Interview: Matt Forbeck
Matt Forbeck is a creative powerhouse. Over the past twenty years, he has created games of all sorts (including board games, roleplaying games, and computer games), has written novels and comics, and has won several awards – and has just been nominated for two Scribe Awards. But despite his decorated success, Matt is a very personable guy who is very devoted to his family. I recently had a chance to ask Matt some questions about his impressive career.
What first piqued your interest in gaming and comics?
I learned how to read with comics, especially the old Spidey series Marvel published with the Electric Company. They hooked me young and for life. Given that, I suppose it’s not surprising I became a voracious reader and got into fantastic fiction of all kinds. That set me up to fall hard for D&D. I first ran into the game when a friend’s mother bought it for him for Christmas on a Blue Light Special at K-Mart. Our mothers got us together to play, and we didn’t stop for months.
You are a very busy man. Do you still find time to game?
Not as often as I would like. I play lots of games with my kids now that they’re old enough to appreciate them. Like me, they’ll play just about anything, from Jenga or Blokus to Super Mario Smash Bros or Rock Band. Between my kids and wife and my work, though, I don’t have a whole lot of time for anything else.
When you do game, do you play your own games primarily, or do you check out things written by your industry colleagues?
I play other people’s games. I only play my own games when I’m working on them. Once they’re in print, I’m usually on to something else. I play them for game demos or when I’m thinking about an expansion for the game, but that’s about it.
I normally only play a game once or twice, and I’m rarely interested in who’s winning or losing. I’m there to pick it apart and see how it works, to learn what I can from it and figure out what the designer put into it. There are so many great games out there, it’s hard to dedicate myself to just a few.
Many people, including fans, look very closely at media tie-in work. Is there a lot of head-butting or other challenges that are not present with designing your own world?
Yes, although it’s not as bad as some might think. The toughest part is usually the outline stage. That’s when you’re trying to read the minds of your editor and your licensor’s approval stamper and figure out what they want. There’s often some miscommunication because the writer rarely has access to everything in the original creator’s head, so it’s like charging into a room blind. But if you can work it out in the outline stage, you save yourself lots of time and headaches down the road and make sure that everyone winds up happy.
How does writing a comic book differ from writing tabletop RPGs, novels, or video games?
They’re all very different animals. A comic-book is more about structure than any of the others. You have to map out the story panel by panel and figure out how to place the breaks or reveals at the points at which a reader would turn the page.
Any sort of narrative differs from game writing because in a narrative you’re working with a story and characters over which you have absolute control. In an game, all you can do is offer up a situation and a cast of nonplayer characters and try to cover every obvious plan of action the players might take, but you have no control at all over what they do. Game writing is more about posing questions, while narratives are all about providing answers.
What is your favorite comic book, aside from those you have written?
I’m still a huge Spider-Man geek. I never get tired of it. I also read all sorts of other books, so it’s hard to pin down a favorite. Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Oeming’s Powers is usually the first one I pick up off the stack though.
You have won several awards for your work, including thirteen Origins Awards. Do you find that people treat you differently since you became an award-winning writer?
If they do, I haven’t noticed it. I just keep my head down and try to do the best work I can every time. I appreciate the awards, and I display them proudly on my mantle, but I don’t worry about them when I’m working.
I suppose, though, that it may have helped me get other publishers or editors to treat me more seriously. I’m all for anything that helps get me that kind of attention.
In addition to all of your creative projects, you are also a dad. Does being a parent affect the projects that you pursue – either by quantity or subject matter?
I work out of my house, and having five young kids—including a set of quadruplets—has slowed down my writing speed a bit. Fortunately, I was pretty fast to begin with, so I usually still manage to keep up.
I don’t let the kids read most of my stuff, as it’s not appropriate for their ages. However, they help keep me thinking young and tapped into all the coolest things kids enjoy today. I’d love to write some children’s books I could read to them, but I haven’t quite found the time for that yet.
What advice would you give to someone seeking to jumpstart a career in writing for fandom?
Learn everything you can about the field you want to be in, and then get to it. Network with other writers and the people who can publish your work, and be friendly and generous with your time. And don’t let all that other stuff distract you from the work. The best way to get anything published is to put your butt in your chair and get typing.
You can find out more about Matt, including a more complete listing of his credits and news about his latest projects, at www.forbeck.com.