Issue 4 Cover

The title Cowboy Ninja Viking might sound like a goofy excuse to draw fanboy favorite icons, but the one-issue-old series is winning over readers and critics with its surprising level of intrigue and creative storytelling.

In fact, the buzz on the series is so good that publisher Image Comics announced the mini-series would now be an ongoing.

Cowboy Ninja Viking, which is written by A.J. Lieberman, focuses on Duncan, who was trained by the government to use the cowboy, ninja and viking parts of his multiple personality disorder to help his country fight the War on Terror.

Riley Rossmo, who caught the attention of comics fans with his artwork on the Image series Proof, designed the characters in the series and the world where it takes place. The artist, who altered his style a little for Cowboy Ninja Viking, stopped by to talk to Newsarama about the new series.

Nrama: Let's just start with a basic description of this series, Riley. It's kind of hard to describe in general terms, isn't it?

Issue 2 Cover

Riley Rossmo: Yeah. The series is kind of mental. [laughs]  It's about this guy Duncan, who's kind of like an everyman. And he and a bunch of other people with multiple personality disorders have been trained by the government, who thought it was a good idea to give military personas to these agents so they could do different missions.

But for most of them, there are these weird different personalities that surface, like oceanographer/pirate/gladiator.

So Duncan tries to catch them all and reform them, or capture them, or kill them.

Nrama: What can you tell us about Duncan himself? What's his background?

Rossmo: He was in and out of mental institutions, and he's living at Bellevue Hospital, the asylum in New York. And he gets reactivated and recruited by this guy named Dr. Ghislain, who's like Charlton Heston from The Omega Man mixed with James Bond.

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Nrama: How did you get involved in this idea? Were you there for the evolution?

Rossmo: Yeah. A.J. Lieberman worked at DC for awhile, on like Hush Returns, and he wanted to do some independent stuff. And we talked about a bunch of different ideas, and nothing quite stuck. We worked on a couple pitches and they weren't really quite right for either of us.

So I made a list of stuff I wanted to draw, figuring he'd pick one and I could do either a Western or a Samurai thing or something like that. Instead, he took all those things and made them into Cowboy Ninja Viking. He took this list of different things and combined them, instead of just elaborating on one of them.

Nrama: What did you think of the idea when you heard it?

Rossmo: I was skeptical at first. [laughs] I mean, I heard what he was thinking and I was like, "I really don't know if this is going to work." But then I saw the script, and it was just great. And I started doing the designs, and things just started coming together.

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I still don't really understand how it's cool. But it's pretty fricking cool. I don't know how A.J. makes it work so well. It's just weird. And the more I read, the weirder it is.

Nrama: When you were designing these characters, how did you make them work? I mean, you kind of have to use hats and things, don't you?

Rossmo: [laughs] Yeah, you have to make all the things show somehow, right? So you try to combine all these elements. So for awhile I had a guy with chaps, and some sort of ninja skirt thing, and haircuts and an oversized cowboy hat. It was ridiculous at first. I mean, we tried curly circus mustaches and big cowboy boots and stuff. But then it went from really funny to really cool once we hit upon the right look. Of course, it couldn't be too cool. I mean, it's still funny. You know? It was a real balancing act. We just combined all the elements until the went together just right.

Even now, we still fight about it.

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Nrama: You and A.J.?

Rossmo: Yeah. There's a lot of fighting between me and A.J. Well, more like bickering. It's a good kind of bickering. He'll call me up just to talk about something. We're more like siblings or something. Like I'll call him up just to make fun of him.

Nrama: So have you known him for awhile?

Rossmo: Yeah. It just took that long for us to find something to work on together. We tried. Like, the next character, the girl, she's kind of the prototype for a pitch we worked on four years ago. She's been in our communal consciousness for a bit.

Nrama: How did you two meet?

Rossmo: He just sent me an email one day, out of nowhere. He just said, "Hi, my name's A.J. I like your work." And he impressed me by saying he worked on Roseanne. Was like, "Really? Roseanne? Sweet!" I don't even remember where he saw my artwork. I think he saw something on myspace, and he liked it.

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Nrama: One of the things about this series that makes it really distinct is its non-linear storytelling. What are the scripts like when you get them from A.J.?

Rossmo: Oh, they're just fun to read. I even read them out loud, like a radio play. I read them to my wife, and I do all the voices, and it kind of helps me get into the characters. It's just funny stuff.

It's got that kind of Tarantino back-and-forth to it.

Nrama: I've seen a lot of reviewers compare it to Tarantino.

Rossmo: Yeah. And I laugh out loud when I read them, because they're so funny. And you know, we talked about how we bicker with each other. And I think the way the characters interact is a lot like the relationship A.J. and I have, the way they talk back with one another.

Nrama: It's an autobiography!

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Rossmo: [laughs] I wouldn't go that far.

Nrama: Let's talk about your artwork on this series. It's different from Proof. How would you describe your style on Cowboy Ninja Viking?

Rossmo: Yeah, for people who were reading Proof, this will seem cleaner. I wanted to make the layouts really cool, so they're really organic. It's really dense too. All the panels are a lot cleaner within them, but there are a lot of panels per page, because of the interaction and verbal pacing. There are sometimes nine or 12 panels a page. It's super, super fast dialogue, so there are tons of back-and-forth conversations that require a lot of headshots. And to make it cleaner, I tried to get rid of all extraneous sort of grit in the lines and stuff, scribbles. And you'll see that more in Issue #2.

Nrama: Image announced this is an ongoing, but will it be released in volumes, since it was originally supposed to be a mini-series?

Rossmo: Yeah, the first part is five issues, and then we're going to take a couple months off, then keep going with Issue #6. And we'll just see how long it goes.

Nrama: But you're still working on Proof through all this?

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Rossmo: Yeah. Proof's going on hiatus after Issue #28. And Alex and I have another project we're working on about Victorian murder. For now, it's called The Yard. It's about the first CSI unit in Victorian England. There are eight people who cover all the murders in London.

Nrama: That's kind of a period piece for you to draw.

Rossmo: Totally. It's related to the last arc of Proof somewhat, but we have all kinds of research we've done on it.

Nrama: You have a lot going on! Then to wrap up the interview, is there anything else you wanted to tell people about Cowboy Ninja Viking?

Rossmo: In upcoming issues, you can look forward to a master baker. I like to say that because it sounds funny. [laughs] And a rabbi/sumo/cyborg. He's not really a cyborg; he just thinks he is. The next issue is more crazy fun. It's a cool book.

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