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Diving Into Lewis’ “Sharknife”-Infested Waters

by  in Comic News Comment
Diving Into Lewis’ “Sharknife”-Infested Waters

In talking to Corey “The Rey” Lewis, you realize a few things about “Sharknife’s” obviously talented creator: He’s insanely intelligent, and he distills his fresh ideas through kinetic lines on paper that demand multiple viewings. His ideas are so fast, so new, they cut you. His body of work is nothing short of pure comics.

After the critical success of “Sharknife: Stage First,” published by Oni Press in 2005, followed by the highly-anticipated release of “Sharknife: Double Z” in early 2012, The Rey is going for a third round knockout with the tentatively-titled “Sharknife: Triceratango.” With the third chapter of one of the most unique projects in comics today on the horizon, the acclaimed creator spoke with CBR about the origins of “Sharknife,” his creative process and his kung fu comics arsenal.

CBR News: There’s a palpable swagger to “Sharknife,” and I love it. How on earth did you come up with the idea of a fortune cookie-eating waiter turning into a biomech shark ninja? 

Corey Lewis: I incepted “Sharknife” while working at an Italian restaurant. There were rats there. Sometimes huge rats — sometimes they’d jump out from the walls or ceiling or scurry around and it was like us restaurant employees versus these rats. So, from there I came up with the idea of a restaurant that actually has a superhero protecting it from monsters that come from its walls. I like the idea that the monsters are essentially “foreclosing” against the Guangdong Factory.

But where did the ninja shark idea come from? Is that your totem animal made comic? Or was it concocted over a bowl while watching the Power Rangers?

Oh that! Let’s see, it might be complicated. Early versions of “Sharknife” were definitely inspired by the Power Rangers and Megaman X, which had a lot of animal-themed robots.

I had sketches of a break dancing ninja character (proto-versions of “Sharknife”), and I remember some of my cool break dancing friends flipping through my sketchbook and singling him out, saying, “Whoah — that guy is cool!” So I thought I should probably run with this guy.

At the time I was also running an online comic art/indy/gaming forum called Gingerbox, and a lot of the graphical themes of the site at the time were shark mash-ups. A shark keyboard, shark motorcycle. I think at one point “Sharknife” just got blurted out, either by me or by people involved with the conversation. I just absorbed it.

I’ve just always liked sharks. I fear them a lot. If I saw one in the water, I’d simply die right there. They are like living streamlined ballistic missiles of death. I guess I’m tapping into my fear, Batman-style, to create a character that circumvents it.

Looking ahead to “Sharknife: Vol 3,” the ending of the last volume was left way open. New characters, new sub-plots — how do you move all of that forward?

Every “Sharknife” book has a different feel/ethos to it. The first book was primarily a fight spectacle (my retaliation to mostly action-free western comics). The second book opened up the lore, started to introduce many theories behind “Sharknife” and the surrounding characters, personal motivations, etc.

The third book will have its own feel, too, which I currently call “TRICERATANGO.” It’s a triple-feature. It has three individual stories that make up a greater whole.

We’ll see Ceasar and his pals in the wilds of their city, Coastal Vania. The action has spread out beyond the walls of the Guangdong Factory. We’ll see how their super heroic actions have affected their city, even if not in a positive way.

Then there’s a story introducing three brand-new characters on their own “Sharknife” adventure, unrelated to the main “Sharknife” heroes; it’s sub-titled “Speed Dive.”

And the final story in “TRICERTANGO” will explain literally what the Sharknife powers actually are.

I’m really excited to break through to this ground. These are ideas I’ve been stewing on for years that are finally being brought to fruition.

It sounds like you’re taking the opportunity to breathe a little in this next volume. Why the change of pace? And can you spill a little on the new characters you’ll be introducing?

The third book still has plenty of patented Sharknife Face Melting Action, but a lot more exploration and chill time for the characters. I feel after two books where the action was the primary motivator, it’s time to switch it up. “Sharknife” started as an experiment in action comics, but it’s turned into much more for me. 

Also, this third book is the last of the “Stage Trilogy,” the beginning arc of “Sharknife,” setting the stage. I’ve got some solid plans for “Sharknife” beyond this initial book trilogy — I’m thinking a change in format is due. “Sharknife” has had his time in small format, black and white books. I love manga-style, but going forward, “Sharknife” will get bigger and brighter. 

New characters…well, the classic Sharknife crew encounters a rival restaurant owner in Triceratango, that makes them question their own restaurant’s involvement in the city. And in “Speed Dive,” the characters meet a guy who is a new type of Sharknife, implying that there is more than one Sharknife in this world. 

In this one, we also get a look at Ombra’s origin, which so far is one of my favorite comic sequences I’ve drawn. 

What’s your process like? Is there a strict schedule you follow or are you pretty flexible in your day-to-day rhythm?

It kinda varies day-by-day. I feel like I’m still learning my ideal comic making method. Lately, I’ve been getting more into all-digital comic making, which seems a lot faster and better quality somehow. 

I work to music and/or movies a lot. I like having stuff “going on” when I sit there drawing.

So you feed off the electric ambiance you self-create.

Yes, indeed. Lately, too, I feel I have the ultimate knack for choosing the exact right movie or music I need to get me productive. The other day, it was “Reservoir Dogs.” Today, it was “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.” It’s important to put on stuff I’ve seen multiple times so it’s not too distracting. It’s like absorbing art I enjoy while I make my own art. 

As for going digital, I change up my methods a lot. During my “Double Z Exodus,” I switched paper sizes and drawing methods many times. I hate erasing. I hate how messy erasing gets. I strive to create beautiful works of art that leave no byproduct, like piles of shavings. I also hate being limited to the pen sizes Micron forces upon me, and I have yet to master brush drawing. Going digital pretty much fixes all those things. It’s not messy, it’s endless resources. I wasn’t really able to draw fully digital until recently. I got a new tablet, a Monoprice, which Ray Frenden, a fantastic illustrator, endorsed and totally sold me on. Seriously, he needs to get royalties from those guys, ’cause I’m pretty sure he’s moved hundreds of them based on his reviews alone.

I have yet to get a Cintiq — one of those tablet displays you can draw directly on the screen — but I know when I do, that’ll change the game. 

As for like, creative inspiration process…I dunno. I like to fire off my happy endorphins to butter myself up. Read some comics, my own scripts, sketch, watch some animes, play a short video game, indulge in a substance, play guitar, what have you.

My mindset is preset by default to constantly be thinking about my comic ideas, so I don’t take a whole lot of buttering up to get there. Once I’m there, it’s just a matter of putting scratches on paper. I like to simplify what I do. It’s literally scratches formed together. Modern cave painting. 

When it comes to creating comics, you’re all about doing it yourself. There’s “Layer Jacket,” which is on oversized stock with day-glow covers, and “Seedless,” which first appeared online. What’s the appeal of doing it all yourself? To bypass all the stuff that tends to get in the way?

Yeah, pretty much. Comics is an art form where the content can be as nuanced as prose or as bombastic as any big budget movie. But unlike movies, the process from mind to realization is practically unfiltered. There’s no red tape to get through. It’s just your ideas and the lines on paper. That’s a beautiful thing. So, making comics solo is pretty familiar. It’s not that I’m against collaboration (I actually really like to collaborate), but working alone is natural to me. 

It is kind of a double-edged sword, though. You can get caught up in your own reality vacuum, which has happened to me. For that reason, you need people around to bounce ideas off of. 

I want to collaborate more in the future. I like “doing it all,” but I’m at a point where I have so many ideas, I want other minds and hands working on them with me. I’d love to see Sharknife characters drawn by other people — I’d like to see “Sharknife” become a next generation indy-style “X-Men” or something. 

Off the top of your mind, who else would you like to see play in the “Sharknife” sandbox? Who would you like to collaborate with on a totally new property?

Well, I’ve been talking with a friend of mine, who is also an amazing artist by the name of Sam McKenzie. We’re actually kind of in the midst of branching out on a “Sharknife”-related project, with him on art. So far it’s just a couple art buddies discussing how cool it’d be, throwing sketches back and forth, but hopefully something real happens with it, ’cause Sam is an amazing talent.

As far as new properties, what I’d really like to see, kind of the “holy grail” amongst a lot of us manga-inspired comics artists, is to start an anthology-type thing. Kind of like “Flight” or “Popgun,” but with continuing, serialized stories. Basically, a western “Shonen Jump.” This has been discussed a lot. I think it’ll be happening for real sometime soon. 

You’re a guy with stories and experiences — what’s one of the funkiest comic book-producing/pedaling/what-have-you story you’ve got?

I’m not really sure, actually. I’m a pretty low-key dude in real life. I save most of the crazy for the pages, luckily. San Diego Comic Con is always a hotbed of activity, though. When I first started going, when I was younger, those were pretty crazy times. Doing 360 degree butterfly kicks over fences, hangin’ with people in La Jolla while waves crashed around us, samurai-style. 

I just had a random unrelated thought that I’d like to share, though: My comics are like jump kicks. To me, comics are just a physical expression I do. I was practically born making them. Up ’til recently, I never even considered that my jump kicks could mean something deeper to people. So far, I’ve just been trying to have fun.  Now I have this urge to do metaphysical jump kicks to people’s minds. 

A black belt in metaphysical Karv Maga. So what other thing are you gonna ninja star at us besides “Sharknife?” I know you’ve got something else going on.

Yeah. I’ve got my katana swords, my main weapons. “Sharknife” is my main katana, so far. “PENG!” is like my jutte, my blocking sword. For those who don’t know, “PENG!” is my kickball action-sports comic that shares the same universe as “Sharknife.” Actually, most all my comics share the same “Reyyy-niverse.” It came out right after the original “Sharknife,” also published by Oni. I think it’s out of print right now, but I’m working on new “PENG!” stories to hopefully bring that back in a collected trade sometime soon. 

I’ve got “Layered Jacket,” my ‘zine project, which are my kunai throwing blades. Just random one-offs I like to dispense. I sell them off my website. I’ve got some new weapons in the kiln. Forging some blades with new levels of cutting precision. 

I know I’m mixing kung fu with ninjas and samurai right now, and I apologize for that, but my comic warrior hails from a different realm than our own or whatever. 

Actually, right now I’m working on a blunt club. It’s pretty much a log with a ram’s skull on it. It’s kinda up in the air at the moment, but it’s a comic about cavemen and I think it could be really awesome. 

After doing my sentient alien grape warriors comic, “Seedless,” I want to get back into the online comic realm, but something a little more throw down serious. I have something in mind. If I get it rolling, it’d not only be a comic you can read, but you can also interact with. Pretty stoked.

And I also have an alternate persona called “Superbabe,” who draws a Mega-Man parody porn called “Bay Bionic” on this adult site, Slipshine. It’s pretty hilarious — you should check it out if you’re into that kinda stuff.

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