A school for assassins.
Five clubs in the school, each specializing in a weapon of death.
A student who isn't who he seems, armed with only his wits to survive.Those are the ingredients for the new mini-series by writer-artist Jimmie Robinson, creator of the indie smash Bomb Queen series who has another go at the young adult genre over at Shadowline/Image Comics, appropriately called Five Weapons.
With the first issue hitting stands this week, Newsarama talked to Robinson about the world and characters of Five Weapons, the difficulties of being on writing and artistic duties, if he'd ever return to this world later down the line, and why this isn't just another Harry Potter.
Newsarama: Jimmie, without giving too much away, can you tell us what Five Weapons is all about?
Jimmie Robinson: Five Weapons is about a boy who enrolls into a specialized school for future assassins and how he plans to succeed without ever using a weapon -- which is required to graduate. Instead, our hero will use his wit, observation and deduction to take his opponents apart. The school features five tracks of education in the world of assassins; Knives, Staves, Archery, Exotics and Guns, but our hero chooses none of the above. Think of it as Sherlock meets The Hunger Games. Or Encyclopedia Brown meets Wanted. This type of story has been done before. We've all seen the new kid come to school and shake up the old traditions. In Five Weapons I wanted to spin off of that, not to make the hero better than his opponents, but to make him different.
It's not a matter of Harry Potter becoming a wizard in a school of magic. In Five Weapons our hero doesn't want anything on the menu nor any of the skills taught at the school. The character has a reason for this, which we discover at the end of issue one and more in issue two. And that's the other side of this story because what we're really talking about here is classism and societal opinion. Don't worry I'm not trying to hammer readers over the head with such lofty themes. Five Weapons is not so didactic, but unlike other new-kid-in-school stories this series offers a new spin on that old chestnut.In the five issues our hero, Tyler, will battle the top five students -- each representing one of the disciplines in the school clubs. We have Jade the Blade, Rick the Stick, Darryl the Arrow, Joon the Loon and Nat the Gat. This isn't a decompressed story. If you miss an issue you will miss a lot. Things happen and fast.
Nrama: Tell us some inspirations that might have helped get the script going.
Robinson: The inspiration that spun the entire series into existence was from one of the myths about the Buddha. It was called "Prince Five Weapons." In a nutshell, an early incarnation of the Buddha was sent off by his parents to learn the art of five deadly weapons. After he mastered those skills he traveled back home and went through a forest and ran into a monster called Sticky Hair. He used all his five deadly weapons and nothing worked. He even used his five limbs and nothing worked. But he still won because he decided to use his mind. He told the monster that inside him he had a type of weapon that could not be consumed and the monster let him go. What was inside him? It doesn't matter. It could be read as his spirit, his wisdom, or simply a trick. What matters is that he went beyond the mere extension of weapons and figured out how to beat the monster at his own game. I read that a long time ago and it has stuck with me all these years.
When I script Five Weapons I have that myth in the back of my head. Despite all the ups and downs with the characters I return to that platform. That it's not about the weapons. A weapon is only as good as the user. Beat the user and you'll unlock the weapon.But beating the user is not all that easy -- especially when they are carrying deadly weapons. I've beat my head against the wall on a few of these weapons. It's been hard. For example, the Archery Club was quite vexing. It's a range weapon much like the gun, however, it's not a close range weapon. A gun you can use in close quarters and point blank. A bow and arrow needs room for the arms to extend and flex and it's hard to fight against because you can't just practice shooting someone with it. You can play paint ball against an opponent safely, but you can't play archery safely. An arrow is an arrow. You can't have blanks or fake arrows and still cover the distance and hit with any impact. As a writer the Archery club kept me up at night. I had to draw inspiration from several sources just to get around that.
Also, I should say that manga and Japanese anime has played a part in creating Five Weapons. But while I appreciate and like anime I didn't want to do that directly. Five Weapons is still very much my own beast.
Nrama: This might be a mild spoiler here, but there's a big character reveal in the first issue, which automatically changes the way the series goes, what made you go in that direction so early in the story?Robinson: After the first draft of the entire series it seemed that the character was a bit too snobby. A bit too much of a know-it-all. If you watch some of the popular mystery TV shows like Sherlock, Elementary, The Mentalist, etc, you'll notice that the main character tends to be anti-social and sometimes unlikeable. As the viewer we sympathize with that type of character, but we wouldn't want to be friends with someone like that. That particular character type also tends to be so on top of things that there's very little conflict or danger. I didn't want that for Tyler in Five Weapons. I wanted him to have a secret that he had to guard with his life, much like Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker. A deep secret that readers could sympathize with.
That's why I pulled the rug out in the first issue. I crafted the story like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Sometimes that gets me in trouble because some folks will glance at the cover or read a synopsis and judge it on that without knowing the twist. But as a writer I wanted to go that direction because without it I can't keep the readers interested. It's easy to go the obvious route with just a new coat of paint. It's harder to go the same route but win the race on a different track. The goal is the same but the journey is different.
Nrama: Aside from Paul Little's coloring, you're in charge of the script, art, and lettering. Do you ever find that daunting along the way?Robinson: Yes. Very daunting.
In fact, I need to learn to let go of a few things. However I love to do the work. I tend to make a lot of changes, some of them right on the page or right on the computer at the last minute. I've been known to change and delete entire scenes of my own book from a script I've already written several times over. Sometimes it's for the best. Sometimes it paints me into a corner.
I am blessed to not only be working with Paul Little, but also to consider him a professional friend and peer. We have both grown during our time with Bomb Queen. When it came to Five Weapons I told him I wanted it to be pastel and light. He went through a few styles and suggestions and I kept saying to go even lighter. But Paul is good and he knows what really has to happen. The fantasy in my head doesn't match the reality of the printed page, so he came up with a style smack dab in the middle that works very well. Even the publisher, Jim Valentino, noted it when he first saw the pages. He loved the color palette. I pretty much leave Paul alone. I give him pages with a few lines of description so that he'll know it's day or night, or if there's an emotional scene. I admit, I go in and do a few touch ups, too. I also love coloring and I do all the covers. But beyond a few lens flares and lip gloss, it's all Paul's vision. It's not like I change a day scene to night or anything. I respect Paul's work and decisions. In my opinion, he should be working on books for the big two companies.
So yeah, it is daunting and my deadline wounds are self-inflicted. Without Paul I wouldn't make it. I should look into splitting the work a bit more, but I love so much of every aspect. I want to write because I have so many ideas and I change it so much. I want to draw because I love the obscure camera angles and how to make it work with the script. I want to do the lettering and SFX because I love playing with word balloons, balloon tails and the *flow* around the page. I love the coloring because I have so much fun in Photoshop. I even love the production behind the scenes working with Jim Valentino and my editor Laura Tavishati. I like making the legal indicia on the inside front cover, designing the logos and the back covers, the extra content in the trade collections, the promotional materials and teasers. I've learned just about every aspect of comic craft from creation to printing.
But I also need to have a life. I got married last year and sure enough things have changed. I'm trying to schedule my time and production so that I don't work until the sun comes up. I'm trying to take weekends off and get balance in my life.Nrama: Unlike your other indie hit, Bomb Queen, this leans towards more a YA crowd. What made you decide to go in that direction with this title?
Robinson: I'm actually returning to my YA work with Five Weapons. Bomb Queen took off and has survived for a long time, so a lot of people may only know me for that franchise. But before Bomb Queen I was hopping around on several genres. YA was one of them. I did Evil & Malice, Code Blue, and Avigon for Shadowline and Image Comics. I even worked on traditional children's books for Shadowline's kid's book division. Jim Valentino created a studio under the Image umbrella for the children's market and I worked with Derek McCulloch on a book called T-Runt!. So this isn't new territory for me, but it's a new take on YA.
Also, speaking of Bomb Queen, I just wanted to do something different for a change. I have a lot of ideas for comics, but since I do most of the production on my books it means I tend to do just one book at a time. The Bomb Queen franchise has rolled along since 2007 and for some readers that is all they know of me. I'm not giving up on Bomb Queen I just needed a break to do something new. However, I didn't want to jump so far away from my readers that I'd end up in left field Five Weapons is a nice middle ground between zany silliness with deadly weapons and the lighthearted aspects of a traditional school story. I know it sounds weird, but there it is.
Nrama: Will everything be wrapped up once issue five hits, or is there room for revisiting this world again?Robinson: I actually went out of my way to not wrap up every tiny detail. The main story will be finished, that is true, however there are some side stories and issues with characters that won't be resolved in five issues. I purposely left those strings dangling because my hope is that Five Weapons will garner enough attention to revisit the school again. The story universe will change based on the climax of the current story, but there's always room for new adventures such as "Five Weapons Summer Camp", or "Five Weapons College", or… whatever.
Nrama: What do you hope readers take away take with them after reading the first issue?
Robinson: After the first issue? I want readers to have some intrigue and curiosity. I plan each issue with a cliffhanger. At the end I want readers to wonder how in the world will Tyler get out of this? How can he beat a knife, a staff, a bow & arrow, or a gun with no weapon of his own. I also want readers to read it again, because I lace clues throughout the issue that lead to the solution. I also want them to wonder about the character and his situation. Now that I think about it, one of the inspirations for how I write Five Weapons comes from TV shows like "Ellery Queen". At a certain point the actor breaks the fourth wall and looks right into the camera and asks the viewer if they've figured out the mystery.
I like to put all my cards on the table in the first issue, but I've been in this biz long enough to know that the third issue is often where you have to fight to keep the readers. The second issue still has that new car smell, but the by the time the third issue hits the readers start to get distracted by other new comics. It no fault of anyone. There are simply too many good comics coming out nowadays. So I jump in quick and fast with the first and second issue. Even if a reader only picks up the first issue I want them to have a grasp of what I was trying to do. Some series don't get to the point until the third issue.