Hard-Boiled Pandas

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After creating and publishing a very successful webcomic known as PandaXpress!, creators Manny Trembley and Eric Anderson sat down to chat about their first printed work, Shadowline’s Sam Noir: Samurai Detective, out since yesterday from Image Comics and Shadowline.

BROKEN FRONTIER:  You guys are a bit of an unknown to the world of printed comics, so to start, perhaps it might be easiest to just get a quick introduction about you guys, how you ended up working together, and your previous work.

MANNY TREMBLEY: We are unknown in the comic field.  This will be the first time either of us have published anything with the major book publishers.  I did do a small press book in ’95.  But other than that, this is pretty much the first time.

I’ve had comics on the brain for the last 15 years.  A passion to create them led me to many comic cons and many, many failed attempts to break in.  As previously stated, I did get a book published in ’95, called Ravenwind, with a small press company called Pariah Books. 

After I got married, I gave up on comics as a viable financial option and went to school.  I graduated with a degree in 3D animation.  At school was the first time I met Eric, as an instructor no less (I would like to point out that he was never my instructor), and we became friends from there.  I hopped around for a few years in animation before Eric let me know about at job being available where he worked.  I applied and we’ve worked at the same company making games since. 

While there, we got a hankering to tell a story together and comics seemed to be a fun, easy way to free the incessant need I have to make new content.  Print comics seemed like too much work so we thought a web comic would suffice.  Thus PandaXpress!  was born.

BF: Since you mentioned PandaXpress, let's take a little time to talk about it. Where did the idea for this (and other webcomics on the site) come from?  How long were you putting the webcomic up?  And has anything in terms of the initial plan or how you guys feel about it changed?

MANNY: PandaXpress! was born from a drawing of a little girl (now Dahlia) with a machine gun and shell casing all over the ground.  I drew it and showed it to Eric and laughingly said, “we should make a comic about a little anime girl with guns.”  Eric slapped my idea down and said, “Ditch the guns.  We should give her a robot panda that she can ride.  That’d be more anime.”  I said, and we can call it Panda Express!  Cuz’ she rides it… get it?”

I drew the first 5 pages before we knew what the story was going to be.  So we ended up winging it until we got organized and plotted out the story.

ERIC A. ANDERSON: It’s true.  Luckily though, we pretended to take PX! seriously, and before we knew it, we had a really fun story filled with a cast of characters that we both absolutely loved.  The world we created with PX! grew into outlines for a series of four graphic-novel length books, and that’s still the game plan.

MANNY: Our plans for PX! haven’t changed at all since we’ve started working with Shadowline/Image. The web comic medium is a great way to create content and to get feedback, good and bad, right away.  We’ve been consistently making content for more than 18 months now for that site.  Making PandaXpress! led us to the point where we thought to branch out and see if we could get one of our other ideas published.  We hope to offer our fans this free content for quite some time to come.  No matter what happens to our print books.

BF: Moving now on to Sam Noir, the press release said that this story idea came about 6 years ago—what spawned this particular idea?  What did you see in the marriage of Bushido Samurai and Noir Detective Fiction that made it a good match?

MANNY: I came up with the title character about 6 years ago while working at an animation company in Minnesota.  At the time, Sam was created as a character meant to star in a series of short films called, Sam Noir: Samurai Detective. 

Originally, he looked like a ninja with a fedora and he sat behind a desk and dames came to ask for his help.  Each episode was just a series of scenes of Sam killing other ninja in a Casablanca-type setting.  It never went anywhere. 

Mixing these genres felt like a way to give people the best of both worlds. Creating this world where the city feels like 1920s art deco New York and the country feels like feudal Japan and then letting both cultures seep into each other feels right.  I think the end result has made for a really unique world.  But I think that’s why it works.  It feels familiar but fresh.

BF: Artistically, this is a pretty big departure from the work at PandaX.  Have you always been "noir guys" trapped in a pink background? What did you guys see in the work that you were doing that gave you the confidence to make such a drastic switch?

MANNY: The difference in art styles is intentional.  I LOVE noir art and storytelling, but I love the PX! pink and candy colors just as much. The look of Sam was very easy to create as it was the style I used for years when I was trying to break into comics.  Heavy black & white high contrast was the way I did all my comic art for a long, long time.  I didn’t do any other styles then. 

After working in the animation industry for years, I started to realize that different stories deserved different art styles.  I think the switch was a natural one.  A story about a hard-boiled samurai detective needed his own style.  More than anything, it gives me an excuse to draw differently.

BF: In terms of the dialogue, the preview gives a very distinct "hard-boiled narrative" and the book promises to mix genres a great deal.  What were some of the inspirations behind this?  Did you do any additional research to try and get a good handle on the detective genre and its associated dialogue?  In terms of the creation of the book, was the book laid out and then dialogued later or did the dialogue come first?

MANNY: Eric and I would write the page breakdowns first for each book and then get approval from Kris Simon at Shadowline (her help and guidance was priceless), which was like a quality check.  It might be our book, but Shadowline puts their name on the line and knowing they feel good about where you’re headed is a good thing.  Then, I do page layouts while we write the narrative and dialogue together.  The internet helps a TON when trying to find noir-ish slang. Suffice it to say, there’s quite a bit of goofy humor in the book.  Or so we think.  After we fully wrote each page, I’d go off and do the art chores.

ERIC: That sums up the writing process pretty well.  And when he’s done with everything, I put balloons and words on his artwork and make sure all the commas are in the right places. 

I don’t think either of us really wanted to turn the book into any kind of hyper-accurate period piece or anything.  It’s more appropriate to call it an impressionistic view of all the worst clichés from noir films and samurai epics. 

In fact, our methods of writing often come from starting with something as contrived and cliché as we can possibly imagine, and then turning it on its head and deconstructing it.  Then amping up the goofyness, or injecting serious tone into something that should be silly.  It’s the contrast of the two that really makes us bust up laughing the most.

MANNY: Eric described the inspirations pretty well. “It's like sticking Mickey Spillane and Akira Kurosawa in a blender and hitting ‘puree’, with a dash of Matt Groening on top.  Mmmm.... actually, that sounds pretty tasty.”

BF: This book is going to be Image/Shadowline's first black & white release.  Is  there any pressure there to make sure that the line stays successful?

MANNY: Yes, this is. Shadowline has been putting out great books for some time now, like Emissary, ShadowHawk, Bomb Queen and Task Force 1. 

Until you mentioned it, no I didn’t feel any pressure! I think anyone launching their first book anywhere would feel pressure for it to succeed.  No one wants to find out that comic fans out there don’t like what you’ve laid out for them. 

In regards to creating a successful book at Shadowline…well, I hope we can do justice to the imprint.  We hope that when people think of Sam Noir, they think of engaging writing and great artwork.  All we can do is try to bring a quality product to Shadowline.  The readers out there decide the rest.

ERIC: And just to give some more props here, Jim and Kris at Shadowline have been really awesome people to work with during the process of getting this thing delivered.  They haven’t put any unnecessary pressure on us at all, and have been supportive at every turn. 

So, any nervousness we got going on right now is self-inflicted.  We’d love it if the book performed well at retail because it would reflect well on the two people who gave us nobodies a shot.

BF: If this book is successful, can we expect more like it from this team? What else would you guys like to do in the industry?

ERIC: Yeah, we’ve already been thinking about where else we might go inside Sam’s world, and the possibilities are pretty exciting.  Bring it on, comics buyers!  I got yer Sam Noir right here!

MANNY: It’s a bit early yet to determine whether people want more Sam.  If comic buyers want it, we’re ready to deliver more.  Eric and I are ready to jump back into the goofy samurai world of Sam Noir anytime.  We create new ideas (not sure if they’re any good) each week.  I’d love to introduce other stories and characters to the comic book world.  Maybe the comic world wants more of what we have to offer.   We’d be happy to keep making it. 

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