Rock was an orphan. Someone burned down his orphanage. He was somewhat perturbed by that. Now, as an adult, he’s got his boys Lex and Bear at his side. They’ve got on mission…to find out who decided to Burn the Orphanage.
That’s the set-up for some old-school fighting action in this new Image Comics limited series that premieres in August. Drawing its premise and visual style heavily from those sweet fighting arcade games of the 1980s, it’s your classic tale of vengeance, friendship, and topless stripper ninjas. We spoke to creators Daniel Freedman and Sina Grace to get the lowdown on this throw-down.
Newsarama: Guys, tell us about Burn the Orphanage.
Sina Grace: The story follows a guy named Rock pummeling his way through the streets in order to find out who burnt down his childhood home- an orphanage. You’ll see a lot of traditional side-scroller backdrops, but with our fun twists and turns.
Burn the Orphanage is the first part of Born to Lose- a three-part story following Rock’s overall journey.
Nrama: How did this come about?
Daniel Freedman: Sina and I have been friends since we were teens. In all honestly, I may have actually picked on him a little in high school for being a nerd. Low in behold, I was a much bigger nerd myself.
We hadn't seen each other for years. We went to a Sleigh Bells concert together one night and something magical happened. Burn the Orphanage came out of us just riffling ideas for fun and then one day Sina started drawing. And he hasn't stopped since.
Grace: Part of why this project came together is that a lot of my upcoming books are a long ways off, or longer form graphic novels... I get antsy if I don’t have something new out, and Burn the Orphanage felt like a great break from having to emotionally excavate my past on the Not My Bag follow-up.
The trilogy format allows us to tell these oversized standalone action romps without having to stick to a monthly schedule.
Nrama: Give us the down-low on the protagonist Rock and his boys. Like the video games that inspired them, are they winners? Do they not do drugs?
Grace: Rock is my favorite type of character: the one that sticks to his version of right no matter what, because it’s all he’s got. Bear and Lex are similarly unlucky in life given that they’re both equally poor and glorified street urchin; they just don’t have a chip on their shoulders the way Rock does, so they keep things fun.
Freedman: The trilogy is called Born to Lose for a reason. I'll leave that as a tease for now but it has nothing to do with drugs. Rock, like most people, will be the architect of his own destruction. It's an "only after we're out of the forest can we see the trees" type of thing. It'll all make sense in the end.
Nrama: Okay, how did you come up with the title for this? It...catches the eye.
Grace: As sort of mentioned above, it’s a line in Sleigh Bell’s “Demons.” It’s one of those inexplicable moments where music and friendship inspire and compel two individuals to create something new.
Nrama: What is the extent of your great and abiding love for 1980s-era ninja action? Can you recall the joyous laugh you had when that guy went "Oh God" after you trashed his car in Final Fight? The confusion of Karnov from Bad Dudes being the protagonist of a separate and extremely difficult game by Data East? And on a barely-related note, didn't Narc send a weird message by having faceless DEA operatives blow away drug dealers, then getting points by seizing their cash and blow?
Grace: Daniel can totally rep this stuff better than me. He’s got an extensive knowledge and history on these things. My approach is taking what my memories of Super Nintendo games, and playing arcade games when my mom took us on family trips to Vegas... and riffing off of those. Daniel’s been great and is re-visiting a lot of that stuff and using that to guide the way, too.
Freedman: Sina and I are both 80's babies, so we were playing games more in the 90's. For me, I was a huge SNK and Neo Geo guy. King of Fighters, Metal Slug and Fatal Fury were my jams on top of the classic street fighter and street of rage fare.
It's been fun to revisit that stuff and see that there was never actually any stories for the characters beyond one sentence set ups. I remembered as a kid knowing everyone’s back stories and I realized that was me bringing the characters to life in my head. All those sprite animations really opened up a whole world for me.
Nrama: Also, appropos of nothing, you seen Miami Connection? That's got orphan tae kwan do masters with an anti-ninja rock band with keytaurs and HEXAGON DRUMS.
Freedman: I haven't seen it yet. But I know about it. There's a lot of ‘80s style in Burn the Orphanage but also a lot of ‘90s flavor.
Grace: Holy moley, I have not! (I just IMDbd it) I’ve been super ‘90s about a lot of the design, but maybe I can inject some of this into the last few pages...
Nrama: How do y'all collaborate on this here comic-type book? Describeth yon process!
Grace: The process was a lot of us spitballing back and forth. Both of us coming up with ideas from our different perspectives. Originally, I think Daniel had a little more of a serious-minded story (Rock was gonna be in therapy re-telling all of this), but it put some of the fun nonsense we envisioned into question.
There are times where I go overboard in the wrong ways, or I’m too restrained. We talk about all the larger stuff together. I end up sort of pacing the thing out, penciling and inking. At that point Daniel comes in and will tell me if I’m doing good work or cruddy work. We go over the final script together before sending out to a letterer.
Freedman: Yeah, this experience has been an interesting one since I've never worked this way before. I've always been very tight on plotting and making sure everything is laid out beforehand.
I tend to not have any art done until the script is complete. Maybe something on page 1 needs to come back on page 100 and if you don't know that is yet, then you can't tell a complete coherent story. But Sina can't be stopped. He draws fast and furiously (pun intended) and gets really excited and just goes.
Nrama: On the issue of actually burning orphanages, I feel that our readers could use a little PSA. Please take this opportunity to describe why burning orphanages is NOT COOL.
Grace: You guys... the person who burnt an orphanage in our book is a bad human being. He or she will pay direly by the end of the book. No one wins when you burn down buildings.
Freedman: I'm going to play devil’s advocate here. Why not burn them down? Actually, as I thought about answering that question, I couldn't come up with a single good reason. Not a fun one. So, don't burn down kids or the buildings they live in.
Nrama: What's it like working with Image Comics on this?
Grace: Image Comics has been real cool about the entire process. They’re willing to let us do our thing, and have been receptive to every idea we’ve come up with. I always get scared that any time I have a new book in mind, it’ll be the moment they say “No. That’s lame.” So far, they’re still enthusiastic and I don’t always believe that I am being published at the coolest house in comics.
Freedman: Agreed. Image is the best home for creator-owned-content. They support us when we need them and otherwise give us the freedom to produce the book we want.
Nrama: What are some other comics and creators you're currently enjoying?
Grace: Oh man, can I do Daniel’s list, and Daniel do mine? We go to the comic store together. Daniel gets Hawkeye (only when Aja’s drawing it), The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus, Manhattan Projects, and he’ll read the Scott Snyder Batman comics I bring him.
Freedman: Sina reads a lot of indie fare. As well as some superhero stuff. I think he's always looking for inspiration and I'm looking for emotional and mental resonance.
Nrama: What's next for y'all?
Grace: I’ve always got random little things going on with the Adventure Time and Regular Show comics [at BOOM! Studios]... like, I had a Princess Bubblegum story last month and a Regular Show backup this month that I did with Struble... I’m also killing it on a sequel to last year’s gothic retail hell book, Not My Bag. It’s gonna be called Not Your Bag, Either. Kidding!
Freedman: I have some big projects on the horizon but unfortunately I can't say much at the moment. Also finishing Undying Love is something Tomm Coker and I are hoping to do real soon.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that you haven't discussed yet?
Grace: Buy more Image Comics! And Nobrow Press stuff, too! That stuff is real pretty.
Freedman: I recently had something called "buffalo cauliflower". It's exactly what it sounds like. Fried cauliflower bathed in buffalo sauce on a bed of blue cheese. It was pretty life changing. I'm a big meat eater and this thing really satisfied me. Just sayin'.
Get ready to throw down on the dudes who decided to Burn the Orphanage on August 7.