Dan Hipp Unleashes "Gyakushu!" on the Web

Dan Hipp is probably best known in the comics industry as the artist behind "The Amazing Joy Buzzards," the Image miniseries from a few years back that told the tale of a rock band and their supernatural adventures. After making a splash with the series, Hipp next wrote and illustrated "Gyakushu!" for Tokyopop. However, much to the dismay of his fans, only two books of the trilogy were ever published.

This week Hipp launched his own website where people can read the first two volumes of "Gyakushu" in their entirety along with the first few chapters of the third and final volume, with more to come in the months ahead. CBR News talked with Hipp about finally seeing the end of "Gyakushu!" and about his upcoming "Ben 10" series from Del Rey.

CBR News: So, Dan, can you share with CBR readers the story of "Gyakushu?"

Dan Hipp: "Gyakushu!" is one man's story of revenge, and peripherally remembrance.  The word "gyakushu," as translated from Japanese, has two definitions, as I understand it.  The first is "counterattack," and the second is "to hold a memorial for oneself."  Both definitions are applicable here, as this story of bloody revenge shifts back and forth in time through the life of a thief while he's on the path to avenge his butchered family and friends.  He's the thief, really, nameless to us, but the best he is at what he does, or did.  The story is an old one, and I'm certainly not the first to tell it, but I've tried to put my own spin on it, setting it in a medieval world of ice, swords and death.  It's my version of "Kill Bill," or "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly," set on Hoth.

Where did this idea come from, and how did it originally end up at Tokyopop?

I had just finished the first volume of "The Amazing Joy Buzzards" and suddenly found my foot in the door to the comics industry, but it's not like I was being invited in.  On a whim, I left my table at Comic-Con and ran up to a Tokyopop portfolio review with an issue of AJB.  I sat down, gave them the book and they told me to pitch a book.  I'd just finished drawing an epic car race sequence for AJB that surprisingly (to me anyway) gave me a bug to draw action sequences.

So, originally, "Gyakushu!" was designed to be a series of giant action sequences, like a 150 page sword fight.  That seemed to sell Tokyopop, but then I had to sit down and write it.  Crap!  I just started writing, taking any cool thing I'd ever wanted to put in an action/thriller/fantasy/samurai/spaghetti-western/revenge movie. As I wrote, the story suddenly presented itself as being a great deal more dramatic and complex than I had originally intended, but I fell in love with it.  

Now, I may be remembering this incorrectly, but the first two volumes were released, and the third and final volume never came out, or you never started the third because it was cancelled before or...what exactly was the deal with all that?

The first two volumes came out as scheduled, a year apart from one another.  I was working on the third (and always final) volume when Tokyopop had their great restructure.  The third volume fell in with the books that were to be delayed/cancelled as a result.  Here's the thing: Tokyopop never suggested I not complete the third volume, or that they not honor their contract, as far as payment goes.  At that point, the third volume was scripted, my revenge epic had it's ending, and I'd begun working on pages, knowing that at the very least, I'd see the last volume online along with anyone that had been following the story of the thief, and that I would see the book in print in Italian (from amazing publisher Renoir Comics in Italy).  For me, not finishing the book wasn't an option.  The entire story was built around the end that I had planned from the beginning, and incidentally, it's a F#%@ing gnarly ending.

For those of us who remember you as the fabulous artist from "The Amazing Joy Buzzards," "Gyakushu!" is a very different book. I think the art is actually an improvement over AJB, especially with regards to the storytelling. Was there a challenge in keeping the same style and stylization in your work, but shifting it to match the tone and requirements of a series like this?

Thanks!  I think I was learning how to draw comics consistently throughout the first volume of AJB, so yeah, "Gyakushu!" was the next step for me.  I tried to challenge myself by telling a story where I couldn't get away with the same comedic exaggerations that I did with AJB (though the next volume of AJB looks awesome).  Whether it's successful or not, I don't know, but Volume 3 of "Gyakushu!" is probably the first book that I saw in print (in Italy) that I was immediately proud of, without the normal tortured artist's humility.

This may not have been the first thing you wrote, but it was one of the first professional things you wrote and saw published. What was most striking about that was how much you really seemed to enjoy the storytelling aspect of it, playing with time and structure.

Yeah, that's an absolutely fair assessment.  I'm a whore for stories that are told out of order, like "Lost," or "The Prestige."  Stories about revenge are generally pretty straightforward stories, so shuffling time and structure, for me, adds a playful element.  The trick is finding a reason to tell it that way.  By the end of Volume 2, it's pretty obvious why the narrative has been structured that way, as we see the environment that the narrator of the story is actually in.  So the big change up, is that Volume 3 is told almost entirely in a linear fashion, without the same narration from the previous volumes.  I'm proud of how that part of the narrative has come together, as it was all a part of the plan from day one. 

How challenging was it to get the rights from Tokyopop and putting the comic online?

I've had a positive relationship with Tokyopop, so the issue of rights with respect to putting the book online hasn't been an issue.  We both still hold the co-copyright on "Gyakushu!," and the relationship, both businesswise and personal, remains status quo.  They have been very cool about letting me post the book online.  My position has always been that getting people to even see the book to begin with has been a problem, so it's more likely that someone that loves the book via the online blog is going to actually order a hard copy more than someone who sees a cover, or preview pages.  That may be an unpopular position, but at the very least, fans of the Thief get to see the next chapter. 

You mentioned on your blog that you did some re-coloring and shuffling of the pages. What exactly did you do, and what was your thinking behind the changes?

The changes aren't crazy, and I haven't redrawn anything.  A handful of panels in Volume 1 have been shifted to allow for a quicker read, and I've added splashes of red throughout the entire series as exclamation points to various moments.  The red exclamations make me think of some of the stylistic focus moments in "Samurai Jack."  Playing around with the book online lets me take a few risks, as it's not like I have to worry about how it's going to print with the new dash of color.  It doesn't really change the reading experience, but I think it's fun.

You're posting the first two volumes and the beginning of the third. Are you putting up the third in installments?

The exact plan isn't set in stone, but I'm assured that we will see how the story ultimately ends in the next handful of months.  I'll be sure to post any new updates on my blog at www.mrhipp.blogspot.com.

Ultimately, do you see yourself doing more writing?

Yes, at least for myself.  I love working on "The Amazing Joy Buzzards," and just recently I had a lot of fun drawing "Ben 10: Alien Force," but creating your own worlds is a bit intoxicating, for better or worse.

That's a great segue to your other new project. In February, Del Rey books is releasing the first of a two book Ben 10 series written by Peter David. How did you end up on this project?

Well, my foot was in the comic industry door, I invited myself in, and then I was asked to stay for dinner.   Del Rey came to me about the project.  I hadn't spent much time watching the show, but I was in great admiration of the hefty Ben 10 toy display at Target!  I'm totally not kidding.  Once I found out I'd be working from a Peter David script, and they were most interested in me keeping my particular style for the project, I was sold.  Turns out the show is awesome!  The character designs are slightly different than the series, but if any fan of the show (and I am one now) can deal with that, I can tell you the book is all sorts of fun!  It was a blast to work on.

What has the experience been like working on a media project like this with lots of approvals and signing off things?

I keep being told by my editor that getting pages approved this easily rarely happens, so from my perspective, it's been a breeze.  Thankfully it seems like someone over at Cartoon Network loves me.  At least until dinner is over (chuckle, chuckle...(audience groan)).

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