The latest comic from artist/writer Dylan Burnett is a love letter to arcade games and anime. Set in the sprawling, neon-lit metropolis of Infinity City, Arcade Kings is a five-issue miniseries from Skybound/Image Comics. It follows Joe, a mysterious young man, with a head shaped like a dragon fruit, who's an ace at video games and a pretty mean street fighter, too. He's trying to lay low, but it's not long before his dark past starts to catch up with him...
Arcade Kings is a super fun read, vibrantly colored by Walter Baiamonte and Sara Antonellini. It's nostalgic for the era of amazing brawlers like Street Fighter and Soul Calibur, while also feeling fresh and new. If you're a fan of those games, anime, or of books like Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series, then this one is absolutely for you.
We sat down with Dylan to find out more about his exciting new comic, but first, check out a gallery of the covers for #1 below.
Newsarama: Congratulations on the release of Arcade Kings! How would you describe the comic to readers?
Dylan Burnett: Two estranged brothers attempt to leave behind their evil adoptive father and martial arts master by playing video games and beating up bad guys that try to hurt their friends.
What initially sparked this idea?
I'd been really wanting to do an arcade/fighting game-inspired comic for years. Something that is a big celebratory hug to all the '90s beat 'em ups that I grew up loving - Street Fighter, the arcade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Stone, Soul Calibur, SNK vs. Capcom, and many others. They all have their own distinct flare and appeal, so I tried to capture my own version of that in the visuals and the fights.
I think the type of fun you have in a fighting game is pretty different from the type you'd have playing an RPG or another genre. The feeling of getting better, and the satisfaction of finally landing cool combos, is a very special kind of reward. The idea of someone trying to better themselves in a really fun and colorful environment with martial arts action sort of spun off of that feeling.
The series is also inspired by shonen anime. Could you maybe give us a list of titles that made an impact on this story?
Hajime no Ippo, YuYu Hakusho, Dragon Ball, Medabots, Tekkonkinkreet, Shaman King, Akira, and Cross Game, just to name a few! The strong emotional catharsis that each of these titles brings to the more action heavy or fantastical elements is something I'm definitely trying to channel in Arcade Kings. I hope I can be at least a tiny bit as successful at it as any of the stories mentioned.
How well do you think video games and comics work together as mediums? What are the commonalities?
They're both so dang fun! Video games are interactive, and comics usually aren't, unless it's a choose-your-adventure or game-book style thing, but with Arcade Kings I tried to communicate each character's story through their fighting style as best as I could, which is definitely something fighting games really excel at.
How did you develop your protagonist Joe's unique "dragon fruit" look?
I wanted him to look like he'd fit right into the cast of some obscure early 90's brawler, aside from maybe his head. His look was originally a lot more of a classic Super Sentai/Kamen Rider-style, with the helmet and visible mouthpiece, but it wasn't working because it looked too stiff. So I gave him the pink and green dragon fruit vibe and ditched the helmet idea. So that's his actual head you're looking at.
What qualities do your colorists, Walter Baiamonte and Sara Antonellini, bring to the book?
They're great! The energy and emotion that each brings to it really completes that anime/arcade game sort of look. They're able to balance the softer, more emotional scenes with these super bombastic and stylish palettes so well. I wanted to capture that very inviting, bright, '90s anime feeling, and I think they are doing that and way more. I'm so happy to have them. Please go check out their own works as well!
How closely do you work with them? What's the process there?
I'll write a colours-focused script that notes any specific details I had in mind and they'll take that and run with it, while adding in their own ideas. I worry sometimes I can be a little too specific about what I'm going for, but they're both able to implement their own style into it so well. I remember I originally thought I would try coloring the covers myself, but as soon as their colours came in I knew they'd execute something so much more interesting than I ever could.
What's your long-term plan for Arcade Kings?
I've got some fun ideas, but for now I'm just focusing on these 5 issues being the best, most cohesive thing they can be. I'm excited for people to see where it ends up.
Finally, what are some of your favourite arcade games?
Marvel vs. Capcom, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and rail shooter games like Time Crisis were always so fun as a kid. I also played this super dope mecha-piloting game in Japan called Starwing Paradox and it is insane. You pilot a flying mech using two sticks, and two foot pedals that each control a different part. You sit high up in this cockpit and you've got a bunch of screens and gadgets, like you'd imagine a real mecha pilot would have. It's tough to coordinate it all at first, but it really makes you feel like you're flying around in this huge robot. It's so cool.
Arcade Kings #1 is published by Skybound / Image Comics on May 17.
While Arcade Kings is inspired by video games, there are also plenty of comics directly based on them. Here are the ten best video games comics of all time.