Before you see the movie, meet the Utah artist of the Tomb Raider comic book

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This weekend, Lara Croft, played by Alicia Vikander, will defy the odds and escape deadly situations by her wits and grit alone in Tomb Raider (2018). But the character of Lara Croft has had a long history that began even before Angelina Jolie portrayed her in two films, the first of which premiered more than 15 years ago.

The character of Lara Croft has gone through many transformations since her first appearance in a 1996 video game. She’s been the center of controversy as well– simultaneously idolized for being a strong female character and vilified for what’s been perceived as a less-than-modest original design. All of that history and baggage makes tackling the character in any medium a challenge.

A challenge that comic book artist Phillip Sevy is excited to take on… again. “I didn’t know if I’d be coming back on, but as soon as I got the call I was pretty excited,” Sevy told me at the Dark Horse booth at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle.

Sevy worked for more than a year on the last Tomb Raider comic book series, when another artist took the reigns. With the announcement of Tomb Raider: Inferno, Sevy learned he would be back to working with Lara Croft. “I’ve joked that I’ve lived everyday with Lara for two years, we’re really good friends now,” he said.

While Sevy knows the character intimately and has some freedom with his style and the story, the Tomb Raider intellectual property is owned by Crystal Dynamics. The video game developer gets the final say on how Lara Croft is portrayed. Sevy explained, “It’s mainly just me drawing it until it gets to the point that they go, ‘alright, that looks like her… in your style.’”

He admits, “It took me a little bit the first time through to get a handle on it, but, now that I’m coming back to her, it feels really comfortable and fun to work with and push to the next level.”

If you’re imagining a comic book character reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s cool, stone-faced portrayal or the 1996 video game version, think again. Tomb Raider: Inferno will be a follow-up to the Rise of The Tomb Raider (2015) video game. In which, much of Lara’s polish has been removed in favor of depth and vulnerability.

“That’s one of the things I really like about the video games, that she shows a little more vulnerability,” said Sevy. “She’s becoming the tomb raider. She’s not necessarily the Angelina Jolie character yet. She still makes mistakes, she’s still not all the way there. She’s still figuring it out.”

It’s the Lara Croft we will not only see in Inferno but the one Sevy hopes to see in movie theaters this weekend.

“Video game adaptations are a little fraught with peril,” said Sevy. This, we have seen. While some movies based on video games have seen box office success, most are far from lauded by critics.

However, with how long he has lived and worked with Lara, Sevy gave some thought to what the big studio film needs to get right, “As long as they’re able to maintain the character of Lara. It’s what fans, and all of us, are drawn to.”

Of Vikander, he told me “she looks and appears to embody Lara.” But her job is a tough one. If the film can, as Sevy said, “maintain that strength and determination of character against all odds and in the face of danger, I think they will be successful on that level.”

It’s a tough job for the people who have to make Lara Croft come to life in comic books as well. Sevy explained that the importance of getting to the root of Lara’s character is the same, “One of the things that really works well in the games, and we work hard to show it in the comics, is no matter how she gets hurt or stopped along the way, she’s still going to pick herself up and push forward.”

A comic book faces some challenges a film or video game will not face. In addition to his work drawing and writing comics, Sevy also teaches. He’s on the faculty at Broadview Entertainment Arts University in Salt Lake City. As a teacher, he said, “That’s one of the things I always talk about, as comic book artists, is to bring three-dimensionality to a two dimensional art form.”

As far as drawing Tomb Raider is concerned, he went on, saying, “It’s always fun to find ways to make it look and feel like a video game. That’s where you’re coming from, that’s where your fans are coming from. So even though it’s a different medium, I’m still trying to find ways to simulate the feeling of movement and action.” And he has a lot of work to use as reference. When he got the job, Sevy said we immediately picked up and played both the 2013 and 2015 Tomb Raider video games.

Tomb Raider: Inferno, however, is going to take Lara Croft places a video game simply can’t.  “We dive deeply– literally and figuratively– into Lara’s subconscious and how she views the world,” revealed Sevy.

Inferno will accomplish this in part by introducing a “mirror character.” Sevy posed the question, “What if everything that Lara did ended up creating this darker character? We can reflect who Lara is by showcasing how she could have gone.”

That’s the figurative depth. The literal? “She also gets to go down really deep into a tomb at the bottom of the earth in Antarctica. Which is a lot of fun visuals we get to play with,” said Sevy.

Well, she is the Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider: Inferno will be out in stores from Dark Horse June 13, 2018, with writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly joining artist Phillip Sevy.

Sevy just released a comic collection, The House, written by him and drawn by artist Drew Zucker. The House tells the story of a group of WW2 soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. Lost in the woods when a blizzard rolls in, they stumble upon an abandoned house. They run inside to take shelter from the storm, but, once inside, the door disappears. The House is available in Utah at Black Cat Comics In Sugar House and the Nerd Store in West Valley City and on Sevy’s website,  

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