Interview with Neil Druckman – A Second Chance At Sarah

Master scribe Neil Druckman was kind of enough to A) Let me get my hands on his awesome A Second Chance at Sarah before it hit stands and B) make some time for an interview.  If you haven’t read my review yet, you can get it here. Also, if you happen to be at Wonder Con this weekend, you can pick up a premier copy at the Ape Entertainment booth. Tell them ThePullbox.com sent you!

Here’s my conversation with the great Neil Druckman!

Greg: As a writer you are partly responsible for making PS3’s Uncharted series some of the best games of the decade. Given that you have written for video games and now comic, it sound like you are not a stranger in the world of Fanboys. Can you give us a bit more on your background on yourself and your career?

Neil: Thanks for the praise about Uncharted. We’re still riding the Uncharted high at Naughty Dog – although, we’re trying to not mention it anymore and just focus on our next project. We’ve got big shoes to fill with our next game.

As far as my background, I grew up as a fanboy of comics and games, and in many ways I’m still a fanboy. Since I was ten, going to the comic book store every Wednesday was a requirement.

At the same time, getting an anticipated game was like a religious experience. I remember almost missing my flight home from college because I was picking up my copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The next two days consisted of nothing but plowing through that game until the end credits – hardcore gamers know how to hold their urine like no one else.

In college I started taking some programming classes as my electives. I was enjoying those classes more than my major classes (I was a Criminology major at the time.) Then all of a sudden it hit me: Why don’t I make games for a living? I switched majors and started the journey to break into the game industry. I was extremely lucky that my first job out of school was as an intern at a company I was a huge fan of, Naughty Dog (I’ve been there ever since). Over the years I switched from programming, to design, and now my focus is writing (I was the co-writer for Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2).


Greg: What made you want to make the jump into comic book / graphic novels?

Neil: As a kid I dreamed of one day making my own comic book. While the subject matter of my writing changed as I grew up, the desire to express these ideas in comic books always stuck around.

After making videogames for a few years, I finally got the confidence and discipline to develop one of my ideas to completion. I was designing and writing for videogames during the day, and writing A Second Chance at Sarah at night. I slowly chipped away at it until I had something I was really happy with. I teamed up with a great artist and collaborator (Joy Wong) and pitched the idea to Ape Entertainment – which lead to my current publishing deal.

Greg: A Second Chance At Sarah is deep story on so many levels, where did this idea come from?

Neil: Wow, I love this interview – so many compliments. Whenever my wife showed me photos of her when she was young, there was a part in me that wished I could’ve met her even sooner. Being a huge fan of time travel stories, I always wondered: if I could go back in time knowing what I know now, what could I say or do to convince my future wife (before we’ve ever met), that I was her future love? How would I not come off as a stalking freak? I would actually ask my wife these questions and it usually lead to some interesting insight about our past. So when I started thinking about an idea to develop for a story, this concept jumped in my mind: what if someone had to convince a young girl that he’s her husband from the future?

Why someone needed to travel back in time lead to the supernatural “deal with the devil” part of the story. The concept was so ripe with possibilities that the story came to me pretty quickly and much more easily than any other story I’ve work on.

Greg: The comic market seems saturated with stories of the supernatural. What do you feel sets A Second Chance…apart from the others?

Neil: At its core, A Second Chance at Sarah is a love story driven by grounded characters. The story isn’t about fighting demons or traveling back in time (although I definitely try to use those elements to hook the reader). It’s really about getting invested in interesting, yet flawed, characters and finding out their fate. That was not only my approach in the writing, but Joy Wong (my amazing artist on this book) worked really hard to portray the subtlety of emotions for the characters and their plight – I hope that readers will come for the crazy supernatural ride, but walk away with something a bit more meaningful (fingers crossed).

Greg: Obviously this project is miles apart from the Uncharted games. How was your writing approach different from Uncharted?

Neil: The biggest difference is the team size. Uncharted is a huge production involving over a hundred people (programmers, artists, animators, actors, writers, designers, sound engineers, composers, etc.) With Uncharted it all about collaboration and getting a bunch of different ideas together to make a whole that is better than any individual part.

A Second Chance at Sarah, on the other hand, was just Joy and me. The story is very personal and I find that there’s much more of me on the page than with Uncharted.

Greg: Sarah really offers as much an emotional ride as it does a time hopping thriller with a supernatural twist. How was it trying to balance the two?

Neil: If there was ever a question about which direction the story needed to go, the emotional side of it always took precedent since it was the core of the tale. But the “time hopping thriller” part was totally needed to thread the story along and, more importantly, to hook readers into the story. It’s my secret weapon for roping guys into reading and enjoying a love story.

Greg: I felt like Johnny’s character was really the “Average Joe.”  Did you base him off of anyone?

Neil: Johnny and I share a lot of history. For example, the story he tells his friends about a neighbor hitting his dog with a car is lifted right out of my childhood (but I don’t get a chance to go back in time and get revenge on said neighbor). As far as characteristics, he and I are both workaholics to a fault.

I mainly used Johnny (and the story in general) to deal with my fears of bringing a child into this world and the fear of ever losing my wife – so in a way he’s a more exaggerated version of me (that I get to live vicariously through).

Greg: Who are your creative influences?

Neil: This is a hard question. There’s so many I can think of. Let me just spit out a few of names that jump to mind, but there’s way more that I’m sure I’m not thinking of right now.

In comics: Kazu Kibuishi, Frank Millar, Brian K. Vaughn, Brian Michael Bendis, Robert Kirkman, and Garth Ennis.

In Movies: The Coen Brothers (huge influence on my writing), Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, David Koepp, and Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption is the best movie ever made).

In Games: Amy Hennig (my incredible mentor and colleague), Ken Levine, Marc Laidlaw, Ron Gilbert, and Fumito Ueda.

Greg: What, if any, comics are you reading (monthly or otherwise)?

Neil: Let’s see… on my reading pile are Ex Machina (anything from Brian K. Vaughn is required reading for me), 28 Days later from Boom, and The Walking Dead. Oh and I just finished reading volume 2 of Umbrella Academy.

Greg: Since you’re also in the gaming industry, are you playing any video games right now?

Neil: I just finished God of War III, and I couldn’t believe what a jaw-dropping ride that game was. Besides that one, I’m making my way through Tales of Monkey Island on my Mac. I’m a huge fan of the Monkey Island series and I haven’t had a chance to play through the latest chapter – so far I’m actually quite enjoying the writing. Also, I can always find a few minutes for some Plants Vs. Zombies on the iPhone – so much fun.

Greg: Besides hitting up their local comic shops (which in my opinion is the best way to go) how can our readers get their hands on A Second Chance At Sarah?

Neil You can always order it on-line from our good friends at Amazon.com.

Greg: Will you be attending any comic conventions this year?

Neil: I will be attending Wonder Con (my first time) where A Second Chance at Sarah will make its debut. I’m also hoping to make it out to Comic Con San Diego this year, but I haven’t finalized those plans just yet.

Greg: Just in closing – Besides saying how awesomely cool A Second Chance At Sarah is, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Neil: To anyone that has ever bought any game that I’ve worked on, or pre-ordered A Second Chance at Sarah, I just want to say thank you. You guys give me the opportunity to have the coolest job in the world.

If any of you have any feedback about any Naughty Dog game or about A Second Chance at Sarah, I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an email at neil@sickhabit.com.

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Updated: April 12, 2010 — 2:24 pm

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