With films like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the "Kill Bill" films and "Hero" all resonating loudly with American audiences, and Manga selling like crazy to eager readers, East Asian cultural influence on American culture is growing at a rate unlike any period before. That influence can also be seen in the work of writer Dan Wickline who, along with artist Ben Templesmith ("30 Days of Night," "Singularity 7"), has fused elements of technology, science-fiction and the world of the samurai for the January debuting one-shot "Blood-Stained Sword" from IDW Publishing. CBR News caught up with Wickline to find out more about this eclectic story.
"'Blood-Stained Sword' is a tale of honor and revenge," Wickline told CBR News. "Matsushita Kenji (in Japan surnames come first) has been raised to follow the bushido code (the way of the samurai). Raised by his grandfather while his father went off to the states to work for Horigome Enterprises. Kenji gets word that his father is dead and he must travel to Seattle to claim the body and deal with his personal affairs. Upon his arrival Kenji meets Andrea Ryan, his father's secretary for the last few weeks. Andrea plays guide for Kenji as he begins to find out what happened. The police tell Kenji that his father committed seppuku (ritual suicide) after it was discovered that he was embezzling funds from the company. Kenji knows in his heart that his father is not capable of the crimes he was accused of and vows to find the truth and clear his father's name."
With Kenji having been raised by his grandfather while his father was away in America, you might expect Kenji to not feel a close bond to his father. Wickline explained that by being raised in the ways of the samurai, Kenji's life turned out a bit different than the norm.
"In a situation like this, where you are trying to raise someone in a very structured belief system, you would have two possible out comes: rebellion against the beliefs or an almost religious zeal towards them. But in this case we have an added factor that his father is not the one raising him. With his father leaving for America at a somewhat young age, Kenji did not feel any resentment towards his father, but rather he feels that his training and studies are their bond. So when news of his father's death comes, Kenji refuses to believe any ill about the man he idolized.
"In a sense, the Bushido code is a set of morals similar to what you would get from a church," explained Wickline. "The difference is that where in most Anglo-Saxon religions you are told more of what not to do, 'thou shall not…'; the Bushido is more of a positive guide. It speaks of doing the right thing, honoring your parents, being a good person to all those around you. So when Kenji makes a decision, he has the positive guides to help him. I wonder how many people make decisions every day by thinking: 'well, it's not pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony or sloth so I'm good to go.' Kenji's desire is to be the best person he can be, not avoiding going to hell."
Where's Kenji's mother through all this, you ask? Wickline said she died during childbirth, but isn't a factor in this story. He noted that should "Blood-Stained Sword" find an interested audience the writer already has plans for new stories where Kenji's mother would play a major role.
In addition to Kenji, Wickline says there are five other main characters we'll be introduced to.
"Horigome is the head of a large corporation and an old family friend. Kenji's father worked for Horigome Enterprises. Horigome's daughter Yuki is stunningly beautiful and has an interesting past with Kenji that could taint what he has come to do. Jin is the head of security at Horigome Enterprises and was 'the second' when Kenji's father committed seppuku. These characters are all part of the traditional ways.
"The two outsiders are Detective Rodriguez, who is investigating the death of Kenji's father, and Andrea Ryan, who was Kenji's father's secretary for three weeks before his death. She is asked by Horigome to help Kenji get things in order. Andrea is probably my favorite character besides Kenji because her motivations are so completely different than everyone else. She is the reader's way into the story. Not many of us can identify with someone who has been raised in the customs and beliefs of a warrior class that all but died out over a hundred years ago… but we can all connect to someone doing a crappy temp job at a faceless corporation."
For Wickline, the idea for "Blood-Stained Sword" came to him one night when talking to Ben Templesmith via instant messenger.
"[Ben] said he was itching to do a story about guys in suits with samurai swords and asked if I could come up with something," said Wickline. "So, I let the visual run around in my brain a bit and locked into the idea of doing a modern day samurai tale. From there I began studying everything I could on the history and culture."
With the original conversation taking place almost a year ago, Wickline's been hard at work on "Blood-Stained Sword" for some time now. He said the basic plot points came together pretty quickly, but with Templesmith's very packed schedule, the project was shelved for six months which gave him time to further refine the story. As for influences, Wickline says they are many.
"I think seeing 'Kill Bill' and 'The Last Samurai' helped with the characterization of Kenji, but the bigger influence has to be some of the old Akira Kurosawa films. 'Seven Samurai,' 'Ran' and 'Rashomon' were some of my first experiences with the samurai culture and really showed the majesty and dedication that were prevalent in the warriors."
While you might expect that Wickline has a deep interest in Japanese culture, his fascination lies more so with warrior culture.
"The samurai in many ways is like the knights of Europe or to some extent the US marshals of the old west," said Wickline. "The title carried a status with it that put them above the common man, but also made them a target for the immoral. Their greatest weapon was also their greatest liability, their code of honor they lived by. I love writing about characters whose beliefs are 'black and white' yet they live in a 'shades of gray' world."
Wickline and Templesmith were first introduced through Steve Niles' forums. They met briefly at Comic-Con International in San Diego a while back, but the two really didn't get to talking until Wickline interviewed Templesmith over at Comic World News, a Web site Wickline used to be involved in.
"We did the interview through instant messenger and really just hit it off," said Wickline. I think half the interview I was giving him advice on dating. We just kept in touch after that and finally the chance to work together came up."
In many ways "Blood-Stained Sword" really has been a collaborative effort for the two creators.
"Besides [Ben] being the initial catalyst, I wrote the plot with a lot of the design elements ambiguous so that Ben could really jump in and make the book his. Some of the elements he came up with then dictated to me certain touches during scripting. The futuristic setting, the armor and the hover bikes were all things that Ben brought to the table and really gives the book it's cinematic feeling."
Once the story was worked out, the one remaining key to bringing this all together was a publisher, which is where IDW steps in.
"They begged us a lot… okay, not really," said Wickline of getting hooked up with IDW Publishing. "It was more of IDW having faith in Ben and their willingness to take a chance on people and concepts they believe in. Ben told [IDW Publisher] Ted Adams about the idea and when an opening in the schedule came up, we got the green light. IDW is just an amazing company to work with from the top down. Ted, Chris Ryall, Robbie Robbins, Cindy Chapman, Chance Boren… not only has every one of them been great to work with, but they are the type of people you'd love to hang out with. I can really see why guys like Steve Niles, Ash Wood and Ben do so much work with them."