The Minecraft comic that almost was
Just over three years ago, I began talking to Mojang about the possibility of doing a Minecraft comic. I had a story – very “Dragon Ball meets Adventure time”, in movie pitch terms, but set in the Minecraft universe. The aim was to expand the universe, and make something different, not to talk about “Steve,” or similar.
They were interested, but would need to see a proper pitch. I got together with the artist Zac Gorman, and we pounded our heads together and came up with a visual style, while I wrote a few rough pages. We put our pitch docs together — Mojang liked that too, so Zac and I made those sample pages.
At this point, we were in business, as far as everyone was concerned. We just needed to figure out the money, what the book would look like, how we’d sell it, and all that. Unfortunately, it was around then that Zac decided maybe this project wasn’t for him, so we were without an artist.
The next three years saw meetings, research, trials with new potential artists, and a lot of cold-emailing to folks whose visual styles we liked. We never found the right match to fit Mojang’s vision. I pushed to just get a publisher on board, and let them help us find an artist. Things seemed to be moving in that direction, when I found out the week before GDC 2016 that Mojang no longer wanted to go forward with the project.
I certainly didn’t work on this comic for the entire three years between then and now, but I did work on it a fair bit, so it was a disappointment for me. At the very least, it got me more seriously into writing comics, and I’ve since worked on two webcomics – No Girlfriend Comics, and Hot Comics for Cool People, both with my collaborator Dami Lee.
Now that the Minecraft project is definitely over, I thought I’d share what it was going to be.
These are some character sketches, environment studies, and roughs from Zac. We spent a lot of time determining how the blocks and people would look – blocks would be rounded, with soft lines, not drawn with a grid in mind, and humans would be quite human-like, but everything would be just a little blocky.
The main character was meant to be gender-ambiguous, and their gender would deliberately never be defined so that anyone could see themselves in them. (Note that this was not to make lack of gender “the point” – it was to purposefully not make a point of gender.) In a future revision, we would also have made the character a fair bit more ethnically ambiguous as well, again without referring to it directly.
Here are some of the full on pitch images, including a couple actual pages. As the story begins, the main character wakes up in the minecraft world as night is falling, uncertain of their surroundings. They must run for shelter as threats approach from all angles.
In this page, we’re setting the scene for a recurring trope – the main character’s “power” is they can be friends with anyone – with time and effort. The first thing they befriend is a wolf, and over the course of the comic, more and more wolves will follow them – you won’t see a bunch of new wolf interactions, but the next time you see them out and about, now there are are 4 happy wolves trotting along, where previously there were 3.
In this page, the main character is trying to befriend a surly farmer who has created a giant agricultural contraption. You’ll see more from him in one of the upcoming vignettes (but there it’s a calculations machine, rather than an agricultural thing). This was meant to encapsulate the main drive of the first act of the story – the main character goes around having specific friendship-adventures with specific people – but over time, their problems overlap, and their solutions require each others’ skills, and the main character is the only one who both knows this and can facilitate contact.
Here’s the full initial pitch:
Goal: This will be an adventure of friendship. Sounds cheesy, maybe, but think about Pokemon, Dragon Ball, Final Fantasy, even Adventure Time… they’re all about gathering the right team of friendly characters (and uneasy alliances with enemies) in order to succeed against a larger threat. We’re hoping this will be an uplifting narrative that will inspire kids (and adults) to go adventuring together in the game – we want to unite nearly everyone our main character meets against a common foe. You know that feeling when Goku arrives at the last minute and saves the day, or at least buys the weaker characters some more time? That’s the kind of quick rush we want people to feel while reading this. “How will they get out of this jam?” and then – “Ah, I hadn’t thought of that!”
Plot: Minecraft has been running for a long, long time on this server. It has evolved to become its own semi-autonomous universe. Our hero, the Average Player (AP for now, to be named later!!), is an ambiguously gendered being with an irreverently positive attitude. AP finds themself waking up in the Minecraft world, much like a player of the actual game… AP must survive the first night, and then the next, beginning to create a home to live in.
AP’s role is as a uniter, and this starts with the first friendly characters they meet – wolves! AP will start searching the land to get a sense of the world, and will happen upon several eccentric characters – a recalcitrant creator of complex tech contraptions, an absent-minded architect who builds massive structures, a salt-of-the-earth farmer who uses agriculture to both survive and keep monsters at bay, et cetera!
Some of these characters will be wary of our hero initially, but AP’s optimism and desire to help people out wins through in the end, and they begrudgingly accept AP’s friendship over time. Not everyone will be so affable though – later on, AP will meet griefers! They can move faster, build more, and use this to bother the residents of the world for their own amusement – but AP and their wolves will save the griefers from a trap of their own making at a certain point, leaving them as possible begrudging helpers in the Big Event that comes later.
AP must even unite the Old Ones – minecraft heroes of faded glory, the only characters that are still boxy from the olden days, sitting in their citadels with enchanted diamond equipment and such. Nothing can touch them, so they don’t concern themselves with the outside world. Can AP get them to come down from on high in a time of need?
Audience: Essentially the Adventure Time or Steven Universe audience. Smart, attentive kids, and adults who know that having an imagination is actually pretty cool. With the exploration and adventure base, high friendship-oriented storyline, and genderless main character, we’re hoping to equally target boys and girls.
These are some mini chapters I wrote to prove out some of the above concepts. This first one is from the first night our main character arrives. Just to reemphasize the above, they are named AP here – that stands for Average Player, another reason for the gender ambiguity.
Minecraft vignette 1: First night.
Ext, dusk, sparse forest, bordered on one side by water, bordered on the other by mountains.
It’s getting dark – it’s AP’s first night in the Minecraft world, and they’ve been walking around, getting their bearings, soaking it in, looking around. They hasn’t eaten today. They stoop to inspect a toadstool, growing in front of a tall tree…
*AP’s stomach growls, and they clutch it as they stoop.
AP: Urgh, I wonder if I can eat these things…? It looks a bit poisony.
*AP is about to reach for it to inspect further, when, from out of the bushes:
*AP spins around, their back to the tree
AP: Wha… is someone there?
*AP looks on in horror, eyes wide
AP: That can’t… oh no!
*The zombie CRASHES through the bushes, and AP is momentarily frozen.
*AP begins SPRINTING
AP: No!! No!!!
*AP zig-zags through the forest, unsure of where to go. As they leap over a large root, they spy a divot in the ground, to the left. More zombies have appeared.
AP: There! Gotta get there!
*AP jukes left, as a zombie smashes into a tree where AP once was. AP rushes into this divot, which to our more educated eyes is a half-exploded shelter, blown out by a creeper. Two sides of the very crude shelter still stand, and a bit of wooden roof. It looks as though it were built into a mountain.
Cut to: Hut interior. AP is putting up blocks of dirt with their hands, as barriers, to wall off the exposed portions of the hut that aren’t already guarded by walls. AP builds from the bottom, as more zombies approach. Zombies lean over the small barrier, grabbing at AP.
AP: Aaaagh!! Come on, dirt!! Be a wall!!
SUDDENLY: a zombie tries to hop over the unfinished wall, and AP puts a dirt block in its path just in time.
*AP has run out of dirt, only stone is beneath them. AP can dig no further. Luckily their wall is mostly intact, with a bit of roof besides. There are gaps, but it will have to do. They grab a bone they find in the far corner of the shelter, and stumble around, nervously, in the near-darkness. Moonlight shines in through cracks in the wooden portion of the ceiling.
AP walks over to the wall, under the moon beams, leans against it, and slides down into a half-crouch position. AP can see their faces – their eyes – through holes in the wall, and above.
AP begins limply shaking the bone in the direction they think zombies may be coming from.
AP: You go away! You go away right now!!
AP: Away!! You leave me alone!
*Tears well up in AP’s eyes, and they collapse on the ground, hugging their knees, waiting for morning.
AP: Leave me alone…
*They eventually fall asleep, curled up in a ball.
*morning comes. AP is lying on their side. Close up of AP’s face, laying on a prone arm, still gripping that bone.
*drool is wiped away with a sleeve.
AP: Looks like I made it. Good job, walls!
*AP stands up, bone in hand, tapping the walls as thanks. They peer out of one of the accidental windows.
AP: Looks safe enough out there now…
*AP takes a look at the bone, their only weapon, tightening their grip on it.
AP: Let’s hope so.
Cut to: Exterior shot, as AP squeezes through a hole in the wall. On their way out of the ramshackle hut, AP kisses one of the blocks to the side.
AP: Thanks blocks, you really saved me there. I won’t forget you guys.
AP: Oh, hey, what’s that? A little doggie!
*AP hops to the ground, and crouches in front of the “dog.”
AP: Hi doggie!
*AP crouches forward, grins a huge, stupid grin, holding the bone at their knee.
*The wolf bares its fangs, and eyes AP’s delicious bone.
*SMASH CUT TO: AP sprinting across the plains, yet again, bone in hand. The earth seems to bend into a sphere beneath them, as though we’re looking through a fisheye lens.
Here’s another piece of art, done by Joseph Harmon as a test after the Zac Gorman days.
Minecraft Vignette 2: in which our hero attempts to make friends with A Very Serious Man.
Ext. Day, verdant field
A Very Serious Man stands atop a massive trapezoidal structure, doing some Very Serious Thinking.
We see our hero approaching from afar, with one wolf trailing behind.
Cut to: Our hero jovially whistling along with a happy wolf pal.
AP: Dang, look at this thing!
*Our hero notices the distant figure atop the trapezoid-thing. AP cups their hands to their mouth and screams
AP: HEY!! HEY UP THERE!! DID YOU MAKE THIS!?
AP: Silent type, eh? **winks at wolf** Well, let’s go make friends!
Smash cut to: AP dashing up to the structure, screaming along the way, as the words trail behind
AP: Hey! Hi! Hey!!
*AP begins to climb, getting closer with each salutation, frame by frame, exhibiting signs of exertion.
*AP approaches Serious Man, doubles over, hands on knees, catching breath. AP is directly next to Serious Man’s side, uncomfortably close, some might say.
*straightens, extends hand
Serious Man looks aghast at AP
AP: How –
*Full body shot of Serious man, turning his head oddly, to face AP
Serious Man: NOOOOOOO
*in the following sequence, the word is extended across multiple panels, getting closer and closer and closer to SM’s face
Now it is AP who has a horrified look on their face
AP: uh –
SM: AWAY, INTERRUPTER!!!
AP: Sheesh! I just wanted to say hi! I thought maybe we could be friends!
*AP’s hand is still extended, which AP glances at, and SM is ignoring
SM: Friends!? Can’t be friends! Won’t be friends! Impossible to be friends! Your brain is TOO SMALL!
AP: Hey, my brain’s not that –
SM: Quiet!! Must think! Stupid calculations machine is a stupid failure! Got to think!! Use my brains! And my guts!!
*SM points to his skull with his left hand, arm extended like the handle of a teacup, and his guts area with his right hand, pointing at it from round the front.
AP: This big ole thing is broken? What’s it supposed to be doing?
SM: Interrupter goes away now! *SM waves AP away* Thinking!
AP: Aw, come on, maybe I can help!
SM: IT GOES AWAY!! IT GOES AWAY NOW, INTERRUPTER!
*now AP is aghast
SM: Tiny brain!
*SM makes a tininess gesture with his fingers – he’s squinting like he’s doing the Kids in the Hall “crush your head” thing
SM: So small!
Cut to: shot of AP’s head through SM’s fingers, pinched right between
AP: Jeez, fine, but I don’t have any friends here yet! Come on!!
SM: Don’t care! Bye bye!
*SM resumes scowling, and mumbling to himself incoherently. AP shuffles off, a bit defeated.
*AP reaches the bottom of the trapezoid again. Sighs.
AP: Somehow I feel like could’ve gone better.
Wolf (a bit melancholy): Horf!
*AP starts to walk away, but something catches their eye, and they lean back to look as they’re walking.
AP: Oh, hello! Well, that isn’t right!
*AP approaches a block and starts to pick it up.
*SM notices something happening down below, points, eyes blaring.
SM: SABOTEUR!! HARLEQUIN!! SNOLLYGOSTER!!!
*SM runs down the structure as fast as he can. We see this from afar, in silhouette, as though he were sprinting down the side of a pyramid.
AP has already moved a few blocks, finishing just as SM arrives.
SM: Ruining interrupter!! Slubberdegullion! Why I’ll –
*SM is cut off as the structure begins to thrum with life. He spins around in place, shocked, making wide “preparedness hands” as he hops into a readiness crouch.
SM: Wha!? How!?
AP: Fufuuu… these blocks were just in the wrong place, is all.
*AP is boasting, hands on forward-thrusted hips
SM: How…how did you know?
AP: Well, they told me! Kinda. It’s hard to explain.
SM: They told you? But how?
*AP’s ear catches something. He looks over at the block.
AP: Haha. Yeah, well…
SM: What… did it say something!? Something about me!? If it was! I demand to know!
*SM is getting flustered already.
AP: She says uh… she says that you’re very nice. Not a maniac. *AP makes an air-swiping gesture assuring the absolute negativity of that last statement.
Close up of AP winking at the block on the sly.
SM: Sh-sh-she? That’s a …L-L-L-lady?
*SM blushes, AP smiles knowingly, eyes closed
SM: Interrupter, thank you for your kind introduction to block friend, and starting of calculations machine, good bye! Good bye! Bye now! Forever!
*SM pushes AP away in order to flirt with the lady block. These words are all pushed together to indicate hurriedness, except the last, which follow AP as they’re pushed further and further out of frame.
Cut to: AP, walking away in the foreground, talking to the wolf. In the background we see SM blushing and carrying on, saying, in very tiny text, almost scratchmarks, in the direction of the lady block “you see, my calculations machine is very…”
AP: That’s how you do it, buddy.
*AP winks at the wolf again, bites lip, and gives a thumbs up
NOTE: Later we will see SM carrying this block in a back pack, EVERYWHERE, saying, with an air of smug-yet-matter-of-factness “You’ve met my girlfriend.”
NOTE ALSO: It is going to be purposefully slightly unclear whether AP can *really* talk to blocks or is just very intuitive re: minecraft, and using the idea of speaking to them as a bluff.
Now, here are some excellent tests from Guillaume Singelin, from France. He’s shared these elsewhere, but couldn’t say what they were for. Here they are in context. I was fully on board with this visual style, though I wanted to make the main character a bit more ambiguous – unfortunately Mojang wanted to go another direction, so we didn’t pursue this further. Frankly, I think once they had seen Zac’s art, that became the vision, and it was hard to find another route.
I wanted to make this comic so badly. No money or contracts exchanged hands – this was all on spec, but there was always the idea that if we just got this one thing right, or that that thing solved, it would go ahead. I’m disappointed at where we’ve ended up, but that’s the inherent risk of trying to work with someone else’s property.
I’m disappointed mostly because I was excited about the story I had brewing in my head, and all the plans I had for it. Long-term narrative is one of the most exciting and also terrifying things to me – it’s a huge challenge, and to try to do all this while meeting the expectation of Minecraft fans would have been a serious undertaking. But I really was looking forward to it. I’m hopeful that some day soon I’ll get the chance to tackle a long-form narrative comic project like this, but for now, please enjoy what we did make, and think about what could have been.