Published December 19, 2018

‘League of Legends: Ashe: Warmother’ Writer Odin Austin Shafer Talks About Making His Comics Debut

"Ashe is struggling with a destiny that’s believed for her, but she does not necessarily believe in herself."

This week, we’ll get a peek into the world of Runeterra and the life of “League of Legends” champion Ashe in the new LEAGUE OF LEGENDS: ASHE: WARMOTHER. In this new origin story based on “League of Legends,” we’ll learn how Ashe rose to leadership and came to be the powerful champion we know today. sat down with debut writer Odin Austin Shafer – Senior Narrative Designer and Writer at Riot Games – to discuss the new graphic novel and the new things well learn about Ashe. When in Ashe’s life does this story take place?

Odin Austin Shafer: So, this is her sort of mid-teens, before she becomes the character we know in League of Legends. It's truly an origin story. For one, she’s five years younger than when she first becomes a champion. I would guess she’s about 20 in the video game and she's 15 here. In the existing lore around Ashe, we don't really know anything about her relationship with her mother. Does that get explored in issue #1?

Odin Austin Shafer: Yes. The idea I had for this has two parts. You see a lot of heroic characters -- in fantasy fiction in particular -- that are heroic for no specific reason, they just have a good heart. And being a good person isn't the same as being a hero. There’s this really pessimistic part of me that thinks you have to be a little broken to need to put other people ahead of your own needs, to need to value people outside of your family, and risk your life doing it. Not just do it when it's the right thing to do, but to make it your life. There has to have been some sort of moral outrage or moral decision point in a person's life.

And so, in this story I wanted to show how Ashe arrived at that ideology. An ideology which for her culture, a sort of fantasy Viking culture, is almost political. She wants to unify all the tribes, she wants to end war in the north, she wants to change the people's relationship with religion and with warfare in general. And that's a pretty big, Gandhi-level jump to make. To me, it then ends up being about her relationship with her mother and both how her mother truly loved her and also how she failed despite being on the surface -- for many characters that we’ll encounter throughout the story -- a hero, a famed hero who represents all of the best of what traditional chieftainhood and warriorhood and motherhood is in the Freljord. While Ashe loves her mother, her revolt from that value system is ultimately then a revolt from her mother. And the only way to show that is to see the flaws from Ashe’s eyes.

League of Legends Ashe Warmother interior art How else does this story build on and supplement what we already know of Ashe’s origin?

Odin Austin Shafer: Within the landscape of the lore from “League of Legends,” very little is known. One of the conceits I’m playing with is that some of what's known [about Ashe] is myth and, to a certain extent, myth that Ashe almost opportunistically allowed people to believe. One of the central conceits of the first issue is that Ashe’s mom was not looking for the Bow of Avarosa (Ashe’s famous weapon in present-day “League of Legends”), she was looking for a completely different thing. It's only afterward when Ashe found this bow -- which may or may not actually be Avarosa’s -- that they print it in her legend because it was politically efficient.

So the history you know from our team is what people in the Freljord believe. But there is more to that truth. So, the story we’re going to see here is the real truth?

Odin Austin Shafer: Yeah. One of the things that I wanted to sort of play with is so many fancy stories have this character destined for greatness and they find their Excalibur and then they’re great. They’re King Arthur now, and they were destined for greatness, and it all works out perfectly. And I thought it would be much more interesting if there was a character for whom that wasn't clear. “What is destiny?” is one of the ongoing themes for this series, but it’s also a question that I play with personally. In Ashe's story, it’s how much of destiny is predetermined by your upbringing, your growth, your morality, the choices you've made? Where is destiny in a chaotic system? Does it even exist? And if it does exist is it this sort of wonderful thing or is it just the math?

That sort of destiny is more interesting to me because it can betray you, it can be a lie, it can be perceived in different ways. And Ashe is sort of struggling with a destiny that’s believed for her, but she does not necessarily believe in herself. She has enough facts and enough intelligence to sort of go, “Yeah, there are gods and magic but that doesn't mean anything is supposed to happen or happen the way you think it will.” Does Ashe play into those ideas of “destiny” and “the chosen one” to build herself up with the rest of her tribe?

Odin Austin Shafer: I think one of the one of the things I think is important for her morality is that uncertainty gives people a certain kindness. It’s a great quality in a leader for them to be looking for answers and to be listening to people, and I think that only comes from uncertainty. So, I didn't want Ashe to be certain that she was chosen by the gods.

She has to a certain extent exploited the myth around her, but more in that she perceives it differently than everyone else. I think even if you or I were to see something that would make us think “yeah, you're the chosen one,” because of how she was brought up and because of her own self-doubt she would not necessarily see it that way. Hopefully that makes her endearing and believable both within the period and to a modern audience.

League of Legends Ashe Warmother interior art One of the things that many fans will be interested in is getting a look at characters in this world outside of the champions. On the trade cover, there are a few characters in the background around Ashe. Can you tease who any of those are?

Odin Austin Shafer: I can name a few, sure. There’s Maalcrom on the right, who is a frost priest in the Cult of the Three. There’s also Grena, Ashe’s mom, right behind her.

There are a lot of characters in here that are not champions. And I think that's one of the things that we're hoping to do moving forward with comics. We want to fill out the world and give you a sense of the scale of a champion's power, which in many cases may not be so different from a heroic figure that was not a champion. Arguably Grena’s mother was more powerful than Ashe, for instance. But we also want to show why [the champions] are heroes which is, I think, different from how powerful a character is.

One of the things that we like about comic books is they’re a great way for people to look at stuff and tell us what they like and what they don't like both in tone and in character; things they would like in our games and in our world-building. Why did comic books feel like the natural choice for sharing this story?

Odin Austin Shafer: Well, the short answer is “comics are great.” [laughs]

We live in a visual society, and we feel that a lot of these stories are best served by giving you a sense of what you're seeing, a sense of scale. So much of it is this high fantasy. There's a lot of craziness, a lot of strange creatures, a lot of adventure. Comics let us get that across. It’s also an experiment for us. It lets us explore a wide variety of tones, looks, and styles to figure out what our fans like but also what we might want to focus on in our world.

League of Legends Ashe Warmother interior art You’ve done writing work in TV, film, and games, but this will be your first time working on a professional comic. How is the experience different and exciting for you?

Odin Austin Shafer: It’s sort of a weird “life going full circle” kind of thing. Some of the earliest writing I did in art school was for my roommate, an illustrator, who wanted to make a comic book. We wrote this super long comic book that he drew only a couple pages of. And then in my life I've actually written a bunch of other comic books for friends who are directors for television shows and stuff. It's just always been a part of my life, manga too. I come from a fine arts background -- animation -- and so I was familiar. I was doing storyboards before I ever wrote a script. Now it’s sort of the reverse. It's been my life going full circle where now I'm really thinking about the image again rather than what the character is saying while they're shooting zombies.

It's been a lot of fun and it’s been sort of weird. The hardest part for me is not over-describing it. I come from storyboards and directing and animation and I don’t want to make the artist’s life a hell, where I'm like “It's just three quarters over the shoulder and the eyeline to the left.” It's like you put somebody in this tiny little box. And so, I try not to do that as much as possible and my editors (Ellie Pyle and Mary Gumport) try to keep me honest. It’s also because I have empathy from having done some commercial art. I try to make sure our artists have room to breathe so that they know what the scene is about and what the emotion is about and they really focus on that and I don't micromanage, which otherwise I would be prone to doing. What has your collaborative process been like with artist Nina Vakueva?

Odin Austin Shafer: While there is a bit of a time difference that affects our collaborative process, Ninas skills as an artist really allow me to optimize the dialogue in many scenes. What details and aspects of Ashe’s story are you most excited to share with readers?

Odin Austin Shafer: I think what's interesting about Ashe’s story is it gives you that over-the-top action and this gritty world but it has something else which is also important and true. It’s how the cold affects your psyche and also how much your life in those sorts of extreme environments is about your family and about when you're in a sort of existential place -- be it a desert or these frozen northlands -- how you cling to other human beings. I think there's a real visceral feeling for Ashe as a person which I hope people like. I hope it changes people's perception of her as a video game character, to see her as a much more realistic person, really.

LEAGUE OF LEGENDS: ASHE: WARMOTHER SPECIAL EDITION #1, written by Odin Austin Shafer with art by Nina Vakueva and lettering by Cardinal Rae, is on sale now!