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Halo comics evolve to become more integral to franchise fiction

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Halo comics are a riskier venture these days, featuring stories and characters that sometimes dig directly into the fiction of the franchise's main video game installments.

But it wasn't always that way, Halo franchise development director Frank O'Connor told Polygon during a recent New York Comic Con interview.

"The very first (comic) was the graphic novel," O'Connor said. "It was opportunistic. We had a relationship with Marvel and we wanted to make a graphic novel. We had a lot of people who loved a lot of different comic book artists and we asked the artists if they would be interested in working on this and it was just like, ‘Yeah, sure.'

"We got everyone we wanted with that."

Those earlier works, though, typically dealt with fiction safely removed from the direct fiction of the games.

"All of those stories were deliberately safe," O'Connor said. "We made sure to not set it in this time period or in this place because it's a game thing."

The problem, O'Connor and Halo lead writer Chris Schlerf said, was that fans of the fiction wanted a deeper, more meaningful connection between the comics and the video games.

So with Halo: Escalation, which kicks off Dec. 11, readers will pick up directly after the events of Halo 4. The story, penned by Schlerf, will follow the USNC Infinity as it works an escort duty for a diplomatic mission between the Arbiter and the Brutes.

O'Connor said one of the reasons the team is much more comfortable creating works of fiction tied so closely to the games is that the team has gotten better at tracking those "touch points" and that they have more people to do it.

"You make sure you're surrounded with smart people," he said. "We're less risk adverse because we have more people to take care of that."

Schlerf said the result are comics that deliver more "impactful" storytelling. And that's not just for the comics — the team also oversees the upcoming television project coming to the Xbox One.

Neither Schlerf nor O'Connor were willing to discuss the details of the upcoming TV show, which is produced by Steven Spielberg. Though O'Connor did say that there are no plans whatsoever to work on a movie.

"The movie reached an end point for both parties," he said. "All of our big ticket items are TV shows now.

"I'm genuinely very excited about it."

He said that he and the narrative team will be working directly with the folks making the TV show "non-stop" and that it has nothing to do with Forward Unto Dawn, the series of YouTube shorts created tied to Halo 4.

"Forward Unto Dawn was a great learning experience," he said. "But it was supposed to be a primer for Halo. We made something easily accessible through YouTube."

Schlerf said that series also managed to reach new audiences, one perhaps unfamiliar with the fiction of Halo.

While those stories, told on in television or in comics, can do a great job of expanding the fiction of the universe, both Schlerf and O'Connor said they make sure it isn't ever required reading.

"The comic book is going to be very successful and a lot of people will read it," O'Connor said. "But the vast number of people who are going to play the game won't."