggest issue.  There was remarkably little creative conflict at least that I could see.    We had one team which didn’t work out. Which is how I ended up coming in last minute to create Black Church Brigandage.

The games created are all pretty different from each other.  How do you think it turned out this way?
It’s actually not that surprising. If you look at the games and comics these creators have made in the past they’re really wildly diverse.  In fact I’d have been surprised if all the teams had created the same kind of game.

What have been your personal favorite entries of the show so far?
I’m not allowed to pick favorites. I’m just happy with how diverse they ended up being.

This exhibit is planned to be showcased in three separate exhibits in Toronto, each of which look to be a bigger venue than the last.  Are you planning on building upon the exhibit with each show?
The fact that the art show at Magic Pony was before TCAF was just chance.  They had a show planned for the week after so this worked best.

We’re still waiting to see what will happen for the third venue where they’ll be shown as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.  That part is being organized more on the TIFFnexus side.  I’m excited to see what they come up with!

Next stop, a global game jam?
I don’t know about a global one, but I am thinking I might try organizing a little local mini-jam in the future. I’ve definitely met enough local comic creators who are excited about making games but don’t necessarily have 3 months to make a larger game or to pull something like that off.

Toronto has a really strong game jam culture thanks to seven years of TOjam and newer initiatives like Game Prototype Challenge and Dames Making Games so finding game developers for a mini-jam wouldn’t be a problem. Stay tuned I guess?

What are you working on after this project?

Along with being an organizer for the Hand Eye Society I’m also half of the indie game studio Spooky Squid Games.  So my time has actually been split between working on Comics vs Games and completing a large indie game project called They Bleed Pixels.  It’s a Gothic low-fi platforming beat’em up you can check it out at www.theybleedpixels.com.  It was originally slated for XBLIG but we’re changing distribution channels and will be making an announcement about what platforms it’ll be released on soon.

For those in the Toronto area, the Comics vs Games event is being held at the following locations:

For those unable to attend the event, prints are available for purchase from all of the great artists online via Magic Pony’s Website.

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About Author

(Senior Writer)

I have been gaming for 20 years and have seen this industry go from one geared towards children, to one that has grown to accept all demographics. I've grown up side by side with video games and I've seen it turn into this phenomenon. Of course I also enjoy entertainment in all mediums whether it be film, book or sports. I'm just a huge nerd that loves writing about his hobbies.

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