“Sharknife” is the debut graphic novel of artist Corey Lewis hitting stores this March from Oni Press and if you’re ready for the awesome then this book is for you.
Ceasar Hallelujah is your typical busboy working at a typical restaurant. Typical, it seems, until a half-Cuban/half-Japanese gangster by the name of Ombra Ravenga pollutes the walls of said restaurant with the demon seeds of barbarous beasts! Now, when the monsters get too big for the walls to contain, Ceasar must radically transform into the monster-fighting hero Sharknife to protect the restaurant, it’s patrons, it’s food, and most importantly, the cute, young, hip and did we mention cute, Chieko Momuza!
Sharknife is a robo-magical-ninja of action packed sass and rawking justice. So we decided to speak with The Rey himself or in other words “The-Bloody-Hell-He’s-Young-And-He’s-Already-Publishing-
A-Graphic-Novel-Rey” about Sharknife, style, bringing light to the awesome and how a young’en like him worked his way up to having his own graphic novel series at an age that makes other artists feel jealous and lazy. “Well, lets get the whole silly faux-name thing straight, first… I don’t expect people to actually call me ‘THE Rey,’ just ‘Rey’ is fine (and preferred). ‘THE REY’ is a thing I made up to stick on the end of my full name, Corey Sutherland Lewis. Y’know, like ‘The Third’ or something?
“Anyway, I’ve been drawing my whole life. I’ve been drawing comics since I was a wee bit. Mainly my own made-up sillies and drawings of Spider-Man and Iron-Man. My first ‘Pro’ work was mainly through Udon. A couple years ago I did the cover to ‘Captain Marvel’ #35 (it’s bad). Various random work, T-shirt illustrations for bands, Box-art for toys, etc. I actually did a box-art for a Transformers toy through Dreamwave. I’ve kinda been around I guess.”
While the indy scene gives Corey the room needed to experiment artistically don’t rule out the mainstream just yet, not when the allure of characters like Spider-Man and Moon Knight are still out there. “Ask me two years ago and I would’ve said no, but I have recently uncovered a newfound respect for mainstream superhero books (having spent a little time working at a comic shop, and dealing with a lot of golden & silver age books). Someday I’d like to work on Batman or Spider-Man or Iron Man or, yes, Moon Knight. I think my style needs a little tightening before I could tackle a mainstream book successfully. Having an inker is a good start.”
Speaking of experimentation, it seems that artists today need to be a Jack of all trades when it comes to getting the work done and for Corey it’s not enough to simply have style you need to invent style. “In ‘Sharknife,’ specifically, I rock two styles that I have named. ‘Wing-Wang’ and ‘Cutie-Ball’ (which is absolutely Paul Pope inspired). Wing-Wang is my usual style, with exaggerated proportions, angles, etc. Typically very extreme and all over. Cutie-Ball is way more simplistic, and the characters are drawn ‘chibi-style’ (big heads, small bodies), and it’s kind of more pop-arty.
“Honestly, the whole ‘style’ thing is important to me, and people who know my work realize it, too. But I’m still very much scratching the surface on all of that. I only named these two styles because it was easy and convenient. They’re not really that unique or awesome (to me), specifically, but someday I think I’ll be at a point where they will be, and it will be relevant to my work in more than just a superficial way. I dunno. It’s a Kung-Fu thing.”
With style, inspiration tends to swing hand in hand. Video games in particular have a noticeable influence on Corey, in fact, if you’re a fan of the vids as well you may detect some recognizable details throughout the series. “Simply put, Sharknife is an amalgamation of many of my favourite video game characters, or ideas they represent. For example, Strider Hiryu (of the ‘Strider’ game series by Capcom) has always appealed to me. He’s just this ninja that freakin’ rocks ass and shreds everything in his path. And he has a big amazing scarf always validating his cool ratio. Obviously, this meant two things for me when creating my own awesome ninja-like character 1) he must shred all, 2) he must have a radical scarf.
“There are many other sweet-ass characters that shred and rock scarves, etc, etc, but my love for Strider parallels pretty much my love for all things video games, and their effect on my work, I think. Like, there’s no way for me to bust out 264 hit combos every day on Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and not reflect all that mayhem in my own work. The video games I play that inspire me (mainly Capcom ones) are like visual comic-aphrodisiacs.”
When it comes to Sharknife, well, it kinda rolls off the tongue like hot and sour soup, getting better as you go along and ingraining itself in your head, doesn’t it? So where’d the title come from, I recognized ‘nife’ as a phrase also used in some of Corey’s stenciling work. “Nothing special about ‘nife,’ really. Just ‘knife’ without the ‘k,’ which I found visually appealing. Sharknife, on the other hand, I’m pretty proud of. It’s two words that work together pretty seamlessly (and virtually impossible to mispronounce). And it’s extra special since the character in question actually does pack a knife that is shaped like a shark.
“Oh man, it doesn’t end there, either. Sharknife’s main badguy (who is top-secret) has another animal-to-weapon name that I find really clever. I can’t take total credit for it, one of my muses spouted it out during a brainstorming session, but I almost soiled myself with glee when he put it together.”
“‘Mantax’ was a scrapped character idea. A manta-ray with an axe… get it? [laughs]”
But it’s not all crustacean shaped weapons of mass-kicking ass. At the heart of the book we have Ceasar Hallelujah as we follow him through the bussing to the justice! “Well, the book, taking place in a restaurant is an important device. So, having actual functioning restaurant workers is key. I was a busboy for much of my normal-job life, so I know what it’s all about. Not a great amount of time is spent showing the finer aspects of the restaurant biz, since much of the book is taken up by hi-wave primo fighting, but I think there’s enough to give people the feeling they need to make the setting something different.
“As for the rest of the book, yeah, It’s like, all fighting. The first fight scene in the book is 13 pages. The last fight scene in volume 1 is 30+ pages.
“Oh, there’s also a gangster element to it. The main badguy, Ombra Ravenga, a half-Cuban / half-Japanese Yakuza, comes off as a really important character in the book. And he has a pretty nifty background chapter all to himself.”
Now we’re talking action, so when it comes to everyone’s most lovable magical robo-ninja, where do his strengths lie? Converse Curry Kick? Awesome Punch Of Awesome Power? Boombox Love Headbutt? Corey developed his own fighting-style for “Sharknife.” “It’s called ‘Fundamentals Within Five Gills (Type A).’ It dictates his general fighting ability (which is pretty similar to Mui-Thai, actually) and has five or six really special moves that he uses to defeat monsters in zany ways. A couple examples: The ‘Babylon Chalice’ (inspired by a Mos Def song), is kind of like a sonic boom (if you know Street Fighter, which you should!) but instead of energy blades, he throws out energy Hammerhead Sharks. Another one is ‘Swallow Pump’ where he does kind of a pointy-uppercut thing, and a big energy shaft shoots up and wings pop out and stuff.”
But what’s an action packed hi-energy ninja, gangster and monster filled book of both rocks and rolls without a love interest? That brings us to the dude loving Chieko Momuza. “Well, Ceasar’s just a dude. He’s kind of an ‘Indy Rock’ dude. He wears tight pants and chucks and studded belts and has tats and plugs in his ears. He’s kind of a fancy lad, but also takes care of business when it’s needed. Chieko’s kind of the same, an uber-hot Asian hipster girl who bounces around, uplifting lives simply by being cute. For the most part, the characters are relatively simplistic, like Popeye or something. I wanted them to be that way to reflect the light-hearted pop effect of the book.”
As for the typical love triangle usually present in comics involving a love interest, a hero and a secret identity, how will this play up in “Sharknife?” Does Ceasar have to fight for her affections? “Not really but maybe a little. Like, she does like Sharknife, but that automatically translates to liking Ceasar. Ceasar consciously controls Sharknife via his own free will, so he really is Sharknife. So, there’s a little of that ‘I like you because you have powers!’ thing, but also ‘I like you because they are your powers!’, too. Actually, in Volume 2, a couple things happen to Ceasar that prove how awesome he is, with or without Sharknife.”
Well fans we know you’ll be getting a second volume, but that seems to be all, at least for now. “[‘Sharknife’s’] a two-parter. First half, second half. So two volumes, but Oni recently commissioned me to do a story for Free Comic Book Day with ‘Hysteria’ artist Mike Hawthorne. My half will be a Sharknife story, and will take place in between volume 1 and 2, but will have no actual relevance on the OGN’s storyline (he fights a villain made up especially for the FCBD comic).
“I definitely plan to move on to something new once ‘Sharknife’ is done, but by no means will he be locked away, either.”
Back to the action, we’re still left with a gangster named Ombra Ravenga and the monstrous cyber mutant seafood beasts of salt watery fury. Let’s give some attention to that badass mutha for a minute. “It’s pretty simple, really.” Says Corey, swinging his finger and all down with his arty-self. “Ombra is a bad man, a bad Yakuza man, and his smoke-shop is failing due to the popularity of Sharknife’s Guangdong Factory. So, in his mind, the best way to fix that situation is to riddle it with monsters! He has two henchmen who help him in monster production. He’s basically the idea-man, he’s all ‘Yeah, I want a blowfish monster with a spike on his head’ and then his monster caretaker makes it. Kind of like Rita Repulsa from Power Rangers, y’know?
“They’re not all seafood-based, either. Sharknife fights a polar bear in volume 1 at one point. Well, I guess you could consider that seafood. Gross.”
For a graphic novel by a relatively new up and comer that hasn’t even hit stands yet, it’s certainly drawing some mighty support by the likes of Becky Cloonan, Warren Ellis, the PopImage crew and fellow superstar Bryan Lee O’Malley. That’s enough praise to make anyone smile. “It’s overwhelmingly fantastic. I would absolutely not be where I am right now without my artistic peers & support from the comic community. I consider myself amazingly lucky to be in league with these people I call my friends. Becky and Bryan (whom I will always call ‘Mal’) have been friends of mine for a long time. They’ve seen me go through the steps I had to take to get here. They’ve always had faith in me. I’m not a self-deprecator by any means, but just the fact that these two immense talents considered me rad gave me mental comfort and justification. Further, seeing them take their own strides into comic-dom (and inevitable utter success, cos their books rule!), was even more incentive for me to keep on. They made it look easy.
“Having mega-superstar talent like Warren Ellis take notice is an added, spectacular bonus.
I’m not sure he knew the effects when he posted that pleasant little blurb about me and my little book on his site, but it certainly gave a newbie like me a profound jolt.”
But all the hype aside what it really comes down to is whether or not the Sharknife can bring it? Is Sharknife really going to be all kinds of sweetness? I mean, really? A buffet of graphic ninja rawk?
“I made this comic with the intention of having some of the most insane sequential battles American comics have ever seen featuring very crazy characters. If that is what you crave in a comic-book, you should get ‘Sharknife.'”
“I think it’s a fabulous start to what (I hope) will be a career comprised of books that top themselves in similarly sassy ways.”
So don’t wait till its sold out, for “Sharknife Volume 1” from Oni Press it’s ISBN 1-932664-17-3 and Diamond Distributors Order Code JAN05 2893 if you want to Pre-Order, which you should. And for more “Sharknife” Sassiness Go to Sharknife.com and more COREY! Sweetness, go to Ninja Rage.com and to satisfy your ONI! Fetish, go to Oni Press.com. SHARKNIFE is written & illustrated by Corey Lewis at 136 pages in Black & White for $ 9.95 U.S. Hitting stores March 30th, 2005.
Jonathan Ellis is a Contributing Writer to CBR and Co-Editor in Chief of PopImage.com.