Assassin's Creed Conspiracies – Interview with Guillaume Dorison

Assassin's Creed Conspiracies is a French comic series recently republished in English by Titan Comics. The series strongly features the era of the second World War, and includes historical characters such as Nikola Tesla. Thanks to Titan Comics we recently had the opportunity to interview the writer of the series, Guillaume Dorison and ask him some questions about the title.

Q: Hi Guillaume! Thank you very much for taking time out of your schedule to answer our questions. Can you please introduce yourself to our fans that might not know you, and share a little about your career?

Guillaume: Thank you for your interest in Conspiracies!

My career started in the video game in the early 2000s, when I organized gaming festivals in France and I worked in specialized magazines. I am, above all, a big consumer. I even participated in many competitions of fighting games in Japan 10 years ago, ha ha!
This passion for gaming has always grown with my love for comics. For a few years I was editor at Humanoïdes Associés (Metal Hurlant ...), then, I came naturally enough to write in 2006.
I then worked on a good twenty series in comics and manga, but my specialty was clearly books related to the world of video games. I have for example adapted in comics The Devil May Cry through Capcom (Devil May Cry - The Chronicles Of Vergil through Titan Comics) or Lost Planet of the same publisher (Lost Planet: First Colony through Titan Comics). Lately (for the moment only in France), I write the manga Versus Fighting Story, entirely dedicated to the Esport and the competitions of Street Fighter.
I also worked on a very important number of historical comics, another passion ...

In short, when Ubisoft asked me to adapt to a franchise that mixed the video game, my job as a screenwriter and history, I did not hesitate a single second!

Q: How would you describe the Assassin’s Creed: Conspiracies series and why do you think new fans should read it? How is it different from the series you previously worked on?

Guillaume: In my opinion, the first thing to remember when adapting a known license is not to try to do the same as the source media. Playing action scenes in inventory and inventorying Assassin's Creed would be meaningless, for example. The ideal is to think about what the graphic novel media can bring "new", and that the video game could never offer.
I am also against outrageous fan service. There may be some, but it must remain subtle: someone who has never played the game must be able to read the comic without feeling at each dialogue that passively assists an accumulation of private jokes.

Place Vendome during World War II
Concept art by Gilles Beloeil

All that to say that Assassin's Creed: Conspiracies had to find his own way from the beginning. The graphic novel format was an opportunity to deeply engage the characters, to dwell on them and especially their feelings about their action. In the game, you "play" an Assassin. When you kill someone, it's "you", the "player" who feels something. The avatar you control will never turn to you to say, "what you did is good / bad" and so on.

In the comics, you live the states of souls of characters who act for the Brotherhood or the Order, and the remorse / desires associated with it.

To summarize, reading an Assassin's Creed comics is no better or worse than playing the game, it's just an alternative vision, another way to approach this rich universe.

Finally, compared to my previous work, it was mostly the opportunity to work on a kind of "superhero" history that was new. It's a real pleasure to be able to bring my own spin to such an exciting license.

Q: World War II is a hugely popular historical period, and has featured in numerous franchises and stories over the years. What was it like to work on such a familiar era, and yet bring your own uniqueness to it?

Guillaume: The idea of situating the story during the Second World War was basically a request from Ubisoft: the publisher wanted (rightly) for us to create a comic book in a period that is not in the video game.
This is a very interesting time to explore for a screenwriter, but also a real trap! How to be original on the subject? How to avoid all clichés?

As much to tell you that it was a real headache. To get out, I turned to my other favorite subjects: everything related to "Hard Science" (use of real scientific processes diverted into fiction) and the shadows of history. During the Second World War, this mix gives us the race for nuclear weapons, Hitler's Miraculous Weapons and all associated mythologies.
It is then necessary to spend time researching ways to feed the writer’s imagination (Die Glocke, the American commandos sent to counter the German nuclear weapon ...).
After, how do you get all this into the lore of Assassin's Creed? Nothing very complicated, in fact, because there is a lot of information about this period in the lore. So I simply mixed my research with all that I could find about the Assassins / Templars and their implications in this period. The unique side of this story is to re-read all the great myths of the Second World War through the eyes of the license!

Q: Why is the series actually called Conspiracies? Is it referring to something specific? Or just collecting up several cultural ones?

Guillaume: The term refers to the "Conspiracy" of some Templars during this period.

Q: How has it been working alongside Ubisoft? Was it a collaborative process?

Guillaume: As I said earlier, I've worked with other video game publishers on other licenses, but I have to admit it's never been as smooth as with Ubisoft.
I had carte blanche! As long as I respect the mythology of the saga and I say nothing that could contradict the lore, I am completely free to create my scenario. To be honest, I thought the fate of some characters would sometimes be censored by Ubisoft, but not at all. In addition, my publisher at Ubisoft France is a true expert in comics. He re-reads my scripts, comments and even suggests good ideas.

Ubisoft really had the will with this saga in BD format to give the "keys" of their baby to authors to have fun, something that would be much more complicated to do in game or cinema ...
They kept their promises to me and the designers, so it's a really nice collaboration.

Q: How has it been working with your artists, Jean-Baptiste Hostache and Patrick Pion? Did you have to rework elements of the graphic novels because their artistic vision didn’t fit your script or because the story you wrote didn’t fit their artistic work?

Guillaume: Jean-Baptiste and Patrick are old friends: I had already collaborated with them on several series.
John-Baptiste was there from the beginning, and he really gave life to my vision of Conspiracies. I knew he had a particular talent for "naturalizing" the fantastic, that is to say, making "credible / realistic" in a graphic novel a character already treated in another media (like the video game). I then asked him what an Assassin would look like during World War II, if he was to treat him like Batman in Dark Knight (my absolute reference for the adaptation of license to the Cinema). I think he succeeded brilliantly. But Jean-Baptiste is a very, very busy artist, and we knew from the beginning that he could not deliver such an album a year. In fact, after launching the series, it took someone to take over, someone who could stay in the vein of Jean-Baptiste (realism), while bringing his own hand. I immediately thought about Patrick Pion, who for example worked on Tomb Raider comics in the late 90s. I'm very happy to have Patrick on the second volume, which brought a certain melancholy to the hero.

Q: Eddie Gorm cuts a rather controversial figure, with quite a varied background. Were there any particular inspirations to the character? What was the most enjoyable aspect to writing him?

Guillaume: Eddie Gorm was conceived as the emotional centre of the story. I wanted to follow the concept that I explained above: this time, Eddie will not be "played" by millions of players, he has his own life, his own thoughts and so on.
Source: ACWiki
Now, how do you behave when you become an Assassin during such a troubled and difficult period of history? What could have motivated heroes or monsters to act during this time? Can an Assassin regret being a killer? After all, even if they still have "good" motivation on paper, becoming an Assassin has an impact on your consciousness ...

I wanted to tell the story of a man who goes through several states during the Second World War. His life will be littered with incidents that will force him to evolve, to discover more about himself.

For the inspiration, I simply asked myself questions: and if I had lived during this conflict, would I have involved myself? Would I have looked away? Would I have been a hero or a coward? Objectively, it's impossible to know. Even one who believes himself sincerely courageous has no idea how he would react to a real danger of death ...

But being (mostly) honest with myself, I imagined myself doing my utmost to avoid being involved in the conflict, while protecting my family. That's what Eddie is at the beginning of Conspiracies: a man who does everything he can to protect his loved ones, even if some of them might consider him a coward. He is therefore a pragmatic man, without any ideology except to survive by avoiding troubles.
But as something must happen, I then wondered how to involve it in the war, and the rest of the story came from itself. Eddie Gorm will then go through various dimensional stages, from the falsely detached brigand to the Assassin without remorse ... or almost.

Q: The Animus has always been a key narrative device in the Assassin’s Creed series, allowing characters – and fans – to experience historical events “first-hand”. What was it like to design and show its earliest predecessor, Die Glocke? What kind of research (in terms of science and AC lore) did you have to go through to ground it in the established AC universe but also in the historical period it appears in?

Guillaume: I came across the legend of "Die Glocke" by studying all the myths associated with the Second World War. It's a real gift! Imagine, a machine that can, optionally, open an Einstein-Rosen bridge to travel in time, serve as antimatter bombs etc. With such a liability, it was quite simple to link the whole thing to the Animus. I have always wanted to dig into the history of the Animus and its operation: is it really out of nowhere, like that, in the 70s?
However, I prefer to be very clear: Die Glocke is not the ancestor of the Animus. It is an experiment whose conclusions will lead scientists to the creation of the Animus ...
My starting premise is that Warren Vidic did not take out the Animus Project out of his pocket by getting up one morning: it was mostly the logical continuation of years of experimentation of his predecessors on genetic memory, artifacts of precursors etc. All these "failed" experiences gave birth to the technology we know in the game. So I wanted to be interested in the "Path" that led to the Animus, rather than the Animus itself. The Second World War and the years that followed are a particularly fertile ground on everything related to brain experiments, I had enough to feed my research. For the lore, I harassed Ubisoft for months to know everything about the Animus: I had to understand how it works ... to precisely speak of what would not work!

Q: Seeing Nikola Tesla is pretty exciting for Assassin's Creed fans, as he has long had an established place in the franchise's lore. Aspects to his life have been debated to this day, but did you enjoy introducing him into this fictional narrative?

Guillaume: I made at least 3 versions of the Conspiracies script before I got to the albums you read. Tesla was always present, however, he is a character that has always fascinated me. Now, he has been in the lore for a long time and it was quite simple for me to link him to my story, especially since in mythology about the character, he was well involved in the Rainbow Project (see Volume 2). It was a coincidence but the scenario I was putting in place was perfectly in line with Tesla's life and role in previous Assassin's Creed comics, so why not?

Q: As Assassin’s Creed is a series that prides itself on its historical accuracy with the dates of most of its historical events and characters being respected in its stories. Was there a specific reason why in this case you chose Tesla to make such a key appearance even it happens after his actual date of death?

Guillaume: The real date of death of Tesla is obviously known. My point is precisely that his death was disguised by the Nazis, who took him prisoner to force him to work on Die Glocke. It was very coherent with the context of the time when many famous scientists were participating in the nuclear arms race.

Q: The Modern Day aspect to the franchise is very popular to the hardcore fanbase. Did you enjoy expanding upon this area of the story? Would you say all of the time travel related lore is also associated to what is happening with Layla Hassan in the main games?

Guillaume: Yes, I love talking about "present" in Assassin's Creed. As much in video games, the most relevant is logically to play the "past", as I find that the present is essential in the media such as literature or comics. For without the lore of the present, Assassin's Creed would be simply a historical adventure game. But here, we are talking about a shadow war between two factions for millennia and the exploration of the past is in the present only a "means" for them to move forward. So do not be fooled by a story and I think that's why fans are very interested in the lore of the present: that's where everything happens!

Q: Was it particularly challenging to incorporate the overall story against the existing lore? Were you constantly tracking things against the AC Wiki for example?

Source: Wikipedia
Guillaume: Completely !!! AC Wiki is my best friend! Besides, I was very proud when I saw that they had updated the site with the story of Kramer, Gorm, Tesla etc. They even saw / picked up all my easter eggs, which was not necessarily obvious. The work of the fans on the Wiki and other sites is really colossal, I owe them a lot.
After, if I was not in the loop of future productions, I also had access to internal documents of Ubisoft that gather all the information of the lore on games and derivatives already released.
Now, it was a real challenge to "advance" the lore at my humble level while fully respecting it. In general, I proceed like that with each new album: I propose a lot of idea about my vision of the lore (especially the Animus and its use ...), with always lots of wacky stuff / daring hoping that a maximum will pass, ha ha. Then, my publisher Ubisoft makes a first pass, removing what "leaves" too much of the official lore. Afterwards, he shares my proposals with various "leaders / authors" of the lore, who bring their own reserves or contributions.
At the end of the loop, the decision maker on major changes / evolutions of the lore is of course Azaïzia Aymar. When the boss says it's "OK", it's good, I can go for it!

Q: Speaking of existing lore, Conspiracies deals with an event that had been mentioned since Assassin's Creed 1, the Philadelphia Project / Project Rainbow. One of the aspects concerning this event that has been debated since 2007 is whether the USS Eldridge, actually did time travel into the future. What is your interpretation, and how excited were you to touch this aspect to the franchise?

Guillaume: I had planned early enough to talk about the Rainbow Project, one of the hard science topics that interests me the most. So, when I could see that the lore of AC mentioned (but with a lot of blur), I was thrilled! It was even more credible to integrate it into my story, with MY explanation. I have of course studied all the myths surrounding the USS Eldridge as well as its existing interpretation in AC. What was certain was that it was IMPOSSIBLE from the very beginning that the USS Eldridge was able to travel in time. AC has always been very clear on this: time travel does not exist, it is not the meaning of the Animus. Whether it is a journey to the future here, nothing changes.
On the other hand, that Templars / Assassins tried to travel in time, that was the adventure that I wanted to tell. As I said earlier, this is a kind of experience that has failed. Basically, it is quite natural that before looking to "look" in the past, Templars have tried to travel there to change the course of history. That's the contribution of Conspiracies to the lore, the story of people who wanted to travel back in time but who have planted themselves ...

Q: Finally, what will your next project be? We understand you are still working on future Assassin's Creed projects? One being Bloodstone?

Guillaume: Quite, Assassin's Creed: Bloodstone will be released at the end of March in France. It is both a "continuation" of Conspiracies and a new independent cycle. Basically, you can read without worry Bloodstone without having read Conspiracies but for fans who have devoured everything, it will be really complementary.
This time, we land in Vietnam, with a rereading of the conflict at the mill Assassins / Templars against a backdrop of experiments on the human brain!

Thank you for your time Guillaume. The collected Conspiracies novel is now available both online, and at all good book stockists.

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