This past year, Bomb Queen creator Jimmie Robinson returned to his YA roots and put out Five Weapons, a story about a teen enrolled into a school of assassins (original interview can be read here. However, it was announced this Summer that the series had taken the route of becoming an ongoing series on Image's Shadowline imprint.
Robinson recently talked to Newsarama about the series' transformation from mini-series to ongoing as well as introducing us to some of the new characters readers will find out about along the way, the possibilities of other assassin schools and what the real Tyler Shainline's plans are, as well as his interesting weapon of choice. Robinson even threw in some art for a first look at what's to come.
Newsarama: Jimmie, at what part of writing Five Weapons did you think it would be better as an ongoing?
Jimmie Robinson: Around issue #3 or issue #4 Jim Valentino put the idea in my head that we could just keep going with this. Valentino really likes the book and he’d like to see it not only continue but also find an audience. Valentino has always fought for more [genre] diversity in comics. Superheroes are fun and all, but one of his commitments at Shadowline is to find new ideas for the medium. A lot of people forget that Valentino started Shadowline at Image Comics a long time ago and that he created the “non line” back in the 1990s. So when I pitched Five Weapons he liked it right off the bat. A kid with no abilities making his way through a school chock full of weapons by only using his wits and brain is exactly the unique ideas that Valentino likes to publish. He’s not against superheroes, he loves them, but there are plenty of people doing that already and he knows comics can be much more than that.
So around issue #4 is when he really put the on-going on my side of the table. He left it up to me because Valentino will always respect the creator’s decision. If I didn’t want to continue then he would agree and listen to whatever pitch I had instead. However I totally dig this story. When I first created it as a mini-series I wrote so much that I had to cut back a lot of flashbacks, character development and infrastructure of the school. I was fine with it as a mini-series. I didn’t create this hoping that it would later become an ongoing series. I do a lot of things and I develop a lot of ideas, so if this ended at 5-issues I would still be satisfied.
But when the opportunity to keep going was put on the table I had to rethink the story and go back to all the edited ideas that I originally left out. You see, if I didn’t have a compelling story to continue then I would have told Valentino not to continue. The limited series was a fast one-two punch and it kept coming at you with relentless cliffhangers and situations, and I knew the ending right off the bat. When I write I start with the ending. I like to know where I am going and why. Five Weapons is built on a mystery platform. It’s a whodunit so I need to have a proper set up, structure, clues and resolution. So going from mini-series to on-going wasn’t a mere “yes,” it was a heavy consideration and a lot of story preparation. I needed it to work just like the original series, and I needed it to make sense. I also needed to not go crazy with an open road. Now that I have the legroom to stretch my story legs I could easily go off the rails. There’s something to be said about a limited series in that it will focus your storytelling techniques. Whereas, when I think of an ongoing series I think of characterization. In my opinion, successful ongoing series are less about the plot and more about the characters. I still have to craft a cliffhanger every issue, and an overall mystery to solve in about 5 issues, but now I'm digging deeper into the cast and tying it altogether in one big bow with a cherry on top. Once I had that in mind then I knew I had the best idea to continue Five Weapons.
Newsarama: So at the end of issue five, the real Tyler Shainline comes out of hiding and boom, that's the last thing you see. Is that the starting point of issue six or has more time passed between the issues?
Robinson: There will be some time between the end of issue #5 and the beginning of #6, but that is a major clue to what will happen next. It sets up the real Tyler Shainline as a character when the story picks up after the summer break. We begin again in the fall. Summer is over and a new school semester has kicked in. This is where I spin directly off the last series. A few things will be addressed directly in the opening pages. I needed to do this because I had to set up the new situation for our hero. In the limited series there was a set of restrictions that kept the story on a razor’s edge, but that gets resolved and a major mystery is solved in the process. In short, the genie is out of the bag and I had to create new ground rules for the next semester in school, but I still wanted to continue the same concept that worked in the mini-series.
The passage of time over the summer is perfect because it gives the characters and the school time to reset and reorganize. This way when I bring Enrique back to school the challenge is new and the reader gets a new adventure, but at the same time it’s still familiar and flows along. That’s my goal.
Nrama: Are we going to see any new characters this time around, or possibly go to different schools?
Robinson: First off, the main cast is returning. The club presidents such as Rick the Stick, Nat the Gat, Joon the Loon, Darryl the Arrow, and Jade the Blade are back. But yes, we also see new characters. New students and new teachers. I’m trying to broaden my reach as well. I’m bringing in more foreign exchange students to continue my idea of diversity in the school. This also helps me create new situations and conflicts as cultures and ideals clash. What we’ll also see are a few students who were only in the background in the limited series step up to the front.
A lot of folks may not realize that there are a few recurring characters in the background. I have reasons for that. An example is one girl in the Gun Club who wears a tiny top hat. Her name is Kelly and we get to see more of her in bigger roles. We also see the return of Hanna in the Archery Club. She appeared briefly in issue #2 but she comes back in a big way in issue #7 and #8. But the biggest news is that the real Tyler Shainline shows up in school. He joins the Knife Club with his weapon — the hand saw. And that becomes the real monkey wrench in the next story arc. We see Enrique and Tyler battle wits akin to Sherlock and Moriarty.
We will also see changes in the faculty. The limited series was about the school principal but now that has all changed. We see a new principal step in with a new story and motivation — and even a pet cheetah. Yes, I said cheetah… as in a big African cat. We also see a new teacher for the Exotic Weapons Club, which will open the door for more story behind the club’s president Joon the Loon.
As for new schools? I can’t say much, but there is a mention of other schools. Will they show up? How or why? I have to keep that one under the table.
Nrama: It seemed romance was blossoming between Enrique and Jade, do you follow up on that here?
This was something I really wanted in the limited series, but a lot of it ended up being cut. I will pick up on their romance, but I’m not gonna go off the deep end. There will be a lot going on in this story. In fact, one of the dangers in the next story arc is the possibility of him losing that connection with Jade the Blade because of the wealth of problems. I believe a lot of what makes a good character is development in several areas, not just one. We know Enrique is good at what he does, but what about his personal life? How can that shape him as a character to the reader? How does that influence his decisions? Good characters can be followed in almost any situation because we want to see how they will deal and grow through it. Romance is one of those tests that many characters go through.
But that’s not the only romance I touch upon in school. I’ll continue with Dennis, the foreign exchange student from India, and the exotic weapon club president Joon the Loon. I hinted on that budding relationship in issue #3 and #4. Those two characters will get closer over the Summer break and they will play a part in the new story arc.
Nrama: Going back to the new principal, as well as her cheetah, without giving too much away can you tell us anymore about Principal Z?
Robinson: It might be kinda tough to go into detail because her role in the big story arc is important. Currently, I’ve penned a massive 20-issue master arc and that is broken into smaller 5-issue story arcs, like the one that starts in January. As I said before I tend to write from the ending and that applies to the master arc as well. Principal Z is pivotal in that respect so I can’t talk too much beyond that she’s a Zulu from KwaZulu-Natal in Southern Africa. KwaZulu is renown for its wildlife sanctuaries such as the Black Rhino, but also they have large areas dedicated to the cheetah — and that’s one of the reasons we see the big cat at her side. He will be the eyes and ears of Principal Z. Speed, stealth, ability to climb, keen eyes and ears… the cheetah is the ultimate hall monitor.
The fun question is how can Enrique beat the cheetah? Chew on that for a while.
Nrama: The first series was sort of written like Encyclopedia Brown meets Wanted, are you still going with the same vibe here or has it expanded into something different?
Robinson: I’m still playing up the Sherlock/Encyclopedia Brown side. Enrique will use his head, clues and his skill of putting together key observations to get out of trouble and solve mysteries, but the vibe will be different in that this time he has a rival in school. In the first arc he was pretty much the smartest kid in class; those days are over. The real Tyler Shainline is in school and he knows all of Enrique’s tricks because they grew up together as kids. This puts Enrique a bit off balance and the struggle is to not only be good at what he does, but also be better than someone else. There will be less focus on the teachers plotting to expel Enrique and more interactions with students in the weapon clubs.
Another way it’s expanding is in how Enrique deals with conflicts. Before he was considered a student among the kids, but now everyone in school knows the truth about him. They know who and what he really is. In the world of Five Weapons only the privileged assassins can use weapons, everyone else are considered servants to the assassin elite. This creates a second-class citizenship in society and Enrique comes from the servant status. However, there is a group in this universe who do not use weapons but who are still accepted among the assassin community. They are the medics. Assassins need medical attention because of their line of work, so this group is highly regarded even though they carry no weapons. So when Enrique returns to school he is not enrolled as an ordinary student, instead he is brought in as a student medic trainee. His base of operations will be from the Nurse’s Office. This will spin the book a little into "Encyclopedia Brown meets House or Grey’s Anatomy". But don’t worry I’m not gonna bog the book down in medical jargon. The real action still takes place among the weapon clubs. But how Enrique solves problems as a student medic will give a new twist to the book.
Nrama: Is there any particular reason you gave Tyler a hand saw?
Robinson: There is a part of me that constantly worries about this book being picked up by parents and kids who see young characters with guns, baseball bats, knives, arrows and poison snakes. Don’t get me wrong, the book is fun and I keep it light and humorous, but at the same time I worry about the visual message it sends. Teens with guns is a real problem and I don’t want to make light of it. I started with the traditional weapon clubs because readers can relate to the weapons and the ultimate goal was to deconstruct the user — not the weapon itself. Enrique wins against students with weapons because he finds the flaw in the opponent. He doesn’t overpower them with a bigger and better weapon, but you have to read the book to get that hook. That’s not the case for folks who judge a book by the cover, so a kid with a knife or gun becomes a problem.
So I started mixing in some oddball weapons like Tyler’s hand saw in the knife club. It’s still a cutting instrument, but it’s flexible and unique. I like weapons that are absurd and do unusual damage in weird ways. In the limited series one of my favorite weapons was the Epee (a fencing weapons). It’s basically like a giant icepick. Or the teacher of the staff club who carries a massive log. Some of the kids in the background have fun weapons that I’d like to bring to the foreground: yard sticks, pool cues, boomerangs, sharpened pencils and even video game weapons like Cloud’s Buster sword from Final Fantasy 7.
Basically, in this book my job is to entertain and I wanted something funny, unique and interesting that the reader may not have thought of as a weapon. Then take that and make it dangerous. You see a lot of this twisting of ordinary objects in some manga and anime. I’m trying to bring a touch of that zaniness to American comics.
Nrama: Is there a definite end game in mind?
Robinson: I did have one idea for an ending, but I doubt I’d ever use it. Now that I’m committed to an ongoing series my main goal is to build characters who can be followed in any situation. As I said, a good ongoing series is based on good characters. We read Batman for the ideal and concept that he represents. We follow The Avengers for all the unique situations they get tossed into. I’m not saying a solid story has to take a backseat, because it needs to walk hand-in-hand with cast. However, just about all stories have a build up, a set up, and a conclusion. Wanting to follow the characters is what gets us through the highs and lows. That’s how it was when I did Bomb Queen.
I also keep an optional ending for Five Weapons in my back pocket because I really dislike leaving readers hanging if something goes wrong. If the sales drop too low and if it faces cancellation, then I like to have an escape route. I would rather tie up a story quickly than to never have it end at all. So yeah, I have an ending, but it’s only for emergencies, or if I run out of interesting ideas. Nobody wants a story that drags beyond the shelf life. Y’know… now that I think more on it, perhaps I should write out the ending fully so that even if I die then someone else can finish it for me. Who knows, today I might step off a curb and get run over by a bus. This might be my last ever interview. It would be nice to know, as I bleed out on the asphalt that at least my story will continue on a little bit after I pass on. I don’t know who would draw it. Maybe make an anthology of sorts, using different artists to draw if from various POVs of each character.
Nrama: Lastly, which club would you belong in?
Robinson: I told this question to my wife and she said it before it even came out of my mouth: Exotic Weapons Club. I would rather have a quirky weapon than something so standard that it could be purchased off the shelf. I admit, a signature weapon means you can be easily tracked and you can’t blame someone else. It also means that you’d have a specific weakness. Let’s say if I used poison blow darts, then the range, wind and a possible antidote would be against me. And I’d have to carry a blow pipe around. Maybe one could be created that breaks down like a telescope? See how my mind works? I could go on and on.
That’s how I want to delve into Five Weapons. Peel it like an onion and explore all the layers and break it down into an entertaining story. A blow gun can be simple, or tricky. A hand saw can be flexible, yet strong. An fencing epee can be delicate, but precise. The same goes for characters. Some have brute force weapons, but they might have sensitive feelings. Drama, conflict, weapons and mysteries. That what I aim to throw all in the pot and stir it up.