SPX COUNTDOWN: Samurai Action with BLACK SHEEP

Art from Black Sheep
Credit: Diego Tripodi

Welcome back to our countdown to the Small Press Expo (SPX), where we take a look at some of the creators who have books premiering or spotlighted at the show! This time out, we take a break for some old-fashioned swordsmanship with Black Sheep, a one-shot tale of Japan by Diego Tripodi. You can check the book out here, and we talked to Tripodi about its origins, his future plans, and more.

Newsarama Note: Some of the preview pages have Spanish dialogue; the version of the book that will be available at SPX will be in English.

Newsarama: Diego, tell us a bit about Black Sheep – what it's about, the characters, etc.

Art from Black Sheep
Art from Black Sheep
Credit: Diego Tripodi

Diego Tripodi: Black Sheep is about a former samurai called Otoku, now a family man, who is forced to pick up his sword after many years, when a menace from his past shows up at his farm.

The main characters are: Master Haru, a samurai who trains his students to become deadly warriors, and two of his students, Otoku being one of them, and there’s a bit of a father/son relationship between these two characters and Haru. In a way, I think that family is one of the themes of this story.

Nrama: What was the inspiration for this story? It's got kind of an Unforgiven vibe from the description.

Tripodi: I’m a big fan of Unforgiven, but to be completely honest, it didn't cross my mind at all. However now that you mention it, I can see that the premise for this story does sound similar to what could be the premise for Unforgiven.

I think that while there was a solemn tone to Unforgiven, this one is probably more fun-oriented. In that sense, when starting work on this project, I figured it would kind of be like a spaghetti western. Which is one of the inspirations. In fact, I have an homage to an scene from A Fistful of Dollars going on in two pages.

That said, I also approached this project with the kind of energy I had when I was a kid, where probably like most kids, I used to think of stories where genres mix and it's all valid.

Art from Black Sheep
Art from Black Sheep
Credit: Diego Tripodi

Like, I remember being eight years old and seeing on TV news about the Gulf War, and also having a toy of Batman, and then a friend had a toy of a race car, and it would all end up being part of a same story, and it was fun.

Of course, this is an approach which could be a recipe for potential disaster, but I found the challenge exciting, and I'm confident that I'll get to balance the different inspirations – spaghetti western, samurai, but there's also some crime noir thrown in the mix – in a way that all pieces fall in their place and these diverse influences will be logically connected.

Nrama: And tell us a bit about your art style for this story -- what were some of your biggest influences?

Tripodi: I love black and white photography, and with this project I’ve been experimenting a lot with textures and halftone dots, in order to hopefully achieve, within a graphic approach, something similar to film grain.

When it comes to the drawings, there are some panels here and there that kind of remind me of Frank Miller’s Ronin and Sin City books. Not on purpose, and not to compare my work to his, but I guess it’s probably an influence that shows up here and there, from a graphic point of view.

I find the works of people like Hugo Pratt and Alex Toth, who are able to solve an image with few elements, very inspiring, and something I try to achieve with my own drawings.

Other than that, as long as it serves the story, I’ve been experimenting with layouts and page composition, and in that area my main reference would be Jim Steranko.

Art from Black Sheep
Art from Black Sheep
Credit: Diego Tripodi

Nrama: What type of historical research did you have to do for this story?

Tripodi: Little to none. The story happens in the 20th century, in an alternate reality, so while I did some minor research when it comes to draw certain elements, such as clothes and buildings, when it comes to the story, I had an ending in my mind, and the way I’m working my way there is by improvising as I advance with each new page.

Nrama: This sounds like a one-shot, but do you have ideas for more stories in this world/time period?

Tripodi: Yes. It is a one-shot, but at the same time I wanted to establish certain elements that would leave the door open to more adventures in this universe.

Nrama: Obvious question I still feel compelled to ask: Why are samurai so awesome?

Tripodi: I think it can be as simple as they look cool! The armor, the helmets-- I think that visually that’s very interesting stuff. But beyond that, the whole honor code that samurais had is something that I find interesting.

Art from Black Sheep
Art from Black Sheep
Credit: Diego Tripodi

Nrama: And name some of your favorite fictional samurai – Toshiro Mifune? Lone Wolf and Cub, the comics and/or films? Usagai Yojimbo?

Tripodi: I would say Toshiro Mifune. The very first lines of the comic are “Once upon a time in Mifune County, New Japan”.

Nrama: Question we're asking everybody in this series: What are some of the other books/creators you're looking forward to at SPX?

Tripodi: Well, first of all I have to admit that I really didn’t know of SPX until a few months ago. I live in Argentina, and while I mainly hear about shows like the San Diego and NY Comic-Cons, I didn’t know of SPX.

A few months ago, my good friend and fellow cartoonist, Jeremy Baum, said “Dude, make a comic, whatever subject you want, no page limits, and I’ll put it out for SPX”. That was an offer I couldn’t refuse!

However, I had imagined SPX to be a very small show, and I was happy with the idea of making a comic for what I thought was going to be a very small event. But as I started making some online research about SPX, and finding out such a huge lists of artists that will be there – some of which whose works I follow through the Internet -- it seemed to me anything but small...!

But to answer the question, there are many publications that I’ve been seeing through the show’s “debut books” page, that look very interesting to me, even though I don’t know the works of many of those artists. And I was surprised as well to see new books released by classic comics artists like the Hernandez brothers.

Jeremy Baum, who I just mentioned, besides being someone that I have collaborated with on a number of projects through the years, will be releasing a collection of short stories and illustrations called Heathen, and his work, as well as the drive and passion that he puts into any single project, is very inspiring. He’s got a unique style and approach to things, so I’m always happy to see new work from him.

There’s an artist from Canada, whose works I’ve gotten to know through deviantART, Elaine Will, who has written and drawn which became one of my favorite comics, Look Straight Ahead, and she’ll be at the show as well, and I wish everyone checks out her book, as it’s truly brilliant and hopefully it will get the recognition it deserves.

I love the works of artists Jim Rugg and Toby Cypress, who I follow as well through the internet, and I don’t know if they are putting out new projects for SPX, but in any case it’s always interesting for me to check their work.

Art from Black Sheep
Art from Black Sheep
Credit: Diego Tripodi

Nrama: And what's fun about a show like SPX?

Tripodi: I can’t reply to that, because of the reasons mentioned above, but from my little experience of just being in touch through e-mail with some of the people which will attend the show, I can’t help but getting the impression that there’s a sense of camaraderie, which I find very nice.

And of course, the chance to meet people and finding works by artists whose stuff one might not know of, that sounds to me like a very good reason to visit the show.

Nrama: Anything else you want to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?

Tripodi: Nothing else that I can think of, I’ve started a Tumblr page to put some pages and work-in-progress materials for this projects, so if someone is interested, they can check it out here.

Next: We take a trip North for a bit of history with Wild Man: Island of Memory! And next week, we’ll talk to some major names spotlighted at SPX, including Gene Luen Yang and more!

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