In 2001, Samurai Jack premiered on the cartoon landscape in a dystopian futuristic world pitting the Feudal prince Jack against the shape-shifting demon Aku. After three years and 52 episodes, Jack’s story ended… until now.
In a partnership between IDW Publishing and Cartoon Network, writer Jim Zub and artist Andy Suriano are bringing back Samurai Jack and doing it in comic form. Scheduled to launch this October, this Samurai Jack ongoing series picks up where the animated series left off – with show creator Genndy Tartakovsky onboard for covers (like the subscription variant for #1 to your right)!
For more, Newsarama spoke with Zub and Suriano about bringing this cult cartoon classic back, and Suriano brought along some colored art from the first issue to show off.
Newsarama: So guys, how did you get involved with doing this project, and what made it something you wanted to do?
Jim Zub: Late last year I’d been talking to Carlos Guzman (Editor at IDW) about a different comic project but it didn’t work out in terms of scheduling with other writing work I had on the go at the time. I told him I’d stay in touch and let him know when I was available. In March I did just that and he mentioned that IDW was looking for a proposal for Samurai Jack and I could throw my hat in the ring if I was interested. I was, I did, and thankfully it all worked out. So, in the end, it was getting in touch at the right time that started the ball rolling.
Samurai Jack is a wonderful property that blends martial arts, myth, sci-fi and fantasy all together into something familiar but distinctively its own. It pushes a lot of my pulp storytelling buttons all at once. I’ve been a fan since the show was on TV ten years ago and I’m thrilled to pick up the torch and continue the story.
Nrama: What’s the story of this first arc about?
Zub: An ancient artifact called the Rope of Eons was an important tool used by the shape-shifting wizard Aku to understand the magic of time travel. After he learned its secrets he shredded it so that no one else could benefit from it. The magical fibers left behind are now known as the Threads of Time and if Jack can gather them back together he may be able to re-wind the rope and rewind himself to get back to the past.
The quest for the Threads of Time will challenge Jack like few things have before.
Nrama: What makes Samurai Jack the animated series an ideal subject to translate into comics?
Zub: There’s a lot shared ground between animation and comics, especially with something as visually distinctive as Samurai Jack. The flat graphic look from the show translates really well to the printed page. Andy and I are working hard to make the Samurai Jack comic as interesting and enjoyable as the cartoon was on TV.
The cartoon did a lot of innovative tricks with animation and, in the spirit of that, I want to play with panel to panel storytelling as we go along and try some neat stuff that people maybe haven’t seen before. We want to use the strengths of the comic medium but make sure it still feels like Samurai Jack.
Nrama: Speaking of memorable moments in the animated series, I remember some episodes of Samurai Jack had some callbacks to comics like Frank Miller’s 300 and also Lone Wolf & Cub. Is seeing something like that here out of the question?
Zub: Absolutely not. In the first issue we have a group of gladiators that includes a riff on a certain movie star mutant and in future issues I draw upon other fantasy, sci-fi or pulp tropes people may recognize bits and pieces from. One of the most enjoyable things about Samurai Jack is the broad genre playground that’s available as part of the setting. You can introduce almost anything and have it fit in the strange futuristic world ruled by Aku.
Andy Suriano: Dude, NOTHING is out of the question, look out for Jim's very special homage to Tootsie issue. I kid. I keeeed.
Nrama: Tootsie or not, having Jack and Aku is a given but any chance for other characters like the Scotsman making an appearance?
Suriano: Ha! Everybody loves the Scotsman! Ha ha ha. My favorite design was the Horse Demon from the “Haunted House” episode—not just because I won an Annie for my work on it, but Genndy really let me loose and let me push the style to a more expressive, painterly line that's a little closer to my own personal work.
Zub: The Samurai Jack cartoon rarely had characters return from previous episodes and I wanted to make sure the comic established itself before we brought anyone back. That said, if the series does well and we continue past the Threads of Time story arc (psst- pre-order now and help make that happen!) then I already have plans for a few old favorites, especially the Scotsman.
Suriano: Don't worry, we'll get to the Scotsman, maybe not in the first arc, but we'll get him in there even if we need to blackmail somebody to do it.
Nrama: It seems like a no-brainer to hire an artist from the original show to do the comic, especially someone like you who’s well versed in comics already. Andy, How’d you get involved, and what made you want to return to the world of Samurai Jack?
Suriano: When I heard IDW acquired the rights and were going to start publishing Jack's continued adventures, I panicked and became extremely protective of the property. I wanted to make sure it was done right and made the introduction to IDW, insisting I was the best person for the job!
Nrama: Doing art on licensed work is a tight rope, and I imagine comics based on animation even more so since you have a one-to-one correlation on artwork already done. You worked on the television series, but how did you go about deliberating how you would draw the comic to be true to it without aping it?
Suriano: How to handle the show's unique style was a big dilemma. My feeling was if we try and ape the show's line-less, painterly aesthetic sensibility while still maintaining a monthly schedule, we/I would almost definitely fall short/pale in comparison. We (Jim and Carlos Guzman, editor), collectively decided the show was groundbreaking and should let it exist as it is—and that undertaking translating it to printed page, it needed to become it's own entity.
Nrama: You’ve said you worked several times with Genndy. Have you talked at him directly at all about the comic?
Suriano: Yes, I still have a dialog with Genndy and the funny thing was when I was being considered for the book, I went to him to ask his permission, as if he was the Godfather! He laughed and said of course and that I didn't need his blessing, but it was nice I got it!
Nrama: Comics are supposed to be all fun, but I have to ask something serious before we go – how does this story fit in chronologically with the episodes of the show?
Zub: The comic series takes place after the cartoon series. Season 4 left the over arcing story of Jack returning to the past unresolved so I’m writing the comic as if this is a fifth season filled to the brim with new adventures.