San Diego Comic-Con International 2013 Archaia's Cyborg 009
by Bamboo Dong,
Archaia Entertainment was at San Diego Comic Con to talk about their upcoming Cyborg 009 graphic novel, based off the original work by Shotaro Ishinomori. Panelists included Deb Aoki from mangacomics.com, Cyborg 009 illustrator Marchs To (Red Robin, The Huntress), co-writers F.J. DeSanto (The Spirit, Immortals: Gods and Heroes) and Bradley Cramp (Gattaca, Invertigo), and Masayasu Takigawa, executive officer at Space Shower Networks.
The panel started with an introduction of Ishinomori and his legacy, speaking about his inspirations for Cyborg 009, how world travel shaped his narrative and characters, the beginning of his career, his reputation as Japan's “King of Manga,” as well as some of his other works. “He's like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in one,” said Aoki. Afterward, Archaia editor-in-chief Stephen Christy led a moderated discussion with the panelists. (Writer's note: some questions and answers are paraphrased.)
How did you approach the project?
Bradley: Before F.J. approached me, I didn't know much about Cyborg 009. He said, “Take a look at it; maybe you'd be interested in helping me develop this.” I started reading the first ten books and instantly fell in love with it. Even though they were written during the height of the Cold War, so much of the universal themes are still resonant today. That's the great thing about any literary work, or movie, or TV show—the core truth of it still holds true, no matter what time period it was created in. I identify with Joe as well as the other characters, in trying to find out who they are and where they've come from, and fighting against this situation of injustice in which they found themselves. It really hit me hard. The challenge was, how do we, as writers, honor Ishinomori and the work he created, while at the same time making those characters and stories even more relevant now in light of what's happened since 1960.
F.J.: For us, it was about sifting through decades of materials to find what was special about each of these characters. What's fantastic about this property is that, unlike a lot of superhero properties, there's a hopefulness and fun to it. You have these nine characters and Ishinomori had traveled the world; that impacted him when he created this. Each character is from a different country. It's the through-line that goes through the whole thing that from 49 years ago to now; you have these different people coming from all these different countries. These people put aside their conflicts—mind you, it's not all smooth sailing; some don't get along—but they come together as a force of hope and positivity.
What are some of the themes that ran through this property?
F.J. I think he had a universal hopefulness for humanity. If you look at his other characters, like Kikaider and Kamen Rider, it's always this fight between humanity and technology. It's always this conflict between the two. If you read the Cyborg 009 graphic novel, these nine characters are the prototypes and there is more advanced technology, but the reason they're able to prevail is their humanity. It's not so much about their powers as it is about the heart and the soul of these people coming together and fighting the injustice. There's more about that, than there is the technology. Ishinomori saw where technology was going, saw where the world was going. Eventually the human spirit will triumph.
In the original manga, the first page has a picture of the bomb drop. This is repeated in the graphic novel. How much do you think Ishinomori was inspired by the fear and paranoia of the times? All the bad guys were war mongers and profiteers.
Takigawa: In 1964, if you put those themes in a boys manga, it wouldn't really be a huge success. It would be very difficult for boys to follow. If you look at manga from 1964 in Japan, it was all square panels. Comedies, most of it. Ishinomori wanted to bring in the bomb falling, and he talked about the Cold War, and technology, and weapons. And then in the story, all these innocent people were being kidnapped from everywhere around the world. It wasn't about heroes, or superheroes. They've could've been you, or me, or anyone from around the world. These people were kidnapped from everywhere. He really saw the world when he traveled around the world. He saw a lot of things. He saw that technology might ruin all of human society, and it's true today. That's why it's still relevant after 49 years.
Why did you take the risk of bringing this title to American audiences with American creators?
Takigawa: First of all, F.J. He loves Ishinomori and Japanese culture. We've been talking for several years about it, and we wanted to bring Cyborg 009 to the world. We had already distributed the original through Tokyopop, but we agreed that we needed something for the English-speaking fans that would fit into their culture. And also, this 1964 manga looks a little… classic. We wanted a colorful, American type of work with all these talents we had assembled.
At this point, the slideshow showed some side-by-side comparisons of the original manga next to the new graphic novel. Many of the scenes in the new work pay homage to the original.
How were you able to take a ten volume series and turn it into a 100-page book?
F.J.: It took a lot of work. Luckily, Brad is a much more detail-oriented guy. He kept saying, “we gotta have this moment, gotta have that moment.” Brad weaved together a lot of the elements. Luckily, IshimoriPro has a really detailed encyclopedia that lays out all the characters and all their backstories. We were able to know which spots we wanted to hit, or what emotions we wanted to hit. We were able to take it and break it down into a story that we were hoping anyone who didn't already know about it could read it and go into the world and be excited about it. Anyone who did have a love for it would see it and understand, “oh, that was in the original manga, and they really care about this.”
Bradley: Anyone can pick up this book and instantly get it. Fans of the original manga and newcomers like myself. We really had that at the forefront of our minds while we were working on this.
Did you have to do a lot to make this Japanese property fit Americans?
F.J. Not really. Ishinomori's world view is so international. All these characters are from different countries, so you don't really have to alter the backgrounds of these characters. In Joe's case, we gave him more backstory so the states are raised, but it's such a rich property that you don't really have to alter it. It was just about creating a story that utilized the best parts about these aspects to create the best. We take it as a vote of confidence that today, the graphic novel is being released in Japan in Japanese. That's something that hasn't been done before. Today is the 49th anniversary of the manga debut. If we didn't do our jobs, I think they wouldn't have wanted it to come out in Japan; they never would've acknowledged that it existed.
Can you talk about Marcus and his work?
F.J. When Marcus' name came up, I was familiar with his work, especially his stuff at DC. I saw on Google a drawing he had done of Tim Drake, who's Robin, for those of you who don't know. When I saw it, I thought, “he could be Joe's cousin.” And I said, “he gets this. We gotta get this guy.” And then he started designing characters and they started coming alive. He was able to walk this fine line between the original and the modern to create something that appeals to every audience in every generation. Between him and Ian (Herring) [the colorist for Cyborg 009], it was very easy to be very excited. It was like being a kid at Christmas when those pages were coming out.
Marcus, why did you leave the happy world of DC Comics to come work on this?
Marcus: When I was asked about the possibility of doing this work, I was pretty new to it as well. I'd heard of it before, but one thing I remembered was the design and the colors and how bright and vibrant these characters were. When I dove deeper into the world of Ishinomori, I realized this was an opportunity I might never get again, to have the ability to re-imagine such history and inject my own sensibility into it. I had to jump at the chance. It was one of those things I knew had the potential to be more than just a comic. It could be a story that we reinvigorated across America. In the end, it was an easy choice, and I wouldn't have changed anything about it.
Was it intimidating?
F.J.: The context is, no one has touched this ever. The weight of responsibility was on Marcus' shoulder. He had to make something that Ishimori Pro was going to like, and present it to a wide audience. We didn't tell him all of that, of course.
Marcus: Like anything in life, everyone has the right to be scared or fear things, but it's your actions that prove what type of person you are, so you can't be scared to try new things, whether you win or lose. That didn't bother me at all.
What was your process in designing the characters?
Marcus: A lot of the process was reading the source material and trying to see each character from 001 to 009; what type of person they are, their personalities with each other. Once you start to understand maybe why 009 would do something, or why 003 would do something, their looks and facial expressions kind of come into play after that. Reading after the script came in from Brad and F.J., it helped it along. It felt like near the end, with the last ten pages, “Man! I think I understand how to draw these guys, but it's done already!” It's still a learning process for that, but with the designs, I just mostly wanted to understand the characters' motivations and understand why they do things, or do things a certain way. The shapes helped, too. Each cyborg has a different shape; some are more angular, some are more round. I just kept with the same motif that Ishinomori laid out for us.
This is the first time you did an original GN instead of doing a single series.
Marcus: It was my first time doing an original graphic novel, and the first time inking my own work. It was a new challenge for me.
Did you feel like you had anything to prove?
Marcus: Mostly to myself. A lot of times, you're scared to try new things, and you don't know what it's going to look like, and you're scared people will hate it, but you have to get past that and trust your own sensibilities, and trust what's come before you to lead up to now.
Can we talk about the cover?
At this point, F.J. held up a copy of the final book. There are four layers to the cover. The plastic slipcover shows Joe, and when that is removed, Joe's cybernetic interior is revealed. That image is based on Ishinomori's original artwork, and is labeled in Japanese like the original manga. Inside that is the human “soul” and then a villain.
Takigawa: The idea is that the same technology could create a hero or the bad guy. That's the whole theme of Cyborg 009 itself.
In regards to the rest of the packaging:
F.J.: In the back, there's a great essay that David Brothers wrote that takes you through the history and significance. The idea is that we're trying to expand the world of Ishinomori here. Not just the graphic novel, but also the comics. It's a celebration of these 49 years, and his 75th birthday is this year as well. It's both old and new, and a legacy property that we're really proud of.
We actually had panels from the original manga as the end papers. We really wanted to pay tribute to Ishinomori's original work. When you open it, the first page is a bomb dropping in silhouette; we start the same way as the original to honor the master. We made history with this book. When Takigawa went over to Space Shower, we made a theme song in Japanese for the book. The point is that you watch it as you're starting the book, and the title sequence comes up in your mind.
Near the end of the panel, Takigawa told a story involving the Ishinomori museum and the 2011 earthquake. The museum itself is situated on a river. When Ishinomori was still alive, he wanted the museum to be designed like a spaceship landing on an island. He called it Mangattan, like Manhattan. The building itself is white, and round-shaped, with an elevated base, with no windows. When the tsunami hit, one man was still inside the museum, but he saw twenty-some people outside. He brought them inside the building. Later, he saw another twenty people outside, and brought them inside as well. For the next five days, these forty-some people were able to live off the food in the restaurant inside the museum, as well as sleep inside. Thanks to Ishinomori's designs for this building, the lives of forty people were saved. It also preserved all of the original manga volumes that were stored inside.
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