Cutlasses Drawn! Making the Sea of Thieves: Origins Comics

An inside look at the process of creating the official (and free) Sea of Thieves: Origins comics series!

Lore-hungry Sea of Thieves fans will already be aware of the official comics series by Titan Comics, and now there are three new stories to enjoy for free! Even if you haven’t seen the first volume – made up of four issues exploring the stories of DeMarco, Lesedi and their crews – these new standalone comics will provide a fun introduction without spoiling anything.

Entitled Sea of Thieves: Origins, each one is a standalone tale focusing on one of the first three Trading Companies. The Origins series was announced at our New York Comic Con panel on October 5th 2019, where lucky attendees received the full printed collection. The comics are also now publicly available for digital download at comiXology, again for free (just log in and enter the codes 'SOTGOLD', 'SOT_GMU' and 'SOT_SEER')!

Before you rush to claim your Origins comics, let’s take a little look at the work that went into creating this stunning series. The project was overseen by Rare’s dynamic duo, Head of Brand and Licensing Adam Park and Brand and Licensing Art Director Peter Hentze. They worked with the team over at Titan Comics, headed up by Editor Tolly Maggs and Designer Donna Askem.

So what’s the first step in Titan’s process? At the time of creating Origins, this dream team had already crafted the first Sea of Thieves comics and so the process was as refined as Senior Trader Mollie’s manners. While the exact method varies from project to project, collaborating on an existing licence like Sea of Thieves means the comic writer has plenty to work with for the beginning stages of the project. Our very own Adam knew how to kickstart the latest script:

“When we were looking at how to further expand on the lore of Sea of Thieves, we very quickly decided there was a great set of stories to be told around the three main Trading Companies who inhabit the world, and we were keen to work with the fantastic team at Titan Comics again.

“So we showed them our high-level story arc for the Gold Hoarders, Order of Souls and Merchant Alliance, and as someone very familiar with the lore and tone of the game, we asked Sea of Thieves writer Bret to come up with three plot suggestions or briefs representing each of the main Companies. Taken together, this allowed returning comics writer Jeremy Whitley (who’d penned the first set of comics) to go away and flesh out the story, coming back to us with drafts that we were able to review and ensure they sat cohesively within the timeline – and also taking the chance to drop in some subtle hints at things which are yet to come…”

The decision was made to tell the stories of the Trading Companies’ three main ‘faces’ encountered in-game. This seemed like the most relatable way to explore the origins of the Companies, rather than a dry history – just as the history of the Sea of Thieves is built from the legends of the pirates who live there.

For the Gold Hoarders, attention turned to the grumpy, gold-obsessed Humphrey. This sour-faced but quirky man was surely once an ordinary trader, so his tale would be one of how someone ends up in such a role and what it costs. The origin of the Company itself is best left to the Athena’s Fortune novel!

For the Merchant Alliance, Senior Trader Mollie represents an interesting meeting point between the businesslike thinking of her Company and the chaotic world around her, which naturally led to a look at how these stuffy officials ended up blending in with the misfits of the Sea of Thieves.

Lastly, the Order of Souls are best represented by the bold and powerful Madame Olivia, whose arrival was auspicious and shrouded in mystery from the beginning, just like the Order itself.

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The next step was for Jeremy Whitley to flesh out and refine those ideas. This was an iterative process, ensuring that the story Jeremy wanted to craft still gelled with the established world of Sea of Thieves. Chris Allcock, writer of the first Sea of Thieves expanded universe novel Athena’s Fortune, helped Jeremy with this finessing process. In his own words:

“Once I’d been through Bret’s fantastic story briefs for each of the Companies, the next step was a back-and-forth with Jeremy to ensure that each of the three grand adventures could be squeezed into a 22-page comic. We needed to present each story using just a handful of words per panel, while retaining their ambition and the scope of the character arcs that had been established.

“Part of that process was balancing the highly visual storytelling of graphic novels with the rules of the Sea of Thieves world. For example, Jeremy devised a great single-panel shot of Mollie learning to spear fish to survive, but after some discussion the team chose an improvised fishing rod instead as we knew The Hunter's Call were on their way to the game.

“The comics offer glimpses of a wider world beyond the Sea of Thieves, which give the artists used by Titan the chance to design suitable characters, costumes and locations from scratch. There’s a lot of care and detail put into how people dress and speak, the technology at their disposal and their attitudes towards our main characters. We also know eagle-eyed readers are going to be scrutinising every speech balloon, so a badly chosen phrase or reference to a character who hasn't yet shown up in the timeline (yes, there is one) needs to be caught as soon as possible. Luckily, Jeremy is a seasoned pro, so the script was soon sparkling.”

Click here for a full-size version of the above image

Armed with this insight, Jeremy wrote out the script and loose concepts for the panels were agreed before the script was handed off to the artist. Head of Brand and Licensing Adam has more insights into this part of the process:

“Once we’d finalised and signed off scripts, we got the initial layouts from artist Rhoald Marcellius – these came through as pencil sketches, and while initially very rough, you could immediately see the story come to life. Working alongside Peter Hentze and Sea of Thieves Design Director Mike Chapman, we reviewed each iteration and gave feedback where needed, with the team at Titan hugely receptive and extremely quick at turning around any revisions.”

Art development for a project like this is typically broken down into three stages: rough layouts, inks, and then colours – the latter provided in this case by the skilled Sakti Yuwono. Like the writing process, the art process was governed by careful communication between Titan and Rare, as the aesthetic of the game is very distinct and the comics needed to use the same visual language.

Once the art was done, the meticulous Jaka Ady was brought in to do the lettering and add dialogue and captions to the strip. After final approval, the strip was almost complete and just needed the fantastic artwork of Iolanda Zanfardino for the cover! Here’s Adam’s anecdotal evidence:

“With the final comic inked and all the text included, we started work on the cover with a selection of roughs sent over from us to choose from. As with the comic, we sometimes have minor feedback, and from time to time there may be something which visually suits the cover art but deviates slightly from our established lore (now there’s a challenge to spot an example).

“The comics are a huge collaborative effort between the team at Rare and all those at Titan, and we put the same love and attention into them as we do the game. We hope it shows!”

Naturally, this is a much-shortened version of the process, and Rare and the Sea of Thieves team would like to thank Titan once again for their hard work in producing such a strong comic. Titan’s Tolly Maggs had this to say about the project:

“The great thing about working on videogame-based comics is finding a new way to celebrate the pre-existing visuals and the narrative. The Sea of Thieves game is rich with striking stylistic characters, details on every island and a ceaselessly wondrous open ocean. To capture the spirit of the game’s swashbuckling adventures, we needed a combination of incredible artistic talent to go along with fast-paced and intriguing writing!”

So now that you know the story behind Origins, please feel free to head over to comiXology and download yourself a free digital copy – it’s a steal that no pirate could pass up. Look out for more collaborations and gripping Sea of Thieves adventures in the future!