A Celebration Of Video Games & Queer Friendship – Ben Kahn, Rachel Silverstein, & Sam Beck Talk Renegade Rule
by James Ferguson
Renegade Rule, an original graphic novel from writers Ben Kahn and Rachel Silverstein and artist Sam Beck, is set to debut in May from Dark Horse Comics. This fun story of friendship and esports will go right to your heart. I had a chance to speak with the creative team about the project, the characters, and more.
The Manhattan Mist have beaten the odds to land themselves in the national championships for Renegade Rule, one of the hottest virtual reality games in existence. But they’re in for competition fiercer than they ever imagined, and one team member’s entire future could be at stake. Four queer female friends will have to play harder than ever against self-doubt, infighting, romantic distraction, and a slew of other world-class teams if they hope to become champions.
James Ferguson: The Manhattan Mist is a group of absolutely charming characters. How did these fun personalities come about?
Ben Kahn: It feels dorky and mathematic to put it this way, but in my last two projects, one had had three main characters and one had had five main characters. So I thought, what if I did FOUR main characters? I wanted to explore that four character dynamic – four humors style. Looked at TMNT, Sex & The City, Scooby Doo, Fantastic Four, tried to map out the character dynamics and put a fun new take on it.
Rachel Silverstein: The girls are a little bit of all of us – and tropey, but in a good way! We had to make a nod to the gamer archetypes. We wanted one who was serious about winning, one who was a cranky healer, one who was really into the lore, and one who just wanted to have fun.
BK: There was also the sport element in the eSport, we wanted characters who represented the thrill and drive of competition, the die-hard fan, and the player just in it to plain ol’ have fun.
JF: How integral was the queer identity to the characters’ creation?
BK: The queer identity of the characters was a core part of the book right from the very beginning. Collaborating on the story with Rachel, it was never even a question that the entire cast was going to be queer. One of the goal with Renegade Rule is expanding just what a mainstream queer story can be. This isn’t a coming out story, or one queer character in a group full of straight characters, this is a raunchy comedy full of intense action because queer stories can be any genre under the sun. We really wanted to create an inherently queer friend group that hopefully queer readers can easily see themselves and their friends in. We wrote Renegade Rule during a period where I was struggling with my own gender identity, and the process of making the comic played a really big role in my discovering that I’m non-binary. It’s all a part of what Renegade Rule is to me – a celebration of video games and queer friendship.
JF: I know this is like choosing between your children, but do you have a favorite character in Renegade Rule?
BK: My favorite Mist player is our scatterbrained sniper, Jessie. But my favorite character overall is definitely the Announcer, who makes up for his lack of ‘having a name’ with infinite enthusiasm and colorful similes.
RS: Tonya is definitely my favorite because I can relate to her the most. In the gaming world, I like to immerse myself in the lore and backstories of characters just as much as I like playing the games. Also, cute outfits!!
Sam Beck: Sasha is definitely my fav. She’s snarky and angry and had some of the best expressions to draw. Also shout-out to the game announcer because I laughed out loud reading all his lines while drawing him.
JF: What drew you to the setting of an e-sports tournament?
BK: I was drawn to the spirit and structure of sports stories, whether it be Mighty Ducks or Haikyuu!!, and eSports meant I could do that while still having lasers and explosions. And then it really became this celebration of gaming and friendship that ground the story in a really warm emotional place.
RS: Probably the thought of gamer gals just having fun playing professionally together drew me into the e-sports world. Playing first person shooters with all-female friends over the years was a big inspiration for me.
JF: The design for the Renegade Rule game is out of this world. How did you decide upon the look of the game and each map?
SB: I got a ton of freedom to go wild with the game settings in the comic! I’d get a description like “jungle or robot factory” and then go off into my own research hole to figure out what that meant. I’ve played enough video games to lean on some tropes that appear in them and play those ideas up. The robot factory was probably my favourite setting to design; it was super detailed with all these fun parts to play around with.
The last setting was “War Meadow” and it honestly feels like Ben and Rachel gave me a gift with this one, because it’s all ancient ruins and pretty fields with flowers, which is what I draw on a daily basis.
JF: How did you all come together to create Renegade Rule?
BK: I knew I wanted to work on something together with Rachel. She’s such a talented voice and a killer comedy writer, I knew comics would be better with her here, and I wanted to come up with a story we could do that could help make that happen.
And then we both fell in love with Sam’s art as soon as we saw it. We thought it was such a great fit for the kind of story we were looking to do with the action and comedy and romance. Rachel and I both did a little celebration dance on opposite ends of a zoom call when she joined the team.
JF: Was this always intended as an original graphic novel? Or were you interested in serializing it too?
RS: Originally we intended Renegade Rule to be released as single issues, but it got picked as an original graphic novel. We had to change a few things around but we’re so happy with how the pacing turned out.
JF: What do you hope fans get out of Renegade Rule?
RS: I hope fans enjoy the romance as much as we had fun writing it. Let the shipping wars commence! 😉
BK: I hope fans get a lot of laughs and a lot of thrills!
SB: I want readers to fall in love with these characters like I did when I first read the script, because they’re so much fun and full of life.
Comicon would like to thank Ben Kahn, Rachel Silverstein, and Sam Beck for taking the time to speak with us. Renegade Rule from Dark Horse Comics is set for release on June 8th, 2021 at your local comic shop, bookstore, and Amazon.