On Manga, Marvel, and Martial Arts Movies
By Jason Thompson

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PULP: The run of Akira was stalled from 1992 to 1995…

JD: Yes. It wasn't stalled, it was slowed. We found we were doing four, three, two and in one case, one issue a year. And the delay was partly in Japan and partly in America. A lot of people shared responsibility for things that weren't going quite according to schedule. If it was perfect, it'd be on schedule, but given the choice between getting it right and getting it now, why not complete the 35-issue set and make it our Sistine Chapel? That's what caused the delay in Akira.

PULP: You also adapted Katsuhiro Otomo's Memories in 1992. Was that just a one-shot?

JD: That was a one-shot. In addition to the incredible science-fiction he does, Otomo also does some very trippy, dreamlike, surreal, wonderful fantasies and that was one of those. I had a great time doing that, although I did not work with Yoko on that, I had to work with another translator. Two years ago when DC did Batman Black & White, Yoko and I worked on Otomo's contribution, and it was a fusion of American superhero comics and that wonderfully trippy philosophical stuff. And it was really great to see him combine our meat and potatoes, superheroes, with his stuff.

PULP: I wanted to thank you for introducing me to Manhunter.

JD: That's an amazing series. Archie [Goodwin] and Walt [Simonson] did that so early in their careers, and they both did great work afterwards, but that was one of those magic moments where everyone clicks together.

PULP: Did you read that when it was originally running in Detective Comics?

JD: Oh, I read that when it first came out. I was so intimidated when I saw Archie Goodwin on my first job interview. I was all, "Oh my God, my knees are knocking together! He did Manhunter!" I was more scared of them that I am of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby--also my heroes but they weren't as scary to me as the creators of Manhunter.

PULP: At that time, in 1973-1974, kung fu and martial arts were really popular. Was Manhunter an expression of this?

JD: Bruce Lee was very big. I believe he'd passed away at that point but, in that ghoulish way pop culture has, it made him even more popular that he'd been throughout his career. The Kung Fu TV series was on at that time, and there was a lot of martial arts happening. Power Man was based on Shaft and Cleopatra Jones. Iron Fist was based on Kung Fu with a bit of Shangri-La and Lost Horizons going on. Doug Moench was doing Master of Kung Fu, which he'd linked with the Fu Manchu mythology and Sax Rohmer. But everything I've listed was Chinese martial arts. Archie brought in the Japanese element, the ninja.

PULP: You're right! There were martial arts and samurai movies being made in Japan, but they weren't getting shown in America like the Chinese movies.

JD: Yes, there were stars like Sonny Chiba, who'd formed the Japan Action Club. I don't think I discovered them until 1980 or 1981 and that was where I really got my ninja addiction. I think I got it more from live action than from manga but then I immediately went looking for the manga that it was based on. At some point in the late '80s I met Hiroyuki Sanada, who was one of the shining lights of the Japan Action Club, and I handed him the Punisher graphic novel I did and said, "You inspired this!"

PULP: You were writing Power Man and Iron Fist around that time. Was Sonny Chiba an influence?

JD: Well, in the very first issue I wrote, we had Iron Fist giving Power Man a lesson in martial arts, and Power Man was saying "When I'll be done with this I'll be the baddest dude this side of Sonny Chiba!" That was my line. I was trying to think of who Power Man would want to be like. Incidentally, Larry Hama was one of the bad guys in the Street Fighter dub. "Six Degrees of Sonny Chiba." (laughs)

PULP: Didn't Chris Claremont also do some ninjas in X-Men, around the time Frank Miller was writing Daredevil?

JD: Chris was great. Chris put ninja into Iron Fist when he was on the book, and it was very funny. The character Colleen Wing was created by Doug Moench or Larry Hama, and she was clearly Chinese. But somebody colored her wrong, so she looked Eurasian. Chris had no interest in Chinese martial arts, but he did in Japanese martial arts, and so he made her Eurasian with Chinese and Japanese blood. And when I replaced him on Power Man and Iron Fist, it made my job a lot easier. (laughs)

PULP: What was it like working on Shogun Warriors?

JD: I was the assistant editor which was not that much, and anything I did on that book was a labor of love. They would send us the videos, which for me was paydirt, but a lot of people who were working on the books didn't even want to watch them. Ultimately we didn't know who to return the videos to so I ended up keeping them. (laughs) I loved Shogun Warriors and that was actually the beginning of my Go Nagai addiction, and I didn't even realize the robots I was going nuts over were by the guy who did Devilman.

PULP: Did you express this in your own writing?

JD: If you want to see my love of ninja and of giant robots see my work in Star Wars and in Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior. Crystar was kind of funny. We tried repeatedly at Marvel to develop a line of toys and none of the projects we worked on were successful and then somebody from a toy company sat down with our rejected proposals and changed them around so they'd "work." It kind of landed on my desk as something I'd partially created--it was your basic good and evil fantasy, we had certain toys and we had to make them characters. This was the blue one, this was the green one, and I said, "How would Go Nagai do it?" So, this one was the All-American hero, this was his big dumb friend, this was the guy who wears some eyeliner and is a little lazy and villainous, and here is the girl, and here's the little kid! And we had a couple of extra toys left over, so I figured I'd create the aging samurai who comes back to help the heroes!

With Star Wars, when they released Return of the Jedi, and I was still working on the comic, Lucasfilm gave us the understandable but frustrating dictum that since the trilogy was over they didn't want us to go ahead with the characters. They said we can keep using all of the heroes, but we couldn't use any of the villains. So I came up with the Nagai, and they were this race of evil long-haired, chic-and-sleek villains with a lot of bad guys on their side. We needed a new direction so I thought, I'll make it like Star Blazers! I'll have to recreate the Comet Empire! The Japanese actually do great war comics, but they don't call them war comics, they call them samurai comics, so that's what I turned Star Wars into. That was the best of both worlds because I am insane for the Star Wars characters.

PULP: It seems like Marvel was really involved in foreign licensing around 1978-79. They were involved in all this crazy cross-licensing with Japanese companies, these weird fusions.

JD: Yes. One of my favorites was the Japanese Spider-Man comics and Spider-Man TV show, and the Marvel Godzilla comic with Nick Fury, and that was another thing that couldn't have happened at any other time. That was just wild stuff.

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