“it was going to be just an excuse to draw some spaceships blowing up and a Spartan kick’n butt…Those original 13 pages did not appear.

Ultimately, the visuals mean nothing to me if there isn’t emotion behind them.”

~Levi Hoffmeier

For the 4th and final part of this series on storytelling in the Halo universe, I chose to explore a more visual side of storytelling. I got in touch with Levi Hoffmeier, otherwise known as “Leviathan”, who created a comic series that has gained much praise and support from the community. So much so that he’s been given his own hosted site at leviathan.bungie.org for his Halo artwork and graphic comic series “A Fistful Of Arrows”.

Can you briefly summarize what your comic series is about?

Halo: A Fistful of Arrows attempts to fill in some of the questions Reach decided to leave open, as well as expanding and enriching the characters featured within the game.  The primary narrative of the comic follows the Spartan super-soldier “Jun” and Dr Halsey, creator of the original Spartan program, as they attempt to make it to CASTLE base before the planet Reach is totally destroyed.  During this, we learn through flashbacks more of the back-story behind Jun and his ill-fated comrades of Noble Team.

What would you say is your artistic inspiration for this series?

My inspiration mainly came from boredom, hah.  After completing Reach’s campaign back in September 2010, I started doodling random things while I waited to be sorted into a Matchmaking multiplayer game.  The main thing that my brain kept imagining was what happened to Jun and Halsey after they left the rest of the main characters in the game.

How did you decide on the story you wanted to tell? Was it more of a desire to explore visually, or to tell a story, explore characters?

Initially, it was going to be just an excuse to draw some spaceships blowing up and a Spartan kick’n butt.  I had about 13 or so pages doodled of Jun and Halsey’s Pelican avoiding a massive ship-battle and Jun fighting a back-against-the-wall battle at the footsteps of CASTLE base.

Then I sat down to actually paint the real pages on my computer.  Those original 13 pages did not appear!  Instead, I found myself beginning a much larger and deeper story concerning all of Noble Team, through a complicated narrative of alternating timelines.  (I’m sure having six seasons of Lost drilled into my brain helped that inspiration.)

Ultimately, the visuals mean nothing to me if there isn’t emotion behind them.  Those action scenes I initially doodled would have meant nothing to me if there wasn’t a real, believable motivation and emotional cause behind them.  So that’s why I ultimately extracted a 77 page story from my brain.  The main plotting came rather quickly, during that first sit-down. Since then, its mostly just been about nailing the details.

I thought Jun would be a great character to explore throughout this graphic novella, because his character in Reach sometimes feels almost contradictory in nature.  At first, that may seem like a flaw in the writing or the creation of the character, but I disagree – most people I meet in real life are full of contradictions.  That’s realistic.  Its human.  I tend to remember this quote from Walt Whitman:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

And so Jun was perfect to center a longer story about.  With each scene I could slowly build onto his character, and ultimately it will make his final decisions in the last pages of my comic seem all the more believable and powerful.

I hope!

Is your series planned out to an end, or is it open-ended, creating each chapter as it comes to you?

During that first sit-down and inspiration-explosion, I planned out a rough outline of where I wanted to go.  A lot of the visuals that Ive just now gotten out there have been stuck in my head all this time.  But I’ve messed with the details and tweaked the dialogue a ridiculous amount since its inception.  I’ve switched locations, characters, etc. but still the main points have remained the same.

What are your thoughts on working within the Halo canon? Do you have any qualms about contradicting canon, or are you vehemently adhering to it?

I try to vehemently adhere to it, actually!  I’m quite the canon-stickler in all stories I’m interested in.  Adaptations and other things are a bit different, but if you’re trying to tell a story that fits in with an established universe, you need to do your research, just as if you were trying to write a novel about say… solar flares.  You don’t just make stuff up!

It seems “adhering to canon” does sound a bit scary and/or boring to some authors and artists.  But I don’t actually believe canon is in any way constricting to a storyteller.  It means you have a whole world, a whole system of logic supporting your story.  I think if a writer breaks canon, it might just be they’re not thinking creatively enough.  You can always think your way out of a situation when making a story!

I also love working with canon because I don’t just have other stories enriching mine, I get to enrich others.  If I make a nod to Reach, Fall of Reach, or First Strike, it makes the whole universe stronger I believe.  Hearing Halsey say, “Whatever It Takes” to her A.I., Kalmiya in my comic, and then seeing that again in the First Strike novel where you realize that’s actually a code for Kalmiya to break her ethics protocols… I just think that’s a really cool thing to do.  Its like building a spiders web to ensnare the reader into this universe.

Are you an active Halo community member? Do you play online often?

I think so, when I feel like it, hah.  I enjoy hanging out at the Halo.Bungie.Org forums and lurking at the Waypoint forums.  I like to keep tabs on whats going on with my Twitter too.

I play XBox usually a few times a week, when I have time for it (and I’m always wanting more time!) and play a Halo title pretty consistently.  I mostly play campaign and Firefight Matchmaking, but I also like going in with friends for multiplayer playlists.

How have your fans supported you?

Besides just discovering that I actually had fans, they’ve been awesome.  I get to constantly hear reactions back from consistent readers at the HBO forums, DeviantArt, and now at Leviathan.Bungie.Org.  Its all very humbling and encouraging, and really helps me keep going on a big project like Fistful of Arrows (its the most ambitious art project Ive done so far).

A guy who goes by Arithmomaniac also created a petition to try and get me a job at 343 Industries or Fistful of Arrows published, which was super awesome of him. It’s got over 140 signatures now and has a ton of nice things people have said.  [Ed: Here’s the sign-up if you’d like to add your support]

As well, Sean Mortensen wrote and recorded an awesome soundtrack for the comic (available here), and Matt Turney (OneBitRocket) offered his web-design services and completely revamped Leviathan.Bungie.Org including interactive flip-book style viewing formats of the comic.

Do you feel like there’s added stress or expectations to create something they’ll like, or is your art and story purely going in the direction you want it to go, uninfluenced?

Yes, the latter. The story is the story.  I cant change it.  I feel like I’m merely discovering it.  When I know that’s whats supposed to happen, or that’s what a character would truly say here – something clicks in my brain and then I cant change it.

But I do definitely feel some stress to just make sure the work is of top-quality though.  I cant cheat, I cant take corners.  Every panel has to be beautiful.  That’s my goal, at least.

What are some of the challenges you face in creating a series like this?

I’d say some of the biggest challenges for such a long-term project is finding the time.  Then if you’ve found the time, how do you instantly switch to productive-mode?  Art is a fickle thing and you cant just jump in the chair and watch magical unicorns appear out of nothingness.  So sometimes it doesn’t feel like play, it really feels like work.  My sore back and red eyes can attest to this.

How much of a passion is art in your life?

Its a big part of me.  Its what I do everyday.  For the most part, its what I always have done.

When I was very young I started carrying a pencil, paper, and a clipboard everywhere I went, restaurants, Wal-Mart, etc.  My first love was drawing comic book characters, then anime like Dragon Ball in elementary school, and then designing my own video games in late elementary/middle school.

High school I took a big break from art for the most part and got a girlfriend.  Once she was securely ensnared, I slowly revealed all my nerdiness and eventually went back to art in college.  Initially I thought about a journalism major as I love writing as well, but I found myself in the art department and spending hours and hours to get better.  And thus, I’m calling myself an artist once again.

What was the first piece of Halo-inspired art you created?

This is one of the earliest I can remember doing, while staring at the EGM issue that covered the Halo 2 reveal:

Have you created anything like this comic series in the past? Did you submit any entries for previous Halo art contests or community collections?

I created “A Sanghiellis War Is Never Over” a few years ago, as well as illustrating an adaptation of the beginning of Ghosts of Onyx by UNSC Trooper.  They were definitely stepping stones to what Fistful of Arrows became.

The last Halo art contest I remember entering was the Halo Evolutions Community Art Contest, where the winners would get their illustration in the pocket-size reissues of Halo: Evolutions.  I won for the story “Pariah”, my favorite in the novel, and it was quite an honor to see my name in the contents, just a few lines from the Famous Frankie!  I also had a completed illustration for Dirt, but ultimately didnt enter it (I could only enter one). I believe both images are on my portfolio website or DeviantArt.

Will you continue making other comic series set in the Halo universe once this is done?

Its very likely, I’d say.  I already have a number of stories from various parts of the Halo universe in my head (I have all of the missing time between Halo 2 and 3 thumbnailed in my sketchbook for example, my version of Halo 4 is already storyboarded, too).  But after Fistful of Arrows, Ill be taking a break and working hard on some other projects of my own creation for a while.

Someday, I’d love to be able to live off this kind of thing so I could spend all my time making art!


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