In the '70s and '80s, a number of films were released that depicted the most savage jungles as the concrete ones that lurked in the heart of America's cities. These films were often critically panned for their over the top violence, but it was just that trait -- along with a unique sense of style and quite a bit of black humor -- that led to those movies gaining a cult following with cinephiles like Ed Brisson, who current writer of Marvel's Iron Fist comic book series.
This March, Brisson will team with artist Alessandro Micelli and colorist Shari Chankhamma for The Ballad of Sang, a stylized five-issue creator-owned series from Oni Press that blends Brisson's love of cult concrete jungle films, along with a number of other genres.
The series follow the adventures of it's titular character, adolescent assassin Sang, as he embarks on a journey of bloody revenge across an unnamed urban hellscape. CBR spoke with Brisson about his title character, the eclectic cast of supporting players he'll cross paths with, and the unique tone and style of the series.
CBR: Ed, a lot of new readers have discovered your work via Iron Fist where you've been telling tales of martial arts action. It looks like with The Ballad of Sang you'll be putting those action-writing skills into a story of crime and revenge. Is that a fair description of the genre cocktail you're preparing with this series? What are some of the things that inspired this story?
Ed Brisson: Absolutely.
This comic is largely inspired by '70s and '80s B-movies and cult flicks. I’m a huge film junkie and wanted to put together a comic that felt like a love story to the trashy cinema that I hold near and dear to my heart.
This comic is part Death Wish, part The Warriors, part 1990: The Bronx Warriors and a whole lot of bits and pieces from other genres. We even borrow a little from The Dogville Comedies of the late 1920s.
At the center of The Ballad of Sang is your title character, who appears to be an adolescent with a knack for violence, but also a sense of style and humor. What can you tell us about Sang's personality, background and combat skills? What's his status quo when you pick up with him in issue #1?
Sang was kidnapped off the streets of the Philippines as a baby and raised to be a kid killing machine (as in a kid who kills, not a machine that kills kids… yikes!). He’s been trained up by Thomas Chow who’s a mentor, torturer and the only father figure Sang has ever known.
Sang’s brazen and has no problem taking down a room full of Yakuza or an alley full of '80s metal head coke dealers. He’s ruthless and effective, which makes him both a sought after killer and a valuable ally.
In tying in with the first question, Sang was initially inspired by Weng Weng, a diminutive Filipino actor (he was 2’9”) who starred in the films For Y’ur Height Only and The Impossible Kid. I really enjoyed his films and wanted to create something that paid tribute to him.
Where does The Ballad of Sang take place, and what kind of world is this? The sense I'm getting is that it's fairly grounded, but it's kind of a heightened reality that allows for spectacular fights and action sequences.
We never state the setting, but to my mind it’s the version of The Bronx that existed only in low-budget movies of the '80s. Everyone is a criminal or on the take. It’s a dirty, filthy, unsafe place. The kind of place where you can get mugged, stabbed, shot and beat just trying to walk down the block.
Who are some of the supporting players and antagonists Sang will run into and afoul of in these initial issues? What was it like designing those characters?
The main antagonist is Minchella, who’s sort of the top dog mafioso in this town. Sang botched a hit for Minchella, and Minchella’s out for blood. They meet in the first issue and Sang manages to make off with something very valuable to Minchella, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it back.
Sang’s main support comes from Lucy, who we don’t get to meet until the second issue. She’s not without her own issues, but is going to do everything within her power to keep Sang safe.
The designs were mostly left in the capable hands of Alessandro Micelli. We went back and forth on Sang a bit, but by the time he’d come on board (around Sept. 2013), I’d been already been piecing this project together and working up some designs for about three years. So, while Sang was largely set already, Alessandro still had the huge task of designing the supporting characters and the world around him, and it’s been pretty great to see him work at it.
The Ballad of Sang is Alessandro's American debut. I'm not super-familiar with his work, but what I've seen feels like a mix of the physicality of a Chris Bachalo, with a fun animated style and attitude.
As mentioned above, this is a project that’s been percolating for a long, long time. One of the reasons for that is that it needed a very specific style of artist. Someone who could handle some crazy, over-the-top violence, but also keep that fun edge to it. It’d be too easy for something like this to become dark and gritty, which isn’t necessarily the look I wanted for it.
Alessandro has that great cartoony style that suits Sang’s personality quite well.
The other thing that struck me about the preview art I've seen for The Ballad of Sang is the vibrant color palette. Who's providing the colors for this series? How important is color to the story you're telling?
That’s Shari Chankhamma, who I’ve previously worked with on Sheltered. I really enjoyed working with her then and have been looking for an excuse to work with her again.
In terms of colors, we needed to make sure that we have a lot of bright and vibrant colors to contrast the dark world these characters inhabit. Shari’s an expert at that! Her colors really pop off the page.
Finally, we've talked action, crime, and violence, but what are some of the other tones we'll see in The Ballad of Sang? It feels like this might be quite a humorous book as well, correct?
Yep. I tend to have a very (very) dark sense of humor and we’re trying to get that across in this book.
I think people are going to be surprised at the number of real emotional moments that we’ve got packed into the series. Sang has an incredibly tragic past and is looking for some sort of connection.
The Ballad of Sang #1 is scheduled for release on March 7 from Oni Press.