'Minecraft Volume One' Writer Sfé R. Monster and Artist Sarah Graley Talk Bringing the Gaming Phenomenon to Comics (Exclusive)

Crazes come and go in the world of video games but few franchises ever manage to reach the broad appeal and formidable staying power of Minecraft. As of May 2019, the game had sold more than 176 million copies worldwide, edging out Tetris as the best-selling game of all time. Now, as part of a multi-project publishing partnership, Mojang AB and Microsoft have teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to translate the vivid, crazy world of Minecraft to a series of graphic novels.

Minecraft Volume One follows Tyler, a kid whose life is turned upside down when his family has to move away from his hometown. Thankfully, he's still got his besties by his virtual side—in the world of Minecraft. Accompanied by pals Evan, Tobi, Grace and Candace, Tyler embarks on the Ultimate Quest: to venture to the End and challenge the mythic ender dragon.

Newsweek has obtained an exclusive preview of the comic, and spoke with writer Sfé R. Monster and artist Sarah Graley about bringing the expansive possibilities of the online game to the printed page.

Quite a few fictional stories are set in the Minecraft universe, did you use any in particular to inspire either the graphic novel's writing or art direction?

Sfé R. Monster: Sort of! Eight or so years ago, I used to watch a lot of Minecraft Let's Plays on YouTube. It was my first introduction to Minecraft, actually, and what eventually convinced me to start playing the game myself. I was really into the elaborate collaborative building and adventures that these groups of friends would post online. Some of them had their own Minecraft characters and personas and created these fun improv stories in the game as they played. I was definitely inspired by the memory of those videos when I started to think about how I wanted to adapt the game of Minecraft into a graphic novel, but I also wanted to pull in a lot of my own experiences playing the game with my friends, so it was a big patchwork of inspiration.

Sarah Graley: In terms of art direction, we wanted the Minecraft world to be pretty similar to the game itself, but we were keen on making the characters look more human and less blocky! I think this definitely helped me bring my own style to the wonderful world that is Minecraft! It feels like a good mix as Minecraft is all about real people having fun together inside this virtual world, and the combination of styles was a way to pay tribute to that.

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'Minecraft Volume One' is the first official graphic novel set in the world of the gaming phenomenon that boasts more than 91 million monthly players. Dark Horse

What aspect of Minecraft did you intend to capture with the graphic novel? How did you get involved with this comic?

SRM: I got involved with the comic because I make comics! And for a while, I was known among my comic-making friends as "the one who's really into Minecraft." You truly never know where your interests are going to take you! When I was invited to be a part of the project and write the comic I knew for sure that I wanted to capture the adventure part of the game: exploring all the various biomes to take on big challenges, like fighting withers and ender dragons. Personally, I feel I'm a very simple Minecraft player, who's content to make a little house and a little farm and just putter around, but I love how epic the game can get, and I wanted to capture that sense of how big and exciting the game can be.

SG: I've been making comics and playing video games since forever! I originally wanted to make video games when I was a lot younger, so anything that lets me combine my love of the two together is a real treat! When I was asked to be the artist on this book, I was really excited - it meant that I was able to play a whole bunch of Minecraft and be able to call it valid research! It was really enjoyable getting to figure out how to bring my art style to the world of Minecraft and bring it all together, and I'm so pleased with how it turned out! I'm super excited to everyone to get to read this incredible adventure!

Did you have a relationship with Minecraft before working on this project? What does Minecraft mean to the cast of your story?

SRM: I was thinking about this as I started working on the story, and it turns out I've been playing Minecraft for as long as I've been making comics (seven years!). I initially started playing Minecraft on a server run by several of my comic-making friends and colleagues, so Minecraft and comics have always been closely linked in my mind. That idea of friendship, and Minecraft being something you do to spend time with people you really like and care about, was something that I wanted to bring the comic. The group of kids in the story love playing Minecraft, but for them, it's something they do together, and it's not nearly as fun when they're not all there in-game together.

SG: I've been playing Minecraft with my partner and my sister over the years, and it's always a really fun thing to dip back into! I'm mainly a creative player - I like to build cool bases in the sides of mountains! Most recently, I built a base with several floors, and just as I was placing the finishing touches, I could hear a whole bunch of clucking noises - It turned out that my partner Stef had placed dozens of Chickens in my base and they were definitely messing up the place! I had to make a hole in the wall, and they all escaped into the sea. It was very funny to watch! In the story, I think Minecraft is especially important because it's helping to keep Tyler in touch with his friendship group when he moves away. It's one of my favorite things about online gaming - it keeps you connected with your friends, no matter where in the world you are.

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Tyler is joined in the world of 'Minecraft' by his close friends Evan, Candace, Tobi, and Grace, had countless adventures together across the expanses of the Overworld. Dark Horse

Tyler's core friend group seems to be very close. Can you provide insight to the group history prior to graphic novel?

SRM: Tyler and Evan have definitely known each other the longest. They're met-on-the-very-first-day-of-school friends. Grace and Candace came along a few years after, and I think Tobi is the most recent addition to the group, but they've all known each other and been friends for years. They're all in the same grade, but I feel like at this point in the story they're spread across several different homerooms, so playing Minecraft together is just as important for Evan, Grace, Candace, and Tobi (who still live in the same city) as it is for Tyler (who has recently moved with his family across the country).

In the Minecraft world you two have created, every aspect of a person's real world seems to get copied over to the game, including apparatus like glasses, wheelchairs, and very poofy heads of hair. Why did you choose a one-to-one copy over the zany avatars normally found in video games?

SRM: I think a one-to-one copy was important for this story, where I wanted the gang to still be recognizable when they enter the world of Minecraft. They're playing the game as themselves, so they still needed to be recognizable as themselves, but they also get to be the Minecraft versions of themselves, so rather than putting on a completely different avatar, it's more like they're playing dress-up. It was really fun to write their in-game descriptions and see how Sarah drew them! That was maybe my favorite part of the comic-making process.

SG: I had a lot of fun getting to figure out what the characters would look like from Sfé's descriptions and also getting to make a whole bunch of extra background characters too! It was really fun getting to fill this Minecraft world with a bunch of real people!

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The story follows Tyler and his pals as they embark on the Ultimate Quest—to travel to the End and face off against the ender dragon. Dark Horse

There's a lot of casual diversity amongst the cast members. Why did you believe that was something important to include?

SRM: Growing up as a queer person and a trans person I never, ever got to see myself even in the background of the media I consumed. I have a lot of friends who grew up feeling the same way, and I believe we have a tendency in our media to see the same type of protagonist over and over again. It was really important to me (and to Mojang and Dark Horse!) to see a lot of different kinds of faces playing Minecraft. The game is played all over the world by so many different kinds of people; it wouldn't make sense to only include one type of player. This way we get to see all sorts of players from all sorts of backgrounds and identities, and it really shows how diverse the people who play Minecraft are and how there's definitely a place for them in the game!

SG: It's really powerful to see yourself in the media that you read and watch and play - I absolutely adore the cast of characters that Sfé has written in this story, and it was a pleasure to get to draw them. I'm really excited for everyone to read this book, and I hope everyone sees a bit of themselves reflected somewhere.

Sarah, Tyler has a poster, a comic, and a figure of a feline fellow who appears to be called Cat Man. If the matching figurines are to be trusted, this "Cat Man" also appears to battle witches. What's his story?

SG: Oh, gosh, let me see if I remember. Once upon a time, a beautiful man bought his beautiful cat to a cat convention. A witch, who was judging the cat competition that ran during the convention became extremely jealous of their shared beauty and decided to punish them both by merging the two with a sinister spell. Originally, Cat Man fought witches for revenge; now, he fights them for FUN.

Minecraft Volume One will go on sale June 4.

'Minecraft Volume One' Writer Sfé R. Monster and Artist Sarah Graley Talk Bringing the Gaming Phenomenon to Comics (Exclusive) | Culture