Vampire Hunter D has wandered a post-apocalyptic Earth for more than three decades, across novels, anime, manga and video games. But soon he’ll travel to a place few fans have seen him tread: Mars.
Unified Pictures and Stranger Comics have partnered to release “Vampire Hunter D: Message from Mars,” a comic series based on a short story by creator Hideyuki Kikuchi that was never released in English. In the story, the resourceful D is spun into unfamiliar territory as he travels into space to save a Martian colony under siege by vampires.
As the Kickstarter campaign to fund the first issue of “Message from Mars” nears its Aug. 8 conclusion, CBR spoke with Unified Pictures’ Kurt Rauer and Scott McClean, Stranger Comics’ Joshua Cozine and artist Michael Broussard about “Vampire Hunter D,” the challenges of bringing the property to life for an American audience, and a possible TV series.
CBR: “Vampire Hunter D: Message from Mars” is based on an unpublished story. How did it end up on your radar?
Scott McLean: In the beginning, we were given a copy of all the books and short stories. I went through my list of them and saw on one of the fan-made wiki pages that there was a short story I didn’t have. I got a hold of the franchise translator, Kevin Leahy, over in Japan and asked where it came from. He told me it had never been put into English, or it had never been widely published, even in Japan. He said he would see what he could do. A week and a half later, he got back to me and said, “Here you go. Here’s a copy in English.”
Turned out to be the only one of the “Vampire Hunter D” stories not set on Earth. It’s set on Mars. We couldn’t do anything with it as far as the television series is concerned because all the novels they were using for the TV series take place on Earth, a very different Earth as we know it – 10,000 years in the future. We started to kick around what we could do with the story.
One of the guys suggested we could potentially do a comic book. So I started talking to writer Brandon Easton about it. I met Brandon a while back through some mutual friends. I had met Stranger about a year ago at a convention. They found writer Michael and here we are today.
Do you feel having an unpublished story gives you more freedom to tell your tale??
Joshua Cozine: It definitely gives us a little more freedom. At the same time, we’re trying to adapt it for our audience, but be as faithful as possible. We’re working very closely with Hideyuki Kikuchi and getting his approval on things. To his credit, he understands that this is going to a different market than he’s used to. He’s been very open to our interpretation, which is very important.
Why was Kickstarter a good route for this project?
Kurt Rauer: The idea behind not knowing who your audience is, and trying to seed the ground, is where we come to the conclusion that if we were unsuccessful, we wouldn’t unduly encumber the rights in the United States. And, if we are successful, which we have been, we show everyone on the ownership side just what kind of appetite we have here in the United States. It’s really something bred of respect for the right’s holder. Having dealt with producers in the past, we want to make sure that we’re slightly a different kind of cloth. We want to show him it’s really about the work, which it has been. It’s not about grabbing what hasn’t been earned.
For anyone unfamiliar with this property, introduce us to D and what brings him to Mars.
McLean: “Vampire Hunter D” is a story set some 10,000 plus years in the future. The world changes after World War III and a nuclear holocaust. Vampires came out of the shadows and take over the Earth. What’s left of the human population becomes their cattle. D rises to prominence a few thousand years after that event happens and is considered to be the best vampire hunter on the planet.
In this story, which we’re calling “Message from Mars,” which is a little different than the original title [“Message from Cecile”], D receives a letter by one of the human colonists on Mars describing to him that vampires had taken over the Martian colony. She was asking for him to “Please come and take out the vampires. Will you please become my client?” He goes to Mars after receiving this letter, that he doesn’t know when was written, but makes its way to him on Earth. He makes the journey to Mars to deal with the vampires who are now ruling on that planet.
What has been some of the challenges of translating a Japanese property into a North American comic book?
Cozine: The biggest challenge is the aesthetic. Japanese fans have different expectation for the aesthetic. We’re trying to do something that isn’t going to alienate the fans, but we really need to bridge the gap to new fans. There’s an interesting response from people when they look at manga, even if they are manga fans. They can view it differently because it comes from another country. But if their American comics were drawn in the same way, they would find it odd. I’m not sure why it works that way, but it does. We have to be careful how we portray him. We don’t want to portray him in a way that is going to make anyone uncomfortable on our Japanese team’s side, but we also need to portray him in a way that Americans will see him as the hero.
I will say that something really beneficial in the DNA of this property is D is a very introverted character. The ability to be inside of the head of a character, you can really do that in a comic. You can’t do it in animation in the same way. This will allow for a reader to make a connection to D that the first two movies were unable to do. He has a comic foil for him, his Left Hand, but what D is thinking internally is going to fall into two camps: One is Michael’s artwork and he’s already shown those silent moments of thoughts in D’s face. Secondly, if we’re writing through what D’s thought process is, that’s really going to open a gateway the audience so far hasn’t had, other than in the novels. It’s a nice bridging of these two worlds.
Michael, it’s your job to make the visuals pop. Talk a little about your approach to the artwork and setting the tone for the story.
Michael Broussard: Setting the tone, in my head, is very easy. On paper, it’s me learning to walk the thin line between the influences of the Japanese market, which is what we’ve seen in the anime film and the manga graphic novel, and doing an American version of that. It’s trying to lock down how that is represented in the comic panel to panel.
What kind of changes have you had to make to the visual aesthetic of “Vampire Hunter D”?
Broussard: As I said, it’s learning how to walk that line. I have to marry the two worlds. It has to be reminiscent of what people are used to with a character like that versus what we see in American comic books. In American comic books, a character like him is more heroic and more masculine and more representative of the perfect male figure. With Japanese anime, males are more metrosexual, especially a vampire like Vampire Hunter D. He’s very metrosexual. I have to figure out how to marry those together in one character, so it represents both sides.
What are some of the incentives if people donate to this?
McLean: Everything from you get the comic book well in advance of the retail release to artwork that is not going to be publically available for a while. There’s the ability to get autographs, limited edition jewelry. For fans of Vampire Hunter D and gaming, we are creating a Vampire Hunter D/Pathfinder role module that backers to the Kickstarter campaign get included free to their rewards. There’s also a life-sized model of the Left Hand. If you want it autographed by Hideyuki Kikuchi, that’s an available option. You can also appear in the comic book as one of the background characters.
The Kickstarter campaign already exceeded its $25,000 goal, but of course you’d like more for future stages. Obviously, there’s a huge interest in this property. What conversations have you had about what’s next?
Rauer: We have a pretty broad plan and it takes some amount of time. I think we’re going to go through the end of this five-issue short story with Michael at the helm for art and Brandon at the helm for story. Then, we’re going to bind it up next year into something that is amazing to put on your shelf forever.
We are currently choosing a follow-up. We have a number of short stories, some of them unpublished that have been translated into English and could be very interesting. I’d like to continue going with the D comic. It will probably be another short and then we’ll figure out how to do one of the novels as a 15-issue monster, something really fun we can sink our teeth into.
Parallel to that, we are doing visual development. Our ultimate goal, for us, as a production company, is to team up with the Japanese Digital Frontier, who is an animation company, to create a one-hour drama that is targeted to fans, but has a broad enough appeal that crosses over. Along the way, if it never works out and the show doesn’t launch, the comic will be there forever.