What’s better than a fight between a cowboy, a ninja and a Viking? A fight with a man who’s all three! That’s the premise of the Image series Cowboy Ninja Viking.
The series, which debuted back in October 2009, has sent tongues wagging and heads spinning with the story of a band of genetically modified humans each imbued with the abilities of three classic archetypes; for example, a man with the abilities of a cowboy, ninja and – you guessed it – a Viking. These soldiers, called ‘triplets’, are pitted against each other by the U.S. government when several of them go rogue as out of control assassins.
The series comes by way of writer A.J. Lieberman (Batman, Martian Manhunter) and artist Riley Rossmo (Proof, Seven Sons) and courtesy of Jim Valentino’s Shadowline imprint of Image Comics. With their second story arc starting next week and the collected edition of the first out at the beginning of June, Newsarama talked with the creative duo for more.
Newsarama: How would you describe the Cowboy Ninja Viking series for someone thinking about jumping on?
A.J. Lieberman: It’s EXACTLY what you think it would be based on the title and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like what you expect based on the title.
Newsarama: For long-time readers, what’s coming up in issue #6 of Cowboy Ninja Viking?
Lieberman: First, let me say Riley and I love the first five issues. So we wanted to make sure the second arc was better. And I think we did that and more. Riley stuff for #6 is K*I*L*L*E*R. And I defy anyone picking up 6 to not say, “What the f*** just happened..?” when they finish page 24. It totally takes the series in a direction no one will expect while still allowing us to get Duncan out into the wider world. And when I say “wider world” I mean Bangkok strip clubs.
Riley Rossmo: More colors. We’re switching to full color. No more duo tone sissy stuff. I’m using a full color palette, some wilder line work and most of all I'm getting more comfortable with the Golden Age format. The story for #6 is fantastic and the next arc is absolutely wild.
Nrama: For people who haven't read the series but wanted to, would you recommend they jump in with #5 or do they need to read the first trade first?
Lieberman: While not scientifically proven to cause an aneurism, it would, in all probability, result in those people looking up from the book and saying, “What the fuck is going on here?”
Cowboy Ninja Viking is fun ride. Cowboy Ninja Viking is also a pretty weird ride. And #5 is the culmination of a whole bee’s nest of Cowboy Ninja Viking characters coming crashing together. So anyone wanting to jump onto the series, while welcome, would probably be seriously confused.Having said that, I’m not sure you could jump on any series 5 books in and expect to fully appreciate the characters or the larger story. Obviously, if someone started with the trade, the series would make a lot more sense. But if a new reader was curious, and didn’t want to necessarily buy the trade, I’d say they could more easily jump on at #6 and get feel for the series with far less whiplash than coming on with #5.
Nrama: How did you two come up with the pairings – or is it triplings – of archetypes for each of the triplets?
Rossmo: We had a list of cool stuff that AJ did and he knew stuff I was interested in drawing and then he chose the combinations. The hardest part for me is making all the host characters look interesting and separate from each other.
Nrama: For this book you've designed countless characters – at least 3 for every triplet, so over forty. How has it been to figure them out, and then keep them straight?
Rossmo: I keep a chart by my desk with the real names for each triplet and each of the 3 personalities. Some of the big 16 panels AJ writes make my head swim. But that might just be because AJ is insane.
Nrama: This was originally promoted as a miniseries but Image greenlit it as an ongoing. Can you tell us about that change, and what it did for you and A.J.?
Rossmo: It allowed both of us a more creative freedom in each issue since we knew it was going longer than first expected. We didn’t need to blow our stuff all at once.
Nrama: Not only is the new story arc starting later this month, but you’ve got the first collection coming out in early June. What's included in the extra material for the first trade paperback?
Lieberman: The trade is 160 pages. 30 of which are brand new, never-before-seen material; including the original pitch for the book, a script for an alternate version of the series (I wrote 3), unused cover art, and pinups by Nathan Fox (Fluorescent Black), Dean Trippe (Comic Book Tattoo), Nuno Plati (X-23) Christian Ward (Olympus) and others.
Nrama: Since you're including the original pitch for the book you turned into Image to get the book off the ground – can you tell us now that you're through with the first story-arc, how does the original ideas in the pitch match up with what you and Riley actually did?
Lieberman: The pitch itself (5 pages) was pretty true in tone and style to what the series is now. The cool icon letter bubbles, the relationship between Cowboy Ninja Viking and Duncan. It’s pretty much all there. Ghislain was not in it (though mentioned). Nix was there but in a different capacity. The most obvious difference would be the coloring. Riley colored it in a very vibrant, Wachowski-Speed Racer style. That went away, replaced with the duo-tone of the first few issues. In the trade we put it in as originally colored. Additionally, Cowboy Ninja Viking 6-10 will be full color and looks great and is still in that Golden Age format.
Anyway, due to story changes in issue #1 not all the pitch pages were used. But for the most part, the pitch had a lot of what the book has become.
Nrama: If I had to pick a companion title for Cowboy Ninja Viking it would be Chew, for both titles abilities to roll with the silliness. Can you tell us about working in this style where you're able to cover some big action-y topics but still have time for humor?
Lieberman: Really, it’s by-product of the character. The very conceit of the book, this guy with multiple personalities, allows us to swing from humor to drama to action and not have any one of them seem forced.
Basically Cowboy Ninja Viking is a character driven piece disguised as really bizarre action story. For me, drama and humor are not mutually exclusive and ultimately I think that’s what makes the character work. That and of course we have friggin’ cowboy ninja and Viking in our book. What’s cooler than that?