Manga, Manga March, Manga Monday, Mangaka and Indie Comic Interviews

Manga March special guests: NN4B’S Alex Kolesar and J.W. Kovell

(While there are technically only minors spoilers below, per se, there is also a teensy bit of cursing.  I’m leaving it in for now, but may censor in the future.  You’ve been warned.)

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This week on AnimeBinge, we chatted with the two minds behind long-running webcomic No Need for Bushido.  Alex Kolesar and J. W. Kovell started the strip as an intermittent daily page back in 2002, with three-panel strips, but eventually moved to a more graphic/panel look similar to manga and comic books.  We’re ecstatic to have them here.

Featuring a small main cast of Yorikro Wataro, Ina Senshin, Cho Teko, Kenta “Ken” Daisuke along with an ever-expanding universe of side-characters and plots, Alex and J. W. have been bringing No Need for Bushido (NN4B) to their readers for almost a decade.   They came to talk pop culture, the history of their webcomic, anachronism stew vs strict historical timelines, and Kenshin.

Without further ado:

**jingle**

AB – Hello, hello

AB: So to match voices with names, who is who?

Alex: Uh, I’m Alex

Joe: And I’m Joe

AB: And I’m V. with AnimeBinge

Alex: Hi, V.

AB: HI!  So, um, thank you so much for joining me, and I’ve been a fan of the webcomic since what feels like forever.  It’s actually been kind of fun to prepare for the interview because I went back and I read some of my favorite storylines for it.  So forgive me while I geek out a little bit.

Alex: I’m glad to hear that the trawl through the old pages turned out to be an enjoyable one.

AB: Oh, always! Personally, anytime I get to revisit anything, it’s just fun… It’s not a trawl at all, it’s a joy.  So, what I usually do is say – “In the beginning…”  So… How did No Need for Bushido come about?

Alex: Well, It’s a weird and not very exciting story where in high school I drew a thesis project and I chose to do a comic about feudal japan, and it wasn’t very good and it was really quite embarrassing.

AB: But…

Alex: Because I was super into anime at the time, so it was – 

Joe: Let’s clarify, when you say “at the time”…

Alex:  I don’t think I am super into anime now – I’m super into animation.  I don’t watch a lot of anime anymore. 

AB: Mh-hm?

Alex: Because… because it’s awful.  98% of anime is terrible. 

Joe: But the good stuff is still amazing.

Alex: But the good stuff is still good, yeah, absolutely.

AB: Right

Alex: So, so I did the project and that’s where I created Yori, Ken and Cho – Oh, I’m sorry:  Yori, Ina and Cho were all in that comic.  And Cho was Japanese in it.  Anyway, for whatever reason I was attached to those characters.  I’m not sure why, I think it was just that they were characters that I created. And then I went into college.  So, I moved to Columbus to go to Columbus College of Art and Design.  I met Joe my freshman year, so that’s where we met, and at the time I had started reading webcomics, and webcomics were super new. It was 2001. Webcomics probably started [to gain popularity] in 1998.

Alex:  And they were usually done by programmers, who would actually create a website and stick a comic on it, and they were, generally like, stick figures or really amateur drawings and- And I was like- “I’m going to art school!  I’m an artist! I can do this!”  And so I was like, in the Second Wave – I forget who it was that said there were waves of webcomics. The first wave was programmers, and the second wave was amateur artists who realized they couldn’t quite make it into professional comics but realized that they could draw better than the programmers, so they started to make webcomics.  And then all of the “real artists” came in and were like, “Wait a second, Webcomics are a thing?” and then they all came in and just made the incredible happen.  

Alex: So I think I was on the second wave and I think I just progressively got better as an artist.  I don’t know, I don’t keep up in quality in terms of some new stuff.  But I try.  I try to be a good artist.  Anyway.  The way it started was, 2001, freshman year of college I was reading… I forget what the webcomic was but I was a big fan of it.  I’m obviously not a big fan of it anymore because I’ve forgotten what it was called, but it was about a girl who was a god and she goes into- All of her family are gods of their own universe, and she’s given a universe to be in charge of but she kind of falls into it and she’s fucking around, and it’s like a fantasy world, and there’s all these people having these Medieval Fantasy type quests. She walks in, this little girl, does a couple god-like things, and is like: “Hi, I’m god.” And everyone’s like, “Wait, you’re our god?”  So there’s a lot of metahumor of, “Why, God, Why.” and she’s like, “I dunno.”

Alex: Anyway, I really liked that comic and was like – “I’m gonna do a webcomic too”, I took my comic idea that I had done in high school for my thesis, completely revamped it, and I was actually was going to make it a parody of Rurouni Kenshin

AB: I was curious about that, because it had shades of Rurouni in it.

Alex: Oh yeah, Rurouni Kenshin?  I fell in love with it in the last two years of high school.  It… It was my everything?

AB: It was so fresh, then, too.  It was fresh coming over, and then it was on videocassette.

Alex:  I think it ended… I think it ended in ‘97 or something. I think it went from ’95 – ’97, the anime?  So it was just recently over and we had just gotten fansubs of it. So I had just recently watched it one or two years after it had come out.  And was in love with it, so I didn’t really have any ideas of my own, I just had my sloppy story about – Oh, my god, let me tell you about this high school story really briefly. 

AB: Okay.

Alex: It was basically Ina accepting – She ran away from home, just like at the way No Need for Bushido starts, and then she meets Cho, who convinces her that she needs to give in to the greater good because she has the power to stop a conflict, and she needs to just go get married even though she doesn’t want to.  It was a mixed moral message, looking back.

[In a way, I guess they were – AB]

AB: Right, Well, all high school stories have those shades of: “This is how stories go, so I’ll build a story this way,” and then as you grow in the rest of the world, you build more complex stories.  But that’s shades of “What could have been”, too.

Alex:  I think it was only fifteen pages long, it was not a big thing.

Alex:  So then she meets Yorikiro, who’s like… “Oh no, now my family’s going to go to war.”  And then she appears, and she’s like, “I’ll marry you.”  And he’s like… “I hope that we can find peace together, and… and avoid conflict.”  It was cornball.  Anyway, I took that basic premise when I started No Need for Bushido, and I was very early in on it when I met Joe in college, I had only drawn the first couple of strips… the first three strips, which are all compiled into page one now.  So I was at the page where she falls out of a window, climbing out of it, [on a rope of] bedsheets.  And I turn to my new friend Joe and I say, “Joe, I need a funny thing for a character to say while falling out of a window.”

Joe:  And I totally failed to give him any funny answer whatsoever.

AB: (laughs)

Joe: But apparently, I did at some point, provide some level humor because I started to help out little bits here and there, it’s not really exactly clear at what point I could even be considered a co-writer of the comic.

AB: It all feels kinda fuzzy for you.

Joe: Yeah

Alex: I don’t think Joe fully – I mean, I basically explained the plot, but it didn’t have much of one?  I think Joe guided me – like, he watched Kenshin –

Joe: Well, it wasn’t that forceful.

Alex:  Well now, we threw our – You and I, we were just out of high school, we were freshmen in college. You had some interest in anime, you hadn’t seen a lot. I had seen a bit more than you, so I… I just started throwing anime at you.

AB: That’s always how it happens.

Alex:  I think because we had just watched Kenshin together, so when I said, “I wanna make this parody of Rurouni Kenshin”.  Like, Yori was… I mean, have you seen Kenshin? How familiar are you with it?

AB: I’m familiar enough with it… I saw it kind of like when you guys did, shortly after high school, I did watch it about two years ago when I re-watched it.

Alex:  Okay, I didn’t know if you had seen the new movies or whatever.

AB: I haven’t yet.  It’s on my list.

Alex:  I’ve got movies two and three on Blu Ray, I’ve seen the first one, I’ve watched it twice, but I have not seen the sequels even though I got them for Christmas.  (It just came out, it literally just came out over Christmas.)

Alex:  Anyway, Kenshin essentially had two personalities, his “Hitokiri Manslayer” personality and his laudable, affable personality.

AB: Right

Alex: So Yori was going to have that, too.  Kenshin’s hitokiri personality was called the Battousai, and at the time I thought it was funny if it was going to be a play on words, and Yori was the Bath Housai?  Like as in bath house, which makes no sense.  It was just supposed to be funny that he was named after a bath house.

Joe: (in the background) Well, then he was going to attacks based on those –

Alex:  Oh, yeah, he was going to have plenty of attacks like… “Reverse Swirl Toilet Attack!” and it was… it was bad. It was not funny.

AB: It was not what you ended up doing.

Alex:  No, I think fairly early on I realized that… that was stupid. (chuckles) So I… We started a very vague outline.  I had all these ideas of what I wanted.  Like, my cool samurai anime to have in it, a group of bad guys following the main cast, and they had to fight them one at a time, classic anime tropes, lots of fighting… and so – honestly, we didn’t have a huge plan.  When No Need for Bushido started, there was very little actual direction.  Just the vague idea that Yori would eventually have to face his father, and that there would be a group of bad guys he would have to go through to get there.  So the complexity of No Need for Bushido was not planned.  The complexity of the comic is the resulting entirely from writing on the seat of your pants and trying to cover up your mistakes.  And resulting in more complex plots.

AB:  And that leads to the question of… The entrance of Matrix?

Alex: Yes.  Matrix is… She’s one of the byproducts of… High School Geekery?

AB: Yes!

entrance_of_matrix

Alex: One of my favorite movies is obviously The Matrix.  Like, who doesn’t love that movie?

AB:  And who doesn’t love when it came out, too?  [NN4B] kind of fell right in with that, so it makes a lot of sense.

Alex:  The Matrix came out in 1997, right? And so this was right around… shortly after the sequels came out, I think.  Man, I didn’t like those, but whatever.

AB: (chuckles) But anyway –

Alex:  I just liked people in trenchcoats and sunglasses, and it was really cool, and it was the cool thing to do.  And I had a bunch of comic ideas at the time, and I was like, I want one character that could just like… pwn them.  A meta character.

AB: Ahhhh….

Alex:  Who just comes into the comics, and that’s what Matrix was.

Joe:  I think there was… a lot of discussion about how to try to make her actually make sense within the comic.  And there are ideas that have been thrown out, and an actual idea that was the truth which is only into that, here and there.  Essentially Matrix was there because there was just a need to have the character in for the cool factor at the expense of any actual logic.

AB: At the time.

Joe: Yeah, so as time has caught up – When I was first introduced to Matrix as a character, I wasn’t really sure how to take her myself.  I’ve since grown a little more into the character in how she fits with the main cast, particularly recently.

Alex: I think at this point we can say that we like the character, although if we were starting from scratch, we would not include her.

AB:  That’s fair.

Alex:  But since she is there, she is part of the plot, and she does have a conclusion arc that ties in with everything.  She is an integral part of the story at this point, and we could not do it without her at this point.  But starting out, she was kind of just thrown in there with vague ideas of where she is or what she would do.

AB: That’s one of the things that’s an important part of growing characters:  Being able to grow them into a tapestry. And that’s more or less what’s happened so far in No Need For Bushido. I mean… there’s a lot of growth within the characters. (pause) I think my favorite part is Ejiro’s story right now.

Joe: He’s a bit of a surprise, actually.

AB: Tell me more.

eijiro

Joe: It’s really easy to write a bratty character, but after a while you want to do a bit more than that.  So his character grew more than I anticipated at least, and has room to continue.

Alex:  I’m not sure – I don’t remember what our full plan was with Ejiro when we initially introduced him.  We wanted him to be red herring for the audience, like – Maybe Yori isn’t he one that Ina is supposed to marry, maybe it was this guy, and everyone was just assuming that it was Yori.  So I knew that was part of it; that he was going to be a red herring. I don’t think we exactly thought about how his character was going to effect the rest of the plot.  And now he’s a huge part of it.

AB: He is.

Alex:  The way we have him and his story arc is – I don’t know – It’s one of the biggest character arcs in the series. (Not to give anything away…)  Our plan for him as a character is more sweeping than any other character.  Maybe.  Possibly.

Joe: Well, he goes through a lot of change in comparison to many of the other characters.  You don’t see Yori being an entirely different person than he is, or Cho, or Ina.  They’re all extensions of the personality that we see when we’re first introduced to them.  Ejiro has more room to vary from his initial introduction.

Alex: And as our friend Pascalle from Wilde Life would say, she loves grumpy teens.

AB: Who doesn’t love grumpy teens.

Alex: Their parents.             

AB:  Oh, I was going to ask: [Yukizane Masamune]  The general who plays shoji to end wars?  I was wondering who inspired him.

yukizane

Alex: Well, there’s an obvious assumption that people make that he is based on Iroh of…

Joe: Avatar: The Last Airbender

AB: I didn’t want to assume, but I did want to ask.

Alex: He actually predates Iroh.

AB:  He does, doesn’t he?

Joe: He was entered the comic about a year or so before Avatar initially premiered.

AB:  That’s why I wanted to ask.  I knew they came out close to the same time, but I couldn’t pin down exactly when it was because I couldn’t find the date on it.

[Fact break: Turns out it was 2005 that Avatar premiered, and NN4B introduced Yukizane easily 2-3 years before that. Yukizane’s intro on page 41 would have been around 2001/2002.]

Alex: Yeah, now it is true that when we saw Avatar: The Last Airbender there were elements that we really liked, but I think the biggest influence on the comic was not the character influence, but actually just facial expressions.  I think the comic got a little more expressive around that time.

Joe:  And the main reason Yukizane is Yukizane, really has more to do with our readers more than anything else.  When we introduced him, he was a little bit more of a throwaway joke.  Not entirely but…

Alex: He was, kinda, because he was just gonna be the goofball that was put in charge.

Joe:  He wasn’t going to really do anything, but we had a few different scenes with him where people started to see hints of him being interestingly different.  And we got feedback from readership saying that they were actually pretty excited about his character, and we were like… “Oh no, we gotta do something with this character to live up to these higher expectations.”  So that’s when we started having scenes with him outsmarting people left and right because that’s what the readers were expecting, not just his whole backstory about avoiding the battle, but actually seeing him do it.

AB: And do it well.

Joe: Yeah, so that’s the main influence of Yukizane: Readership Enthusiasm

AB:  So I do normally ask things like – what did influence the comic over time?  You mentioned Kenshin first, is there anything else, did you look into feudal Japan as you grew the webcomic to make it be more powerful, things like that.

Alex:  I’d say one of the big influences is Shogun, the James Clavell novel and the miniseries based on the book.

AB: Yeah.

Alex:  At this point it’s been a heavy influence, especially with the introduction of the Portuguese characters and the Hindu priest.  Firearms start to become a thing.  And It’s about a Portuguese… wait, he’s not Portuguese, he’s English?

Joe:  Yes, he’s English, but he was with a Portuguese group, and it’s currently under…

Alex: It’s about an English man – based on a guy – an actual historical figure [William Adams] who ended up in Japan, and became a samurai, and was one of the few Europeans to reach that class. It’s a really good book.

AB: It IS a really good book.

Alex: You’ve heard of it?

AB: Yeah, I borrowed it from a friend when they were reading it, and I got to read about the first half of it before I had to give it back.

Joe: Ricardo [Bartello] is based on not the main character, but he is most closely related to the John Rhys-Davies character.

Alex:  The miniseries was made in the late 70’s, one of the characters was a Portuguese trader, and Ricardo was very heavily based on him.  In the miniseries, he was played by John Rhys-Davies, the actor who played Saul in the Indiana Jones movies, and a million other things, and Gimli, of course, in the Lord of the Rings series.  So [Ricardo] is heavily based on that character. Also the costuming of those characters is based on the costuming for the miniseries.  So we did pull from that.

Joe: And not to directly, but to move on to another reference, unless you have more about Shogun…

Alex: No

Joe:  The original set-up of the village of  [Lord Murasaki] was Seven Samurai which is hinted at by –

Alex & Joe: Several Samurai

Alex: We were trying really hard to get the samurai count to be exactly seven, in that arc, but it didn’t quite work out.  Depending on how you count them, the bandits count as two samurai and theoretically Maru had a few samurai with him that never manifested, so it became “Several Samurai”.  (pause) What other influences…

AB:  From the Kabuki arc?

Alex: I don’t know what influence that was from.  I think it was a trope-y thing?  That was just our trope-y idea of “How about we just have them…”– because every sitcom, every TV show has a sequence where they have to throw out a play when people who are just not ready to do it, (laughs) and so they do a bad job, and the audience loves it for some stupid reason.  That was it.  That was entirely the main plot.

Alex:  And that’s when we developed Ken’s sense of… Because Ken was already super-dramatic when we introduced him.

AB: Right

Joe:  I think it was supposed to be The Princess Bride.  Inigo Montoya.

Alex:  Oh, yeah, The Princess Bride is a reference.  But we wanted to fill out his character some more.

AB:  Ah-ha – that sounds about right.

Joe: Well, if you noticed, Nataku has nine fingers while Inigio Montoya was after a man with eleven fingers.  That was actually one of the reasons for him losing a finger.

nataku_finger_strike

AB: Interesting…

Joe: There was a time early in the comic – super early-on – looking for a Wataro with nine fingers.  As if he didn’t know what Nataku looked like.  Clearly, he does, so that would have been kind of silly.  That idea got scrapped pretty quickly.

Alex: Pretty quickly, yeah.  The interesting thing about Ken is that he was kind of a last-minute addition.  He wasn’t going to be a part of the comic at all, and then I was like… “Man, everything’s got giant swords in it, Kenshin’s got a giant sword, all of these video games have giant swords…”

AB: “We need somebody to carry a giant sword!”

Alex: “Why don’t we have someone carry a sword that’s bigger than everyone else’s sword.” And he always had it, and he never lost it, and he was just a character with a giant sword.  And part of it was, it always bugged me in Rurouni Kenshinthat Sinosuke has a giant sword for two episodes and then loses it forever.  Except for in the manga, but in the anime he loses it forever. 

Alex:  “And so, what if Ken is like Sinosuke, but he never lost his sword.”  So that’s kinda where Ken came from.   And so when Sinosuke is introduced, he’s kind of an angry drunk – but he’s got a good heart.  But I was like, “What if we have an angry drunk and he’s just an asshole, and he’s just always an asshole.” So we kind of went with that, and he’s just a jerk all the time.

AB:  But Ken’s a jerk you can trust 80% of the time.

Alex: 80% of the time.

ken_backmeupbetter

AB: As long as you’re on his side.

Alex:  Yeah, As long as your interests align with his, everything is fine.  Although at this point we’ve decided his character is actually going to evolve – and is evolving, obviously he’s evolved so he’s not quite as big of a jerk as he used to be. And I guess you can’t avoid that.   But my initial intent with Ken was that he would never evolve, and that he was just going to be a jerk the whole story, but that’s just not conducive to good storytelling – even if it is amusing.

Joe:  I want to point out that even though this was written on the seat of our pants, there are ideas that go back way to the very beginning that held true, and that would be things like… Ken’s love interests.  There is an old desktop background that Alex drew, way at the beginning, to give away to readers that featured… (but we didn’t want to give away) the whole Daisuke background, but we did think of it way back then.

Joe:  So there are lots of ideas that have held true.  The exact “how we connect the dots” is very fuzzy, but many of the dots are very bright and clear.

AB:  And that falls under: Having had so long to tell that story, too.  Where you can go back, revisit them, and say, “Yes, this still needs to be here.”

Alex:  Good times, except that we’ve murdered so many babies at this point.

AB: Well….

Alex:  There have been a lot of ideas that have gotten scrapped. And continue to get scrapped. Stuff that I’ve been excited about for nearly a DECADE and now we’re like, “No, we can’t do that anymore.  It’ doesn’t work, it doesn’t fit.”

AB: “We can’t do this alternate universe anymore.”  Maybe if you reboot it sometime as a second storyline, just like Neon Genesis.  They had a whole schoolgirl arc, in manga.

Joe:  We can spoil a non-idea that won’t happen.

Alex: We could tell you one of my fever ideas –

AB: So let’s call it… “What Could Have Happened.”

Alex:  All right, here is one of my favorite ideas that isn’t going to happen anymore.  They were going to go off and train with Matrix.  There was going to be a time skip that’s not happening anymore.  They were going to go off and train, and to conclude the training they were going to go to a hot spring, and they were going to have some funny antics.  And I say “we” but Joe NEVER liked this idea.

AB: No obligatory hot spring?! Man!

Alex: I know, right? You gotta have a –

Joe:  I am such a prude.

Alex:  And they were all going to be scantily clad, and Ina was – and Matrix would be flirting with Yori and pissing off Ina. You know how she does it just to piss her off.  And we were going to have antics with the divide with the two sides, you know – The women’s and the men’s bath.

Alex: And then the funny thing is that Wu and Tang, having been unable to find Cho, would have had to get jobs in Japan to sustain themselves, and they would have gotten jobs at this particular hot springs. So they would have discovered Cho is at the Hot Springs – and they would have gotten into this big fight IN the hot spring.  So everyone would be like… fighting, and wearing towels and stuff, and all of the water would have been kicking up.

Alex: Actually, You know, I think that’s why we have Wu and Tang fighting in the rice paddy right now, so we can have the water lots of water flying around right now, because I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.

Joe: So just think of it like it’s a really, really low rent hot spring.

Alex: So that’s an idea I really wanted to do, but it’s not happening, unfortunately.

AB: I can appreciate that.  I kinda want it as a single-panel wallpaper now, though.  That would be pretty amazing.

Alex: Chilling out in the hot springs.

Joe: Some things were cut just because of our transition from being a parody story to a separate series story.  So there was a point when the characters were going to, I guess, Kyoto? A tournament that would have had –

Alex: Oh, Yeah – This is an idea that I… for several years, was really intending to do this.  Like, all through high school I wanted to have a scene where they go to a tournament, and we have a bunch of cameos from movies and video games.  We’d have Soul Calibur characters and Mortal Combat characters, and a lot of fighting game characters show up, and they have to fight ‘em.

Joe: Cho vs Raiden

Alex: Yeah, Cho vs Raiden.

AB: That’s a Robot Chicken episode waiting to happen…

Alex: Exactly.

Joe: So yeah, some ideas get cut because it doesn’t fit with the story, some ideas get cut because it doesn’t fit the feel of the comic.

Alex: Here’s one thing though, the first strip of the comic says that there’s going to be a ton of seppuku, and obviously there hasn’t been any.  The joke was that we were going to have a seppuku squad, they were going to charge the enemy, pull out their swords, and stab themselves and all die. So there WAS going to be a ton of Seppuku…

Joe: (breaks in) “But it would have been done tastefully”

Alex: Oh yeah, so tastefully. (snorts) But at some point we realized that was an AWFUL idea, so we didn’t do it.  But it still says that there’s going to be a ton of seppuku in the comic, although there clearly is not.

AB: Right

Joe:  It depends on someone’s… point of view.

Alex: The point of view of “is this thing in the comic, or is it not”?

Joe: I don’t know, I just consider some of the character’s actions can be pretty suicidal in the comic.

AB: That is fair…

Joe: Anyway, yeah.

AB: So, one of my favorite things about No Need for Bushido is the sound effect pops, where instead of a door saying “Crrrreak”, it will say “Open’d!” And from what I understand, Alex, that evolved from you?

Alex: That frequently evolved from me because I would be finishing the comic around… 1:00 am? To put up.  And around that time I’m like, “Oh yeah, I need to put in sound effects,” and things get kind of loopy because it’s late at night.  So… putting in a standard sound effect just feels… boring to me. I guess.  It just seems boring! Putting in a word for a sound effect, I guess, also comes from manga. In manga, the sound effects are words, sometimes, that say something – and it’s so visual – in manga when there’s a sound effect, it’s font that matters.  The font shows the sound more than the actual sound effect.

AB: Right, Ranma ½ was really good at doing that. 

ranma_half_kbonkranma_half

Alex: Exactly, so that was what it was – it doesn’t even matter what it says, it’s really the font that matters.

Joe: It doesn’t even matter if the sound is happening.

Alex: Right, Exactly.  It’s an emphasis, the font is just an emphasis.  Whenever I put in a sound effect, the font is usually in a way that’s moving with the action or radiating from the action.  And what it actually says.  I usually put words because the word is longer than the sound effect, and therefore if it was longer I could use it to emphasize the sound effect more.

AB: Because you know the sound in your head just a little bit.  And the reader just fills it in.

Alex: Let’s say a character is going to peak around a corner, and I want to show how ridiculous it is, I’ll put the sound effect: “Peek!” or something to emphasize how silly it is that they’re peeking.  I don’t know, it’s not even a process I think about very hard.

sfx_nn4b

Joe: And a good chunk of the story can take itself too seriously, so we have horses that will say “Neigh” and “Ditto”, because if we took the story too seriously, I think that we would have been failing at actually making an actual super serious story.

Alex:  The problem is that when I started No Need for Bushido, I didn’t know Jack about Feudal Japan.  I watched Rurouni Kenshin, which takes place in the Meiji Era, which is like 200 years later –  300 years later. And then I read Shogun some time after I started the comic, which was the correct time period, pretty much.  So I was realizing at about that point that, “Wow, I got a lot of stuff wrong,” So I was watching documentaries, and reading up on Feudal Japan and now I know SO  much more about it.

AB: And I was curious about when that started to evolve, because I did see a change from “Anachronism Stew” to something a bit more uniform in some of the later chapters

Alex:  I think that was just a natural progress of learning the subject matter more, and not relying on obvious anachronisms to fill in holes of knowledge with things that I didn’t know about. 

AB: (Chuckles)

Alex: For example, I wanted Cho to be distracted by food, and we didn’t know what Japanese food is like, so we had a hot dog vendor go by.  What did we know? We were just some dumb high school kids, we’d never been to Japan, we had just watched a bunch of anime. “What kind of food do they have in Japan?” “Ehhhhh….” “Why don’t you just use Google?” It was 2001, Google wasn’t that big of a term at the time.

AB: Google wasn’t that strong YET.  You would have used Yahoo!  Which wouldn’t have necessarily have been better, but hey!

Alex: We could have looked it up, but we were lazy.  And we were like, “Hey we’re just making a joke, we won’t have to worry about it.”

AB: Right.

Alex: So that was our philosophy then, and our philosophy now is that it’s so easy to look stuff up that we might as well get the right answer.

Joe: That’s not to say that we’ll never use an anachronism, just that we’ll use it a little more carefully.

AB: That’s something that I’ll definitely continue to keep a look-out for.  I did want to ask: since you have been looking up feudal Japan – is there a resource that you might suggest that readers go to, or anime watchers go to for a little more for Japanese culture in feudal Japan, etc.

Alex:  I always just say, go to the internet, you know?  And I still think Shogun is a great book.  I still think Shogun is one of the best, easily accessible, historical fiction, feudal Japanese novels.

Joe: I think it was written to be informative about this culture that was so different

Alex: Except for maybe the Ninja part.  I’m pretty sure that was fictionalized. It’s like… everyone likes ninjas.

Joe:  But it’s like, if they didn’t have it in the book, everyone would have been like “Hey, where are the ninjas? You did this wrong!”

AB: Like, “Where are all the Ninjas at? There should be Ninjas here!”

Alex: Wolf and Cub.  That’s a good one.  Granted, that’s Tokugawa era, but still, there is a lot of really cool historical stuff in Wolf and Cub.

Joe: The key thing to remember, because it’s just so easy for us to forget, people always think of history like Feudal Japan, or Ancient Egypt, or any other history as one fixed point in time that was “exactly like this”.  But that culture lasted a long time and evolved a lot, so as long as you just remember that Egypt wasn’t always building pyramids, and having pharaohs “like this”; and Japan didn’t always have Shoguns and Emperors “like this”.  History is always more complex.

Alex: And we… we messed up so much stuff. Like, Kabuki theater didn’t exist until 1600, it didn’t arrive until after the Tokugawa regime had taken over. Easu Tokugawa took over, and his successors had a strict ban on moving up or down in class.  There was a caste system, and whatever you were, you were that forever. So that’s when stuff like Kabuki started to happen.  Because the people that were in the arts were in the arts forever, and the Samurai didn’t have any wars to fight, so they said things like, “Well, what are we going to do,” “We’ll study the arts.” “Well, we need arts to study…”

AB: And so they created theatre.

Alex: They created theatre.  I mean, there WAS theatre, there was “Noh” theatre before that, which is more ritualistic, and Kabuki theatre was more… sensationalist.

AB: And a little bit more bawdy.

Alex: Yeah.  All men!  Women can’t just… perform in theatre.

AB: I saw a clip of Noh, it’s very… quiet.  It’s a very… peaceful…. Theater art.  And when you compare it to something like the really powerful look and actions of Kabuki, they’re very different.

Joe: Oh, yeah.  And both are very different than the look and feel of what No Need for Bushido depicted it as.

Alex: No Need for Bushido did it like a High School play

AB: I’m pretty sure you’re forgiven for it at this point.  Almost every high school anime has a school play episode these days.  It fits right in with the genre.

Alex: Oh, sure.

AB: Let’s say someone’s read through the entire archives, where would you send them to go next, while waiting for the next page.

Alex: First I would suggest: Go read Kenshin. Because it’s my favorite.  And go read Wilde Life, because that comic’s amazing.

Joe:  I do like the idea of throwing Shogun in there

Alex: Yeah. Read Shogun.

Joe: Read the alt scripts.

AB: OH RIGHT! I forgot. Those are pretty amazing.

Joe: They were a desperate attempt to provide filler at a point of time in the comic where we were a lot less regular with our updates.

AB: And after they read that, they can read Partially Clips, for other places where alt-scripts are used.

Joe: Yes.

AB:  Thank you both, again, so much for talking with me.

 You can follow Alex on his Twitter account and Tumblr (which he keeps stocked with animation from his day job as well), and Joe on his Twitter.  If you’re starting No Need For Bushido for the first time, you can attack the archives, or start with the handy-dandy “how did we get here” guide.  If you want to watch Rurouni Kenshin, the rights are currently with Crunchyroll and the manga volumes were published most recently by Viz media. 

Thanks for joining us for Manga March, Sensei Sunday is next week!  See you then!

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Manga, Manga Monday, Mangaka and Indie Comic Interviews

Manga Monday: Exclusive with Blake Clouser of Kittarou: Witch Hunter!

This week for Manga Monday, we have Blake Von Klausur / Blake Clouser, of Kittarou: Witch Hunter!

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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!

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Anime Primer, Anime Suggestion Trail, Manga, Manga Monday

Manga Monday: EXCLUSIVE interview with Kit Windsor of Foxy and Wolfy: CHAOS

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Libraries, Intrigue, Foxgirls in wheelchairs, Lolita style and secret societies!   That’s the at-a-glance description of Foxy and Wolfy: Chaos, a manga-style indie comic conceived and written by Kitsune Windsor.  The creator of Foxy and Wolfy took some time to talk with Anime Binge about some of the more unique aspects of the shoujou comic, as well as some anime inspirations and recommendations of his own.

[NOTE: MILD UNMARKED SPOILERS AHOY]

 

Kitsune Windsor:  I’m Kit Windsor, nice to meet you!

Anime Binge: Let’s talk about “Foxy and Wolfy” first.  It struck me as REALLY interesting that one of the two main characters (Wolfy/Amaya) was born in Iran… can we talk about it just a little?

Kit W.:   Sure, there are a few reasons why.  One is that my prom date and friend was from Iran and experienced some of the life and everything.  Also being LGBT is very dangerous, so [I] modeled Amaya Bellerose after my friend, a strong Iranian lady.

I made Amaya come from Iran to show that they have great people.

AB:  That’s really great!  I love that the main couple are completely devoted to each other.

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Kit W.: It plays a big part later on, the spiritual bonds

AB:  That makes sense. Actually, you have a lot of different characters with cultural ties, and two of the three main characters are wheelchair bound. It plays very naturally in the comic. How did it come about?

Kit W.: I myself have muscular dystrophy and use a wheelchair daily. Misaki represents doing your best with what you have and enjoying life.

Roza is severely disabled, but lives happily. She flirts, is smart and just a human being…

Both parts of me.  They’re meant to show disabled as just people

AB:  They really add texture – and having them both there as a part of the main trio doesn’t put all the pressure on one character to be “the girl in the wheelchair”. They’re both equally unique in their own ways.

Are there any big things happening at F & W Central?

Kit W.: Currently making book 0 to better explain our world and it will be ready Valentine’s day [2017]. Then updating book 1 and will be ready by June. Then Kickstarter for book 3 late May.

We want top quality.

AB: Ah! Prequels are a great addition to a series.

Kit W.: New style is amazing.

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AB: Actually, I’m going to take a second to gush a little bit. The black and white art is beautiful, but the coloring to the books so far has been really lush and amazing. Why did you (and your team members) make a decision to include a colorist with the launch? Has it been worth it?

Kit W.: Color versions are for Kickstarters and Gofundme only, we have a new colorist as the original was too busy. She’s an awesome lady.

Some prefer our b/w.

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AB: I can completely understand – most Manga is exclusively in B&W, so it makes sense.

Let’s talk a little about inspiration. Foxgirls, Kitsune, and spirit stories are sprinkled throughout Japanese folklore – do you have a story or an anime that you feel influenced your team?

Kit W.: F/W has deep inspiration from Sailor Moon, D. Gray Man and Madoka. To smaller degree Inuyasha and Fairy Tail.

Also, I love Ghibli.

AB:  Ghibli is SO cool.  I can see Sailor Moon, for sure.  I’m a little surprised to hear D. Gray Man, though.

Kit W.:  See, Alan walker wanted peace so bad.  Everyone else didn’t.  Misaki started her group for peace; they pay dearly for their unpopular views one day.

AB:  It sounds like it’s going to be intense.

Kit W.:  It will, we have a lot planned.

AB: The lush visuals and rich illustrations reminded me of Trinity Blood – are there any “vintage” shows that you’d recommend? Classics worth introducing to new would-be anime fans?

Basically, what is your “Anime Primer”?

Kit W.:  Record of Lodoss War is vintage, I really enjoyed Trinity Blood.  Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star, Shinsekai Yori, Ranma ½, Escaflowne, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away.

And Berserk.

AB:  Cowboy Bebop and Trigun were two of my first ones.

Kit W.:  My first one was odd.

AB:  Which one was it?

Kit W.:  Nuku Nuku and Ninja Scroll, as a kid.   Ninja Scroll was a bit rough.

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AB:  I’ll bet!  Mine was so odd I had to look it up to see if it actually existed or not – AND if they qualified as anime. (Spoiler alert: They did – Superbook and Flying House.)

Kit W.:  I like obscure.

AB:  Obscure can be fun.

Let’s say someone has read ALL of Foxy and Wolfy.  What would you send them to go watch while the team works on your next book?

Kit W.:  Shinsekai Yori, Madoka, Aijin, Inuyasha, Ranma, D. Gray – All of it.  F/W is about differences and racism.

AB:  It’s hard to keep a cast diverse but easy to keep them all the same.  I really appreciate that you are willing to tackle those questions with your characters.

So, last question: When I first contacted you, I was curious about a few things.  One was how your team got in touch with each other – are you a remote team, were you buddies in real life – how did it come about?

Kit W.: Actually, I started hiring concept artists and slowly built a team.  The [B&W] current artist asked to join.

AB:  Kit, thank you again so much for taking the time to chat with me!

Kit W.:  Thanks for taking interest.

 

 

 

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