Tombs You Want? Tombs You Get: Mariko Tamaki Takes On Lara Croft in ‘Tomb Raider’ [Exclusive]
Tomb Raider is a franchise with a lot of amalgamated input, and one that a lot of people have their own take on. Is Lara Croft a strong female character, or a ‘Strong Female Character’? From franchise director to commentator and critic, everybody’s got their own idea of who Ms Croft should be — or be for.
Recently Lara’s been written by a succession of brilliant women, including Gail Simone, Rhianna Pratchett, and Corinna Bechko. As revealed today at New York Comic-Con, Mariko Tamaki is the next woman to take up Lara’s story in comics form over at Dark Horse. ComicsAlliance spoke exclusively to Tamaki ahead of the announcement to find out more. (Artists have yet to be announced.)
ComicsAlliance: I recently spoke to James Alan Gardner, who wrote a prose novel for the franchise, Tomb Raider: The Man of Bronze, in 2004. In his words, “I was only given a few iron-clad rules by the editors: Lara doesn’t drink, smoke, take drugs or swear. The editors considered sex to be an acceptable option … [but] she has virtually no sexual connections in the games themselves.” Have you been given any guidelines that interact with your own previous perception of the character?
Mariko Tamaki: I haven’t been given any restrictions that go against the grain of what I understood about Lara Croft. Lara is a really intense person, a really focused person. And hey, Lara Croft is also really busy, you know, running around from tomb to tomb, trying to survive, so it makes sense she’s not really developing any intimate relationships. When would she have time?
It’s also a question of space. In 22 pages, would you rather see Lara climbing a frozen mountain top or sitting in a bar with a glass of soda water waiting for her blind date to show up? My vote is for frozen mountain, although now that I’ve written that maybe she should have a blind date…
Lara also has a really intimate network of friends who are super important to her, and they’re pretty essential to her survival, so I can see why she would invest so much time in them, and not in trying to find ‘Mr. Right’.
The main guideline I’ve been given is more [about] plot than character, which is that Lara is a tomb raider, so, yes, there must be tombs. Tombs you want, tombs you get.
In terms of language, I wasn’t told, “no swearing,” but I can see that Lara’s not a super emotive person. You know? She’s no Martin Riggs (Lethal Weapon). She’s incredibly professional and polite, which I kind of enjoy, as I am not, always. I think swearing is one way to show emotion in your characters, and what they do is another. I think Lara is the kind of person who swears more in her head than verbally.
CA: Speaking to Christa Seely last year, you mentioned that you try not to think about audience when you’re working on a story. Does this have to change when you’re on a franchise property? Do you have a perception of the audience for Lara Croft; have you received any advice about who to write for?
MT: Clearly I have to consider fans when I’m working on a franchise property, because they know this character really, really well. And there are a lot of details to Lara to keep track of, that fans do keep track of and will be looking for. (This will be my first time keeping track of weaponry).
I’ve received great support from Dark Horse Comics and Crystal Dynamics. They’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Lara Croft, and they’ve been very generous with their insights.
My goal is to develop the character, to pull in more elements, to flesh out other parts of her character and life. Because that’s the amazing part of a series like this, is you can have your characters grow, because they’re getting older, because they’ve learned things from their past adventures, and so on.
I’m also writing as a fan. I’m writing for myself as someone who loves kickass, smart, women like Lara Croft, and wants to give them more amazing, freaky, cool adventures to have.
CA: From working with your cousin, cartoonist Jillian Tamaki, to working with Irene Koh and Fiona Smyth, Steve Rolston, and the new artists assigned to you on Tomb Raider, how much of your process has changed, and to what effect, when working with different artists? Or even within the requirements of different publishers?
MT: The main difference between these comics and graphic novels is in terms of length. Tomb Raider is 22 pages, and it’s released in issues. So whereas with graphic novels, I don’t generally worry about page count, with comics, for example in my work with TMNT and Irene Koh, I need to consider how much can reasonably fit on a page. So I tend to write a lot more physical description in, with the proviso that the final decision is up to the illustrator. Because they have to draw it.
CA: Recently, a lot of the focus of the franchise has been on the presence of friends and mentors in Lara’s life. While friendship has always been a factor in the business she does, it’s been perhaps more common for her to approach other people within her narratives as employees, connections, or usefully knowledgeable equals. Do you see a value in friendly faces outside of professionalism, to this character and her stories?
MT: Lara’s friends are her vulnerability and her strength. Lara’s friends are part of what make her adventures complex beyond just, “Where is the door to this tomb? Oh, here it is.” They are the human element. They are something to lose, or fight for, or protect beyond whatever inanimate object is in the tomb. (I think many events in Lara’s past have demonstrated, pretty potently, the danger involved in bringing your friends along with you on adventures. ) They’re another voice besides the one in Lara’s head.
Because Lara is a fighter, she can have a bit of a singularity of focus. Her friends are the complicating factor. Which I think is pretty important. I mean, ultimately, the Tomb Raider, the center of these stories, is Lara, but you need to have something outside the center.
CA: The title Tomb Raider marks this series as a separate property, but also a resultant one, to the Simone/Pratchett series. Will you be working directly from the emotional groundwork laid in that series, or concentrating on creating a credible but un-anchored Lara Croft, reacting directly to the adventures you’ll presumably be sending her on?
MT: I am definitely working from the issues written by Gail Simone and Rhianna Pratchett. Props to them. They rule. They’ve laid down the foundation and I’m building on that.
CA: Do you picture a palette for the stories you’ve written for Lara?
MT: I’m super into the global element of this series, and so I’m excited to send/take Lara Croft to a bunch of different parts of the world. I’ve got a few things I’ve always wanted to explore beyond that, things connected to some of my favorite writers, like Margaret Atwood and Douglas Adams, that I’m curious to try and pull in. We’ll see.
CA: When writing Lara Croft, do you consider realistic possibility?
MT: This is a series that is definitely set in the real world, so I’m trying to keep Lara Croft and the things she does rooted there. I think when you can keep one foot in the real, and one foot in the mysterious/unknown, you’re in a good place. So. That’s where I’m trying to keep my feet.
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