Disclaimer: These personal thoughts on the LiS comic were originally written on 24th June 2018 but never published. These thoughts have now been updated with information from the press release that appeared on the official Life is Strange accounts on 20th July 2018. (Initially posted on my Tumblr on 27/07/2018 GMT. A "prettier" format taken directly from my working copy can be found here.)
Without further ado, I shall now release my personal thoughts into the world...
My biggest concern about this comic choosing to continue on from the original game and focus on Max and Chloe is that it seems like an excuse to pull the purse strings of the Pricefielders.
Which I should probably be happy about as I’m a huge Pricefielder, but if this comic has been dreamed up just to pander to us, then it’ll disregard the many players who did not go down the “Love” route (as the pro-Chloe choice path in the game localization files is called). I’m talking about those players who instead saw Max and Chloe as childhood best friends who rekindled that friendship (the path labelled “Friend” in the game’s localization files). And then you’ve got the people who believe that Max’s interest in Warren may grow beyond the game’s events. What about those people? So I have some doubts at this point that the comic will keep things on an ambiguous level when there’s an opportunity to whet appetites.
Because the comic has been licensed and supposedly had the OK from Square Enix, then whatever it does will clearly have an influence on what fans perceive as the canon. However, new information released on 20th July features a pre-emptive disclaimer from the author:
“Importantly, as with the game, it must always be remembered that what we're creating here is one possibility out of many.”
Which is essentially what hundreds of fan fiction writers (and artists) have been giving the community for free since 2015. So why do we now need a licensed story that’s only claiming to do what fan fiction already does by giving us a possibility? Is it the money?
If it’s not about the money, then why not make this a free upload for the fans? There are fans in the community who have spent countless hours writing chapters upon chapters of well-crafted prose that I think puts some paid authors to shame, churning out quality ideas with great characterization, and even though some of these writers are paying out of their own pockets for their work to be illustrated, all of these things are uploaded for free. We even got a choice-based visual novel that took a team of fans 6 months of continuous hard work. I know there are legalities at play, but nobody minded putting all of this work in for zero financial gain, because there’s something so incredibly endearing about LiS that makes you emotionally driven to create.
So what is it that we are we getting in the comic for the £12.88/$15.29 Amazon “Pre-order Price Guarantee” that’s going to be different to the free fan fiction that’s already out there?
The only difference I am seeing is that this is a physical release, and the cover bears the LiS logo with some art behind it that features on the game box and one of Max’s journal pages. But if you purchased the game, you already have the official logo and some of that art in your game files, so fans can theoretically create a similar header for their fan fiction too.
Going back to the money aspect... The shipping for Pricefield is pretty strong in the LiS community. Titan Comics is most certainly onto a winner here when a lot of folks will likely be buying this just to see if there’s a Pricefield kiss (or more).
I also worry about the possibility that only Square has been been involved in checking the story over and acting almost like a gatekeeper and adviser over whether it’s sticking closely to the original game and its vision, because Square missed so much when it came to making sure their licensed prequel, Before the Storm, stayed within the original game’s canon even though they had publicly assured us they were taking great pains over this. (A disappointing level of care.)
Some of you may have noticed that, shortly after the news of a LiS comic hit the internet, and after fans and the media saw the comic appear as a pre-order on Amazon US and UK, the original product description on Amazon was replaced after a degree of community backlash over a hint that a particular ending was being preferenced, which wasn’t helped by some gaming-industry journalists fueling the fire of “ending favouritism”. How did this happen? Because part of the old product description on Amazon had stated:
“Following on from one of two possible endings of the game, Life is Strange: Dust takes the saga of Max and Chloe into a new and uncertain future...”
Just a few examples of the headlines this caused:
- “An upcoming Life is Strange comic settles the 'Bae or Bay' debate.” - PCGamesN.
- “Life is Strange Comic Follows on from THAT ending…” - n3rdabl3.
- “LIFE IS STRANGE COMIC CONTINUES BEYOND ONE OF THE ORIGINAL GAME'S ENDINGS.” - UK IGN.
- “Life is Strange official comic continues one of the game's endings.” - Eurogamer (Sub-header: “Sitting on the dock of the bae.”)
As you can see, the media was very keen to put special focus on the shipping aspect. It’s no wonder the description and the news caused such a stir!
Although the original description still remained for a while on Amazon UK after the US site was changed, it was eventually matched up with the US product page. Maybe Square had words with Titan to play it more safe to keep interest in the comic rather than creating tensions in the fandom at such an early stage!
Here’s part of a screenshot I had taken on my phone of the original description before it was replaced:
Many fans understandably felt cheated by news that the comic is seemingly playing favourites with one of the two canon endings. When you think about the recorded global statistics for the ending choices being pretty much 50/50, this is half of the fandom that could be left upset. Perhaps the only way this comic won’t rub the “Bayers” the wrong way is to make an unofficial “third ending” which would either be a middle ground or would tie both endings together and therefore be more fandom-inclusive (or at least clearly disclaim that the comic is not claiming to be part of the original game’s canon).
I’ll just reiterate again the author’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card that was included in the latest press release (20th July) at this time of writing:
“Importantly, as with the game, it must always be remembered that what we're creating here is one possibility out of many.”
But even Dontnod didn’t want an ending that offers us a middle ground. In fact, they had deliberately scrapped an ending idea where Max saves both Bay and Bae in the very early stages of writing. Trace of this ending was found in the game files as an unused location called "Hospital - Ending".
The concept art of Chloe in hospital with Max at her bedside is pictured below:
When questioned about this ending that never saw the light of day, Michel Koch said:
“... we were hesitating between really killing Chloe like we did and maybe leaving her in a coma to offer hope that she could still be alive. But ultimately, when we were writing, we thought that it wasn't a good decision to go this way, because it would reduce the impact of your choice. So if you’re making the choice of sacrificing Chloe, we shouldn't make a cop-out and we should go all the way to really offer an end.”
“We shouldn’t make a cop-out,” to reiterate what Dontnod said. So I hope this comic is not going to go against those original/creator intentions for Max and Chloe’s story arc to not have a middle ground, even though this option will probably please the majority of those fans who have either written about such an ending or simply imagined it. But unlike this comic, fan-made fictions are not licensed, so they cannot be mistaken as having a sanctioned place in the canon, only as playful headcanons.
And just to add something else of note, Dontnod did say that Max and Chloe’s story was done:
As we approach the end of the interview and the topic of conversation naturally moves onto the future of Max and Chloe and Life is Strange, Michel Koch utters a sentence with such finality: “Their story is done.” The co-director on Dontnod’s acclaimed adventure is brief and straight to the point about its two protagonists. “Something we know for sure is that in the course of those five episodes of Life is Strange we told the story we wanted to tell about Max and Chloe.”
Yet here we are, almost a few years later, with some fans still adamant that their story isn’t over and that fan response takes precedence over developer intentions.
Maybe it’s because these fans didn’t see a kiss in the Bae ending and want this fulfilled by Dontnod or someone else sanctioned by Square to make Pricefield more “official” for them (but it’s always been as official as you want it to be, because the continuation of their story has always been left to our imagination).
I know it’s not easy to say goodbye to a good thing, but wasn’t it Neil Young who said that it’s better to burn out than to fade away? When we cling onto something so hard and push for more, it can be doing more harm than good. I mean… just look at Before the Storm, which came about from fans demanding to know more about who Rachel was and Chloe’s relationship to her, which many of us knew was going against Dontnod’s wishes to keep mysteries like this unanswered, so the prequel created the biggest rift in the fandom by splitting us straight down the middle, creating such a toxic environment for the people who cared about original intentions that a lot of fans walked away upset, shaking their heads at Square. I wanted to walk away too, but I felt too much responsibility to stay and make sure that upset voices were heard (which did work to a degree, as one of the writers of BtS later told me it made them feel that attention to detail is appreciated and valued by the fans). Even one of the passionate admins of the LiS wiki and of the biggest LiS group on Facebook got burnt out from the stress of the fandom split and disappeared for months. Luckily, with the new content from Dontnod in the form of Captain Spirit and the upcoming LiS 2, faith in the franchise has been restored and many of those upset fans have returned. But there has always been a certain mindset from the fans who demand more and think that Dontnod are “doing us dirty” (as somebody once put it) by withholding Max and Chloe content from us.
You only have to look at the comments on Dontnod’s social media accounts to see things like: “Season 2 with Max and Chloe?” . . . “Please! No new characters! We want Max and Chloe!” I’m sure this is very frustrating for them as developers when they want to put out fresh and new content for us, especially when they have such a great writing duo (Jean-Luc Cano and Christian Divine) whom I would like to think know a few things about how to end a story in the best way possible, and you cannot argue that the original story hasn’t continued to inspire people to engage in so much creativity beyond its end.
- MK: We also got a lot of questions, most of them about the shorter ending. Should we say more about what happen[ed] to people in the storm? No. If we do that, we’re denying the strong decisions Max and the player did at this point, which is forgetting everything and only focus about Chloe. We really understand that people would have like[d] a less open ending, or would like to know what happen[ed] once Max and Chloe left Arcadia Bay. But it’s up to the player to tell what happen[ed] next following his choices instead of taking his hand and showing him lot of vignettes about what is next.
- RB: Furthermore, you can put 4.000 vignettes, some people will still be unhappy about it.
- MK: Yes, because it would not be what they imagined.
So why do we need a licensed story, almost three years down the line, to take our hand and show us something that was left down to our imaginations? I know the author has assured us that it is only one possibility out of many, but I’m really not sure why this is happening as a licensed product. It just feels like… I don’t know. Like even though there’s a careful disclaimer now in place to counter community upset, it’s still feeling like an unnecessary release when it’s just another fan fiction... another viewpoint… one of many out there… only this time it’s one we must pay money to read. Also, with Square’s licensing and advertising of it, it’s got some weight behind it, so I can almost guarantee it’s still going to be seen as something that enjoys a higher status to other fan continuations, something more official and more approved, regardless of what the author is probably trying to avoid.
Similar to my thoughts on the prequel game, Before the Storm, I feel like the choice to bring fan-favourite characters back again is perhaps milking things a bit. Why does it have to be Max and Chloe? One of the main reasons I’m suspecting is to explore an unstated LGBT angle with them.
Why do I suspect this? Well... it’s not just because of a phrase in the original product description that teased a “deep dive into Max and Chloe’s potential future”...
Here’s the thing…
The comic’s now confirmed author, Emma Vieceli, co-writes and provides art for a comic series called “Breaks” which is described as, “Bringing the world of LGBT young adult fiction into the realm of comic books”, which is a really positive thing, and I wish her work could have been around when I was younger. She also took part in “Love is Love”, which is an LGBTQ anthology comic co-published by DC and IDW as a tribute to the victims of the Orlando shootings.
I just feel like there’s enough of a common thread here to fear a certain intention behind the LiS comic, so I’ll be quite surprised if it isn’t here to canonise Max’s sexual preference(s)—which was left down to individual interpretation—and also canonise her feelings for Chloe as romantic. Especially with that precaution in place that the author’s take is just one out of many. Yes, there was subtext in the game and in Max’s journal (which I personally loved, don’t get me wrong!), but players did have the option to play a route where Max’s feelings on page 73 of her journal were not as prominent and not as questioning in terms of how she may be feeling but instead focused more on how Chloe felt about her in a “she will always be my best friend, but I think she might see me as more than that” kind of way (because Chloe flirted with her in the game quite a bit, either way you played).
On top of this, the expectation that this comic will feature Max and Chloe “doing the deed” is increasing now from pictures of Claudia Leonardi’s past LiS fan arts surfacing on social media platforms with speculations and winks. One of these shows an alternative take on the morning of Episode 3 where Max wakes up in Chloe’s room, only in this art, Chloe is awake first, staring fondly down at a naked sleeping Max, boobs on show (no prizes for guessing what happened overnight), and when she wakes, they kiss.
[As a side note, I really wish Dontnod had left that funny dialogue in Episode 3 where Max and Chloe are lying on Chloe’s bed listening to music (Lua by Bright Eyes) and Chloe tells Max she whispers in her sleep. Max worries about what she’d said, and Chloe says it was, "Something about marrying Warren. Or me." Max retorts that it sounds like Chloe’s dream!]
Life is Strange Co-director Michel Koch once assured a fan on Twitter back in 2015 that Max and Chloe could still end up as just friends outside of the game, because nothing was stated; everything was up to the individual player’s imagination.
One thing I love about the original game is its layers and ambiguities which cater to many fans and their own unique experiences in life. This is why I felt disappointed when Square began to steer the now-franchise down a path of catering primarily to the shippers, putting the Life is Strange brand in danger of becoming a franchise of “when-will-they-kiss-damnit” (or a “lesbian simulator” as some fans described it). Subtlety seemed to have flown out the window, and I was left wondering if the end game was to turn the beautiful world of Life is Strange into a knocking shop! (Fun Britishism for you. A bit of a hyperbole, I know.)
There’s a mindset in the media at the moment that seems to flip between tasteful LGBTQ representation and “lesbians are cooler and more marketable”, and I am forever grateful to Dontnod for creating subtext that was respectful, representative, but ambiguous enough to create so much discussion around Max and Chloe’s relationship. I’ve seen people joining the big Facebook group who have outright said they were never open to the idea of love existing between two girls until they played this game and got sucked into the beautiful bond that Max and Chloe shared. How amazing is that? Because Dontnod focused first and foremost on telling a story about a deep friendship, it worked on two levels.
Now, I don’t know who approached who first on this comic idea: whether it was Emma Vieceli who approached Square as a fan who simply saw the great opportunity as a professional comic book writer/illustrator to be the person to bring a LiS comic into the world, born from her own imaginings of an ending continuation… or whether Toby Palm at Square had approached her first like when a friend of mine was commissioned to provide some BtS promotional art last year (a much-loved Pricefield fan artist who has since moved on from the fandom as a result of the community split I touched on earlier).
I just know from reading a past comment of Emma Vieceli’s on her DeviantArt that she’s a big LiS fan and has even done promotional LiS art for Square before, so I’m happy that a comic has a least gone to somebody who loves the original game so much, but I implore her as a fellow fan to think about the possible repercussions in the fandom if her position as a professional writer and illustrator in the comics industry is being used as a springboard to bring her own (or Square’s) personal headcanons into the recognised canon. If the comic’s initial outline is to bring some juicy Pricefield action to the fans who felt let down by seeing no kiss when you save Chloe (not that it’s the time when there are dead people lying around!), then I’m concerned this will be executed on the same rushed/forced romance levels we were confronted with in Before the Storm with Amberprice. And is it even necessary to clarify their status?
But in all seriousness, I honestly hope the motivation for this comic isn’t coming from a place of, “I’m a writer of LGBTQ content and a LiS fan. I wanted so much to see them kiss in that Bae ending. I felt let down. I want to be the person who gives the fans that kiss. I want to define Max’s sexuality for the fans once and for all.”
I also hope Square hasn’t granted the licensing to Titan so the franchise can be steered in the direction of shipper titillation once again but without the community rift we saw before since Square can wash their hands of too much involvement when the story is handled by someone else.
When the comic seems forged from one of two very fan-dividing endings, it still risks subverting the polarity of that final player choice when it’s a sanctioned continuation. But we don’t know how much Square stands behind the story. They may have simply signed over a license like throwing a sweet wrapper to the wind with little or no involvement in the planning or the outcome… but this whole thing would feel so much better if Square themselves can confirm whether they consider only the games to be canon and this comic being purely optional and not to be taken too seriously (as seriously as the other fan fiction out there). Being vague or ambiguous on this is never good. Not with fandoms.
Maybe the author has reached out to Dontnod to get feedback and blessings on the direction things are being taken. But until this is publicly confirmed by Dontnod, I’m going to assume this hasn’t happened. But I’d like to believe that Dontnod are still included in consultations over the extension of things they once created… like how they think other licensed products can build on their original game without any adverse impact on it. Max and Chloe will always be their babies, even though they ended up as the property of Square. :)
So now that I’ve written my fears down for people to read (thanks for reading this far, btw!), my DM is always open to chat with that author about any of these thoughts or even just the lore and details of the original game any time. :)
Tumblr replies of note
Tumblr blog replies that I personally think are noteworthy by adding further context and/or clarity will be updated in this section:
Someone’s thoughts on the whole LiS comic situation.
I personally feel we could very well do with some canonical queer content but I also agree with many other points of this post. Like with Before the Storm, I feel the particular angle this project is tackling things with may be a little self-defeating, if only due to the choice-driven variation inherent in the original work.
It’s one thing when it’s fandom content, it’s a whole other thing when it’s officially published content.
I have actually had pleasant interactions with Emma, personally, just as was the case with Deck Nine, and I support her individually, at the least (and love the cover art they revealed, truly), but I can’t shake reservations.
I’m sick of watching Max and Chloe get milked for profit.
One of the biggest complaints is that the Sacrifice Arcadia Bay ending felt woefully incomplete versus the Sacrifice Chloe ending. I know there are dozens of fanfics out there expanding on the SAB ending (I’ve written a few myself) but this sounds like an opportunity to give something more. And I think this material is intended to be canon for those who want it to be canon. Those who headcanon things differently or headcanon the SC ending are still free to do so.
(Reblogging raptor4d4 to answer points raised) While this is true, the main point of these thoughts was more about why do we suddenly have/need this story now and as a licenced thing when other LiS fans (like the author) have never needed a license to tell their continuation stories or for them to be shared and enjoyed widely? What “more” do you think it can give us that we don’t already have?
Why do we need this comic if the motivation isn’t just a money making exercise off the back of popular characters (similar to the main selling point of BtS being the return of Chloe)? Or just the motivation of an author (also a LiS fan) who wants to tell a queer story for the shippers? Something about this just seems a bit “indirect guidance” (from Square Enix) with wanting LiS to cater more to the shippers as opposed to seeing the shipping we engage in as a wonderful byproduct of what was a very beautiful and layered game that wasn’t in-your-face with LGBT whatsoever. It’s the subtlety that’s caused so much speculation and imagination and creativity in the fandom (and some great memes). Subtlety is not a bad thing at all. :)
Maybe I’m wrong, though, and Square hasn’t guided this in any way. I suppose we wouldn’t know how much involvement they’ve had with this because of NDAs.
Somebody has said it will be good to see some canon gayness stated in the comic for Max and Chloe, but a romance between them always has been a canon outcome. Even Dontnod have confirmed a canon romance is an outcome beyond the game (see the entry I made on the Unused Audios page on the LiS wiki under Notes 31 and 32 about the removal of Max’s confession of love audio and why this was done based on what was perceived by Dontnod to be sufficient physical cues). If you’re not a person who prefers things to be spelled out, the subtext and physical cues are sufficient. There are lots of nice little dots that we can connect in the game. Pricefield is canon. Friendship is canon. Even Grahamfield can eventually come to be. It honestly depends on how you played and how you imagine things to take shape beyond the game.
I guess I’m trying to say that we don’t really need a licenced tease just for those who were feeling upset and frustrated that they didn’t get a passionate kiss in the Bae ending when it’s pretty clear that it would happen after the game’s events anyway… at some point. All we need is imagination. We don’t need a licensed product for this. It’s already there in so many different fan fictions. :)
@raptor4d4 While this could totally be a good story, potentially, it’s not canon. The author herself has gone out her way to state as such. Probably because of backlash, because there’s no way to make a singular, canon followup to a game with multiple options. She even has said she needs to write following specific in-game choices she didn’t make herself when playing. Nothing wrong with that, I’ve written a whole fic following a similar beat, but it’s not canon, so...why it is being published? $
@destiny-smasher So it sounds like Square *are* guiding this thing then, as I'd suspected? :-/
- ↑ Interview about the “Hospital Ending”.
- ↑ Interview with Michel Koch about the story being done.
- ↑ Fan saying Dontnod are “dead wrong”.
- ↑ See Raoul’s comments at 7:06 and 7:52 in this video interview.
- ↑ JV le mag interview.
- ↑ Sensual LiS art by Claudia Leonardi (NSFW warning: nipples on display).
- ↑ Friendship possibility confirmation.