Exclusive Interview: Shawn Kittlesen on Bringing Mortal Kombat Back To Comics

Kittlesen tells us how he got the job of writing the new Mortal Kombat X digital comic and teases the many battles ahead.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

MORTAL KOMBAT!!!

That cry has meant blood, gore, decapitations and over-the-top fighting since the golden age of arcade video games. Boasting as one of the first fighting games (outside of Atari’s Karate, nobody remembers), Mortal Kombat has been racking up bodies for close to two decades.

In 2011 NetherRealm Studios released Mortal Kombat, their 9th game in the series. Next year, NetherRealm will revisit the franchise again with Mortal Kombat X, a game not only steeped in fighting, but also a more epic backdrop. To flesh out these stories, DC Digital is turning to writer Shawn Kittlesen to give Mortal Komabt fans a look into what has gone down with these characters since last they stepped into battle.

The Mortal Kombat X digital comic is coming in January 2015, and Kittlesen is not alone. Artist Dexter Soy is doing the interior pages, and superstar artist Ivan Reis is handling covers. It’s been a super secret project, but at this year’s NYCC, DC finally dropped the kill punch on their latest endeavor into the digital comics world. I found Kittlesen hanging out by the DC booth and decided to question him on his new series.

 

CraveOnline: Explain your new comic series from DC digital.

Shawn Kittlesen: It’s the companion to Mortal Kombat X. It’s designed for newbs, and for fans like me who have been with the game for twenty years.

In what way?

Mortal Kombat that came out in 2011 had an epic story, and Mortal Kombat X takes place twenty-five years later. This book is what happens in the interim. There’s a lot of action, but also room for all these adventures to take the characters to the different places that get them to where they are for the new game.

If you read the book, will the game’s story be deeper?

It’ll be a lot deeper. You’ll be able to understand the game independently and the book independently, but when you put them together you’re going to get this really rich take on the MK mythology.

How does the book coming from DC Digital effect the story?

We have an opportunity, because we have more page count, to go a little bit deeper than any other medium. This is not just for the fans, but also for people who want to see a hardcore fighting book with over the top violence, and also really human stories about these larger than life characters.

Are you a Mortal Kombat fan?

I’ve been a Mortal Kombat fan from day one. I found it in an arcade in a Pizza Hutt in upstate New York. I had parents who were afraid of letting my play it, but who ultimately yielded through my own trickery and deceit. Jump ahead and it’s very satisfying to show them I didn’t become a degenerate, I got a job with it. (Laughs)

Have you ever worked in the video game world?

I worked at DC in video games and production, and got a chance to study with some really gifted storytellers, the gang at NetherRealm among them. We worked on Injustice together, which was fantastic.

How did you jump from that to this book?

This was a thing where they didn’t even know I was writing, but my name ended up on a list and I fought hard because I really believed in the opportunity to tell creative stories.

How does a monthly book differ from video game production?

Working on the games was always me being a support system for the developers. The approach we always took with it was that we were not brand police; we’re not here to force you to tell a certain story. These iconic characters, like the MK characters or DC’s characters, they are bigger than any individual story. It was always about creating a way for the developers to tell the stories they wanted to. I believe that’s why DC has the best superhero games out there. You look at Injustice, you look at the Arkham series, I’m incredibly proud of being part of that process and being able to support the people who made those games.

So who will be duking it out in the Mortal Kombat comic?

Without giving away too much, I’ve got a list of about forty characters that I’m using in Year One. The new characters that are in the game are really exciting for us to work with because their stories are largely untold, and we get to involve ourselves in aspects only hinted at in the new game. For the older characters it’s exciting because everybody loves them and we get to show them in a different light. They take on different roles and challenges, and we can change people’s expectations. Nothing is off the table, we’re taking advantage of the freedom we’ve been given, and if you are a super fan, you’re going to see characters that I don’t think casual fans will realize are from the games. We’re drawing deep.

Who is your artist?

Dexter Soy, a fantastic artist who was involved with the DC Injustice digital book, and a guy who has been coming up through the ranks. I think fans will be surprised not only on Dexter’s take, but also the brilliant fight detail. He draws figures so well, and when I put buckets of gore in  a page, he goes for it. He doesn’t hold back from making it as crazy and over the top as possible. You’ll see fatalities, you’ll see kill moves, everything that makes MK great we want to put into this book.

Mortal Kombat is a violent property. Has DC been nervous about that?

DC has been really incredible with allowing me to push the line, and so far I haven’t pushed it too far. I’ve done things were I’m sure I’ll get a note about it, like when somebody’s head splits in half. No one has said stop, they say keep going and go as far as you can and lets make this something special.

As a fanboy was it hard not to focus on your favorite characters?

No. I love all the old characters but I had my fanboy moment when I got the character bible and saw the final roster and the stories they came with. I fell in love with all the new characters, and the book is as much about them as it is the fan favorites. The way we introduce the new characters and the way they interact with the established characters, makes the whole story richer. I wanted to fit everyone in and I had to make a decision to pace it out a bit.  I wanted to really show all of these fighters and how they come together to save their realms from a major threat.