Unbound: Talking Gyakushu! with Dan Hipp

Dan Hipp's graphic novel Gyakushu! debuted in 2007 as one of Tokyopop's original global manga titles. Like many of the books in that line, Gyakushu! could only loosely be described as manga, as Hipp has a drawing and storytelling style all his own, and judging from the favorable reviews it garnered online, the series seems to have been popular with fans of American comics as well as manga. Although the third (and final) volume has been complete for some time, it has yet to be published, due to structural changes at Tokyopop, although the plan is to eventually publish it online.

So Hipp decided to take matters into his own hands and use the web to build an audience. This week, with Tokyopop's permission, he put the first two volumes online in their entirety, along with a preview of the third volume. We were curious about this and e-mailed Hipp to find out what he is up to. In addition to Gyakushu!, Hipp is the artist for The Amazing Joy Buzzards and Ben 10 Alien Force: Doom Dimension, which was scripted by Peter David and is due out in February from Del Rey. He is also the creator of Bonehead.

Brigid: Why did you decide to put the first two volumes online in their entirety?

Dan: When I found out that volume 3 of Gyakushu! would be making its initial bow online, I wanted to make the first two volumes available to read online so that anyone checking out the 3rd volume would actually understand it. Okay, actually my first thought was "BOOOO!!" but I recovered quickly and immediately saw the silver lining; that if I was able to get the whole series online, there was a greater likelihood that more people would see it. I'm really proud of the entire series, but I'm not going to pretend that everyone ran out and grabbed the second volume when it came out. I'm a terrible promoter, so I'm looking at this as a second chance to promote something I'm proud of.

Brigid: What are your plans for the third volume—will you finish the story online or in graphic novel form?

Dan: The 3rd volume has been done for some time, and I've already seen the book in print, in Italian, so naturally I've been hoping that the English language version will magically appear in book stores. However, since that scenario seems as immediate as the live-action Akira actually being made, I'm going to make sure that the series conclusion will be seen online, in conjunction with the plans that Tokyopop have for it. At least that's the plan. Regardless, the fate of the Thief will be seen in English, in one form or another.  

Brigid: Who has the rights to the series right now, and what sort of negotiations did you have to do with Tokyopop?

Dan: Considering the situation, Tokyopop has been great to deal with. They understand my need to hook-up the readers of the series, and I understand their position to protect their investment. There haven't been any official negotiations, just me asking them politely if I can post the book online. They agreed, and encouraged my promotion of the book. The rights remain as they were. We both look at this promotion as a way to spread the word about a book that a lot of people missed out on the first time around. Hopefully, it picks up a few new fans and they tell their friends about it. 

Brigid: Are the first two volumes still available in print?

Dan: Yes, the first two volumes are still available in print. In the perfect world, anyone willing to read through hundreds of pages online and liked what they saw might feel the need to order a hard copy. If not, hey, I hope you enjoyed the story, or at least a decapitation, or whatever.  Just saying, there are a lot of decapitations in the series.

Brigid: I noticed you added some red to some of the pages, but did you go back and make any other changes?

Dan: I didn't re-draw anything, but I shuffled around a few panels and simplified a few lines of dialogue in the first volume. I think it's mostly just in the first chapter. Actually, here's the interesting story about that: when the King City deal was announced at Image, I did start thinking about how my series could make the transition to the monthly floppy format. So I took the first chapter of volume 1 and re-shuffled the panels and such to get it in better shape for the monthly format. I liked how it looked, since the first chapter had some excess baggage to it (come on, it was the first thing I wrote), but it took long enough that I stopped right there. Still, I kept it for the online version. On top of that, I switched a few images around, and threw one in that I hadn't used from Volume 3. Anyway, the quicker answer to the question is yes(ish).

Brigid: If you had the chance, do you think you would make major changes, or are you happy with it the way it is?

Dan: There are some bits in volume 1 that are probably clunkier than they need to be, but here's the thing: I designed the narrative to allow somewhat for that, considering that by the end of volume 2, you've been through a series of twists and see who the narrator is talking to, and in volume 3 you find out why he is telling the story the way he is. That probably seems like a cheat, but volume 1 was set up as a somewhat straight forward revenge narrative so that I could get some confidence in my writing for when I flipped the whole thing on its head later in the series. It was probably a strange way to do things, but I had the plan for the whole series from the beginning, I just 1) didn't know if I could pull it off, and 2) didn't know if Tokyopop was going to give the green light for the rest of the series after volume one, so it had to be a SOMEwhat self-contained story. All that said, I love it, and I'm really happy with it. I probably should have just said that:)

Brigid: Tell us a bit about your background—how did you come to work in comics?

Dan: I was a nerdy kid, read comics, blah, blah, blah.  Majored in art, didn't really know what to do with myself, so I made a comic for myself called Bonehead that I took to Comic-Con to show around.  What I hoped to get from that I don't know, but I ended up meeting Mark Smith and we created The Amazing Joy Buzzards together and got it published at Image comics.  The rest is...well, still being written I guess. Soon after that I went to Tokyopop and created Gyakushu!, and here we are. There have been some other books and projects along the way, but there you go, my background in a minute.

Brigid: What was your inspiration for Gyakushu?

Dan: Gyakushu! started as a series of action set pieces that I had in my head, and evolved into most of the cool things that I love rolled into an icy ball of revenge. My favorite movie is The Empire Strikes Back, so the story is basically set on Hoth. I LOVE the beginning to Once Upon a Time in the West, so the second volume starts with three guys waiting for a man with no-name, and all we "hear" are sound effects.  The third volume jumps from Princess Mononoke and Akira, back to Return of the Jedi and Return of the King. The whole series is my love-letter to every samurai/spaghetti-western/action/thriller/sci-fi/horror/fantasy that is running around in my brain.  That's the short answer.

Brigid: How did you get involved in the Ben 10 comic?

Dan: Del Rey Books came to me and asked if I'd be interested in drawing a book based on the Ben 10 cartoon, written by Peter David, and drawn in my own style. That was enough. Thankfully, I loved the script, and fell in love with the cartoon, but really, I was already sold.

Brigid: What are your plans for Ben 10—how will your comic be similar to and different from the cartoon?

Dan: The two volumes read like a giant two-part adventure from the cartoon series, so in many ways it is VERY similar to the actual show. The stakes are raised a bit, and some serious things go down that should excite the fans. The biggest difference is that I'm drawing it, so it has a slightly different look to it. That said, Cartoon Network was there for approval at every stage, and they loved the pages. There is a lot of energy in every page, and I tried my best to be respectful of the world and characters that the show is loved for. If the fans can make the style adjustment, then they will have a lot of fun with the book. It was a blast to work on!

Brigid: Do you have any other projects in the works that we should know about?

Dan: There are some secret projects in the planning stages, but nothing official, outside of the new volume of The Amazing Joy Buzzards: Monster Love that I have been working on forever.  It is all sorts of crazy, so I can't wait for people to finally see it.  When I, you know, err, finish it.

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