BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
There aren't a lot of Dungeons and Dragons or hardcore comic book fans who regularly follow football and vice versa; but with the Blood Bowl, that's all about to change! A popular gaming franchise for over twenty years, the Blood Bowl is finally making its way to comic books. Featuring ogres, orcs, elves, dwarves and more fantasy icons than you can shake a stick at, these games take the fervor of football to a whole new level. You don't just win by outscoring the other team, you can win by destroying everyone on the playing field. Matt Forbeck, who worked on the concept at Games Workshop, is scripting this dangerously funny miniseries for Boom!. THE PULSE: After seeing some of the "players" in Blood Bowl, I'm almost afraid to ask what the cheerleaders are like! How'd you come up with this crazy concept that mixes football with Dungeons and Dragons?
Actually, I didn't. Blood Bowl started out as a board game that my friend Jervis Johnson designed for Games Workshop all the way back in 1987. Although he's English, Jervis is a huge fan of both American football and fantasy battles. The Blood Bowl game is his attempt to meld the two and poke some satirical fun at the same time.
I worked for Games Workshop on a student work visa back in 1989-1990, and I had the honor of helping out with The Blood Bowl Companion. Then, when Games Workshop started publishing novels, they asked me to pitch them some ideas. One of them was for a Blood Bowl series, which I was stunned that they picked.
I've now written four Blood Bowl novels, starting with the first (Blood Bowl) in 2005. The comics from Boom Studios are a direct sequel to those books, starring a team called the Bad Bay Hackers. THE PULSE: How is this version of football different from what one might expect in a sport like this?
As far as the rules go, it's actually closer to rugby than American football. But then, most of the players on the field don't care much for rules anyhow. The game is played with a spiked football, and maiming and murder are encouraged. It's only cheating if you're caught—and haven't already paid off the ref! THE PULSE: How are the two "games" similar?
They both involve scoring by getting a football into an end zone, and most Blood Bowl players wear armor similar to the gear you see in the NFL. Plus, both games have rabid fans that care far more about the sport than most anything else in the world around them. THE PULSE: With elves, dwarves, orcs and ogres as the players, who or what do you use as the referee?
Anyone willing to risk it. While you can make a lot of money as a referee—mostly through bribes—you have to contend with making bad calls against players trained to kill in the flashiest ways. THE PULSE: I know this is a comedy of sorts, but how do you take subject matter like this and make it funny? I mean, visually, it will be a hoot to see these fantasy staples on the turf, but what are you doing to bring the funny?
Lads Helloven, the artist on the series, makes the visual part look both funny and easy, which takes some of the burden off of me. However, I have nearly 400,000 words of humorous novels that I've already written about these characters, so there's that on my side.
Much of the humor in Blood Bowl stems from the naked satire and an unashamed readiness to go for a cheap pun. The players' names often riff off of those of professional coaches and players. Also, they drink Bloodweiser beer and Killer Genuine Draft, and fans watch the game on Jumboballs hooked up to Cabalvision.
Plus, there's lots of humor in the players and the weaponry they use. How can you go wrong with things like the Dwarf Death-Roller and teams filled with all sorts of undead? It's so ridiculously grim that you have to play it for laughs. THE PULSE: How many games are going to be played in this miniseries? How many "yards" are covered?
Each issue in the miniseries covers a single game on the Hackers' attempt to defend their championship in the Blood Bowl tournament. So that's five games total.
As for yards, it's impossible to say. Some of the games don't even make it to the end. After all, if you kill everyone else on the other team, you win by forfeit! Sadly, this is not uncommon. THE PULSE: I guess you're trying to appeal to the fantasy fan who loves sports and won't admit he's a closet mage ... but what else inspired you to create something like this?
I started playing Blood Bowl long before I ever met Jervis or went to work for Games Workshop. My parents raised me to love games of all sorts—whether on the field, the tabletop, or the screen—and that's informed lots of what I do. I've designed countless games of my own, including a sports game or two, but the sheer ludicrousness of Blood Bowl brings me back to it every time.
Ogres throwing halflings down the field. Wizards calling down lightning from the sky to zap the other team. The pogo-sticks of doom. It's great stuff. THE PULSE: It does sound interesting! Who or what influences you the most?
Creatively? Tolkein, Gygax and Arneson, decades of reading comics of all kinds, and nine years of season football and basketball tickets for the University of Michigan.
That, and the need to pay my bills. I'm a full-time writer, and this is how I feed my family, after all. THE PULSE: What football coaches or famous writers here played a part in how you brought this story to life?
Vince Lombardi. Period. "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." What else do you need to know? THE PULSE: I laughed when I saw the names "Bad Bay Hackers" and "Orcland Raders," how'd you come up with those two teams? What other teams are a part of this league? I'd love to see the "Stinky Pitts Burgh Stealers."
You could make up your own team and do that in the game. That's one of the best parts of it.
Jervis came up with the Orcland Raider for the original game. It's a classic name that immediately tells you everything you need to know about the game.
As for the Bad Bay Hackers, I was born and raised in Wisconsin. When I had to come up with a fantasy (Tolkein, not ESPN) football team for the novels, there was no other choice than to riff on my Green Bay Packers. THE PULSE: Do you follow football? If so, who's your favorite team and player?
I love football, although I'm not glued to the set every weekend for the entire fall. The Packers are by far my favorite professional team. Besides being the team I grew up with, they play in the smallest media market of all professional sports teams in America. They're also the only team owned by its hometown, which means they can't ever leave!
For college ball, I went to the University of Michigan and had season football tickets for nine years. There's really nothing like watching a game with over 110,000 fans on a crisp October afternoon. Do that enough times, and the Blood Bowl spirit just rises naturally within you. THE PULSE: What role does each fantasy character play? I mean, I don't imagine dwarves as wide receivers or quarterbacks. In fact, it's tough to see a dwarf as anything on the field except maybe the ball! But I'd guess the elves are good wide receivers or quarterbacks ...
As a tribute to the tradition of fantasy battles games—like Warhammer, the Games Workshop game from which Blood Bowl sprang—the races don't mix too much. A dwarf teams usually has just dwarves on it, and so on.
Of course, you're right that some races are suited to certain positions better than others. And other races aren't suited to the game at all! That doesn't stop the brave halflings of the Stunted Stoutfellows from taking on the Oldheim Ogres, but it does mean those games don't usually last too long—unless the ogres are hungry enough for a second helping! THE PULSE: How is working on a story like this different than some of the novels you've created? I'd imagine it's a bit of a learning curve going from scripting a book to scripting a comic ....
They're very different animals. However, I'd written a few comics (Deadlands: One Shot for Image and Dracula's Revenge for IDW) before I tackled my first novel (Secret of the Spiritkeeper for Wizards of the Coast). I also co-designed the WildStorms CCG for Jim Lee back in the early '90s—plus the Marvel Heroes Battle Dice game for Playmates Toys—so I've been floating in and out of comics for a while.
The basics of plot and characters are essentially the same. The presentation differs a lot, and the structure of traditional comics is far more rigid than that of a novel. While I can vary the length of my chapters in a novel, a comic story has to fit 22 pages, and the various turns and surprises need to crop up at the page breaks so that the changes come when you flip the page.
I concentrate a lot more on structure when I write a comic. In a novel, you can be more flexible with the structure, but without a solid framework in a comic, you have nothing to hang the pictures on. THE PULSE: How'd you come to work with Boom Studios on this? What made you want to work on comics?
Since I'd written the only Blood Bowl novels to date, I'd guess I seemed like a natural choice. I've really enjoyed working with the crew there, especially my editors, Ian Brill and Joe Abraham. Getting to meet them all at Comic-Con last summer was a real thrill. THE PULSE: What's it like having Lads Helloven bringing your story to life here?
Fantastic. Lads has just the sort of sick humor and canted style that the story demands. He packs action and humor into every panel. I'm very fortunate to have been able to work with him on this.
It's also been disturbing, but in a fun way. When I write the scripts, I stuff the stories full of black humor. It's one thing to read a description of a severed head rolling across a field and being used as a fake football, but it really is something else entirely to see it splashed in full color across those glossy pages. THE PULSE: What other projects in or out of comics are you working on?
Oh, lots. I'm currently writing for a console game and an MMO, plus I just signed a contract for my next novel. I've also been working on revisions to a pop-culture encyclopedia about a topic I've loved since I was a kid.
My latest novel—Mutant Chronicles, based on the film starring Tom Jane and Ron Perlman—came out in September, and my latest nonfiction book—More Forbidden Knowledge—just hit shelves. My The Complete Idiot's Guide to Drawing Superheroes and Villains (illustrated by Yair Herrera and produced by IDW) came out in September to add to the two others I wrote in that series, on manga styles. I've also spent some time this summer working on toy/game designs that should be in mass-market stores next year. Plus I'm pitching around some ideas for a young adult novel series and some comics and toys that I just have to find some time to work on.
As a full-time freelancer with omnivorous tastes, what I'm working on changes all the time. For up-to-date details, be sure to stop by Forbeck.com
and say "hi."
The first issue of Blood Bowl Killer Contract will be in stores this February.