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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Interview with Richard A. Knaak

One of my all-time favorite authors thanks to his work with DragonLance and his own series DragonRealm, Richard A. Knaak is one of the men who ignited my love for fantasy and dragons. I’ve continued to follow his work in manga format with Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy and his adaptation of Ragnarok both form Tokyopop and am beginning to get into his novel work on both Warcraft and Diablo.

A few years ago at Comic-Con in New York I was lucky enough to be setup to speak with Richard. At the time I posted the interview on my old jobs website and did so again a year later after a redesign and both time sites went away, interview lost. So dang it I’m posting this on Anime Sentinel where it won’t get lost and where anyone can read it. The back and forth below may be a few years old, but feels like it was yesterday as so much still holds up very well. Check out what Mr. Knaak has to say and if you have a min pick up a copy of DragonRealm, it’s my personal fav series (hey Tokyopop, how about turning that into a manga ;)

As a fan of DragonRealm I was very excited about the Warcraft manga.

Knaak: There’s been a lot of crossover with the manga and my novels. People recognize my name from the DragonLance work and that’s why they pick up the manga, it’s very impressive that people are willing to go from one type of writing to another.

DragonLance and DragonRealm have been very good for me. I was living where the original company that published DragonLance, TSR, was located Lake Geneva Wisconsin. I was in the Chicago area so I drove up there with a writing sample, what became DragonRealm, literally walking in off the street and asked to speak to the book editor and he came out and he took the sample and said we would talk in a couple of week and we talked. He liked what I had written but they were only doing the DragonLance series, but would I be interested in some short stories and I said yes. I submitted four ideas based on what I had read and they bought three of them and after that asked if I would do the Legend of Huma because they liked the way I handled honorable characters like knights and such and that basically started is off. It was because of the Legend of Huma that I got involved with not only Blizzard, makers of Warcraft the game Chris Metzen grew up on Legend of Huma and DragonLance but also Jake Forbes senior editor at Tokyopop was one of the people who instigated the Warcraft manga also grew up on Legend of Huma. So basically as I told people at the panel I’m raising my own employers at this point. This worked out really well because between Tokyopop, whom I work with on Ragnarok, another series, and Blizzard whom I’m writing novels with for Simon and Schuster we all knew how each other worked and it made for a really easy blend together when it came to doing the manga.

You’ve done the Warcraft Manga and I’ve seen the Legend of Huma comic. Which format do you prefer, which visual.

Knaak: If I’m going to pick one for visual I’m going with the manga format because it’s longer for instance. You have more room in one volume where you can tell some story whereas a comic, I love comics, don’t get me wrong, but you’re going to need a lot more volumes to get the whole story done and they have to be chopped into pieces so you have an ending for the comic book. With a manga you can spread things a little bit longer when you have about 160-180 pages to work with so you can really give people a really story they can sink their teeth into or at least be able to introduce them to the situation in the first volume in a way they feel like they’ve gotten something out of it.

If you could have your pick of any anime/video game property and do original stories for, outside of your current work, what would you choose?

Knaak: In terms of manga, I wouldn’t mind something with the Gundam series. There are some other fantasy whose names escape me mainly because I cannot pronounce them properly, but I think Gundam would be my first choice as I’m somewhat familiar with it and I always like those sort of adventure. This way I can sink my teeth into it with a certain character (as a side story) and give the readers something they could really appreciate. There is so much to like about Gundam and it’s been around. With Warcraft, it has so much depth to it and in my own way I’ve been able to add to that depth now by working hand in hand with the Warcraft folks.

Have you ever sat down and played WoW or the Starcraft series?

Knaak: I have played some of the previous warcraft games. I’ve looked into WoW and the dangers of being drawn into it to a point where I don’t write. Unfortunately it’s either write the books or play the game. The way my deadlines are setup cannot spend the time with the game.

Have you ever played computer games or console games or online? Do you prefer PC over console?

Knaak: I’ve used computer games online, and it’s easy to switch from writing (on computer) to playing. I have some of the old Warcraft games on my computer and I can go fiddle around, play some Diablo too as I only have low level characters, no high level since I always have to get back to the work so I don’t remember things and I don’t get my skill level up so I getwiped out pretty easily. I’m a computer person in terms of game playing. I’m so amazed at what they’ve been able to put into a computer game now that they’re online; it’s just astonishing what’s there. It would be too much to go from a PC to a console and back again. When I’m on the computer it’s there for me and I like the games anyway.

How was it working with TSR, Questar (DragonRealm) and now Tokyopop. They are all publishers, but what are the difference between working with a manga publisher and novel publisher?

Knaak: There is something different about each one of those. With the manga is like writing a movie script. You have to describe what is going on, scenes and it’s mostly dialogue. You have to say this person looks like this and they are doing this and doing this whereas in novel this all cohesive. In manga it’s here’s page one, panel one, page one, and panel two and so on and so on. There’s a distinctive theme and the scenes are tied together. With chapters you go slower, more thought process from A to B to C and D. The images are in my head and the writing flows as the book flows. In manga I have to consider page space, how many panels can fit onto a page. What may sound great on one page in a novel may take 5-6 pages in a manga.

How is the experience working with the artist Jae-Hwan Kim?

Knaak: Jae is a Korean artist. I basicallyhave to work through Tokyopop, because Jae’s in Korea and he does not speak much English and I know I don’t speak much Korean. The one thing we both have in common is we are both Warcraft fans. I would discuss character design with both Blizzard and Tokyopop when I got something I thought was good, they would send it to Jae with translations of what I’ve said. He’s given some room because the artist will work better with some creative freedom. It’s a give and take. Once he comes up with something and sends it back Blizzard will review as do Tokyopop and myself. We make notes of corrections needed. Once the characters are pretty much set in then he starts working on the page work, and it might not be in sequence either. Depending on what he’s working on he may decide to send us chapter 3 before chapter 1 then we need to look and see if it needs corrections based on what I wrote and what Tokyopop and Blizzard think. Blizzard is really hands on sometimes even more so than myself and Tokyopop. They want to make sure it has that Blizzard look, even if it is a manga. Jae has done a great job of blending East and West, manga and Blizzard together. So it’s a process going through four points. Volume one turned out great, and I think Volume too is even greater and I say that mostly because I like the artwork.

What do you think about when somebody mentions video games to you? Do you feel they are just for kids?

Knaak: Video games are not just for kids, there are so many games designed for the adult level. You can take it to different extremes. You have the shoot-em-ups obviously depending on how graphic they are you shouldn’t have a kid playing then there are also video games where you learn to fly a plane you do some other skill work. There’s everything from learning video games to simple mindless fun. Like fantasy games get a bad rap from people who don’t understand them.We are a very visual creature, man. Video games are an extension of that. We constantly have to have our eyes and our minds caught up in something. Yes games are fun, and you need to pull away from them (don’t stay on game13:30). I think that it’s no worse than other forms of entertainment you just need to pull away from it. People didn’t’ like movies for that reason or TV or Radio even. It’s good to have a way to relax, even if it’s an energetic relaxing. The point is your getting rid of some of that stress, doing something that makes you feel good and (hopefully) not bothering anybody. I think video games get a bum wrap, they’re entertainment no worse than TV or movies.

Taking a look back at your novels, which one character did/do you enjoy writing the most?

Knaak: That’s like asking which of my children I love more. Actually these are my children, just they’re supporting me. (laughs) I’ll have to give you more than one. Obviously Huma from Legend of Huma. He’s a character that resonates with a lot of my readers and was a best seller for me. A lot of people tell me he started them out in reading with is very important to me. I don’t mind if they read something else I’m just happy to have gotten them started. Kaz the Minatour also from LOH because he was a character that really sprung off from the book.

Going into something of my own I would have to say Shade and Dark Horse from DragonRealm, they both, specifically Dark Horse as a character who looks like a stallion but is really a living black hole, he’s got the strong streak but at the same time is very loyal to his friends, willing to sacrifice himself if necessary. Shade has a formal ying/yang problem he can be either very good of very bad and the type of struggles he has with it along with the struggles with other characters. I always enjoy characters with troubles and having to overcome them.

There are many characters I enjoy. For a really off the wall character the gargoyle Frost Wing from the book called Frost Wing. He is malevolent and yet he has reasons he does things. He may be bad but he’s also not as bad as other things you may run into. He’s an interesting character.

If you could be any video game character, which would it be?

Knaak: Besides the one watching super hero girls play volleyball? (laughing). That’s a tough one. I really could not tell you since there are so many in the world that I myself enjoy. I would not mind being one of the characters in Warcraft because I really love the epic feel of that world. There’s a character name Kraxis that I’ve created for the Warcraft novels, he’s a dragon in human form. He’s shown up in day of the dragon and the whole Warcraft trilogy and now agents of Kraxis are now showing up in WoW. So technically if the agents are there the character must be coming along so if he’s in there somewhere, he’s a character I would not mind being.

At about this point in our conversation it just got way too loud to keep talking. Guess that’s what you get for sitting in the middle of a food court. Meeting Richard was a great joy for me, and I’m pleased to be able to share this interview with you as it’s been lost to the nether regions of the internet wherever I’ve posted it otherwise. Check out more directly from Richard A. Knaak at http://www.sff.net/people/knaak/Welcome.html.

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