Ever since it debuted in game arcades over twenty years ago, Mortal Kombat has become more than a video game franchise. It has spawned numerous sequels – including a series of motion pictures, a television series and comic books – all feeding a ravenous fandom.
No stranger to this franchise – or fandom – is Shawn Kittelsen, a video game producer turned comic book writer. He makes his debut in the four-color pages as the writer of “Mortal Kombat X”, a comic-book prequel to the like-named video game which hits store shelves today.
Kittlesen took a quick break from his writing (and gaming) endeavors to answer some questions about Mortal Kombat X; how he got involved with the comic; his favorite “kombatants”; who he’d like to see the MK Universe collide with next; and which MK console he’d like to have in his home:
Elliott: Hey Shawn! Congrats on making your debut in DC Comics with Mortal Kombat! Can you tell us about how you got involved with the project?
Shawn Kittelsen: Thanks for the congrats, Elliott! A few years back, I was a creative executive at DC working on their video games. One of my favorite projects was Injustice: Gods Among Us because I’ve been a fan of Mortal Kombat for over 20 years and suddenly I got to collaborate with NetherRealm Studios. Fast forward to last year, I’m working at an ad agency and writing by night, and I get a call asking if I’d like to pitch for this series. I put my heart and soul into that pitch, and now here we are.
E: I’ve written comics myself, but have always wondered how different it is to write for video games. Are there any differences that you feel are most remarkable?
SK: Writing a game itself is tedious. You don’t just write scenes, you also write long spreadsheets of dialogue and text, and when you do write scenes, there are a variety of game design and technical concerns to address over and over again.
Writing a comic based on a game, on the other hand, is a lot more fun, because it’s like someone handing you the controller and saying, “Play on!” All the backstories and side quests that you daydream about while you’re playing a game can take on new life on the comic book page. And with a game as iconic as Mortal Kombat, that world comes alive in such vivid detail that it’s fun just to turn over stones and discover every secret corner of someone else’s universe.
I’ve seen your work on Army of Darkness, so I know you appreciate that process!
Read more and check out artwork from the Mortal Kombat X Comic book after the jump!
E: The Mortal Kombat franchise has endured for a pretty long time! What do you think is the secret to its longevity?
SK: Creatively, I think it’s the East meets West melting pot that brings together all of these diverse influences – ninjas, spec ops, demonic magic, cyborgs, barbarians, even cowboys. No matter who you are, there’s a character or plot that you can relate to, and every MK fan has a personal favorite or two or three.
Then there’s the quality of the games themselves, which is outstanding. Over-the-top production values, a rich Story Mode, and a fighting engine that meets the high standards of today’s pro gamers — it’s a complete package.
Finally and most importantly, there are the fans. There’d be no MK without the support of this passionate community. Comic shop retailers weren’t prepared for the demand for MKX books when we launched, and that’s because the MK community came out in droves, including a lot of people who’d never bought a comic book before. This book is dedicated to all those fans. It’s a love letter to their enthusiasm.
E: Can you tell us a little bit about the generational aspect of the story in MK X?
SK: MKX jumps 25 years into the future of this universe and our comic fills in details of that 25-year gap. Familiar characters like Scorpion take on new dimensions and reveal unexpected layers, shaking up the status quo for fans who may feel like they’ve seen it all before. Then there’s this new generation of characters. Several of them are related to the classic kombatants, like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs. That lineage jump-starts our relationship with them, but their existence also deepens our perspective on the classics. It feels so much more epic than ever before because we’re exploring complex themes of heritage, mentorship, and redemption that span decades and generations as opposed to a single battle or campaign.
E: Outside of the present, if you could write a story in any era of the MK franchise, which would it be?
SK: I’m having so much fun with where I’m at, it’s hard to imagine writing for another era. More than writing at another point in the chronology, I’d want to write longer form stories that focus on individual characters. MK is such an ensemble story, I feel a tremendous responsibility to bring in as many characters as possible. So I’d love to write a mini-series that’s all about Kitana, another about Quan Chi, a throwback buddy gods tale about Raiden and Fujin, stuff like that. I’ve spent so much time thinking about this world that I feel like I might never run out of stories to tell.
E: I’ve always been an old school Liu Kang fan myself. Who was your fave MK combatant?
SK: Sub-Zero was my homey back in the day, and I still gravitate to him whenever I pick up a new game. But that’s changing with MKX — I’ve really fallen in love with Kotal Kahn, and my grapple game is personally very weak, so I’m eager to learn new skills with his character.
E: How about with the arcade consoles? I’m partial to MK 2 myself. Which is your fave?
SK: If I could put one arcade machine in my house, it would be an MK2 machine. I’d invite all my friends over and make them stack quarters along the screen to queue for matches just like in the old days. My Sub-Zero would dominate them all.
E: We’ve seen the MK Universe go up against the DC Universe. What other universe would you like to see the MK folks invade?
SK: Disney. And it would be the happiest deathmatch on Earth.
E: What’s your all-time dream match-up as far as fighting games go?
SK: I’d love to see a DC vs. Marvel game. It’ll probably never happen for obvious corporate reasons, but if it did, NetherRealm Studios is the only fighting game developer capable of doing the concept justice.
E: What other cool projects can we look forward to from you?
SK: I’m developing a few creator-owned series at various publishers and writing an upcoming mobile game, and I still do some consulting as a Creative Director for a select group of clients. We can look forward to talking more about all that later in 2015!
E: And finally, where can folks find you on social media?
SK: You can find me on Twitter as @kittelsen and subscribe to posts on my infrequently updated Tumblr at www.shawnkittelsen.com. I promise to get better at posting — I’ve just been so busy writing for my livelihood!