Written by Neil Greenaway
At Phoenix Comic Con 2017 I had the chance to sit down and talk with Ash Maczko & Ashley Witter of Squarriors about their take on publishing indie comics. This interview originally ran on Bleeding Cool on 6/05/2017, and you can read their version of it here.
Ash Maczko & Ashley Witter (creators of the Squarriors series from Devils Due Publishing) are busy people. Not only do they write and draw (respectively) the Squarriors comic, they are the driving force behind the Count-i-Con pop culture convention, they make appearances all through the year at other comic conventions, and (as of this year) they also have their own gaming company. At Phoenix Comic Con 2017 I had a chance to sit down and talk to the duo about their new Squarriors Trading Card Game, the first game to be released by Cold War Inc.
Neil Greenaway: Today I would like to talk to you guys a little bit about the new trading card game that you are starting.
Ash Maczko: Squarriors the Card Game, right. So I’m Ash Maczko, creator of Squarriors the comic series and lead developer and designer of the card game and we are with Ashley-
Ashley Witter: Hi, I’m Ashley Witter and I do the artwork for Squarriors.
NG: To get us started, just for folks who might not be aware, could we get just a brief synopsis on the story of Squarriors?
AM: For Squarriors – in 1986, mankind dies off. And the same thing that kills man off, gives all the little woodland creature’s intelligence. Now it’s their turn to run the planet in this post human world. So they are creating tribes, religions and going to war with each other. That kind of stuff. That is the quick pitch I guess.
NG: And off of that quick pitch, how did you decide to turn that into a card game?
AW: Honestly I think that was planned from the beginning. I think originally it was a card game before we made it a comic in concept.
AM: As we developed the comic series, right from the start I wanted to do something that I could branch off and have some kind of universe where I could have a video game, have a board game, have a card game, and have all kinds of other things. So literally day 1 of Squarriors, we were already planning the card game. We have been actually working on mechanics and things alongside the comic series. So that was planned from the beginning.
NG: Is it going to be built on the rule set of any existing game – because I know that a lot of them have base rule sets that you can then build on – or is this an entirely new concept that you guys have come up with?
AM: This is top to bottom totally new. We were developing it for a little over 3 years now. This is actually like the 4th iteration of the game. That is how many times we completely made the game. We tested it and broke it down, kept what worked, got rid of what didn’t work, built it up into a game again, broke it all down again. And once we got to the 4th version, that is where we really got a stable format where we were ready for it to be the actual game. That was about 8 or 9 months ago and that is where we have been focusing since.
NG: I assume that like most card games, this will release with a base set that then has expansion series?
AM: Yeah. The core set that we did on Kickstarter is 250 cards. Effectively it is for one person, it is the complete set and then you can build any tribes you want out of that, though other players could build out of the same set as well. And yeah, we have already worked on the expansion. In the rules that come with the set we actually have an ad in there that is going to announce the first expansion to the game. So people will see that in a couple months.
NG: Now going to Ashley for just a moment, about the art on these cards. He said there were 250 cards in the base set. Are you doing all original art or are you reusing art that was drawn for the comics?
AW: I wish I had the time to do all original art for the card game, but we are reusing a lot of the art from the comic. I already spent so much time illustrating the comics, so we will just be repurposing some of it. Some of them will be getting a little bit of enhancement to the existing art though.
AM: She did do all of the frames for the cards though. We have a different type of frame for every different card type, and she drew all that stuff. She drew all of the background imagery and the boarders so that is all new artwork. The individual pictures are all repurposed from the comic series, which was again the plan from the beginning.
NG: When I had spoken to you guys last year, you had said that Ashley was the artist for the Squarriors comic, period. Is that the same approach going into the game?
AM: That is actually an awesome question. We obviously do have lots of artist friends, lots of buddies who would love to work on some Squarriors stuff. I think the plan is – going forward with some expansions and things – we are probably going to try and work with some of buddies and get some exclusive artwork. We have variant versions of cards, full art cards, frameless cards, those kinds of specialty cards. So yeah I have talked to a few of our friends and we are planning on having some guest artists.
AW: I am actually very excited because these are friends of mine too, and I just love their artwork. I would be very happy to see them doing some Squarriors art.
NG: That would probably be interesting for you guys, to see other people’s interpretations of your creations.
AW: That is what I am excited about.
AM: We kind of did that with Squarriors #1, we did a gallery in the back where we had a couple of artists do some Squarriors pieces. We are open to that, and would love to see more of that. You just aren’t going to see it in the actual Squarriors comic, that is going to be Ashley forever. So there won’t be any guest covers
NG: I see that you have the Squarriors blank sketch cover made up. Have you guys seen any other artists takes on a Squarriors sketch cover?
AM: Yeah we have seen a couple Squarriors sketch covers. We have seen some fan art online. We just recently saw some 3D animation using one of the covers for Squarriors to make some sort of 3D animated squirrel.
NG: We spoke briefly about an expansion pack. Do you have any kind of timeline planned out for that?
AM: The expansion? Kind of, sort of. We don’t have anything really set, but we are hoping towards the end of next quarter.
NG: Would that be something you would look at another Kickstarter for?
AM: Not for the expansions. We are going to do those just as regular releases. It will probably just be 40 or 50 cards in a little pack. That will be sold directly to wholesalers and be for sale on Amazon and our website. We are also moving on to our next game with Cold War Inc., and there is an ad for that in the manual as well. That will probably be on Kickstarter the beginning of next year.
NG: So will that be an entirely different game from Squarriors?
AM: This is a whole different game. I can’t say a whole lot about it. It’s a whole new game; it’s from the same company, Cold War, which is our gaming company. It will be announced once the first game ships. We are going to let people discover it as they get the game. Then probably a few weeks after that we will post the announcement up online as well.
NG: Moving back to the Squarriors TCG, what will the story be like in the game? When we had spoken last year, you had talked about expanding the story out of the forest the current arc takes place in. Does the card game allow you to do that?
AM: Our intention right now is that the card game just follows the comic series. So everything that happens in Spring is effectively the first core set of cards and there will be couple of expansions. It will be just from the first volume. As we finish up the second volume (which will be finished this year) for Squarriors, then next year we will be kicking off the core set that will follow the second series. Everything directly goes along with the series, so you are playing the story as it develops. I would say that you probably won’t see any cards set outside of the story until we have some other books come out.
NG: Then in that vein, how is the comic doing?
AM: The comic is doing awesome. We have issues 1 and 2 of Summer out. Issue 3 of Summer should be out next month with issue 4 following that up. Then at the end of the year we will have another trade hopefully out around Christmas time. That is the plan. How is it coming, Ashley?
AW: I would be working on it right now but I am at the convention. I feel kind of guilty that I’m not at home working on it. But I am also working here. We have to survive.
AM: Exactly. We have to make sure there is an audience to sell the book to once it is done.
NG: You guys have Spring, you have Summer, ostensibly Autumn and Winter will follow. Is Winter the end of the current arc? Is the end of Winter the point at which you would move on to a different story?
AM: The end of Winter-
AW: NO SPOILERS!
AM: I can spoil a little bit. The end of Winter is the end of what I consider the pre-story for Squarriors. So this whole thing is a very long intro to when the actual series is going to kick in, as just a long-running regular numbered series. That will be after these 16 issues. First we have the four seasons, and after that it will just go into a straight series. So again, this is sort of an intro to all that – if that makes sense.
NG: People love the Squarriors comic, with fans clamoring for more. When it comes to the new game, what has the fan reaction been for you guys? Are people enjoying it?
AM: Naw, everyone hates it. We’re going to make it anyway though (laughs). No, it’s been great. Again, I’ve said from the beginning that we were working on a card game for this series. I think that a lot of core fans already knew that was coming and were excited that it wasn’t just pillow talk and it’s actually, really going to happen. It’s been good. We have a lot of stores that are really interested, saying they have a lot fans that will be really excited to have a game like this. The game plays very differently than most TCG type games. There is no deck you pull from. There is no shuffling of cards. You just put together your tribe, you lay them down, and you fight each other. It’s more like a strategy battle game. That has really turned on a lot of players, even people who weren’t familiar with Squarriors. They just really like the concept. Build your army, sit down with your buddies, and fight each other. That is really what we have going. Testing has been good. We have been working with Gamer’s World up in Chicago. They have about 12 or 15 stores and we have been able to go and do little events there and get a lot of feedback so it’s all looking really good.
NG: You said you have been speaking to stores. Are a lot of stores excited to see the game?
AM: Yeah. Obviously some stores are waiting until it’s actually at a distributor, which we haven’t done yet because we don’t have a physical game. Most distributers won’t pick anything up until they actually see the game. On Kickstarter, we had several stores order retailer bundles and things like that. We have a couple direct accounts with stores that we are close with that already carry a lot of Squarriors things. So that has been good. The lifeblood of launching the game is making sure that you have got some stores that will cover you and push the game for you when it’s out. We do have that and it’s been great.
NG: The Kickstarter ended very recently, have you guys started production? Have you seen any cards yet?
AM: Backerkit is still going right now, that is how soon it’s been. When Backerkit ends, then we have about 2 weeks of polishing up some things before it goes to production but we’re right there. The game is done, the cards are done, the rules are done. It is just a matter of working with some templates and getting everything to get produced and then it’s all in their hands, maybe 30 or 40 days to get the game back and it goes straight to shipping after that.
NG: I can’t wait to see the final product! Before we go, if people want to see more of your comics, your game or just more of your smiling faces, where would we look online to find that?
AM: Squarriors.com; squarriorstcg.com has stuff; coldwar.us is our company site which brings you to everything; ashleywitter.com. We have a lot of things, but if you go to any one of those it all links to everything else. So if you go to squarriors.com it leads to all of our stuff.