Corey Lewis on Sharknife, Rival Schools & Seedless

There are plenty of comics creators who never truly venture into the digital world, and plenty of people working in webcomics who have no ties to the realm of Diamond Comic Distributors' catalog of solicits and Wednesday comics shop crowds. But still, other creators are making their careers by combining the two - creators like Corey Lewis.

Lewis' print works "Sharknife: Stage First" and "PENG" from Oni Press are what first got him attention. But as his fans wait for the long-delayed "Sharknife 2: Double Z," Lewis has proven adept at holding his readership's interest through his online comics.

CBR news sat down with Lewis during the Emerald City ComiCon in his home base of Seattle to talk about his various digital endeavors.

Corey Lewis has several digital comics going on right now, ranging from short-form works like the dream-inspired "Octo-Poison" and the irregularly released autobiographical "Zubies" strips to longer works like "Rival Schools" and "Seedless." The latter is Lewis' weekly webcomic, which he produces in financial partnership with Seattle video game store Pink Godzilla.

"'Seedless' is part of my fascination with fruits," Lewis told CBR. "I love fruits. The only thing cooler to me than a fruit is a fruit with a sword."

The strip, which has been running since August, is the story of the S-Grapes ("S" for "Seedless"), a group of heroic extraterrestrial fruit in combat with Crazy, an evil alien grape. Crazy is aided by various minions, while the S-Grapes have allied themselves with Harmony, a human girl whose father is an inventor who builds things like jetpacks. And did we mention the grapes fly suits of giant robot armor?

If "Seedless" sounds like a demented Saturday morning cartoon, it's for good reason - Lewis came up with the series concept and the characters when he was 12. He may be 26 now, but in that time very little about the series has changed. "It's still pretty much what I like to draw," Lewis confessed. "Basically, it's just an excuse to draw a really poppy, fun pop comic."

The one major change is the inclusion of a human, Harmony. "When I started drawing ['Seedless'] for Pink Godzilla, it was kind of boring," Lewis recalled. "It's just all grapes hanging out, fighting each other. So I was like, 'I need a human character to throw in there to make it, like, more human, more relatable."

Harmony quickly became a fan favorite, as well as Lewis' ace-in-the-hole for making drab strips more interesting. "She's really cute and I draw her really hot every time," said Lewis. "If I feel like a strip is falling flat, I'm like, 'I'll just draw Harmony in a really cute outfit.'"

Lewis just finished the first arc of "Seedless," and he and Pink Godzilla are talking to publishers about producing "Seedless" trade paperbacks, and Lewis said they're also looking into possibly self-publishing collections. The cartoonist is about to start on the story's second arc, but for now he's unsure whether he'll be continuing the series after that or whether it'll wrap it up.

Lewis describes "Seedless" jokingly as part of a fruit epic trilogy along with "PINAPL," a story about several forces going to war over the titular fruit. Lewis originally released the first "PINAPL" story online, but it eventually made it to print, becoming part of the first "PopGun" anthology from Image Comics.

Meanwhile, another of Lewis' comics has recently moved in the opposite direction, from print to web. Back in 2006-2007, Lewis adapted CAPCOM's "Rival Schools" into a comic book for UDON Entertainment. The series was planned as a four-issue miniseries, but only half of it ended up being released. Now UDON has begun releasing this "lost comic" for free online, offering the first two issues in their entirely and serializing the unreleased #3 and #4 at a rate of one page every day.

The video game the series is based on was a late '90s 3D tournament fighter. The game's plot revolves around four Japanese high schools whose students are being abducted, pushing the schools into conflict as the students try to uncover the mystery behind the disappearances. The game was never as successful as CAPCOM's other tournament fighters, but it still developed a cult following.

UDON had seen some success adapting CAPCOM tournament fighters "Street Fighter" and "Darkstalkers" They had the license for "Rival Schools" too, but according to Lewis, they weren't planning on adapting it as a comic book. "[UDON] didn't have the budget for it," Lewis said. "They wanted to do it just like 'Street Fighter' and 'Darkstalkers,' full-color, glossy, all that stuff."

Lewis used to contribute a series of one-page joke strips called "Cheap Shots" to the UDON "Street Fighter" comics, and the topic of "Rival Schools" eventually came up in a conversation with his editor. "I was like, 'Ah, you should still do it! But here, try it this way: Do it black and white, and since you're doing it black and white, do it [as], like, double-sized issues or something like that," he recalled.

The editor liked the idea and asked if Lewis was interested in drawing the project. Lewis agreed, and assembled a team to help him out. At the time, Lewis was living with a number of comics creators including Brandon Graham ("King City," "Multiple Warheads") and James Stokoe ("Wonton Soup") in a house in Seattle's University District, and he recruited housemates and friends to assist him on "Rival Schools." Stokoe drew the backgrounds (while working on pages for his breakout success, "Wonton Soup"), while Alejandro Fuentes and Devin Sheridan did graytones (Sheridan also assisted on the inks).

Unfortunately, Lewis hadn't even started the pages when the first issue of "Rival Schools" was solicited, putting him behind from the very beginning. "Rival Schools" #1 came out with an April 2006 cover date, followed by #2 with a June cover date. And then... nothing. Lewis finished working on the series in early 2007, but issues #3 and #4 were never released. A planned trade paperback of the series also fell through due to low order numbers. Lewis connects the low orders to UDON's track record of late books, and feels that the "Rival Schools" trade bore the brunt of a retailer backlash.

There are a variety of reasons "Rival Schools" fell behind, according to Lewis. Producing a licensed book turned out to be more work than he expected; "Rival Schools" was only four issues, but at around 40 pages each, the series ended up being the longest project he's completed to date; and further delays came as he had to coordinate his art team while writing, penciling and inking some of the book. And of course, playing "Rival Schools 2" on Dreamcast didn't help. "That's probably also why I was so late, because I was like, 'I'm doing research!'" Lewis remarked.

In the end, the delays didn't just scuttle the "Rival Schools" print edition - they also dominoed into Lewis' follow-up to "Sharknife," which has been pushed back repeatedly. However, Lewis told CBR he's finally almost done with "Sharknife 2," and a release date is about to be announced for the book.

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