For diehard horror fans, the incessant comparisons between any new piece of vampire fiction and the moody, broody, sparkly world of “Twilight” are like stakes through the heart. So we’re going to avoid them — for the most part — when talking about “Shinku,” a modern, blood-soaked vampire tale set in Japan from writer Ron Marz and penciller Lee Moder. The first issue of theImage Comics title is in stores now and stars Shinku, the last of a samurai clan dead set on bringing down a centuries’ old clan of vampires in Tokyo. As things go, Shinku winds up not being alone for long as an American by the name of Quinn gets swept up in her vamp-killing adventures. CBR News spoke with artist Lee Moder about how he first got involved in the project, what he and Marz discussed while designing the characters and how working on a variety of projects keeps things fresh for him as an artist.
“Ron calls me up one night a couple of years ago and asks me if I’d like to get in on a new idea for a book about vampires in Japan,” Moder told CBR News. “Now, there’s two concepts that I hadn’t heard before when thinking about what would make a cool comic book: ‘vampire’ and ‘Japan.’ So, already I knew this was going to be something I hadn’t done before. Right off the bat, we were talking about the character of Shinku and what would she look like, what the look and tone of the book would be.
“Initially, it was going to be a black-and-white book with red spot color for the blood,” Moder continued. “There’s going to be a lot of blood.”â€¨â€¨When it came to actually designing Shinku’s look, Moder and Marz compromised on a vision that incorporated both of their ideas.
“I knew I wanted her to have a kind of punk look,” Moder said. “Ron knew he wanted a biker-chick look. And boots. He really wanted the boots. So Shinku’s final look was going to be an amalgam of all that. It was pretty settled by the first sketch, just some minor noodling on my part and that was it. No big epiphanies… just a bit of mental shorthand that the two of us share.”
For the part of the hapless Quinn, who finds himself in the middle of a war he didn’t even know existed, Marz and Moder went from a very vague description to one that really helped the artist zero in on a look for the character.
“Quinn was known then as just ‘The American’ and that was pretty much it,” Moder said of the male protagonist’s early days. “The first couple of sketches I did turned out too pretty looking, like this guy actually had an idea of what he was doing in the book. Ron then threw out the name of Paul Rudd and I just knew what it was I should be shooting for. The next sketch nailed it. Now I had it in my head how this guy was going to look and act.”â€¨â€¨With the two leads locked down, it came time to work on the fanged villains of “Shinku.” Without consciously doing so, Moder found himself creating vampires with a thematic tie to an obvious but unplanned source.
“I hadn’t realized I was doing it until my buddy commented on the vampires I was drawing,” Moder explained. “Turned out I was drawing vampires pretty much the way Asian Cinema depicts their vampires. The fangs are longer. They take on more of a creature aspect rather than the dinner wear that a lot of Western vampires seem to sport. Ron’s description of the vampires — and my general feeling about vampires — match up. These are evil creatures. They are not all relatable to the rest of us. We’re their cattle and they treat us as such. There’s no lovey-dovey sparkle crapola, no vampy angst. They see humanity as nothing more than a food source, disposable and replaceable. This is a war between us and them. If we lose, then we’re dinner.”â€¨â€¨Needless to say, the stakes are pretty high for Shinku, but the battle that rages on today hasn’t just been waged in recent years — it goes all the way back to feudal Japan. When it came time to draw these flashback scenes, which Moder called “absolute fun,” the artist kept his style consistent.
“The fashions and surroundings may change, but my job is to depict the characters as normally as possible,” Moder said. [Colorist] Mike Atiyeh plays with the change in eras by adjusting his palette to the era. Modern Tokyo is all wet neon while Edo Japan is very rustic. I’m hoping that, as we go on, we get to bounce back and forth between many different eras of time. This is the kind of stuff I’ve been itching to draw for a long, long time.”â€¨â€¨Moder continues to tackle new kinds of projects while also going back and working on one or two characters he’s associated with. From superhero and weird western to the horror of “Shinku,” the artist likes to play in different sandboxes.
“The western is a ‘Deadlands’ one-shot with Palmiotti and Gray,” Moder said of his other upcoming Image Comics project. “That’s fun because it’s my first shot at drawing a western book. But, yeah, it’s important to mix things up if only to stay fresh and to work against being typecast as a guy who can only draw one type of book.”â€¨â€¨If anyone knows about Moder’s versatility, it’s Ron Marz. The pair have teamed up on books like “Red Sonja” and “Dragon Prince” in the past but continue to expand their working relationship with each new project.
“If anything hasn’t changed over the years, I hope it’s that Ron knows what he’s going to get from me,” Moder said. “My job is to make sure Ron’s comfortable knowing that, no matter what he asks from me in a script, he’s going to get what he wants. And then knowing that I’m going to wind up tossing in a thing or two that’ll add to the story. I guess he’s digging what I’m doing, [because] he keeps coming back for more punishment. Maybe he’s a masochist.
“There’s that last splash page in the first issue, okay? And his description of the scene is pretty explicit. He knows what he wants,” Moder continued. “So, I draw it, right? Copy it, scan it and send it to him. Ron writes back calling me a sick bastard and I say, ‘I just drew what you wrote!’ Think of me as Ron Burgundy [from ‘Anchorman.’] I’m gonna draw what I read in the script. Stay classy, San Diego.”
“Shinku” #1 is in stores now and you can check out an uncensored preview right here on CBR.