Based on the best-selling Chinese novel series Daomu Bi Ji by Xu “Kennedy” Lei, the comic adaptation Daomu -- meaning “Tomb Robber” in Chinese” -- was first published in 2007 as a graphic novel and sold over 50,000 copies, making it the best-selling Chinese graphic novel of all time. In the series, Daomu is the name of a secret society of tomb-robbers – but more than just petty criminals, they are more honorable than some of their counterparts – imagine the Daomu as like Indiana Jones and the others as the guy from the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But in Daomu, this centuries-old tradition has found its way to the heartland of America and the secrets of these mythical tombs aren’t staying buried any more.
The success of Daomu in its native China spawned three graphic novel sequels, as well as an index book called Daomu Journal. This graphic novel series, and its original novels, have become a pillar in a growing sub-genre in Chinese bookstores – tomb-raiding adventures. And now, after years of overseas success, this Chinese sensation comes to America thanks to Concept Art House, a high-end digital art and entertainment company that has worked on numerous video games and comics including Radical’s Shrapnel series. For Daomu, Concept Art House is partnering with independent comics publisher Image to introduce these comics to the English-speaking world as a serialized story in the American comics format beginning with Daomu’s first issue on February 2nd. Concept Art House’s CEO James Zhang worked with translator Colin Johnson to not only turn the Chinese words to English but to explain the unique elements of Daomu that might be short-hand in Chinese culture but new to American audiences.
Newsarama: How would you describe Daomu, Colin?
Colin Johnson: Daomu is best described as a cross between Indiana Jones and Descent. It’s a globe-trotting adventure ripe with Chinese history/mysticism and a healthy dose of horrific imagery. Its adventure horror at it’s finest for the world wide audience.
Nrama: The lead character, Sean, has a great family legacy to live up to – can you tell us about Sean and the responsibility his family has?
Johnson: Sean is half Chinese and half American. He was raised in Detroit in complete poverty. Raised in the U.S., Sean was never really in touch with his Chinese heritage on his father's side. He certainly had no clue as to his blood's ancient legacy. After long painful years apart, he is reunited with his troubled father. The reunion is short-lived as a masked assassin murders his father in front of Sean. Now Sean must make the journey of a reluctant hero to solve the murder, discover his family's past, and take his rightful place as the leader of the Daomu.
Nrama: What is the Daomu?
Johnson: The Daomu is a centuries-old sub-society of tomb robbers. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Daomu respect the dead. They take what they need to survive and to preserve China’s history for the world to enjoy. But they’re coming apart at the seams, and it’s up to Sean to hold that torch up high and restore dignity to the clan.
Nrama: But Sean doesn’t know all this – what’s his life like before he finds out about Daomu, and how do they keep it from him for so long?
Johnson: Sean was pulled from his father’s grasp at a very young age by his American mother. He was raised in Detroit, an angry and confused young man who has no idea why he feels so different, so special – and that gives way to even more frustration and anger. His father is only able to track him down after he’s been “marked” by the nefarious powers-that-be, but no answers can be tendered before it’s too late.
Nrama: These hidden underworlds that Sean’s family protects seem pretty crazy – can you describe them for us?
Johnson: They’re basically an underground ecosystem that has existed in relative obscurity for the bulk of human history. Many locations were inspired by actual Chinese history, such as the eternal resting place of one of China’s most famous and powerful figures, Wang Cang Hai – which embodies the quest for eternal life – the overarching desire for factions of the Daomu and their shady American counterpart, CORAL.
Nrama: Where are these tunnels and underworlds?
Johnson: Some of the tombs we explore are located under the ocean, up in the clouds, etc. The idea is that this hidden ecosystem is alive. Even the weakest vines and plants can snare you and bleed you dry. The monsters, too, are some of the coolest, freakiest things I’ve ever seen in a comic. Giant bugs, zombified warriors, multi-limbed skeletons – basically the stuff of nightmares. And they’ve been kept from us for a reason…
Nrama: What are the big threats for Sean – who is he protecting the underworlds from?
Johnson: The ultimate threat for Sean (after the beasties within the deep and his own combative personality) is CORAL, which is an American tomb-robbing conglomerate working for the Military Industrial Complex. They want this power for their own reasons – and they have their eye on Sean – the reasons for which will be revealed in later issues.
Nrama: Colin, what was it like translating it for its U.S. debut?
Johnson: It was definitely a challenge. It was all about bridging that cultural gap. A lot of the material is ingrained in Chinese mythology and history – the kind of stuff that not a lot of Westerners would understand. The trick was finding those elements of the story that had a slightly more Western influence and expanding on them. Such elements as: the birth of the warrior, the character development and banter, the defined (and ill-defined) antagonists and, last but not least, the sex appeal. Once I got my head wrapped around the themes and destinations of the storylines, it was just a matter of filling in those gaps and bridging the storytelling from China to the states.Hopefuly it will remain true to the source and bring a more audience-friendly tone to the book.