Marz Stakes the Competition with "Shinku"

What's better than being an immortal ass-kicking vampire? Being an immortal, ass-kicking vampire that also kicked ass as a feudal samurai in ancient Japan.

In the upcoming ongoing series "Shinku" from Image Comics, writer Ron Marz and artist Lee Moder journey through history and horror with a vampire tale that returns the creatures of the night to their monstrous roots. Unlike the recent portrayal of the "angsty" blood-sucker -- popularized by such novels as Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire" and Stephanie Myers' "Twilight" -- Marz's "Shinku" views vampires as ruthless killers who look at humanity as simply a lower link on the food chain. However, the writer gives things an extra twist by also establishing this particular sect of vampires as previously serving as former samurai in ancient Japan, with a centuries old war between clans spilling over into modern day.

Marz spoke with CBR News exclusively about the new series, giving the gory details on bringing back the blood to vampires, the joy of working on creator-owned material and what will separate the "Shinku" crowd from the "Twilight" crowd.

CBR News: "Shinku." Ron, in your words, what can you tell us about this title?

Ron Marz: This is the book for everybody who thinks "Twilight" turned vampires into a bunch of pussies. Truthfully, the idea was in my head for this book a number of years ago before "Twilight" ever became a pop culture phenomenon. This is my vampire story. And in my vampire story, they aren't dreamy pale hunks. They are horrible blood-sucking monsters. Shinku is the heroine of the story. It's her job to kill the monsters.

Looking at your professional history, you're writing "Witchblade," "Velocity," "Magdalena" and now "Shinku." Is it me or do you seem to enjoy writing strong female characters?

You know, people say always "strong female character" as if that's a trademarked and copyrighted phrase. Strong female characters. I enjoy writing strong female characters. I enjoy writing weak female characters. I just enjoy writing characters. It seems like I end up writing a lot of women, and that's fine by me. I find women to be more emotionally mature and therefore more interesting in a lot of ways. I'm perfectly content to write male characters, but I think that I end up with the "strong female character" in front of me a lot of times, and I'm pretty cool with that.

That said, I don't set out to write female characters any different from male characters. To me, whether you've got an X or a Y chromosome, I'm just trying to write the character as a real person with both positive and negative traits. I try to make sure everybody is pretty well rounded and as three-dimensional as possible because I think that one of the tools that a writer has to keep the audience coming back. We have to make you care about the characters. We have to make you care about what happens to them. Ultimately, if you don't give a shit about what happens to the character, why are you going to buy the next issue.

Looking at this particular character then, what can you say about her and how she fits into the world that you have created in this title?

Well, "Shinku" is an Image central book, so it's not in the Top Cow Universe. It's creator owned by myself and Lee Moder, who is the artist on it. He designed all the characters and essentially created the world that we're working in. The book is set in modern day Japan, but the background of it is that there has been vampires in Japan for centuries. They are essentially a samurai clan. The genesis from this whole idea is that in doing research for "Samurai: Heaven and Earth," I came to the conclusion that samurai were really a society onto themselves really. In Feudal Japan, the samurai really lived by their own set of rules. They didn't answer to anybody except other samurai. If a samurai ended up cutting off a peasant's head, well, that was kind of tough shit for the peasant. There wasn't really a hard and fast set of rules against that. They were the warrior elite. It struck me that vampires are very much portrayed that way. They are an elite class onto themselves and the rest of us are just peasants, or cattle, for them. So, I came up with the idea of putting together vampires and samurai. So, this story is about a vampire clan that has been behind the scenes of Japan for hundreds of years. An opposing clan of samurai tried to wipe them out and lost. Shinku is actually the last surviving member of the opposing samurai clan.

In regards to the vampires themselves, obviously you hinted at how to approached them with your comment on how they see us as "peasants" and "cattle," but what about things like sunlight and such? Do you follow those standard rules?

Oh yeah. They sure as shit don't sparkle. They're blood-sucking monsters. Maybe some of them end up being nice guys, but what they do is prey upon the rest of us, and they very much consider themselves above humanity and separate from us. We are really here to serve their needs whatever they might be. It's very much the traditional vampire take. These aren't the good guys. They are ethically and morally repugnant as far as we might be concerned. They treat us no better than we treat animals.

Do you find =working on a creator-owned series gives you a certain bit of creative freedom?

The art team is Lee Moder, who is penciling it, Matthew Waite is the inker and Michael Atiyeh is coloring it. These guys are basically my buddies. That's one of the real joys of doing a creator-owned book. You work with exactly who you want to work with and you tell the story exactly as you want to tell it -- right down the lettering. My buddy Troy Petri -- you can look in any Top Cow book because he letters all of them -- is lettering it. The book is very much exactly what we wanted it to be. For all the talk of creators making creator-owned material and the response to creator-owned material, this is certainly not my first creator-owned series but it is my first through Image.

You talked a bit about the main protagonist of the series, Shinku. But what about the other characters in the book? Who else can you talk about and what can you say about the main villain?

The point-of-view character for the audience is a guy named Davis, who's a pretty typical Californian. Certainly not somebody who has any experience with vampires or the supernatural. He's really the way into the story for readers, as he's drawn into a world he didn't even know existed. But Davis is not just a p.o.v. character. The importance of who he is and what he does will become apparent as the story unfolds. Shinku also has an aide, pretty much her only friend, in a sumo who was disgraced in a gambling scandal. I love the physical contrasts of this small, lithe woman and this hulking brute of a man. 
The primary villain is the daimyo of the vampire clan, who has lived for hundreds of years, ever since the feudal period. He's absolutely the villain, but there's also a sense of nobility to him. He has the sense of honor you might find in the head of an organized crime family, especially compared to the younger punks coming up through the ranks. He's old school.

To close things out, you mentioned that having this be creator-owned and under Image, you're allowed a certain amount of freedom. In that regard, what can we expect in terms of the violence and gore and such things? I understand you don't really plan to shy away from the R-Rated stuff.

To me, vampires are equal parts sex and violence, so we're reflecting that. We're not wallowing in it, but I think we're showing blood or nudity where's it's appropriate to the story. There will be blood, as they say. The last book Lee and I did together, "Dragon Prince," was an all-ages story. This definitely isn't.

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