While Western comics have been deeply influenced by their Japanese counterparts over the years, some comic writers and artists have gone a step further and been influenced by Japanese culture well. Take Honor And Curse, a comic from Mad Cave that’s driven by its creators love of manga, anime, and Japanese folklore. With Honor And Curse: Volume 1: Torn newly available in paperback and on Kindle, I spoke via email to writer Mark London and artist Nicolás Salamanca to discuss how this comic came together, what influenced it, and how they came to work on it together.
Let’s start with the basics: What is Honor And Curse about, and where and when is it set?
Mark: Honor And Curse is set in feudal Japan in the 15th century, and it’s about this young man, Genshi Sakagura, who’s a promising young shinobi for his village. Problem is that he is tormented by an evil Tengu spirit that plagues his dreams and bends reality around him. It’s a story about the struggles of a warrior coming to grips with his fate. This story has lots of romance, action, betrayals, and twists along the way.
Where did the idea for Honor And Curse originate?
Mark: After I finished Battlecats and Midnight Task Force, I knew it was time to explore some other concepts that I felt passionate about when I was growing up: ninjas, feudal Japan, and the supernatural. So, I started doing research on Japanese folklore and found information about some crazy spirits that I definitely needed to incorporate in my story about a young shinobi possessed by an evil spirit.
Are there any other comics, or comic writers, who had a big influence on this story but not on any of your other comics?
Mark: Not necessarily for this story, but since Honor And Curse deals with many themes, I always draw inspiration from some of my most beloved comic book writers: Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Bendis, Loeb, and Geoff Johns.
What about movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big influence on either the story you’re telling in Honor And Curse or how you’re telling it?
Mark: Ninja Gaiden. I was mesmerized by that video game growing up and also movies like American Ninja, Enter The Ninja, Ninja III: The Damnation, Karate Kid, and don’t get me started on one of my all-time favorite animes, Ninja Scroll.
A few weeks ago we did an interview about the first volume of your comic Knights Of The Golden Sun [which you can read here]. For that comic, you worked with artist Mauricio Villarreal. For Honor And Curse, you’re working with Nicolás Salamanca. First off, do artists have to have cool names to draw your comics? Are you prejudiced against artists with bland names?
Mark: Yes. If the artist I want to work with doesn’t have a cool name, I don’t care how talented they are, they are simply not getting the job.
HA! I’m kidding. But you’re right. I’ve never thought about it. Camelo on Battlecats, Villarreal on Knights Of The Golden Sun, Giraldo on Midnight Task Force and Wolvenheart, and did I mention Tekino coloring two of those titles? Tekino just sounds like a cool samurai from the Edo period. Right?
Joking aside, what was it about Nicolás Salamanca’s style that made you think he’d be great for Honor And Curse, as opposed to Mauricio or someone else?
Mark: Nicolas is a manga buff and his style is heavily manga-inspired. I did try to envision Honor And Curse as a manga, but in our first meeting we decided to go with a comic book instead. However, the manga influence is clearly there. Then we signed Tekino on as colorist and he is a perfect fit because he loves Japanese animation and his style reflects that as well.
So, Nicolás, what was it about Honor And Curse that made you want to draw it? And, more importantly, made you think you were the right person to draw it?
Nicholás: I’ve always liked manga and Japanese culture, therefore, to draw a fantastic world like Honor And Curse is an honor, and I find it liberating to unleash all the knowledge I have of the culture.
In deciding how the characters would look, and other aspects of the design, did you take influence from any other comics?
Nicholás: One of my great heroes is, Takehiko Inoue, the mangaka of amazing works like Slam Dunk and Vagabond. That last one is my main reference and influence since the settings are the same, a Feudal Japan that has a realistic style.
What about from movies, TV shows, or video games?
Nicholás: I love science fiction movies, especially those of cyberpunk genre, and ’80s action movies. I’m a manga fan, so goes to show that I really like anime as well with my all-time favorite being Dragon Ball. As for video games, I must admit that I dedicate more time than I should. I love different genres: action, adventure, shooters, etc. in terms of sports I like Pro Evolution Soccer. I get really addicted to RPGs sagas like Fallout, The Witcher, and Pokémon.
When it came to your art, how collaborate were you and Mark?
Nicholás: When I started Honor And Curse, Mark wanted a realistic touch in the art. I appreciate the fact that he has let me experiment, and when I have any doubt, the team is always quick with their support.
Did Mark ever suggest anything for the art that really changed something fundamental or large about the book?
Nicholás: I think the only change that Mark has asked for is to redesign the Tengu. I had done it with a youthful and stylized appearance, and he wanted a more imposing and evil figure. You can really see it at the end with Issue #6.
And Mark, did Nicolás ever suggest anything about the text, either directly or by doing something in the art, that you incorporated into the story?
Mark: I always tell artists that my scripts are a blueprint for the story, so I expect to see pages come back with an extra panel here and there or an action scene that is more defined. His suggestions were spot on and with the help of our E.I.C. Giovanna Tobar, supervising the suggestions, things came out great.
Now, according to the press release, Honor And Curse: Volume 1: Torn presents the first six issues and, “a few little surprises”? What are those “surprises” and why did you decide to include them in this collection?
Mark: Oh, yes, readers are in for a treat. Aside from having the entire first arc, we are including a cover gallery and a concept art gallery. They are gorgeous and I can’t wait for people to see what Miguel Angel Zapata, our lead designer, has put together.
And are the versions of issues 1 through 6 the same as they were when they came out individually or did you make any changes to them?
Nicholás: Honor And Curse is a cycle, and events of Issue #6 are shown in Issue #1. When I finished drawing Issue #6 I was not happy with some drawings of #1 so I decided to change them.
Mark: You always tweak things for the trade paperback that you might have missed the first time around. It shouldn’t be anything major, but you always want to put out the best work you can. The thing is that “perfection” is an impossibly beautiful creature to catch and there’s always going to be something that you could’ve done better.
So, what is the plan going forward for this series?
Mark: Honor And Curse is not over. We are having too much fun with the series and there is a lot more story to tell.
As you both know, Hollywood has been really into making movies and TV shows out of comic books lately. Has there been any interest in making a movie, show, or game based on Honor And Curse?
Mark: Right now, we are only focused on establishing Mad Cave as a publisher that is creating beautiful, fun, action-packed comics across a variety of genres. But I won’t lie, if something like this were to happen for us, it would be a dream come true. Seeing these properties grow up and transcend the medium would be surreal.
Nicholás: As a manga lover, I would like to see Honor And Curse become an anime.
Finally, if someone enjoys Honor And Curse, what similar martial arts comic would you each suggest they check out and why that? And to keep things interesting, you can’t mention anything you’ve written or drawn, or that Mad Cave published.
Mark: Lone Wolf And Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. It’s about the life of Ogami Itto who is framed as a traitor by a rival clan and with his wife murdered and an infant son to protect, he goes out for blood.
Another martial arts comic that I would recommend is Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai. It’s about a rabbit samurai and it’s set in 17th-century Japan, populated by anthropomorphic animals who fight their way across a land consumed by constant conflict.
Nicholás: As I mentioned, one of my great references is the mangaka Takehiko Inoue with his work Vagabond, where each panel he shows us how you can express a world of emotions with just a pen and ink.