Cliff Bleszinski Talks Scrapper Comic Book, Gears of War, Canceled Alien Game, and More (Exclusive)

Cliff Bleszinski spoke to ComicBook about his new comic, the Gears movie, and more.

Cliff Bleszinski is one of the superstars of the gaming industry. He started making his own games from home as a kid, allowing him to realize this was a viable career path. He would go on to work at Epic Games to make titles like Unreal Tournament, create the Gears of War franchise, and even do a little bit of work on Fortnite before departing the company and eventually form a new studio. Now, Bleszinski has largely left behind his days of being in the trenches as a game developer. Instead, he is busy writing memoirs, comics, pitching television shows, doing some consulting work, and much more. His heart still very much belongs to a creative. got to sit down with Cliff Bleszinski to talk about his new comic, Scrapper. It follows two talking stray dogs in a Blade Runner-esque world as they fight for justice and battle a totalitarian regime. It's one of the more accessible works Bleszinski has made, especially given his history with making gory video games. We spoke to him about the change of tone, how the comic came to be, the upcoming movie adaptation of Gears of War, and much more. Ultimately, it's very clear he's an incredibly passionate guy with a love for storytelling and all-around geek culture.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I have [a copy of LawBreakers] on my desk. This is a fan-favorite of mine. I don't know how often you hear that, but I really love this game. I genuinely think if that game had come out today, it would do much better.

I've had a lot of people tell me that on social media, and it broke my heart. And the Internet thought it was hilarious that it failed because I'm kind of a cocksure, confident game designer, public persona bulls**t, and people are like, "Overwatch crushed you." And I'm like, "Dude, there was room for more than one hero shooter at a time." But with Twitch culture, if you're not in the top of the front page, then you're dead in the water unfortunately.

That is the way it seems to be. But people want a return to Titanfall, and games like Modern Warfare 3 are like, "We're back with movement," and stuff like that. All these games are doing a lot of what I think LawBreakers scratched the surface of. 

I'm friends with Vince Zampella, but I look at Apex Legends and I'm like, "Is that LawBreakers footage? It looks really similar." But more power to him. And I'm doing a comic book and it feels good.

Speaking of, how did this comic book come to be? It's pretty different from what I think I would expect from you.

Well, it's a long story. During the fall of my studio, Boss Key, my dog, Teddy, he couldn't walk anymore. Then he became incontinent and then he was getting sores and then [it became hard to] take him out to go potty and whatnot. I realized I was keeping him alive for me. We had to make that decision to put him down, which was one of the hardest days of my life. I'm getting misty even talking about it. I loved him. 

Once the year of spontaneous crying stopped, my wife found a Pomsky online that was mostly Husky, but Pomeranian mix of Husky, and we were going to the final season premiere of Game of Thrones in New York City. So, then we scooped her up and I realized I needed to name her Lady after Sansa Stark's direwolf. She's just been my inspiration and my muse for this entire process, because I am like, "Has there ever been truly a badass dog superhero?" And Lady is so weird and goofy, but sweet and lovable, but affections on her own terms, which is fine, that's how Huskies are. And so I named my LLC Aloof Floof, because she is in fact aloof floof, and I think Scrapper is something I believe has heart with it. There's never really been a badass dog superhero in my opinion. The question that I ask everybody is, "What happens when the kids who love Paw Patrol get a little bit older and outgrow it?" And there's really room for something that's very Don Bluth style in the market, in my opinion.

I wasn't super familiar with the comic before preparing for this interview. When I opened the comic for the first time, I was a bit surprised to see talking dogs since I am so used to Gears of War and Bulletstorm from you. It seems much more accessible and it doesn't lean into excessive violence.

I didn't go full Garth Ennis!


Was that a conscious decision?

Very conscious decision. The goal with this is to not only hopefully make a successful comic series, which friends have been texting me and tweeting me and saying that, "I just got the last copy at my [local comic store]." So it seems to be selling pretty well, or Image isn't making enough copies, it could be either or. But having worked in video games for 25 years, it's one of those things that video games are often defined by their verbs. What can you do? Can you run? Can you jump? Can you slide? Can you dodge? Can you dash? Scrapper has what I call Paw-kour, where he's very agile, like Assassin's Creed, but also he can hulk out essentially. He has super bark, he has smell-o-vision. And all of these things I think would translate perfectly into a Batman: Arkham Asylum style video game.

And then the long-term goal is to turn it into an animated series. I believe personally right now, people are burnt out on the traditional Pixar look of animation style. That's why I think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, those movies, did so well, because they're 3D, but look 2D, and they really lean into the comic book style. It's the same thing with the last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. It was 3D, but it had this almost stop-motion look to it.

I think those kinds of fresh looks are where the business is going in regards to filmmaking. And people, when you shop something around, everyone's like, "I want established IP, I want Superman, I want Batman, I want Wonder Woman." I'm like, "Dude, those started from somewhere." You got to take a gamble on something new that people love. And sometimes it's Invincible. It was just an original IP that wound up becoming a really big success as an animated series. The Boys, as filthy as it is, I love it. That's the thing, people want superhero stuff these days that's not the traditional superhero stuff, in my opinion. I think that's exactly where I'm hoping a dog could slip right in.

Is that animated series a done deal, or is this the start of, "We're pitching it, we're talking about it."

It's just the start of a conversation, so don't quote me on the fact that it is going to be an animated series. You gotta shoot for the moon or shoot for the stars. Maybe you'll wind up on the moon, I can't remember what the saying is, but you gotta think big these days, especially when it comes to making intellectual property.

How did you choose your writing partner on this comic?

There's a guy that I'm really good friends with named John Nee. He used to work at Marvel in New York, and then he worked at Cryptozoic, Magic the Gathering and whatnot. I became friends with him through a game designer that I hired at Epic and had worked on the video game prototype. His name's Eric Holmes, he and I were working on this new IP at Epic that eventually sadly got canceled, and since it got canceled, he moved on to greener pastures, but he introduced me to this guy John Nee. John knows so many people in the comic book world and he introduced me to this badass woman, Alex de Campi, and I read some of her work and I really enjoyed it. I did a call with her, met her, because I'd already developed 75% of the universe. I paid out of pocket for concept art, written up essentially design documents for what the game and the world could be. She took to it like a fish to water.

She lives in Manhattan. I was literally up there for my Broadway endeavors and realizing that life finds a way, as they said in [Jurassic Park], with urban animals of rats, and pigeons, and stray dogs, and stray cats, and realizing what if they could unite against a totalitarian regime and an over militarized police force while gentrification is going on? Which I think are themes that are pretty relevant these days. Alex is an incredibly intense, cerebral, badass woman, and we just clicked just like that. I consider her not only a great writing partner, but also a good friend, and she has a hilarious daughter too.

This started as a game before it was a comic?

That was the initial idea, but having worked in video games for 25 years, and I'm 48 years old now... Can I swear on here?

Yeah, absolutely. 

I like you more already. In the words of Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, "I'm too old for this shit." The beauty of this right now is, if it becomes a video game, I'll probably oversee a lot of it, but I don't want to be in the trenches day to day, I've done enough sleeping under my desk. You can see I'm happily married, living in a big dumb house with two beautiful dogs, I've paid my dues in that space. But that said, I really think it could slot into being an awesome game that's possibly like cel-shaded style, right? The last dog video game that did okay was Okami. 

As they said when they promoted the last Teenage Mutant Neutral Turtles movie "from eternal teenager Seth Rogan,"  I really feel like I have a case of arrested development. I feel like there's something in there that Alex and I agreed upon where the dogs talk and they can talk to other animals, they can talk to each other, but the adults can't hear them, only the kids can because the kids still have that sense of innocence. Even the parents that you see briefly in some of the issues, they're shown offscreen like Charlie Brown style, so you never actually really get to see them. So, the world is really viewed through a lens of innocence where the kids interact with the animals. It all goes back to me being a child in New England and catching frogs and snakes in the pond, and turtles and whatnot, and recapturing that sense of innocence, but also with the aspiration of being a fu–ing badass.


You've done games, books, comics, theater, but it sounds like you're also interested in branching out into film and television as well.

Yeah, that's hopefully the plan. I just would die to make this an animated series. I really think that's one of the reasons why comic books go well on screen because it's essentially looking at storyboards to some extent. My addiction these days is learning other industries. I think I had the video game thing figured out, I've had decent success producing on Broadway, Scrapper seems to be doing fairly well. I just got the paperbacks for my memoir, which I think will drop on November 7th. It's called Control Freak, check it out. The next industry I want to kind of [get into is standup comedy]. I'm addicted to stand up comedy. I somehow became friends with a bunch of standup comedians. I went backstage with Doug Stanhope when he came to town and got fucked up with him and his girlfriend in his green room. I went backstage with Sam Morril and drank some of his wine with him.

That's the thing, it goes back to comedy and tragedy and learning the art of the setup of a comedy bit and then the delivery and then a callback. I usually end my night with watching stand-up clips on YouTube. And I've done Rogan's podcast three times. I know I'm name-dropping a lot here, but I became friends with Erica Rhodes, who's an up-and-coming comedian who actually has a comedy special that dropped on audio today, so I'm going to be listening to that tonight. And I believe if you absorb all this entertainment, it's all grist for the mill.

There's so many little things that Alex and I riff on, the fact that the pigeons are totally derpy and they're fanboys of Scrapper. There's one little panel where it says, "Senpai noticed me." Little things like that. I think, again, laugh, think, cry. I think that's the key to happiness in my opinion. I think that's why I still look relatively young looking.

Could you see yourself returning to the world with something like Gears of War through a comic book? I know you said you're down to consult on these new games.

I believe Gears needs a little bit of a reboot, like God of War had, and I've always said, Phil Spencer has my number, I'm happy to consult. Gears will always be near and dear to my heart. Late afternoon, if I have a mimosa in me, sometimes I'll go to YouTube and I'll look up key cut scenes from the Gears franchise, like Dom's death, or Dom having to put down his wife, and I read the comments. I've said this in other interviews, but I'm friends with Karen Gillan from Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Who and all that, absolute sweetheart. We had lunch with her at GalaxyCon recently in Raleigh. And the thing is, there's a scene where, Doctor Who, Matt, and Karen take Vincent van Gogh to the Musée d'Orsay, through the TARDIS and time travel and whatnot.

Vincent van Gogh lived a tortured life. He believed his work was terrible. He struggled to sell a painting. And then for him to see his impact. And then Matt, the Doctor, grabs Bill Nighy, not the science guy, the British actor. Bill does this amazing monologue, and the actor who looks just like Vincent just starts losing it and the music starts swelling. Every time I watch that scene, man, I just get totally fu–ing misty eyed because, yeah, I like money. Who doesn't? I like to eat prime rib steak and sushi sometimes, but you just want to know that your work makes [an impact]. Reading the comments on those cut scenes from Gears of War when Dom dies, people are like, "I had to put the controller down, my friend and I just sat there silenced and stunned." For people to actually get tattoos of something that you made on their bodies is the most flattering thing.

I became friends with Patton Oswalt and the other tattoo on my arm here is from his comedy special, Annihilation, where he talks about the loss of his wife and his wife's advice to him about dealing with the chaos of the world is, "It's chaos, be kind." Whenever my wife pisses me off, I slap my arm to remind myself I could wake up tomorrow and she could be gone, so I should appreciate every day and every moment I have with her. That's the power of entertainment. And you can get a little political also, as long as you're not too on the nose. It's the whole thing about the scenes of girl power in comic book movies. It's like you got to be a little subtle with it. Gal Gadot going across the trenches, yes. [In Avengers Endgame] where the girls all got together and fans can smell that shit a mile away and they'll call you out on it. [So you've gotta find that sweet spot]. You go too far that way and people are like, "Yeah, it's bulls–t."


I was 10 when Gears of War 3 came out, and I begged my mom to buy it for me, and she was like, I don't know, it seems pretty aggressive. I'm like, "I'm getting the game. So it's either through you or I'm going to find another way."

Yeah, kids, that's what kids do.

Yeah, exactly. I think the first game to ever make me cry was Gears of War 3.

That means a fu–ing lot to me, even though I'm wearing a shirt that says, "I eat ass" in Japanese.

The Xbox was on a killer run at that time too, with Halo Reach and Gears of War 3. Even some other games like Alan Wake, which is now making a comeback, that was an unbelievable time to be on Xbox. 

It really did feel like a golden era. It's like PlayStation 2 in its heyday with God of War and everything else. Everybody's trying to move to games as services these days, and Phil Spencer's trying to become the Netflix of video games with Game Pass. I get that, I respect it, but honestly, I'm not playing shit these days. I am basically reading books and comic books. One of my favorite things to do at our local comic shop, Capitol Comics 2, there's a really nice guy named Sequoia there, if you happen to be in town, say hi to him, he's a great dude. I'll pop into this Irish pub named O'Malley's next to it, grab a cocktail, go over there and see what comics are new, and then just sit there with a cocktail and just read the comic.

And that's the thing is learn, learn, learn. I'm also reading John Romero's book, Doom Guy, John Romero, for those of you who don't know, obviously he's the guy who basically made the original first person shooter, Doom, and Quake, and Wolfenstein, and he's a friend of mine, he's a legend. I was worried he wasn't going to get personal [in the book], but he gets very personal. 

Think about my book, there's been a million books written about the video game industry, but a lot of them read like stereo instructions. In my book, I talk about my father dying. I talk about moving to California. I talk about getting fu–ing molested by a guy I met online when I was 15. John talks about his dad being abusive to him, and I think these are the things that humanize a creative, and just I think if you've gone through that kind of trauma and you can publicly share it, I think that also shows people how your work came to be and also it's therapy for them.

I know this sounds like I'm acting like a martyr or some bulls–t, but I really believe in my heart. 

There's a reason why in the Gears of War franchise, Adam Fenix, Marcus' dad, seemingly died, he faked his death, so he could cure the whole emulsion issue. Marcus basically had to watch his dad essentially die twice. I believe sadly that some of the best art comes out of tormented times or tormented people. Vincent van Gogh being tormented. My father's death, putting that into Gears. Gears 1 came through the fall of my first marriage. Scrapper came out of the loss of my 13-year-old beautiful Australian shepherd Teddy. And so that's the thing. LawBreakers was, in my opinion, a really, really good game, but I was incredibly happy during that period, and I think it was missing something from that because I didn't have the [failed] marriage, I was financially comfortable.

Zack Snyder has said the idea of adapting Gears of War has been mentioned within his circle. Do you think he's the guy to bring those games to life?

To be frank, I think Zack Snyder is an amazing director when he is working with existing IP. I think when he did, I think it was the Dawn of the Dead remake, some of his superhero movies, when he did 300. As an adaptation, 300 defined a whole genre of [filmmaking], the slow-mo and the fast pans. Army of the Dead, I turned off halfway through, I thought it was terrible. That's right, I said it. But his fans are rabid as hell and the thing is, I think he'd be a great fit for it.

I used to say back in the day, that I didn't want a big wrestler to play Marcus Fenix. And then I had the epiphany of years back, wrestlers are not only athletes, they're actors. We had that epiphany in the eighties. We're like, 'Wait a minute, this might be staged.' But they're still messing up their bodies and having to work out tremendously, and possibly be on HGH and steroids and whatnot. Dave Bautista man, the dude dressed up in Gears armor online. He's proven his range from the last Blade Runner movie through to him playing Drax The Destroyer and all that. In the Knock at the Cabin, he's got great range. I think he'd be perfect for it. He's got the body type and once again, I'm happy to give my two cents and consult, but the biggest thing I hope for is that it has heart.

One of the things creatively I'm most proud of is the day I realized I needed to kill Dom. Dom was a broken man, he had to put his own wife down. I was talking to Karen Travis, she's like, "You can't just go out like that and get randomly shot. He has to sacrifice for the sake of Delta Squad." So that's where that scene came from. The scene was being staged, and I walked in Rod Ferguson's office and I said, "We have to play Mad World while he does it," to book-end it. Same thing with the whole, "I am Iron Man," thing, right? It's narrative 101. And Rod's like, "I don't think Gary Jules is going to [approve it]." [I said], "We're going to be looking for Gary Jules, and we don't need Gary Jules, it will be just the Tears for Fears instrumental version of it. without the lyrics actually added to it." It's just became, in my opinion, one of the most powerful scenes in gaming history, and I'm so very, very proud of it. Just to know that I reached through that screen and that controller and could affect people in a good way and make a lot of them just stop and even tear up means the f–king world to me. Gears Nation, I'll always love you guys.


Do you want to see them do a one-to-one adaptation? There are a lot of ways to adapt games now, it seems.

I think the creatives that take over the helms of video game adaptation need to respect the fans, respect the source material, but then also branch out a little bit. I think if you look at what they did with The Last of Us, which was fantastic by the way, they worked with, I think it was Neil Druckmann from Naughty Dog, and basically you could see the winks to the gaming fans, but they didn't just want the gaming fans, they wanted a broader audience. If you get a broader audience, maybe they'll pick up the video game and check it out.

The theme of The Last of Us, about the infection, it's never been more relevant in the era of COVID, which is why it was the perfect storm for that show to hit and hit quite well. People were talking [negatively] about Bella Ramsey playing Ellie, I'm just like, "Get the f–k out of here. She stole the show in Game of Thrones, you fu–ing idiots." It was just a great show. Again, take the source material, respect it, have a few Easter eggs in there for the fans, but then flesh it out a little bit. In my opinion, that's the perfect formula for adapting a cool video game or even a comic book.

I found out you almost made an Alien game at Boss Key. What can you say about that? Because that sounded very interesting, and maybe Disney got in the middle of it.

I'm friends with a guy named Aaron Loeb, who wound up working at Warner Brothers. I worked with him on Unreal 2. He approached me and said, "I have an IP that you might want to [work on]." I've always been a staunch believer in making my own worlds and my own IPs. I was like, 'Okay, there's only two IPs that I would ever consider working on that weren't ones that I made by myself. Firefly/Serenity or The Aliens franchise.' And basically we were in talks to do it. One Friday I pitched it to the team and they were like, 'F--k yeah.' We all had the music in our head.

I had a whole pitch gathered together, and then of course the House of Mouse had to kick in the door and f–k everything up, which was one of the many cascading failures that led to the failure of Boss Key. As much as my studio failing destroyed me, I was depressed for a full year, not only for my dog, but also my studio. In the long term, if you're going through hell, keep going. Now that I have this comic book that seems to be doing well, and I'm having meetings with people to see if it could be a TV series, or a video game, or a movie, or something like that, I think it's always darkest before the dawn. But Aliens will always be near and dear to my heart. The first one is such a perfect movie about suspense. The second one is suspense, but also the ultimate action movie. Cameron, I'm not the biggest Avatar fan, but Cameron just is brilliant. I could geek out about pop culture all day long. I read every issue of Entertainment Weekly for 20 fu–ing years, dude.