The hyperintense arcade-style action of Corey Lewis’ “Sharknife” returns in February at Oni Press, when the titular hero’s attack gauge fills to breaking as he fights to defend a Chinese restaurant from the monsters that live within its walls, as well as facing off against rivals new and familiar. Like a proper video game sequel, “Sharknife Double Z,” the third book set in this universe (including the spinoff “PENG”), delves deeper into the lives of busboy Ceasar Hallelujah — who transforms into Sharknife by eating a magical fortune cookie — and Ombra Revenga, wielder of the Orcasword, while blasting readers with even harder-hitting action and special moves. Comic Book Resources spoke with Lewis about the new OGN, its long road to publication, his “endless potential energy” style, and the future of his popular online series “Seedless.”
“Sharknife Double Z” has been a long time coming — Lewis’ original “Sharknife” was released in 2005, and the second volume was first solicited in 2007. “I describe the experience of working on this book as my ‘comics college,'” Lewis said, “and since it took like… six years, I guess you could say I now have an M.D. in comics.”
Lewis explained that the main factor in the delays was simply his own youth and lack of experience. “When I made the first book, I was but a spritely 22 year old, not really aware of the follow-through necessary to create a successful graphic novel series,” he said. “I pretty much made the first book and ‘PENG,’ and was surprised/pleased with myself. I remember looking at the first printed volume and being like, ‘I can’t believe I made this.’ And when it was time to make more, I was basically like ‘What? I have to do this again?'”
The first “Sharknife” book brought Lewis opportunities that made creating more “Sharknife” difficult. “By that time, I was knee-deep in new projects, like drawing ‘Rival Schools’ for Udon and doing work for companies I’ve always wanted to work for (Hasbro, Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network). So my ever-eager work-for-hire self was already putting ‘Sharknife 2’ on somewhat of a backburner,” Lewis told CBR. “By the time I got around to officially starting to draw the new ‘Sharknife,’ it was already a couple years after the original one came out. By that time, I knew the production of ‘Sharknife 2’ would be a life-changing task. And it surely was.”
“Sharknife Double Z” begins with a bit of origin story, for both Sharknife and rival Ombra Revenga. After a couple years away from the book and 200 pages of other comics under his belt, Lewis told CBR, “I guess I needed to approach new Sharknife from a fresh angle, and I thought a kid-version of the characters would be a good way to do that. I also wanted to draw a cute ‘chibi’-style Sharknife to start the book off, so…”
Whereas the original “Sharknife” let readers take the hero and his amazing video game-inspired powers for granted, “Double Z” offers up quite a bit of history and background (though, in story, Lewis hedges a bit as to whether this is the true origin). “There is also a general ‘everything you need to know’-type intro to the book, that kind of explains the cosmic origins of Sharknife/Orcasword,” Lewis said. “It’s both an informative thing, and a throwback to those anime/tv shows that started with a ‘basic rundown’ of the story they were telling.”
The origin story features new character Enta Dadragon, who initially competes, hilariously, with Ceasar Hallelujah for the Sharknife powers. “Enta is kinda like a ‘normal guy’ looking in on the ‘Sharknife’ universe, puzzled by all these other people with insane powers,” Lewis said. “It was kind of a reaction to the people who just didn’t ‘get’ the first ‘Sharknife.’ It’s not an insult, it is just kinda hilarious to throw a seemingly ‘normal’ person into the mix, to guffaw at the crazy stuff happening on-page.
“Anyway,” the cartoonist continued, “he has some revenge plans toward Ceasar/Sharknife, and he throws some monkey wrenches into the already escalating battle between Sharknife & Orcasword. He was a fun character to throw into the mix.”
Even after the “secret origin” intro, “Sharknife Double Z” includes a lot of mythology building for the series, which further sets it apart from the first book. “Originally, I don’t think I ever had any thoughts to expand ‘Sharknife’ beyond ‘hero that defends restaurant,’ one or two books,” Lewis told CBR. “When it became clear to me that this would be a series I work on probably throughout my whole comix life, I felt it necessary to build up the importance of why ‘Sharknife’ exists, what he’s truly fighting, etc. The second book definitely addresses a lot of these aspects, but there’s a lot of room to expand on it, too. The second book is basically slapping Ceasar in the face, asking him why he fights. Subsequent books will go deeper into it. Like a shark, if Ceasar slows down, he could die.”
As to what shenanigans go on at the restaurant, the Guangdong Factory, this time around, Lewis said, “Well, hmm — there’s a lotta craziness in this volume, as there was in the first.” Some of that craziness, though, will take place in previously unseen corners of the restaurant. “I wanted to mix-up the settings where fights occurred in this one, while still being in the Guangdong. So there’s a rooftop battle in this one, a fight in the Guangdong’s giant freezer (featuring the Guangdong’s Megatron-like ice-cream robot),” Lewis told CBR. “Sharknife fights more monsters, with crazier powers, getting some new crazy powers of his own (aside even from the titular power of going ‘Double Z’). There are a lot of spiritual god-animals cruising through the restaurant, and even some new Sharknife-like powers for other characters! (secret!)”
Lewis’ books are marked by what Oni Press has dubbed “arcade logic,” which is also on full display in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” series. “Sharknife Double Z” begins with an 8-bit styled player ID screen, characters transform and level up and the title itself and much of the visual language of the book calls back to popular gaming conventions. “I think it’s just pretty common for this ‘new’ generation of comic artists to include video game cues in their work,” Lewis said. “Video games have an amazing way of displaying information visually, that is just very congruent to comics storytelling. It’s cool to have a narration box of a character describing how he feels, but I think it’s even cooler to include a little design tag/interface that literally displays the level at which the character is feeling, a-la video games.
“For the ‘Sharknife’ world, it’s supposed to be kind of a cue to show you exactly how powerful one character is in proportion to another,” he continued. “But I haven’t taken it so seriously that it’s an actual gauge for that. It’s more for visual flair. In the future, I hope to make it a more integral part of the reading experience.”
In addition to “Sharknife,” Lewis also writes and illustrates “Seedless,” an ongoing webcomic about fighting fruit. The first collection is available from Image Comics, with many more installments available on Lewis’ website. While “Seedless” is another over-the-top fighter, the style is quite different from “Sharknife” (and, of course, it stars anthropomorphic ninja grapes). “Yeah, I’m pretty hyper-active when it comes to my projects,” Lewis said, adding that he continues to pick up different projects and switch off which one he works on in a given day. “In my post-‘Double Z’ world, I’m currently working on, like, four (at least) separate comic projects, which I alternate daily. I dunno — it’s probably a hindrance, but I just kinda want to do it all. Plus, for the moment, at least, I feel I’m making up for lost time, so I really want to pump a diverse milieu of content out.”
Lewis also described what creative jones each of his comics fills for him as a creator. “‘Seedless’ is like my ‘cute’ comic, ‘Sharknife’ is my fight/super-power comic, ‘PENG’ is a sports comic — although they all have my brand of ‘endless potential’ energy. I’m also currently working on a self-published thing called ‘Layered Jacket,’ which I guess is a literal interpretation of my ‘endless potential’ energy, because the dude in that can literally pull anything he imagines out of his magic jacket. Good times.”
Speaking of “Seedless,” Lewis’ site indicates the series is currently on hiatus, but will return “in some form.” Asked about the series’ status and his plans for its future, Lewis he needed some time away from the strip before heading off in a new direction.”Poor ‘Seedless’ started to become more of a chore than something I actually wanted to do for artistic fulfillment. Meanwhile, most my comics friends were urging me to do something more ‘serious,'” Lewis told CBR. “Finally, one day I was like. ‘OK, yeah. Enough cute grape dudes — it’s time to tear some sh*t up.’ And that’s when I started working furiously on what is to be the new ‘Sharknife’ story (‘Speed Dive’), and a couple other things that are pretty high on my comix-drawing ability scale.
“However, a lot of good-will has been thrust toward ‘Seedless’ and I have no intention of abandoning it,” he continued. “I’m actually upping the ante whenever I bring it back. As ‘Seedless’ was based on a childhood comic, the new ‘Seedless’ digs even deeper into my childhood comix mythology. See, the original ‘Seedless’ was a spinoff of a fruit comics series I did that centered around a whole team of diverse fruit-types. So whenever ‘Seedless’ returns, it will feature that idea. I’m not sure when I’ll get around to doing it, but it’d be nice to touch-base with the characters at some point during my epic 2012, before the world ends.”
After a long delay and a couple false starts, Lewis assures fans that the wait for “Sharknife Double Z” “is almost over. For real. Those who didn’t quite ‘get’ the first book may start to see some purpose in this new one, although its crazy-factor is still quite high (astronomical, even). Those who saw the first book as like, something new, unlike other comics out there — the stakes are about to be raised again.”