Aleš Kot, writer of comics such as Days of Hate, Secret Avengers, and The New World plays a lot of Bloodborne. “[I’ve played] 200-300 hours or so?” Kot tells me, via email. “I think that’s around my total, including The Old Hunters expansion.”
Their love of the franchise shines through in the pages of Titan Comics’ Bloodborne series, with artist Piotr Kowalski, colorist Brad Simpson and letterer Aditya Bidikar. While every player’s experience with Bloodborne is unique, the comic’s interpretation captures the atmosphere, tension and even the distinctive game mechanics that make Bloodborne one of the stand-out games of its console generation.
Titan Books didn’t approach Kot to make Bloodborne — the writer was proactive, reaching out to find who had the rights to a comic book adaptation of the 2015 FromSoftware game so they could convince that publisher that they were the best person for the job.
“I thought about writing Bloodborne in 2015 and early 2016,” Kot told Polygon, “while I was playing it most extensively … and then I pretty much reached out to Titan and explained why I’m the correct choice.”
Bloodborne is set in the Eastern-European city of Yharnam where a disease has turned most of the population into eldritch monsters. Over the course of the game, the player learns more about the city’s history, its culture and its connection with ancient Lovecraftian gods known as the Great Ones.
While the Bloodborne comic follows the story of the game fairly closely in its own way, it also acknowledges that a video game has certain tropes and mechanics that make it a unique medium. In order to truly capture the feel of Bloodborne, Kot took those mechanics and made them part of the fiction. The Hunter’s Dream safe zones, the companion Doll who aids the Hunter in leveling up and, of course, the punishing difficulty and cycle of death that has come to be the trademark of FromSoftware games, are all part of the story.
“In the beginning, I wrote up a document that was so airtight on my understanding of Bloodborne and its roots that we only had to have small notes here and there, and they invariably tweak some aspect to an even higher standard,” Kot said, noting that “Titan and FromSoftware are wonderfully supportive and generous with their advice and support.”
Death as a fail state is baked into the core language of video games; even the most family-friendly ones. But FromSoftware included the idea of death and restarts in the very story of Bloodborne — and when it came to adapting the game to the page it was an aspect Kot didn’t want to avoid.
”The frequency of death itself … I couldn’t resist a good wink. But it’s also taken very seriously, as the Hunter’s narration implies throughout,” Kot told Polygon. “The terror of circularity. The possibility of never escaping. The uncertainty of perception. Staples of cosmic horror.”
While fans of Bloodborne may come to the comic to learn more about the history and lore of its world, Kot and their collaborators take the opportunity to explore the personality and backstory of the Hunter. In Bloodborne #2, the Hunter is asked their gender, to which they reply simply “I am... a Hunter.”
It was important to Kot that their version of Bloodborne be true to their interpretation of the series, without necessarily being binding canon for every player of the game. “The Hunter in Bloodborne is explicitly non-binary to me,” Kot explained. “As for the narrative of the story itself … what people make of the scenes that imply certain possibilities is ultimately up to them. I didn’t write the characters or scenes with a definitive take on what other people should think or believe, but I know the places I wrote them from.”
“Aleš has a very specific vision of the comic he is creating. His scripts are more than just simple descriptions of the scenes,” said Kowalski, who draws Bloodborne. [Editor’s note: Kot uses he/him and they/them pronouns.] “He tries to convey the drama, the emotion, the movement, the atmosphere. I find this kind of approach immensely helpful, and to be quite honest, truly refreshing. I love working with writers who have a very clear vision of the tale they are telling, their energy and their passion are contagious. Aleš is that kind of a writer.”
Kot’s non-Bloodborne comics work might seem radically different than a video game tie-in, but the themes explored in Bloodborne aren’t too different from those in their creator-owned or superhero universe books. The oppressive rule of the Healing Church isn’t too different from the sci-fi dystopia of The New World or the future spy drama of Days of Hate.
“I’m doing my best to create stories that question the reality of where I am and what it might mean,” Kot explains. “I want to nurture my own imagination, my community’s imagination, the imagination of my species.”
When asked what it is about the world that makes these near-future dystopias such relevant fiction, Kot answered “the attempted totalitarization and monetization of perhaps every sphere of human experience.” While the first arc of Bloodborne — available now in collected form from Titan — followed the narrative of the game fairly closely, Kot and Kowalski’s follow-up story digs into those themes in more detail, as we learn more about the city of Yharnam and the powerful men in charge of keeping everything to their benefit, at the detriment of the community at large.
“The Healing Thirst,” which began in this month’s Bloodborne #5, follows two protagonists — a doctor named Alfredius and a priest named Clement — both of whom are grappling with questions regarding the Ashen Blood curse which has plagued their city, and the Healing Church’s role in the spread of the disease. Kot describes the latest arc as one packed with “doomed love, bad healing practices, Hunters who might be overdoing it with blood ministrations … it’s a terrible, beautiful thing.”
Whether it’s a story about blood-tainted monsters, surveillance state bloodsports or Captain America’s sidekick embarking on a psychedelic journey through the cosmos, there’s one message that Kot tries to send through their work. “A civilization that refuses clarity can not deal with the world in real terms. I’d prefer we now start building connections, systems, worlds, universes that do not fall apart two days later.”
Kot’s work is hopeful that we can fix things before it’s too late, but not naive enough to believe it’ll be easy. Community, camaraderie and collectivism will save us — and it’s up to us to make the conscious effort to not just be good, but be better.
Kieran Shiach is a Salford, U.K.-based freelance writer and one half of Good Egg Podcasts. He is on Twitter, @KingImpulse. He wishes in the past he tried more things ’cause now he knows being in trouble is a fake idea.