There are certain times and places in human history that haven proven to be fertile grounds for storytellers to spin tales. The American Old West. Medieval Europe. And as seen in this new series from Image, Feudal Japan.
In the upcoming series Samurai’s Blood, readers get an unadulterated look at life in Edo-era Japan from the vantage point of three teenagers whose clan is massacred just as they’re coming into their own as samurai. As the last of their clan, they’re on the run through the Japanese countryside trying to avoid the fate of their families and somehow strike back. But when your lineage has been snubbed out and you’re being hunted as the last of your tribe, the trio find it hard enough to survive without falling apart themselves.Scheduled for release June 8th with a specially-priced $1 first issue, Samurai’s Blood comes out of a partnership formed by Image Comics and a new publishing outfit called Beneroya Publishing. This miniseries is the first of four standalone stories scheduled to come from the Image Comics label over the course of 2011, but before we get ahead of ourselves let’s delve into Samurai’s Blood with writer and co-creator Owen Wiseman.
Newsarama: Owen, what can you tell us about Samurai’s Blood?
Owen Wiseman: First off, thanks for giving me a venue to promote my work. We really believe in Samurai’s Blood, and we're trying like crazy to get it into the minds and pull boxes of the fans. The story is a classic revenge tale about three young samurai from a tiny mountain village, who are the last remnant of their clan after it is destroyed from within by a trusted vassal. It's about honor and ruthlessness, love and sacrifice, and the strange, sharp minds of the mysterious people known as the samurai. More practically, Samurai’s Blood is a comics miniseries whose first issue comes out June 8, 2011. It's written by me, with pencils by Nam Kim, inks by Matt Dalton, colors by Jessica Kholline at IFS, and covers by Jo Chen. That creative team has been working for months to bring the vision of the story into being, and we're all getting really excited that the big day is finally coming up. Any fans can find us on Facebook or on Twitter (@samuraisblood and I write the account personally) for more details.
Nrama: Can you tell us a bit about the three young samurai at the center of this?Wiseman: Their names are Sanjo Junichi, Sanjo Mayuko, and Kajiro Katashi. Sanjo is the name of the destroyed clan, so Junichi (Jun) is the rightful heir to the position of daimyo (feudal lord). Mayuko is his sister, and a fierce samurai in her own right. Katashi is Jun's best friend, the son of their village's blacksmith, and a fierce fighter desperate to somehow earn the position of samurai. This trio also represent different aspects of samurai thinking. Jun is ruthless, assured of his place as a samurai and willing to do whatever he has to do to achieve his family's vengeance. Katashi aspires to live the spartan, unflinching life of a samurai, always ready to die rather than dishonor himself. Mayuko is the bridge that connects them, and keeps their fragile clan together when Jun and Katashi inevitably come into conflict.
Nrama: Although they might fight amongst themselves, they have a bigger threat to worry about – but just what is it?
Wiseman: The man who has destroyed their clan is named Gakushi. He is of mysterious origin and cold heart, utterly ruthless in his pursuit of power. His second-in-command is named Araku, the disgraced son of a lord from a faraway province. Where Gakushi is greedy, Araku is sadistic. He does Gakushi's evil bidding for no better reason than the suffering it allows him to inflict. Together, Gakushi's mind and Araku's sword make a deadly combination. Besides these two antagonists, our three young heroes face a harsh and uncaring world. There is hardly a social safety net, or even police they can go to for help, especially in their far-flung province, so removed from the centers of power at Edo or Kyoto. Before they can seek their vengeance on Gakushi and Araku directly, they must figure out how to feed and clothe themselves, which will require them to grow up all too soon.
Nrama: Japanese society at this time was rife with rituals and customs – how did you work to get it authentic without it weighing down the story you were trying to tell?
Wiseman: The question of historical detail and accuracy is a delicate one. This is especially true because I am not Japanese. I've been studying Japanese history and culture for a long time, but I'm still not an expert by my own standards. I'm always just a student.The solution we tried to use was to keep the rituals to a minimum and just tell the story. Getting into the nitty gritty of historical detail is really better for prose novels anyway, and there have been some great ones. (James Clavell's Shogun, of course. More recently, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell is a really incredible book.) We worked very hard to make sure that the history we did use was accurate, but in the end, the goal is to develop great characters and tell a great story, and I'm proud to say I think we've done that here.
Nrama: Speaking of story – how’d this story come to you and develop?
Wiseman: For me it all started in middle school. I was put accidentally into a Japanese class in the 7th grade, the teacher convinced me to stay for a week, and fifteen years or so later, here we all are. I've only studied the language on and off, but I've never stopped reading about Japanese history and culture. Strangely enough, though, I never really thought of writing about it before.
About three years ago, Mike Benaroya came to me with the basic outlines of this story: A revenge plot set in Japan, and the three principal characters. As soon as he laid out the bare bones, I realized I'd been preparing to write this story for a very long time. Scenes started popping into my head like crazy. And in fact, I started developing a whole world, of which Samurai’s Blood represents only one small part. It's a complete story and I'm really proud of it, but I hope it sells well, because there are dozens more books worth of story that I'd love the opportunity to tell.
Nrama: Like the 3 samurai at the center of this, you’re working with 3 artists – Nam Kim, Matthew Dalton and Jessica Kholinne. How did you hook up with penciller Nam Kim and the others to tell your story?
Wiseman: There's a wizardly gentleman named Dave Elliott who made it all happen. I'm really just the beneficiary, of his work and of the work of all those brilliant artists you mentioned. It seems strange to me now to think that it might have been anybody else but those three, because I'm so happy with the product they've created. Every time they turn in a stage of an issue, I have to go back and check the script, because it seems as if I couldn't have been as clever as all that. And, it usually turns out, I wasn't. They've usually taken the best of my script, and fixed all the holes that I didn't even know were there. I am truly, truly blessed to have found them all.
Nrama: Turning this discussion back to you, you’re a newcomer to comics but come with some screenwriting experience behind you. Can you tell us about your writing journey that brought you to the comics medium?
Wiseman: I started writing seriously just after graduating college, in about summer of 2005. I pride myself on being able to write a variety of things. Screenplays are certainly one of those things, but I also really like writing prose. For example, I've just placed a piece in the next issue of Slake magazine, an LA-focused literary journal. I think that the new paradigm for creative people is a personal brand that stands for quality, rather than for a specific kind of product.
Comics have a special place in my heart, however, because they are a totally unique form. It's not just a unique combination of words and pictures, either. I feel comics have a certain tone and history that allow for the expression of big, philosophical ideas, which is right up my alley. Samurai's Blood seeks to do for samurai what comics have already done extensively for superheroes—explore the moral universe in which they live. And I happen to believe that comics can do that better than any other form or medium.