Shawn Kittelsen is an accomplished writer, who authored the best-selling Mortal Kombat X comic series, published by DC Comics.
22 February 2015
Kamidogu: Tell us a bit about yourself: who is Shawn Kittelsen?
Shawn Kittelsen: I’m a writer, a gamer, and a dad who currently has the best job in the world writing Mortal Kombat comics.
Kamidogu: Are you a long time fan of the franchise? If so, when did you first experience Mortal Kombat?
SK: I’ve been with MK since back in the 90s when I played the first game at a local Pizza Hut. Since then, I’ve played every game, including the spin-offs.
Kamidogu: When did initial planning for the Mortal Kombat X comic series begin? How did you score the gig?
SK: I pitched the book back in April 2014, and landed the gig in May. Outlining the first year of the series took us into the summer, but by August I was working on scripts. So it’s been a journey!
Scoring the gig was a combination of luck and hard work. I’d worked with NetherRealm Studios on the story for Injustice: Gods Among Us a few years ago when I was a creative executive at DC Entertainment, and that was an incredible experience. When it came time to recruit a writer for the MKX series, I was lucky enough to land on their list, but as a relatively unknown writer, I knew I had to prove myself. Writing the pitch was an intense process. I poured everything I had into it. And luckily, it paid off!
Kamidogu: How closely intertwined are the narratives of your comic series and the actual story mode in Mortal Kombat X?
SK: Our narratives are intertwined but not overlapping. I’ve always said that you can enjoy the comics series and the story mode as separate adventures, but if you put them together, they form one massive epic.
Kamidogu: How much research have you had to conduct in order to ensure a canonical and accurate storyline?
SK: That research became an obsession of mine early on. Now that we’re so far into the series, I can relax a little bit knowing that we did that groundwork.
Kamidogu: How closely and how often do you work with NetherRealm Studios?
SK: We had an MKX summit meeting to work through the outline, but NetherRealm is also busy making the game, so we try not to bother them too often. They’ve been a huge resource, supplying us with all the information and art reference that we need, and every issue goes to them for approval. I live in Los Angeles, so every now and then my editor and I will head to WB Games to just play the game and make sure we’re up to date. Those are my favourite days.
Kamidogu: Have there been any limitations imposed on your team, or did NetherRealm Studios and WB Games give you a fair amount of freedom?
SK: Beyond keeping things compatible with the in-game canon, we’ve had incredible freedom. As it happens, I think the end of Chapter 8 is going to show fans just how far we’re able to push things.
Kamidogu: Recent issues have re-introduced the Kamidogu into the storyline and made our website’s name relevant once more. How big of a part will these relics play in the storyline of Mortal Kombat X?
SK: You’ll have to keep reading to find out! Sorry, I hate giving non-answers like that, but it’s true!
Kamidogu: Mortal Kombat is a franchise best known for its over-the-top characters and sadistic gore. Has the comic medium been limiting in any way, or has it allowed your team to convey the ferocity of altercations in an entirely new way?
SK: The only limit in comics is the size of your page. The trick with the gore in Story Mode is that it has to serve that story. You can’t pull off a Fatality on a character and then bring them back in the next scene, and if something especially bad happens, the characters need to react to it, like how you saw Jacqui react to seeing someone killed in the deathmatch in Chapter 4.
Kamidogu: Of all the characters that have been covered so far, who have been your favourite to write about and why?
SK: Cassie Cage and Kotal Kahn. They’re both new characters and I was keenly aware that the comics would be the first place where fans get to know more about their personalities and history. Beyond that, they’re just awesome characters who don’t play to expectations. Cassie is a brat when we meet her, but she’s still got a good heart. Kotal is a brutal dictator, but he’s not a mindless savage. Revealing those different layers is so much fun to explore.
Kamidogu: What can we expect over the next couple of issues? Say too much, we dare you.
SK: By the end of Chapter 12, you’re going to know exactly what role the Kamidogu play in our story, and that’s going to have major implications for all our characters.
Kamidogu: Who is your all-time favourite character to play as?
SK: Sub-Zero is usually my main character — but that might change with MKX. I’m brutal with D’Vorah.
Kamidogu: What do you think makes Mortal Kombat such an enduring franchise?
SK: The fans. No question about it. When the franchise struggled during the latter Midway years, the fans kept it alive. And when MK9 came out, rebooted, retooled, and ready to rock, those same fans were there to help spread the word to everyone who hadn’t been playing. That’s how we sold out our first print issue of the comic. When it came out, all those MK fans hit the comic shops to support the book. That meant the world to those of us who’ve been pouring our hearts into this story.
Kamidogu: What does a typical week entail for you?
SK: These days, I’m a work-from-home writer/husband/dad, so a typical week is me at my desk writing and teleconferencing with various collaborators. And whenever I need a break, I get up and hang out with my wife and baby. It might not sound that exciting, but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
Kamidogu: How did you get into this particular field of work? Was it something you’ve always wanted to do, or did it just come to you?
SK: I’ve always wanted to write. I studied playwriting at NYU and sold a screenplay fresh out of college. Then the economy collapsed and freelancing became harder to maintain, and that was when I went to work at DC. I didn’t write for a few years because I was so focused on other jobs, and let me tell you, I’ve had some AWESOME jobs, but writing full-time was always my goal. And here I am!
Kamidogu: From where do you draw your inspiration?
SK: From everything! Games, TV, news, music, books, conversations with friends, daily meditation. If you look at life a certain way, it’s all inspiration. The trick is picking out the most useful bits for whatever story you’re telling at that moment.
Kamidogu: What are some hobbies you enjoy outside of work?
SK: Hiking, going to see bad action movies with my friends, and spending time with my family. I cannot wait until my son is old enough to play games with me. He’s only 9 months old, but sometimes I sit him in my lap with my MK Klassic Fight Stick and just let him slap the buttons. He better start practicing now, because once he’s old enough to play MK, IT’S ON.