In his career, Ron Marz has written such books as Green Lantern (DC), Silver Surfer (Marvel), Samurai: Heaven and Earth (Dark Horse), and Witchblade (Image/Top Cow). This month, his new creator-owned book, Shiknu, with artist Lee Moder debuts from Image. Westfield’s Roger Ash recently spoke with Marz about Shinku.
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Click below to listen to an audio version of the interview, or continue reading!
Westfield: Who is Shinku?
Ron Marz: Shinku is the name the lead character in the book has taken for herself. The thumbnail version is that she’s the last surviving member of a samurai clan whose origins date back to feudal Japan. Her clan rose up to oppose a another samurai clan, all of whom happened to be vampires. Obviously, the vampires have been winning for hundreds of years, and she is the last of her clan left alive.
Westfield: This is a creator-owned series, correct?
Westfield: How did this all come about?
Marz: Y’know, I’m not really sure. [laughter] It’s one of those things where the idea has been in the back of my head for the better part of a decade. At its simplest form, it combines two things that I have a great affection for: samurai stories, and a dark, sexy horror stories. Which to me is what vampires are all about, not that sparkling and cuddling stuff.
Westfield: You’re working with artist Lee Moder on the book. When did he become involved?
Marz: Lee and I have known each other for a bunch of years. At this point, I don’t even remember how we met. I think the first thing we did together was a Green Lantern Secret Files for DC more than a decade ago. We’ve just stayed in touch ever since. Lee and I did my creator-owned book at Top Cow called Dragon Prince, and found that the collaboration really just clicked. We’ve been looking for something else to do together since then. I had talked to a number of different artists through the years about Shinku and never quite found the right fit. I ended up talking with Lee about it, and he said “Yeah, sounds great.” He whipped up some character designs and we actually started on the first issue a while back, just squeezing in pages when our schedules allowed. It ended up feeling right, which I think is more often than not how a creator-owned project takes flight. You end up finding the right partner and things just start to fall together.
Westfield: What can you say about the story?
Marz: It’s set in modern- day Japan. It has some flashbacks to feudal Japan, so we’ll get that samurai spectacle, but the majority of it is set in the here and now. The short version is this is one woman’s war against this powerful clan of vampires who are the string pullers behind the scenes in Japanese society. They’ve been accruing power for hundreds of years. The way we’re depicting them is very much in keeping with an organized crime family. There’s a Godfather, essentially, who has been in charge since the initial clash with Shinku’s clan hundreds of years ago. There are lieutenants and soldiers under him. There’s a whole vampire society in the shadows, but generally the people who get a look at it don’t live to tell the tale.
Westfield: Aside from Shinku and this Godfather, who are some of the other characters that people will meet in the book?
Marz: There’s an American character named Davis who’s just a guy living and working in Japan, a pretty typical Californian who gets pulled into these events that are quite beyond him. He really serves as the proxy for the reader. He’s the way into the story for the reader, both for Japan as the setting and for this secret, cloistered society. Davis actually plays a much more important role in the story, and is an integral part of the war against the vampires, but I don’t want to give away the specifics yet. He’s ultimately not just a bystander.
There’s also a disgraced Sumo who serves as kind of an aide-de-camp for Shinku. The visual dichotomy of this huge sumo next to this fairly tiny, lithe woman is something that Lee handles incredibly well.
Westfield: Is this an ongoing series?
Marz: Yes. The plan is to have the story arcs come out monthly. Once we do a trade, we’ll take a few months off to catch our breath on deadline, and then dig back into the next one. Obviously, this is all pending sales for long-term viability, as with everything.
Westfield: You mentioned a bit about your collaboration with Lee. How do the two of you work together?
Marz: It’s a pretty standard writer/artist relationship other than the fact that we’re pretty close buddies. Lee is in Pittsburgh, I’m in upstate New York, so it’s mostly email and phone. The nice thing is we’ve worked together enough, and we’re simpatico enough, that he knows what I’m looking for and I know what he’s gonna do, so we can work in shorthand, at least to a certain extent. It’s always such a sheer pleasure as a writer to know that you’re going to turn your script over to an artist and he’s going to give you back everything you’re looking for plus more. The work Lee is doing on this is a step up from anything he’s done before.
Westfield: Is there anything you’d like to say about the other projects you’re working on at the moment?
Marz: I should be further ahead on them. [laughter]
I should also mention that on Shinku the inker is Matthew Waite and the colorist is Michael Atiyeh, who are also friends. That’s one of the real pleasures of doing a creator-owned book; you can work with your friends. You can work with guys who are not only talented, but are good guys and perfectly accountable. You know who to trust on deadline. You know who’ll get the work done. We’ve got a few issues in the can and we’re trying to get as much stuff done as possible before the launch in June so that we can stay on track.
I should also probably mention that it’s a mature readers title. The vampires that I grew up with were about sex and violence, probably in that order, so there’s a healthy dose of both in the book. I don’t think it’ gratuitous, but we didn’t shy away from showing what the vampires do. This wasn’t conceived as the anti-Twilight, it was actually conceived before Twilight ever became what it is, but that type of dreamy, romantic vampire isn’t necessarily the model that I adhere to. These vampires are for everybody who likes watching Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee on late night TV.
OK, the other stuff. I’m continuing with everything from Top Cow, which is Witchblade, Artifacts and Magdalena, which is an ongoing even though we’ve had some typos in the solicits that would indicate otherwise. I’m doing a two-issue Conan story for Dark Horse with Bart Sears, which also debuts in June. And I’m editing a series of four one-shots for Image which are based on the Deadlands roleplaying game. I’ve hired the teams who are doing them, and I’m also writing one of the one-shots myself, which will also have art by Bart. The first one, which is out in June, is by Steve Ellis and David Gallaher, who did High Moon for Zuda, which was a weird Western, so they’re a perfect fit. The second one is by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, who are obviously no strangers to westerns, with art by Lee Moder. The third one is me and Bart Sears, and the fourth one is Steve Niles and Francesco Fancavilla of Detective and Black Panther fame. It was a chance to go out and work with guys who are suited to the job ,and who are seasoned professionals. Everything’s falling together swimmingly on those, frankly.
I think that’s it.
Westfield: Any closing comments?
Marz: I’m forever the guy on his soap box preaching about the need for different genres to be represented in comics, different kinds of stories in addition to superheroes. A lot of this stuff is me trying to do my part to make that a reality. Shinku is a horror story. Deadlands is obviously a Western. Conan is sword and sorcery. A lot of the Top Cow stuff I think falls more under action/adventure and horror than it does superheroes. Hopefully, little by little, we as an industry will grow and start to offer things in addition to the superheroes we all love.