This week for Manga Monday, we have Blake Von Klausur / Blake Clouser, of Kittarou: Witch Hunter!
Clouser’s Kittarou: Witch Hunter takes place in fantasy feudal Japan – and the rogue namesake travels ronin-style to both protect the people that mistrust him, and follow his own path unlike his brethren. At fifty pages strong, Clouser and his team have been working hard to bring Kittarou to life on the pages, and discussed some of their tactics since the launch, and some of their inspirations.
Anime Binge: Tell me a little about you, and then we’ll chat a little about Kittarou: Witch Hunter
Blake Clouser: Born in Texas, grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Became an artist in preschool when a black clad, lanky local artist came to teach us sculpting. As the other kids ran out for recess I stayed inside with him making things. I’ve always loved comics and Anime since I can remember. When I first saw Robotech and Speed Racer and the 80’s wave of anime to hit the US, I was beyond hooked. Since then I’ve always wanted to do my own comic and Kittarou: Witch Hunter ended up being the first real foray into this.
AB: Hah! I watched Speed Racer as a kid, too. It’s pretty iconic. It sounds like you’ve been creating things for a while, and Kittarou has a pretty unique style. I was curious where you developed it and how it gets from your brain to the screen. Is it all done on computer, or do you draw, scan, and paint? How does it get to its current look?
Blake C.: Kittarou was inspired by the premise that I could do more with the classic samurai/ninja or chambara story style and add a supernatural element. I wanted to make it an open story without too much fleshed out as I preferred to approach it as a kind of playground where I can make whatever I want when I want.
Development goes as follows: I draw and design a lot of the characters then write a script. I pass these to our great Penciller, Felix, and he sends me sketches for pages and I edit those or give him the thumbs up. Then he does final pencils. I take those pencils and add all the word bubbles and dialogue in photoshop. From there I may edit my dialogue or change it all together into something better. Then I print them off on paper and ink by hand. I turn these pages into a flatter, James, who does wonderful work for us, and he gives them back to me. I then send them to our astounding colorist, McKenzie, with notes and she colors them. I then do my own editing of the colors and add mist and smoke and blood and texture or whatever else I think the page needs.
So I’m doing the designs, the writing, the lettering, inking, and assisting with colors. It’s a lot of jobs but I love the final product. Its look comes down to all of our talents coming together mixed with my final vision for the series. The style evolved a bit on its own as I was learning what worked and what didn’t, but I knew from the start what kind of look I wanted. I just had to trial and error my way to achieving it. It was very off the cuff and yet very planned somehow.
AB: The best way to do things
Blake C.: I concur. It allows for changes on the fly. Evolution.
Allowing my teammates to have their style shine also influenced the final look. My penciler has his own unique take on things that can be great and my colorist has a real in depth eye for color that I don’t. It’s nice to see all of our thumbprints come together to create this book.
AB: The most recent pages have been really lovely, there’s a lot of depth and patience in them.
Blake C.: I’m flattered that you noticed! I feel that we’ve only gotten better as the pages go on and that the pages for [the next story] will look even better as the book comes into its own.
Interestingly enough, these last pages were added to the story much later as an idea I had one day at work. I felt like the final battle wasn’t full of enough surprise and felt phoned in so I worked with Felix to make these new additions to the story. He jumped right on board as he liked the new ending.
AB: Having an elbow room to move within an arc can really help with pacing, too.
So, I would normally ask how anime and manga have influenced the style and plot of the comic, and we’ll get to it, but your story takes place in a fantasy feudal Japan. If you can, tell me a little about how it ended up being your character’s backdrop and/or how Kittarou developed as an idea.
Blake C.: Years ago my friend handed me a Dungeons and Dragons Oriental Adventures book and I flipped it open to a class called the Witch Hunter. It was electric. I instantly invented a character in my mind named Kittarou. The idea of a feudalistic mystery solving Witch Hunter really appealed to me as a story. It has so many of the elements of anime/manga I’ve loved over the years, such a Ninja Scroll, Ruroni Kenshin, Inuyasha, Blade of the Immortal, etc. While I never got to play any DnD with this character I did draw my own amateur manga of him and entered contests.
So there are very non-[professional] black and white manga versions of Kittarou that exist with different character designs. I’d say those old versions where more inspired by Naruto and other Jump comics than the current iteration. I also wanted to have an excuse to explore feudal Japan as a culture and research their legends and ghosts and demons. Kittarou needed to be familiar to audiences while also being something well done and new, so feudal swordplay with a new twist was what I wanted. The story has never been about breaking the mold or shattering a genre as much as it is appreciating all the things I love in anime and manga in one place.
AB: If you had a chance to a B&W arc with the current design, would you?
Blake C.: Most definitely. The original version of my book had both a color and black and white version. We had a good number of pages done in B&W in a wonderful ink wash style. However due to budget constraints, the extra work, and problems making this idea work on the website where the eraser could seamlessly switch between color and B&W, the idea was sadly scrapped for color only.
AB: Hey, when you have a system, and it works, it’s a good thing.
You mentioned researching legends, ghosts, and demons from Japanese folklore- Is there anything that really struck you that you’ve started to weave in that you didn’t initially expect?
Blake C.: Yes! The book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost by Zack Davisson is great and shows you how wild and random the ghosts of Japan can be, which reminds me to stay wild when it comes to Kittarou’s adventures. There’s ghosts that do odd things like watching you poop to asking for your help in a snow storm as to get you lost and make you freeze to death. It’s very reflective of being their own version of Grimm’s Fairy tales in a way. Yet ghosts take benevolent forms as well.
What’s interesting about studying this is that it has made me also branch out into studying other cultures gods and spirits. For instance in book one Kittarou mentions Karasura the Crow Demon, which is inspired more from India and their myths. So I’m studying cool things from other cultures and mixing them with ancient Japanese stuff to create my own world.
AB: So I got a mild sense of fantastic classism – Witch Hunters don’t seem very well-loved.
Blake C.: Indeed. They are more feared than loved and that can lead to problems for sure. And Kitt being a kind of vagabond Witch Hunter who’s on the run from his fellow Hunters has made him a big time pariah. Usually they are regal and suave and intimidating as you’ll see in book 2 when Kitt as a little run in with some Witch Hunters, but Kitt is the exception and people don’t like it.
AB: Does Kitt have buddies we haven’t met yet? It feels like he does somewhere.
Blake C.: He does. A stocky bear of a man with a club who’s all about living in harmony with nature. An traveling apothecary medicine man who can get in trouble for helping out Kitt. Kitt also has some friends to make as he goes. A cursed one armed, one eyed thief who he kinda falls for, and a little shape shifting fox girl who rescues him and wants him to help her find a cure for being stuck in human form as being human is too complex and full of emotion and drama and all she wants is the simple fox life again.
AB: So, before I forget, what anime and manga have more or less influenced the story so far? (That you may have paid homage to, etc.)
Blake C.: Samurai Champloo, Blade of the Immortal, Berserk, Inuyasha, Mushi-shi, Naruto, Bleach, Ninja Scroll, Zatoichi, Lone Wolf and Cub, Kenshin, and last but not least, Lupin the 3rd.
AB: I can absolutely see Mushi-shi and Inuyasha, Samurai Champloo as well. Can you talk about how Lupin the 3rd and Zatoichi have influenced the series?
Blake C.: Lupin the 3rd has definitely influenced how Kittarou sometimes deals with solving a problem in a funny way or unexpected way. You’ll see both Lupin and Kittarou grin that classic cocky smirk while dealing with villains from time to time.
Zatoichi comes in with the idea that because he is on the run and always gets into trouble, he must move from town to town ever adventuring or misadventuring his way through life. The classic vagabond moving from town to town. My idea for Kittarou is that he must do the same. Always a rogue. Never settling anywhere. Always on the run, but always ready to do what’s right or fight if pushed enough. Just like Zatoichi.
AB: Last but not least – let’s say someone has binge-read the whole archives, donated to the patreon, and are looking for something else to read (Manga) or something else to watch (Anime). What would the Kittarou: Witch Hunter team recommend to go check out next while they wait?
Blake C.: Great question. I say read Berserk. Binge it. Learn it. Love it. You’ll see the art style change and character grow in ways that I think are happening with our book. You’ll also get the swordplay mixed with dark supernatural stuff that our book has and some of the most unparalleled art in manga.
Special thanks to Blake Clouser of Kittarou: Witch Hunter for offering an evening of his time to chat about his webcomic! If you know of a manga series, online omake, or manga-style webcomic that deserves some attention, reach out on our Facebook or comment!