I wanted to blog about the first issue of Three Ring Samurai and Bat Country in more detail but I think I’ll tackle them separately and talk more broadly on how I feel about first issues because I find I feel quite strongly about them.
To me the first issue of a comic is like an introduction to an essay or a film or anything of that nature, it sets up the plot but it also has to stand almost on its own. I read so many indie comics who see the first issue as almost a hurdle to be jumped as swiftly and as neatly as possible to get to the ‘good bits’ but if you have ‘good bits’ why aren’t they in the first issue people will see?
You have to give people a reason to want to get to the ‘good bits’, I’m not going to read your entire graphic novel and then decide whether or not it was worth my time at the end. I’m going to see what the first issue is telling me and decide from that moment whether to keep reading or not.
So in my mind the first issue should almost encapsulate everything you want to say or achieve throughout the entire comic. It’s not the start of a story, it IS the whole story. I read quite a few comics that start at the beginning despite nothing really happening, and slowly building to that point.
A comic is not like a novel, you have to grab people’s attention as soon as possible or you’ll never have it. I’d structure it so it started at or after the inciting incident and work backwards, it’s a common device but that’s because it works and if you think you can’t make a common device work for you or you can’t make something like that fresh and exciting or scoff at cliché’s you really shouldn’t be a writer. Because that’s all we do, nothing is original, nothing is new, everything is a cliché, we’ve been on this planet for thousands of years as a species, we have to keep recycling and keep mixing things up to keep… LIFE interesting. It’s not what you write about, its how you write about it that makes what you do interesting.
Now my post apocalyptic diesel punk samurai clown epic, Three Ring Samurai, if I may be so modest has an oddly modest first issue in comparison from where the story goes. I see the premise, and the elevator pitch alone is incredibly flamboyant and done by anyone else it would too silly, too wacky and just wouldn’t work. I wanted to go for a more anime like feel, where there can be silliness and there can be wackiness but you always understand that there are real world consequences and life and death and it’ll be at its core a serious story because in my opinion those are the stories I like and want to tell.
I think seriousness and sadness and humour work off each other well and in some instances deepen eachother. It’s like twin peaks, again; you have all this wackiness going on in the episode but by the end you have to remember that Laura is dead and that’s what the show is about, it’s a comedy surrounding a tragedy and only the end can truly define where the pointer lands.
So with the first issue I really wanted to undersell it and be as subtle as I possibly could so that I could contain the bombastic title and concept and really blue ball the reader, as well as giving them a little something that would make them want to read the next issue (which is still being drawn) and give them a feel for the tone of entire series.
I really had to restrain myself because the concept is so rich and so fucking explosive, it’s almost too tempting to take it and run and just burn yourself out. But I wanted a really plodding and structured approach. And I know I said I hated comics that took a long time to get going but I think this comic had enough momentum behind it in terms of interest with the unique subject matter to cut me a little slack if just for the first issue. To be a little mysterious, a little enigmatic even in a comic that is so tongue in cheek at its core as this.
So the first page, I read that and I hear Ron Perlman’s voice saying ‘War, war never changes’, and I just can’t resist, the zoom out on the post apocalyptic setting, I really wanted to give a feel of scope and loss with the idea that people were still clinging on to something which is Fallout at its heart.
We’re introduced to these two kids, like the wastelands answer to tin tin, two innocents bounding onto some dark strange discovery and this is how we’re introduced to our hero. I tried to use this to set the tone in terms of the fact the kids didn’t find it strange to find a dead body, the light normality of death being so prevalent in a harsh wasteland.
Pookie is almost like an alien or a baby or a fish wacked on the head and brought back to life. With the scenes of the shack, I almost wanted a sleepy feel, a sort of cool peace that fell on the wasteland at dusk in contrast to the chaos of the day.
I had a lot of fun with the kids, sneaking in exposition and building up to the character of Pookie by essentially mocking him in this cartoony anime sort of way. I want him to be this figure of fun, a silly character that can fall on his ass and make a fool of himself because he’s not afraid of being a fool because he knows when it comes down to it, he’ll have the last laugh.
The grandpa character is a sort of wily comic relief, someone to bounce weird jokes off the kids (fuck just noticed a spelling mistake haha). Someone who plays dumb to lull people into a false sense of security but secretly knows more than he lets on. And then we can have this hushed voices real talk between him and Pookie, nods and gestures of two people in tune in some way.
The dream sequences are something I plucked directly from the opening sequence of David Lynch’s Elephantman. I wanted something surreal but also very silly, and I really can’t get away with genuine serious surrealism. I’ve always been more drawn to comedy surrealism like Luis Bunuel and to some extent David Lynch, I find he takes his surrealism (besides possibly Eraserhead, that movie freaks a lot of people out but I found it quite silly and funny in a way) very lightly and with many pinches of salt.
I think if I remember correctly, the reason I made it elephants is mainly because I loved the way Ike (The artist) drew the elephant on the opening page and then I took the opening sequence from David Lynch’s Elephantman, which is a pretty fucking weird intro and ran with it. I’m pretty sure it’s an elephant rape scene, or that’s at least what he’s hinting at, I wouldn’t put that past him to be fair, he’s done weirder shit than that.
I shamelessly stole the Musashi joke from Champloo. I have no shame, it’s just too funny and I read the book of the five rings before I started writing this, so why the fuck not?
We’re introduced to Pookie in earnest, I always like characters with silly names, it almost makes it twice as amazing when they do something incredible, I almost wish I came up with it but I think that was all Ike as is the original concept.
Only 11 pages in do we get to the meat of the story. Pookie has been robbed and the natural imperative of gramps is just to let it go, some stuff isn’t worth your life and Pookie is injured, but Pookie is not like them. Someone takes something from him, he gets it back. He is almost an alien, dropped into a dog eat dog world with an inordinately large set of teeth. This is where I like to think I injected some of the Cain in Kung Fu elements I wanted to bring forward. A lone wanderer, from a strange culture, a warrior with incredible skill plucked out of a fantasy; an almost mockery to human potential, an anime character walking Deus Ex Machina.
The main purpose of this issue is that Pookie was essentially destroyed, his life, his past. He was killed, reborn and everything he knew stripped away from him. So now he has to find himself, he has to decide who he is in this new world, without the world he’d come to know. The first thing he’s drawn to is his sword and violence because that’s all he’d known all his life.
In a lot of ways this is a coming of age story, someone thrown out of their old life like Kung Fu and thrust into a strange new world, forced to make sense of who he has to become to survive.
This whole issue is essentially about Pookie’s rebirth (fuck that’s pretentious), he’s trying to establish who he really is, because for so long he was one thing (no spoilers); it was his whole world, his identity and in one moment it’s taken from him and now he has to re-establish his identity and who he is as a character. As a writer it was and is a tricky character to write for because he’s almost forming himself with every page, piecing himself together like Doctor Manhattan.
I’m oddly proud of the sword, a sword with a handle like one of those cheesy laughing boxes Jack Nicholson joker has at the end of Batman. He always gets the last laugh even if he dies. I sort of wanted to mock the idea of swords in general.
A katana is as clichéd as you can get these days, so saturated in popular culture. I wanted to make his sword out to be some ridiculous piece of joke shop crap, a silly show piece, a gimmick for laughs, a sword that laughs for a man that doesn’t need to.
It’s also sort of homage to my early knife collection. I bought this crappy machete from Doncaster market when I was like 13 I think. It had a dragon or lions head handle with glowing led’s for eyes that lit up when you pressed a button, jesus what the fuck was I thinking?
The combat I wanted to keep as theatrical as possible, death is a show, it had to be fairly flash but also brutally inefficient. He’s a monster, a vicious killer, who expects applause for his butchery, someone shaped by the brutality of the vicious curiosity of a bloodthirsty crowd egging him on to further heights of gut-wrenching violence. To him violence and killing is a parlour trick, it’s almost a joke, like hitting someone in the face with a custard pie.
That’s how I wanted to capture this element of silliness in this very grotesque and ultra-violent package. I really wanted to hone that feeling of 80’s action movie ultra-violence, like Robocop. Someone is torn apart in this ridiculously over the top death sequence but it’s wrapped up in this really silly camp vibe that makes it all the more sinister and weird.
Ok maybe the ending with the cheesy ‘see ya around kid’ was a little too much but I couldn’t resist. I wanted to end it in a way that made it uncertain where he was going, he was just going somewhere, anywhere to forge a new Pookie, one that followed his own rules and didn’t need no stinkin’ circus.
Well how did I do? haha. Fuck I waffled on like a man possessed, if you read this far through I commend you.
All in all not a lot happens but I think it’s a tight and tidy package, I’ve got a handful of positive reviews for it under my belt already and I feel confident it was a solid first issue. but it gives enough, succinctly I think, to grab the attention for another issue or two.
Well I hope you like it anyway, I’ve rambled enough for a lifetime, as always you can check it out for free at; http://tapastic.com/series/Three-Ring-Samurai
Thanks for reading, peace out.