Krentz & Whitlock Burn Their Own Path with "Blaze Brothers"

IDW Publishing goes kung fu this October with "Blaze Brothers" volume 1 by writers Matthew Scott Krentz and Vernon Whitlock III with artist Marat Mychaels. The story of two orphaned half-brothers trained as hit-men who anger the wrong Japanese crime lord and have to shoot their way out of it, the graphic novel is a love letter to kung fu movies of yesteryear, and the fact that when it's all said and done, all we really have is family.

Krentz and Whitlock spoke with CBR News about the debut volume of "Blaze Brothers," revealing which martial arts superstars served as inspirations for the wild tale and their struggles they've faced over the years in being able to see their vision realized. We talk about what Mychaels brought to the book when he signed on to illustrate their scripts, the world the titular sibling inhabit and battle their way through, what the future holds for the property and much more.

CBR News: So guys -- who are the "Blaze Brothers?"

Matthew Scott Krentz and Vernon Whitlock III: We are The Blaze Brothers (Krentz & Whitlock). An independent writing, producing and creative team based out of Saint Louis, Missouri.

"Blaze Brothers" is a hard-hitting, non-apologetic, multi-layered saga filled with tragedy, love, betrayal and redemption, infused within this action-packed, martial-arts-influenced story are very unique multicultural characters who possess the kind of great witty dialogue one would find from the likes of Mark Millar, Quentin Tarantino and Elmore Leonard. "Blaze Brothers" is a story shrouded with family honor, loyalty and the will to achieve personal greatness.

The Blaze Brothers are two orphaned half brothers, Jack and Billy Blaze, raised by Master Chen (a father-figure and an exiled Chinese martial arts Master) and trained as deadly assassins by a secret US Black Ops force. The two brothers resign their commission after a botched mission nearly leaves them both dead. The two gun toting, sword-wielding brothers resurface as high-level debt collectors, working exclusively for a vicious Japanese crime lord, Mr. Yamamoto. Believing that the Blaze Brothers have dishonored him, he places a two million dollar bounty on their heads. In an attempt to clear their names, the Blaze Brothers must battle every hit man, assassin, and gang member in the city.

These unique assassins and killers exist in a world much like Batman's Gotham City. An Asian underworld influenced by hip-hop culture, fast-flying swords, killer geisha girls and sexy assassins who possess the ability to run across water and glide through the air with fantastic aerial battle maneuvers.

Jack and Billy both strive to reach the final level, a superior, warrior state-of-mind that only Master Chen has achieved. But, only the most disciplined and pure of heart can achieve such greatness.

Meanwhile, Master Chen and his wife, Li Mei, have their hands full at home with their daughter, Cicada. A traumatic, life-threatening, Jason Bourne-like injury nearly left her for dead. Cicada begs for her father's help putting the broken pieces of her life back together. With the ancient ways of the Chen Clan, Master Chen takes Cicada on a journey to heal her mind, body and soul. Master Chen warns Cicada, "That all things forgotten are not worth remembering..." Billy explains to his brother Jack, "Cicada's the lucky one... She can't remember what happened, and we can't forget..."

In a matter of life or death, family, honor, loyalty and love remain constant. For he who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.

What are some of your inspirations for Blaze Brothers?

We both grew up in the era of great Martial Arts film stars like Bruce Lee, Jet Lee and Donnie Yen and enjoy cool, action-packed comics like, "The Immortal Iron Fist," "Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu" and "Fist of the North Star." You know, the kind of stuff you watch and read then go out in the front yard and accidentally kick your little brother in the head.

The two main characters are brothers. Is the theme of family important in the story? Do either of you have brothers yourself?

Yes, the theme of family is extremely important. It's important in the story, and in our lives. Family and honor mean everything in the world of the Blaze Brothers. Jack Blaze and Billy Blaze grew up as orphan half-brothers birthed from the same mother. It was a Master Chen, a Chinese martial arts Grand Master (of an unknown age) and his beautiful wife, Li Mei, who took them in and raised them as their own. It was these two, honorable and selfless teachers/parents, who taught them the meaning of family, honor, martial arts and the many philosophies of ancient China.

We both have our own blood brothers, and we treat and respect one another as brothers as well. We draw upon these relationships for all sorts of inspiration; be it situational humor, quick-witted dialogue or family drama. This kind of grounded realism is definitely something that rings true in Jack and Billy's dialogue. Many of our readers have told us that there is a certain ring of truth between Jack and Billy's tone and delivery. Like real brothers they are totally different. Jack is physically taller, nobler and plays by the rules. Billy is a shorter, feistier, slang-talk'n, shoot or punch first, ask questions later type of guy. The primary trait they have in common is that they love each other and would die for one another without question.

How did you two meet? What's your working process like?

We were introduced by a mutual friend nearly 10 years ago, who admired both of us as writers and felt we had similar styles. He knew we both had a strong interest in creating our own comics and thought we might be able to team up. He was right. "Blaze Brothers" was our first project as writing partners, and since then we have developed and created seven unique stories together.

Our working process is a lot like the ending fight sequence in "King Kong vs. Godzilla," the 1962 Japanese gem directed by Ishiro Honda. It might involve some hand-to-hand combat, tail pulling and fire breathing coupled with loud and purely destructive behavior. It can be a little unruly.

How did the collected volume wind up at IDW?

At the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, we had the first eight pages of the book complete, along with a variant cover by Marat Mychaels and a cover on the way from the iconic Glenn Fabry. We were ready to take over the world! We hit the convention floor, ready to hustle and make the world fall in love with "Blaze Brothers." It was an awesome event and a great learning experience. We quickly picked up on the delicate balance of soliciting your pride and joy in the midst of many publishers biggest event of the year, and being respectful of the convention and the publisher's objectives. We let off the pitch throttle a little and redirected that energy into meeting new artist and creators who had a ton of talent and more experience than we did.

With that said, over the course of the three days we attended the convention, we casually approached a few select publishers that we've always loved, introduced ourselves and respectfully requested that we be able to keep them informed of our book's progress. We were very fortunate that IDW was not only approachable, but just super cool. From day one, IDW was our dream publisher. We exchanged info and once a year for the next three years we emailed either Chris Ryall or Ted Adams a brief update on the "Blaze Brothers" progress. Each year, we kindly received an email back saying something along the lines of, "Our schedule is quite full for the rest of the year. Thanks for bringing it to us and the best of luck." Now, most people might be discouraged by this response, but it never seemed to bother us. The way we looked at it, the book still wasn't complete, anyhow. But, when it was, we'd have to structure that last email a little differently than our yearly updates.

Finally, in the fall of 2013, after 3 1/2 years of production, the entire graphic novel and all eight single-issue covers, were finally complete. And it looked beautiful. We had read a number of helpful articles on CBR that Allison Baker and Chris Roberson, at Monkey Brain Comics, were doing some really cool things with IDW and we followed that model. We decided to the release the first four comics digitally from November 2013 - February 2014. The reviews were awesome! People were definitely feeling the material and were blown away with the art. The fourth email we sent to Ted Adams on February 14th, 2014, and here we are ready to release the 104 page, "Blaze Brothers" Volume 1 with IDW on October 15th. The 104 page "Blaze Brothers" Volume 2 is scheduled for release shortly after.

Are there any extras included in the collected edition? Did you change anything from the single issues?

Yes, we included a cover gallery in the back of the book showcasing a number of never seen before inked covers, a variant cover by Marat Mychaels, and the one extra we are most excited to share with everyone is our special edition back cover painted by the legendary Eisner Award-winning Cover Artist, Glenn Fabry. It is simply, sick! It was definitely one of our biggest honors to have Glenn produce this cover for our project. Of course, we might be biased, but we think it's certainly one of his best covers yet.

The entire series was initially conceived and executed as a single graphic novel, so the main thing that really changed from the single issues, is the format and styling we implemented to utilize our series covers, by Anthony Piper, as chapter markers.

What was it like working with artist Marat Mychaels on this? Did you write for his style specifically?

Marat was great to work with. He was a true professional. Most of all, he was able to capture the true elements of our story and convert them into amazing art panels, filled with life-like characters, that exhibited a large range of emotions and actions. We were very descriptive and particular about the finer details in our characters, their clothing and especially the surrounding environment. The world of the Blaze Brothers is a character within itself, and Marat really captured the old-school Asian feel we were going for fused with a rugged urban environment.

The entire graphic novel story and script for Blaze Brothers was written before we met Marat Mychaels. One of the reasons we were able to work with him was that he loved the story. Being the talented and versatile artist he is, he actually tailored his style to the script. When we premiered the title at 2014 SDCC, many of his fans got a look at "Blaze Brothers" #1 and loved the style Mychaels developed for the book.

What does the future hold for the Blaze Brothers?

IDW is scheduled to publish the completed "Blaze Brothers" vol. 2 four to six months after vol. 1 is released on October 15. So, I guess we're looking at early 2015 for the second installment of the book to hit the shelves. Meanwhile, the digital series will be available through all the usual suspects (comiXology, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Kobo). We have plenty of other "Blaze Brothers" adventures outlined and ready to roll, depending on how things play out with the release of volumes 1 and 2.

Additionally, we are working on three new graphic novel/comic projects. The first is a teenage action/adventure comic, the second is an apocalyptic angel superhero comic, and the third is about two old hit men (think the Blaze Brothers, but 25 years later) phased out of their jobs and replaced by team of young, high-tech specialists. They are forced to fight for survival, as they match old-school wit against new-school treachery. If you are a fan of independent creators and the likes of the Blaze Brothers, then you will definitely love the new stuff.

"Blaze Brothers" vol. 1 arrives October 15 from IDW Publishing.

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