IMAGE COMICS: AXCEND is at least partially about video games becoming real, which is timely considering how much Pokemon GO has blown up in the past couple weeks. What is it about this idea that interested you enough to explore it via comics?
SHANE DAVIS: I like the idea of exploring different types of "reality" sequences in comics, for example, using gutters to distort the feel of a sequence on a subconscious level to the reader. I felt that with a project such as AXCEND, with multiple realities, I could really play that up in comics. With that being said, I explored different art styles for different moods to have more of an impact for a scene. I think comics are a medium where you can totally distort one plane of existence to another. One of my favorite artists, Winsor McCay, did this with Little Nemo.
IC: The cast is varied, featuring a young man recovering from grief, another dealing with bigotry at home and at school, and a celebrity surrounded by false friends. They all seem to use games as an escape—how do you see video games and escapism? Valuable, dangerous, or something else entirely?
DAVIS: Well I think escapism has always been valuable and dangerous at the same time. It's important for a person to remove themselves from a situation for clarity, but dangerous if it becomes obsessive. Escapism really only works in moderation. In the case of video games, I do feel that it's possible for a gamer to become obsessed with a game and get a distorted sense of reality, and it ultimately affects a person's way of handling a situation. I'm a big gamer...or at least I play as much as I can. I was into Grand Theft Auto years ago, and a lot of time was killed doing random stuff. One day, I was walking to the store, and I was quick to turn my head at a cop car. It was the gaming effect of the start of a GTA rampage. I knew then and there to play another game!
IC: How does the subtitle of AXCEND, "The world revolves around you," factor into the story?
DAVIS: It's a play on the gamer's ideology. In most traditional games, rather than MMORPGs, the game and its story revolve completely around the player's actions. The game only progresses if you succeed. If you fail, the game world stops for you and starts over. It also serviced the three characters, Morn, Ruin, and Rayne. All three were obsessed with their own troubles, and in a way they never saw past them. To them, the world was the sum of their conflicts...which is sort of "revolving around you."
IC: The conflict in AXCEND goes from small and intimate to world-threatening very quickly. What kind of scope do you see the full run of AXCEND having? Is it going to expand from here?
DAVIS: There will be a second part, AXCEND: WORLD BURN. It will take place three years later, and sort of focus more on Eric. He's in remorse for his actions and walking in the wasteland, refusing to finish God's game. The world will be a different place, because only America and the countries that didn't join R.U.N still stand. It will be really interesting for Ruin, as he will be second best for the first time.
IC: What kind of game is AXCEND? Were you inspired by any genre or franchise when designing the characters?
DAVIS: That is a good question. I have been influenced by a lot of games. Metal Gear Solid, Tekken, Super Mario Bros., Destiny...on and on. Axcend, as a game—I sort of wanted it to feel like it could be any and all games. The ultimate game, if you will. As a story, I was influenced by the act of growing tired with a game—which is how the Dog/GOD character comes into play—because we can become so enthused by a world and so bored with moving on, it made me wonder about a deity and a human life.
IC: Shane, this was the first book that you wrote and penciled yourself. Now that the first volume is done, how does it feel to look back on it? Have you taken any major lessons from the experience?
DAVIS: The experience was a lot more draining then I thought, but I'm not sure if that was all the emotional stuff with the characters getting to me. I learned to be a bit more confident with the writing, to make it fluid and pace cliffhangers. A major lesson I learned was not to paint yourself into a corner, leave a little room to add to the work...but at the same time have a plan and stick to it.