Westfield: You're doing a new Samurai: Heaven & Earth mini-series. What do you think people should know about the book before they pick up the first issue?
Ron Marz: They should know where to go and buy a copy of the first trade paperback. [laughter] We'll be doing a "story thus far" on the inside front cover to catch up anybody who might not have read the first series. In simplest terms, the first mini-series was about a samurai named Shiro who literally follows the woman he loves halfway around the world when she's kidnapped and falls into various hands. He eventually winds up finding her at the palace at Versailles during Louis XIV's reign, only to lose her again. That's where the second limited series picks up.
Westfield: What can you tell us about the new limited series?
Marz: It isn't the story we were originally intending to tell for the second series, but Luke Ross and I got talking about what things we wanted to do and what things he wanted to draw. Luke said he really wanted to draw some desert landscapes. As he said, "Some Lawrence of Arabia stuff." So the idea for this second series grew from that, and now we've got a story that I'm really happy with. It takes the characters from Europe in about 1704, across the Mediterranean, and into Egypt.
Westfield: Aside from Shiro, who are some of the other characters in the new series?
Marz: We've got Lady Yoshiko, who is Shiro's lover, the woman he's pursued. We also have the guy who has developed into the main villain for the series, Don Miguel, a Spanish nobleman. In the first series, he was involved with a plot to try and assassinate King Louis. Don Miguel ends up being thwarted by Shiro, and at the same time he becomes obsessed with Yoshiko. He's the one who escapes with her at the end of the first series. In some ways, Yoshiko represents to Don Miguel a means of having his revenge upon Shiro, who was responsible for taking away everything he has. He's a man on the run now. He's lost his standing, his fortune. He has very little to his name except the clothes on his back.
We're also going to revisit one of the characters from the first series, the Arab slave trader who was responsible for bringing Yoshiko from China all the way across Asia and Europe and eventually delivering her to Versailles.
Westfield: Since this is set in a specific time period, how much research do you do for the book?
Marz: As much as possible. We're trying to make the book feel as real as possible. In the first series, the big "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" gag is the Three Musketeers appearing, even though we don't actually name them. We did take some liberties with their timeframe in terms of the Dumas novels. For this new series, European history was a lot easier to research than Egyptian history in 1704, 1705. That's proven a little more difficult to nail down. But I think we pulled out enough research that everything should ring pretty true. The research king of this whole thing has been Luke, who's really gone out of his way to make everything look authentic.
Westfield: It sounds like you have more stories to tell beyond this second series. How long to you see this going if you have the opportunity to tell all the stories you want to tell?
Marz: We've got at least two more series we'd like to do after this one, though we could probably go on further than that. A lot of it depends on what the audience response is. Dark Horse has been great in supporting the title and getting us some notice, so as long as they're happy with it and they want to continue doing it, I think we'll stick around for as long as they'll have us.
Westfield: Also this month you have a new book coming out from Image, Russian Sunset. What can you tell us about that?
Marz: Actually, just so everybody gets their due, it's coming out through Desperado, which is published through Image. It came about because Joe Pruett and I had been talking about me doing something for Desperado for a couple years now, but we couldn't quite line things up schedule-wise. Joe came to me earlier this year and showed me work by a Serbian artist, Mirko Colak, and said "Is this somebody that you think you'd want to work with?" I was really impressed by the stuff. It had a very nice European feel to it, a very chiaroscuro feel, like you'd see in Risso's 100 Bullets. I told Joe, "Let me have about a week to come up with something and we'll see where we're at." A week later, I had this espionage/crime story in place, something with a tough, noir feel that seemed pretty well suited to the kind of work Mirko does. I pitched Joe the story, he liked it, and I started writing. Probably from the first time I saw Mirko's stuff, to sitting down to write the first script, was 2 to 3 weeks. It all came together really quickly.
It's about a guy who works for the Russian mob in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, which has so many transplanted Russians it's called Little Odessa. He gets sent to Russia to broker the sale of a stolen nuclear warhead to a terrorist faction. It's got a crime element, it's got an espionage element. It's got enough sex and violence and rough language that it's a mature readers title.
I guess the ironic part is we're doing it as a black and white book because that seemed to be the proper presentation for it, and for Mirko's artwork, but there are a lot of gray areas to the story and the characters. The good guys might not seem like good guys at first, the bad guys might not seem like bad guys. Everybody's got shades of gray, and there are a number of hidden agendas in the story that will hopefully take the readers by surprise. What you get at face value might not actually be the way things are.
Westfield: Is there anything you'd like to say about the other projects you're working on?
Marz: I'm continuing on Ion and Witchblade. We're talking about some possibilities for Ion after the 12 issues we're currently doing. Witchblade is going to introduce a new bearer, but we're still keeping Sara Pezzini in the book. And I'm doing the X-Men/Cyberforce crossover, which I think is slated for November. I've also got another creator-owned book coming out from Dark Horse in the early part of 2007 called Pantheon City, with artist Clement Sauve, more of a science-fiction story.
Westfield: Any closing comments?
Marz: I feel like I've got the best of both worlds right now, in that I'm getting to work on company properties like Ion and Witchblade that I'm really enjoying. The other side of the coin is this creator-owned work, which is more personal and feels very much like my "own," mine and the artists involved. It's a nice balance to be able to do both kinds of work. They both have very satisfying components.