Coloring "Witchblade Manga" With Blond & Sablik

Fans of Top Cow's "Witchblade" know that the current bearer of the magical artifact, Sara Pezzini, hasn't been the only one to wield it's power. Throughout history it's been held by a number of different women, including Joan of Arc and Cleopatra. Beginning in March, American readers will get a chance to see the Witchblade bond to an entirely different character in a very different world.

"Witchblade Manga" #1 is a new monthly series to come from Top Cow, which not only reprints, but also enhances through all new coloring, the Witchblade manga series currently published in Japan in the anthology "Champion Red" since March of 2006. The series follows Takeru, an average schoolgirl raised in a Buddhist monastery. Hidden within the monastery is the Witchblade. When the monastery is attacked by a group of mysterious, black clad monks, the Witchblade chooses its newest bearer and the story begins. We spoke with Top Cow's Marketing Director Filip Sablik and colorist Blond to learn more about this rather unique American offering of the comic.

These days most publishers simply take the original Manga from Japan, translate it and republish it in the traditional right-to-left format. In the case of "Witchblade Manga, Top Cow is flipping the comic so that it can be read left-to-right, are publishing it in traditional American comics size and it's been colored by Blond. While not a first in Manga translations, adding color is an unusual choice. Sablik explained the thinking behind these changes arose from opportunities to appeal to both their core American audience as well as manga fans in the US. "Traditionally there hasn't been a ton of crossover with those two fanbases," Sablik explained to CBR News. "By that I mean our traditional fanbase isn't buying manga and vice versa. We wanted to present 'Witchblade Manga' in a format that was appealing and familiar to our core fanbase since this story is considered part of Witchblade canon. So, we received an official blessing from the original publisher and artist to flip the art, reformat the size to a standard comic, and bring in colorist extraordinaire Blond to add color to the project. On the other hand, we teamed up with Bandai Entertainment to release a 'traditional' manga release, which will be in black & white, read right to left, and remain in the digest trade format. Our version will be out in February and the first volume of Bandai's edition will be out in the summer. We're having our cake and eating it, too!"

And while the choice to color the series adds to the overall cost of the project, it was felt that by coloring the series the publisher had a greater chance of attracting Top Cow's regular readers. "And I think if you look at the colored pages, you'll find it came out amazing," said Sablik. "Blond really added something to the project and we're very happy with how it turned out."

The task of coloring this series falls to Blond. He's sent the already rearranged pages as digital line art, just like any other project he might work on, but there are some differences when compared to his American comics work. "The main difference is that these pages have zip-a-tone style shading, as well as the word balloons and 'kanji,' Japanese lettered sound fx, right on top of the art," Blond told CBR News. "This requires the extra step of removing the kanji symbols and filling in the blank spaces with the zip-a-tone dots. The letterer will also have to fit the dialogue into the existing word balloons where possible."

While the series may not have been in color originally, Blond has plenty of references to work from, such as the original covers, advertisements and concept arts. "So, I know what the main characters should look like," said Blond. "The rest is pretty straightforward - references are easy to find online when I need them. Robert Napton is the go-between at Bandai, so I just go to him for clarification as needed."

Blond explained the thinking behind the choice of color he's gone with for "Witchblade Manga." "Colorists often choose palettes that reflect the mood of the scene, so most of this issue reflects the bright, colorful world of a young, happy schoolgirl, then shifts violently into bloody red tinted nightmare sequences," said Blond.

"The one instruction I got for this project was to color it like a Top Cow book instead of manga style coloring," continued Blond. "In that regard it's pretty much like any of my other books, the main difference being that since the art was fully shaded with dot patterns, the highlights are already indicated. On one hand this restrains me a bit from what I would do on say 'Hunter-Killer,' on the other hand I can get starker contrasts between the light and shadows."

Blond's been coloring for quite some time and even with his years of experience, the art in "Witchblade Manga" does present some challenges for him. "My biggest challenge is working around the tonal shading, as it does restrain my hand," admitted Blond. "Also, when my main instruction is to avoid manga convention, I do have to be extra careful since that is what the art can seem to beg for. The main problem I see is fitting the English dialogue into the existing word balloons, but that's for someone else."

"Witchblade Manga" #1 ships to comic shops in February, 2007.

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