When it comes to ancient history, there is fact and there is myth. Sometimes, the line between the two can be very blurry. Other times, we grab hold of the myth, run with it, and embellish it because, well, it's fun.
"Okko: Cycle of Water" - published by Archaia Studio Press - does exactly that. Originally released in France, the book is written and drawn by Hub, who provides readers with an epic adventure that combines horror and samurai action, which is flavored with some Japanese history. The result ends up being something of a fun cross between "Shogun" and "Ghostbusters." CBR News spoke with Hub in France, with translations provided by Archaia for the French speaking Hub.
"I haven't been in the comic field for long," Hub told CBR News when asked about his background in comics. "'Okko' is my first important work. A few years ago, I tried to write a series inspired by Japanese manga, but it wasn't exactly a success. Now 'Okko' has given me the success I hoped for."
As readers can see from the book's description, a lot of fun and intriguing ideas can be found within the book's covers. Regarding his inspiration for the book, Hub said, "It comes from literature, cinema and role-playing games. I've been fascinated by Japanese culture for years. I find it refined and exotic, yet sometimes complex and codified. Poetry can link to the worst violence. But I took many liberties, and created a fictitious universe called the Pajan Empire."
Several countries in Europe have tremendous output when it comes to comics. When asked how this French publication made its way to Archaia and the U.S., the creator replied, "'Okko' was first published in France, and it is still running abroad. The book has been received very positively and welcomed by fans and critics [the French publisher noted here that the book has been very successful for them]. Many publishers around the world became interested in the series and among them was Archaia. I guess Archaia noticed my work at one of the international bookfairs and then contacted Delcourt, my publisher in France, to get the rights."
Considering the book came from another country, it naturally had to be translated. "If the dialogue is important, the translation must be good and serious," Hub noted. "I confess, I can't speak English well enough to follow the translation phase, but I trust the specialists! Yes, I indeed spend a lot of time and concentration on dialogue - it is the cement and the keystone of any good storytelling."
With a terrific premise, the book's tale is set in a fantastic setting and has many colorful characters populating its landscape. "The story happens in the Pajan Empire, during an era of chaos called Asagari Times, 'Times of the Mists.' Okko is a ronin (a samurai without a master) who walks around in the country to chase ghosts, demons and other fantasy creatures. He sometimes behaves cynically and seems cold. It's hard to guess what his face says; he keeps it blank, with no expression.
"Bnoburo the giant (who hides his face under a red helmet) is much warmer and communicative; he is of a good and strong nature and he's got many uncommon skills. The monk, though an alcoholic (a great sake amateur), has the ability of getting in touch with the strengths of nature: the Kamis. When he speaks he uses a short noise all the time: 'tsu' in French, which gives his talking a beat and rhythm."
Hub is creating his own world in telling this story, but he is not haphazardly making things up as he goes along. He indicated that many facts and other artistic sources (including some truly fun ones) influenced his final product.
"Many historical works helped me build my knowledge of Japan and its culture," said Hub. "I can't deny Asian cinema and works such as 'Princess Mononoke' by Miyazaki are great resources. Also, role-playing games such as 'Bushido' or the 'Legend of the Five Rings' are very similar in some aspects to my work."
The process this writer-artist used in creating this project was very specific and methodical. One could even say, perhaps, that he faced the challenge with the focus of finely-trained samurai warrior.
"I start with the writing (script and dialogue), even if they won't evolve until the last minute. Next step, a crucial one by the way, is establishing a precise storyboard of each page. I'm precise in the shape of each page of the graphic novel before starting to draw. The last step is the coloring. It's hard to tell how much time I spend on a page because I start the 46 pages all together. I only know that the complete process takes me about eight months.
"I try to develop a personal and original graphic style that will serve the story. I give an important place to the backgrounds. I love details and strong ambiences. I look for dynamic action and frames that will best serve the storytelling. The rhythm of the script should feel a little like music, and nice to read. There are so many other things I could say here..."
The book has been a tremendous success for Hub, and the creator said he is choosing to enjoy the fruits of his labor a bit more before jumping into his next project. "'Okko' and its merchandise (deluxe editions, posters and other things) keep me busy and happy at the moment. I will have more time to think toward future projects later!"
When asked about what pleased him most regarding his experience with the book, Hub's excitement could hardly be contained. "Everything! I love my characters. I love the way they resonate with each other and how they sound together. The wide range of possibilities that my universe offers me is also very stimulating. I completely opened up with this series and I hope you can feel it through each and every page."
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