When people think of influential Half-Life 2 comics from the early days, usually the first name that comes to mind is Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman, which has an undisputed legacy to this day. However, there is one other series that had just as much impact, if not more at first, and without which there wouldn’t even be a Concerned: Apostasy, the original Half-Life 2 graphic novel.

In 2005 and 2006, Apostasy was an absolute juggernaut in the Half-Life and gaming communities, making waves on games media for its professional-grade quality that most other comics only aspired to. It became the biggest and most mainstream hit of the Garry’s Mod comics community PHWOnline, but unfortunately was also lost when that website got taken down, until resurfacing in 2011 and indirectly leading to the creation of the Metrocop website we know today.

Late last year, I had the opportunity to interview the creator of Apostasy, James Brandt, also know as BrashFink, about the series, its origins and legacy and the original planned ending for the storyline.

Hello, James! Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Tell me a little about yourself and what you are up to these days.

I have been doing IT work at a major university for about nine years now. I also attend a different nearby university working on a Creative Technologies Major with a Sound Engineering Focus. I have been working on an album for most of the Covid mess and am beginning to suspect I will never finish it. [Laughs]

It is quite interesting that this interview is happening now. I literally reinstalled Daz Studio a couple months ago and have started writing a new comic. 

How did you come up with the idea for Apostasy?

I finished the game and was so inspired by the story. I wanted to do… something but I had no idea what. You could write fan fiction, but no one reads that stuff other than other fan fiction people. I could write a screenplay, but you shouldn’t write one for something you don’t own rights to. Who can you show it to? So I just kind of let the idea go.

A month or so later, I was watching “Attack of the Show” and they talked about Garry’s Mod. A light went off and I immediately installed it. 

The story of Apostasy was ground-breaking at the time. What was your process for writing the series?

Well, I had been writing screenplays for years. Really the way I wrote it was not very much different, except it is a little more like writing a TV series. You have to have a small story arc for each issue, then also a larger arc for the entire story.

I typically would work on the story in a notebook at a local bar after work. At the time I was working until 10pm at night. I started with the idea of the whole story, then started splitting it up into issues. American comic books are typically 20-25 pages per issue. The initial story was supposed to be 9 or 10 issues, I think. 

Where did you first publish Apostasy issue 1 and how was the reception?

I originally posted it on Blogspot… Actually, it is still up there, but none of the links work. Maybe I should do something about that. [Laughs] The real issue was I had used one of those crappy free picture hosting services. I don’t remember which one. It ended up getting so many hits all of the links were killed around a day later. I think the main driver was Boing Boing. They found it and posted about it, next thing I know it was all over the place.

Luckily pretty quickly I was contacted by Michael from PHW. He saw that everything was dead and offered to assist. He had some verbiage on his site about owning things posted there, which I initially had a problem with. We ended up agreeing that he could use whatever he wanted for promotion, which he said was his main reason for that clause. I mean… for the most part I really don’t own the comic completely anyway. It was all based on Valve’s properties.

A photo of a page of FHM Magazine (UK Edition) 08/2005 featuring Apostasy. The text reads: The Next Level: It's nerd nirvana! Video games and comics! But actually quite good... PC game blockbuster Half-Life 2 may have left libraries, Dungeons & Dragons gatherings and re-enactment societies empty as geeks camped at their PCs, shooting the tar out of pretend, pixellated alien beasties. But at least spoddy Illinois resident James Brandt turned his love of the game into something creative. Using a manipulating programme called Garry's Mod, James - or Brashfink as he prefers to be called - has clearly spent days setting up his own in-game scenes, screen-grabbing the results, and then fashioning them into his own cartoon, called Apostasy. The comic, now on its third edition, follows three characters whose story interweaves with the game's narrative. It's great, and lives here: www.phwcomics.com. Oh, and for God's sake don't strain your brain trying to work out the story in the comic here. We've just picked the best bits that look nice...
A photo of FHM Magazine (UK Edition) 08/2005 featuring Apostasy. Click for higher resolution. (Source: James “BrashFink” Brandt)

Apostasy was like nothing seen before and quickly exploded in popularity, getting mentions in Slashdot, G4TV’s Attack of the Show!, 1UP and even fellow Half-Life 2 comic Concerned (which it actually predates and directly inspired)—in fact, Chris Livingston of Concerned even called it the godfather of the “comics made with games” genre once. What are your recollections from that period?

It was pretty insane how much it blew up. I literally woke up one day, and all day long it was popping up on things. I was interviewed for IGN by Jessica Chobot, who I weirdly ended up sharing a couple of acquaintances with. That was followed by both interviews for PC Gamer and FHM Magazine in the UK.

Shortly after that, it all sort of started slowing up. Few months after that, pretty much nothing. Fifteen minutes of fame, as it were.

Apostasy was also unlike most comics at the time in the fact that it grew from a mostly one-man project into a team effort, with talented people such as founder of PHWOnline Michael K. Clements, author of My Last Night in Ravenholm Richard Boisvert and prolific modders of the time Marc “Kathar” Lyon and Dave “Dav0r” Hunt. How did you assemble and work with such a superstar team on Apostasy?

This came about for a few reasons. Mostly Michael was trying to get me assistance to make the issues come out faster. They took forever to make. He started off by assisting in editing… not the comics themselves but like a book editor. Trying to assist with finding typos and things. Though we both missed crediting Valve as “Vavle” once. That was a running joke on the forums for a month or so.

Dav0r I enlisted to make a couple of models for the comic. Most notably the gun case carried by Jack. Rich is a whole other story. To this day, My Last Night in Ravenholm is my favorite comic from that era. I became pretty good friends with Rich and eventually, he took over all posing and screenshots and I handled writing and editing of the pages, lettering, etc. He went on to do some awesome stuff, Mass Effect, etc. I am really proud of him. I am still friends with Rich on Facebook and we chat from time to time.

Apostasy notably had a very abrupt end five chapters and one prologue in, with the series concluding as soon as it reached the events of Half-Life 2 chapter Red Letter Day. Why did you end it like that and what was your original plan and ending for the story?

The simple answer is diminishing returns. The comic had no buzz anymore. It was really only being followed by the folks on PHW. It was a lot of work, pretty much like having a whole other part-time job. I also had some original stories I was working on with Poser and Daz3D. I kind of decided my time needed to be spent on something I owned. I got to the point where Gordon showed up and pretty much decided well… that is kind of an ending. I mean, we know what happens next.

I believe I posted this before, but am not sure where. It’s kind of hard to remember the exact timing details, but this is the general idea. So for the record, here is how the remaining issues would have played out:

  1. Mark is scurried off to the resistance before Gordon shows up at the lab. Gordon starts to cause chaos all over the city, Mark would have been trying to escape during all this madness. 
  2. Jack’s story takes him back to Cubbage to give him the missiles Gordon will use to destroy the choppers. Jack would be tied up in that battle while Gordon was there, though not actually meet him.
  3. I cannot remember exactly what happened to Galena, other than she is assisted by Alyx to get to the resistance.
  4. Mikael is freed in the chaos Gordon causes at Nova Prospekt and also ends up at the resistance. I think you see where this is going.
  5. After Gordon is gone for a week… all four characters converge at Cubbage’s fort and Mark gives some kind of inspirational speech about continuing on for Gordon.
  6. At this point, the comic flashes forward a week, they would be doing some attack and Gordon pops back in. These last couple issues would focus on that end battle and the destruction of the Citadel. Jack does not survive the blast. In some way, he was going to sacrifice himself to save Galena and Mark.

Ultimately, what’s the legacy of Apostasy for you personally?

I don’t know about any long-term “legacy”. It is pretty much forgotten except for the ones who were directly involved at PHW. I think, if anything, it is all about the friendships fostered via PHW. We had quite the little fun community there for a while. 

Any thoughts on returning to the world of Half-Life fiction with Half-Life: Alyx and Source Filmmaker?

Alyx… not played it, and will not unless it is released via normal PC… or I someday get a VR headset.

Source Filmmaker… I toyed with that a few years ago. I had an idea for a kind of comical group of bumbling Lovecrathian occult investigators. I was going to be reskinning TF2 characters for it. Never really went anywhere except concept. If I made something today animated or a comic for that matter, it would probably be done in Daz3D where I can own the rights completely of anything I make.

Currently, I am working on a 4-6 post-apocalyptic story that may come out next year. I have all the characters done and designed in Daz and I am about halfway through the story. We’ll see how that goes.

A special thanks once again to James for answering our questions and also to skedaddle for creating the featured image of the article. Next week: a new episode of Mjolnir’s Combine Exchange Program!