Anthony Del Col Interview - Assassin's Creed Transmedia: Past and Present
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Our community admin Colum Blackett had the opportunity to interview Anthony Del Col, a writer and producer who has worked on Assassin's Creed (Titan Comics), Origins (Mini series) and the upcoming Assassin's Creed: Gold audio drama. He has brought to life characters in the worlds of comics, television, film, audio and stage, and is the co-creator and co-writer of the acclaimed IDW Publishing comic series KILL SHAKESPEARE. We would like to thank Audible for making this interview possible.
Col: Hi Anthony, thank you for joining us today! Please could you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your work on the Assassin's Creed franchise.
Anthony I’m a best-selling writer of comics, podcasts, theater and television and have worked on both original stories (like Audible’s Unheard: The Story of Anna Winslow and the graphic novel Son of Hitler) as well as licensed properties (like the upcoming comic series The Death of Nancy Drew and the graphic novel Luke Cage: Everyman).
In the AC Universe, I was the co-writer of the Assassin’s Creed series (published by Titan Comics) that ran from 2015 – 2017 and introduced the character of Charlotte de la Cruz. It was a LOT of fun and I’m proud of the stories we created (diving back in the worlds of the Salem Witch Trials, the final days of the Inca Empire and Renaissance Italy).
I then followed that up with a solo writing arc of the Assassin’s Creed: Origins comic series, illustrating what happened to Aya after the game.
And this month finds the release of my latest AC adventure, Assassin’s Creed: Gold, an original eight-episode audio drama to be released by Audible, starring Emmy-winner Riz Ahmed.
Col: How does an Assassin's Creed transmedia project generally take shape? Is there one core team or several working on different aspects of the project?
Anthony: The team that I’ve worked with have been the people at Ubisoft Montreal, headed the smart and innovative Aymar Azaiza. They started out working with just the AC brand, overseeing publishing and other ventures, and now they oversee other video game franchises (Far Cry, etc.). They’re a great group of people there doing an incredible job shaping those universes.
Col: One project that you worked on which really stood out was the Assassin's Creed comic book series by Titan Comics. How did you first hear about the project, and what was your reaction?
Anthony: Myself and co-writer Conor McCreery were approached by Titan Comics. The editor at the time, Lizzie Kaye, was a fan of what we had done with our IDW comic series Kill Shakespeare and invited us to pitch for “video game franchise we’ve just secured the rights to”. We had to sign an NDA before they would tell us what the brand was, and as I was signing with one hand, with the other I was crossing my fingers hoping it would be Assassin’s Creed, one of my favorite video games of all-time. So, naturally, when they told us what the brand was, I was excited.
Col: Do you have a favourite character from the comic book series?
Well, the natural response would be Charlotte de la Cruz, the first-ever modern-day female lead in the franchise history. We had a blast creating the character. But I’d also like to give a shout-out to Tom Stoddard, the gruff, Wolverine-style
Charlotte de la Cruz and Tom Stoddard from the Assassin's Creed comic book series by Titan Comics
Col: Charlotte De la Cruz was a hugely popular character from the series. Did you ever see any of the fan art / cosplay projects created by the community? If so, do you have a favourite?
Anthony: One of the greatest things I’ve experienced is when people create fan art or dress up in cosplay of characters I’ve created or co-created. I’ve been lucky that it’s happened with various characters, from Kill Shakespeare and now to Assassin’s Creed.
I can’t say I have a favorite piece of fan art of Charlotte but I will say I was so incredibly excited when Ubisoft produced her hoodie and I was able to snag one for my wife. It looked so cool on her!
Col: Each issue of Assassin's Creed had a variety of covers by different artists, all with their own interpretation of the characters. What was it like to work with talented artists such as Neil Edwards on the project?
Anthony: Titan Comics did a great job putting together an incredible stable of artists to work on the series in all respects, from covers to interior art and more. In terms of Neil, he’s a prop and did some great work on the original series. His layouts are always tight and he really brought the Salem and Ancient Peru time periods to life.
And on covers, we were able to some of my favorite artists to be involved, people to Sanya Anwar, Stephanie Hans and Stephen Mooney. I’m still pinching myself that we got them to create looks for the characters!
Col: Looking back on the series, is there anything you would change, and what are you most proud of?
Anthony: In terms of what I’m proudest of, I think it’s that we (myself, Conor, Neil, etc.) created a character in Charlotte that we were then able to pass on to the next team of creators. I’ve been able to tell four very distinct stories (the three with Charlotte and the one with Aya) that have interesting beginning, middle and ends, and yet play a role in the larger picture of things.
In terms of things I’d change… I really wanted to tell a story of Charlotte and her grandmother in Argentina in the 1970s Dirty War there. It’s an era of history that not enough people know about, and I had come up with a way to tell a completely new and original Assassin’s Creed story. It’s too bad our run ended after three volumes and the fourth would have explored it!
Col: Is it difficult for transmedia products set in an established video game universe to expand upon the story without breaking the canon lore of a series? How do you keep track of all that has come before?
Anthony: We were very fortunate in that the team at Ubisoft (at that time Aymar as well as Anouk Bachman and Susan Patrick) would always let me know what fit and what wouldn’t fit into the larger AC universe. Many people think that it’s harder when you need to fit within an established continuity but I actually find it freeing. I like to approach all stories from a weird, mathematical perspective and if I know the constraints I can figure out how to work within them. Like a puzzle.
Col: Another transmedia project that you worked on was the Assassin's Creed Origins comic-book mini-series. Had you completed the game before working on the spin-off series, and how do you think Aya/ Amunet differs from the game?
Anthony: I was about halfway through the game when Ubisoft and Titan came calling to work on the comic series. They were obviously fans of the earlier series but had also read some of the solo stuff I created and needed someone to come in and write quickly. I jumped at the opportunity to do so and it was a blast working on it!
Col: The series acts as a mini sequel for Aya after she leaves Egypt, and uses flashbacks to expand upon the events of Origins. How did you go about weaving Aya into historical events?
Anthony: Well, the game already shows her involvement in the assassination of Julius Caesar, but they wanted to me to dive deeper into it and show how she became involved. And like many of these stories, what you think you see is only partially it. As a fan of Shakespeare I was pretty knowledgeable about Caesar’s death but this allowed me to play with a few “What if” questions and look at the story from all angles.
Assassin's Creed: Gold (Spoiler-free)
Assassin’s Creed: Gold is a stand-alone tale from the Assassin's Creed universe in which we meet Aliyah Kahn, a card shark and hustler who’s been dealt a rough hand in life. Surviving through her smarts and street scams, Aliyah struggles to get by until she loses big time to a mysterious older man, Gavin Banks. Her only option to repay Banks is to become an Assassin. During her training, Banks tells Aliyah of the centuries-old battle between the Assassins and Templars, imploring her to help him decode a secret message inscribed on an illegal form of currency during the Great Recoinage of 1696.
Col: This month sees the release of Assassin's Creed: Gold, a stand-alone audio drama set in the Assassin's Creed Universe. How excited are you for the release?
Anthony: On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say I’m about a 9 (which means very excited). The only reason I’m not putting it at 10 is that I’m always my own worst critic and every time I listen to something I’ve written I cringe and think of all the ways I could have improved the dialogue, story points, etc.
Having said that, Audible was able to wrangle together an amazing cast, and they did a great job bringing this story to life. I mean, Riz Ahmed is one of my favorite actors today, and to have him play one of the lead roles (the blind Assassin Omar Khaled)? I couldn’t have asked for a better team!
Col: Riz Ahmed (Star Wars Rogue One/ Four Lions) and Anthony Head (Buffy, Doctor Who), who are new to the Assassin's Creed series. Were they at a familiar with Assassin's Creed prior to this project?
Anthony: I know that Riz was a fan of the series, especially it’s historical fiction elements. And Anthony, who plays Isaac Newton, is a huge fan of historical tales and relished the opportunity to bring this historical figure to life.
Col: Also listed on the cast list is Danny Wallace, a veteran of the series who has played Shaun Hastings in numerous games. What was it like to bring back such a popular character, and has he changed at all since Syndicate?
Anthony: This was the other character suggested not only by Ubisoft but also Audible (the heads of the UK team there, Rebecca Fenton and Steve Carsey had worked with him on another project). Rebecca and I were in Montreal working with Ubisoft and when Shaun’s name came up, I immediately realized how I could fit him into this story. I got excited about the opportunity to bring back one of the fan favorites.
Col: Gavin Banks (former leader of the Assassin Brotherhood) was first introduced on the Assassin's Creed Initiates platform, and has been mentioned in several of the games and books since. This is his first spoken role, so how did the team go about bringing such an important character to life?
Anthony: It was actually the team at Ubisoft that had recommended inserting him into the story. I think in my original concept I had created a new “mentor” character for this tale and the team there suggested Gavin. I was obviously familiar with him and his place in the AC universe and I immediately said “yes!” to the idea.
Because we’ve never heard him before, it was a lot of fun creating his character. He obviously is very charming but also very strategic. It’s always a fine balance to write for a character that’s leading the team but also intentionally not telling them everything (to protect them).
Col: Did the team do a lot of historical research to create an authentic experience?
Anthony: I’m not sure about the team but I know I did! I read a LOT of books on Isaac Newton, what London was like at the time, the Great Recoinage of 1696 and more. I also read up on the modern-day rise of cryptocurrency, as it plays a small role in the modern-day storyline.
What I found most interesting was this period of time in which Isaac Newton, who is traditionally thought of as a scientist and thinker became a bad-ass Dirty Harry-type character, trying to rid England of counterfeiters. It’s a period of history that most people don’t know of and I’m sure listeners will find it all fascinating
Col: The cover for the audio drama was released in November of 2019, and contains binary code behind the image. Are there any secrets to be discovered?
Anthony: Secrets? I don’t know what you’re talking about…
Col: Where did the name Assassin's Creed Gold come from, and what is the significance?
Anthony: This series is about the importance of currency and the banking system. That sounds dry, I know, but both 1696 and today there are people trying to re-define what currency is (counterfeiting of silver coins back in 1696, and crypto-currencies today). Both eras have found their financial systems in strife and whenever that happens, criminals come out to play. In 1696, that’s a major counterfeiter by the name of William Chaloner (the Moriarty to Newton’s Sherlock) and today with criminals on the dark net.
So when it came to titling this series, I figured that I’d lean in to what most people view as an ideal and valuable resource: gold.
Col: Where and when can we listen to Assassin's Creed: Gold?
Anthony: Assassin’s Creed: Gold will be available February 27th on Audible worldwide. If you’re a fan of AC, you’ll love this new take on the universe. And if you’ve never played a game or don’t know much about the AC world, you’ll enjoy this time-jumping story about Isaac Newton and his blind assistant tracking down a maniacal counterfeiter and a modern-day story about a woman trying to stop a large criminal organization from doing some shady stuff on the dark net.