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Inside Look: Samurai: Heaven and Earth #2

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The second installment of Dark Horse’s Samurai: Heaven and Earth has finally arrived. Writer Ron Marz stopped by to tell you about the creative process.

The solicitation text for the issue reads:

The swashbuckling epic from Ron Marz (Ion) and Luke Ross (Jonah Hex) continues! The samurai Shiro pursues his lost love, Lady Yoshiko, by booking passage on a Mediterranean trader, intending to follow her to the New World. But when Shiro realizes Yoshiko has been captured and taken to the Egyptian coast, he finds himself trapped on a ship that will take him half a world away from her. Even Shiro’s sword might not be enough to best an entire crew with cutlasses drawn!

The very short version of how we got here in Samurai: Heaven and Earth is this: the samurai Shiro has pursued his love, the lady Yoshiko, who was stolen away and sold into slavery, across Asia and Europe. He was briefly reunited with her in Versailles, outside Paris, but she was kidnapped by the disgraced Spanish nobleman, Don Miguel Ratera Aguilar. Now Don Miguel and Yoshiko have sailed for the New World, but Shiro remained in dogged pursuit.

PAGE 1

Click to enlargeEach issue of Volume 2 starts off with a flashback scene set in Japan. In issue #1, it was a battle in the snow between opposing samurai armies. This issue is the aftermath of that battle. In the script this page was described as a series of tight shots, showing Shiro’s armor being stripped off following the battle. Luke went all out here, opting to go with a 16-panel grid, the better to form a contrast with the following splash page.

These flashback sequences serve a couple of purposes. First, it gives us a chance to show off some Japanese scenes and situations, a necessary component in a samurai tale, even one that’s set an entire continent away.

Second, and more importantly, it allows us to show more of the relationship between Shiro and Yoshiko before fate pulled them apart. Just as in Volume 1, the characters spend a great deal of time apart, so I felt like showing them together gives the reader a little more insight into why Shiro would follow this woman literally halfway around the world. 

These flashback sequences will also play into the present storyline, but the specific tie won’t be revealed until issue #5.

PAGE 2

Click to enlargeWe’ve been referring to this as the “man ass” page. Nothing like a little male nudity to turn mature, sober creators into snickering schoolboys.

Colorist Rob Schwager was actually the one who suggested that Shiro have a back tattoo, which were common among historical samurai. Rob’s got more than a few tats himself, and his suggestion led to this opening sequence. Luke and I loved the idea, and thankfully we hadn’t shown Shiro’s naked back in Volume 1. But we had to figure out exactly what the tattoo should look like.

I have to wonder how comics got done before the internet. All the research imaginable is right at your fingertips. Luke researched the design online and came up with the carp. The inherent symbolism of the carp is explained later in the issue, on page 6, when Shiro says it’s “a symbol of courage, of strength in attaining goals.” Obviously it’s the right tattoo for someone who would cross continents in pursuit of the woman he loves.

The tattoo design will be seen a few more times in the series, and it’ll look perfect each time, because Luke drew the image, then saved it as a Photoshop file that can be placed on the pencil art however it’s needed.

PAGE 4

Click to enlargeI’m a big fan of nine-panel grids for storytelling purposes. It’s clean, it’s simple, it’s effective. If it’s good enough for Watchmen, it’s good enough for everybody. But you need to have an artist who can move the camera around enough to keep the page from becoming too static. Thankfully, I have Luke Ross., who’s good at everything.

One of my pet peeves in comics is panels in which characters are kissing, and yet they’re still given word balloons. They’re kissing—they can’t talk!

PAGE 7

Click to enlargeThe saddle and leathers on the horse are the real deal here, at least according to the best-qualified critic I know: my wife. She’s an equine masseuse who does a lot of work on the racehorses at the Saratoga track, and we also have four horses of our own. So she’s the authority. It might not seem like that big a deal, and just on its own, it’s probably not.

Still, it really speaks to the larger issue of the authenticity that Luke brings to the book. He puts a huge amount of work into establishing the reality of 1705. Damn near everybody can draw superheroes. But it’s a precious few artists who can draw a period story and have it look this convincing. 

PAGE 10

Click to enlargeThere’s a character moment in panels 1 and 2 here that I thought was important, something to humanize the slave trader, Safwah Ibn Badr al Din. This is a moment of, if not friendship, at least respect between Shiro and Safwah, whose cooperation Shiro has compelled at the point of a sword.

When he originally appeared in Volume 1, the character of Safwah wasn’t intended to carry through to Volume 2. In fact, the entire storyline in Volume 2 wasn’t planned, but instead grew out of an e-mail exchange between Luke and myself.

The original plan for Volume 2 was a storyline featuring pirates in the Caribbean. But Luke mentioned he really wanted to draw, as he put it, “some Lawrence of Arabia-type scenes.” The story we’re now telling in Volume 2 grew out of that comment, and hopefully we’ll tell the pirate yarn if we get a go-ahead for Volume 3.

PAGES 15 & 16

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeLuke and I don’t work full-script method on Samurai. We’ve found that our storytelling sensibilities are so similar, that we can work in a shorthand that’s somewhere between full script and plot. When I have something very specific in mind for a page, I’ll give that to Luke. Just as often, I’ll give him a general sense of what I’m looking for, and just turn him loose. I can honestly say I’ve never been disappointed. Not once.

I described these two pages of action together, but reminded Luke that they couldn’t be set up as a double-page spread because of the odd-even placement (pages 15 and 16). Spreads need to be even-odd, so they fall properly in the printed book, and especially in any eventual trade paperback. But Luke missed my note, and without thinking about it, originally drew 15 and 16 as a spread. Oops. A great spread, of course, but one that presented a pagination problem.

Luke was annoyed with himself, and we tossed around a couple of possible solutions, including me writing an extra page to insert prior to the spread, so that it would fall properly. But in the end, Luke volunteered to do the extra work of breaking the spread into two pages. Maybe we’ll run the pencils of the original spread as an extra in the trade paperback.

PAGE 20

Click to enlargeThe second panel here is one of the jaw-droppers Luke regularly works into the issues. Some of the inspiration for this shot, and for the overall look of the issues set in Egypt, is the work of a 19th-century artist and lithographer named David Roberts, a Scotsman who had no formal art training. He made visits to Egypt and the Holy Land and produced an amazing array of work, capturing both scenes of everyday life, and great landscapes featuring the Egyptian ruins. Roberts’ work has a great sense of scale and majesty to it, and we’re hoping to capture some of that in a climactic battle sequence in issue #5.

As a side note, I actually have a David Roberts print hanging in my upstairs hallway. We picked up the piece years ago in, of all places, the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.

PAGE 21

Click to enlarge The older man seen in panels 4 and 5, Ali Faraj Pasha, is supposed to be a rather imposing presence. But in the first coloring pass on this page, his attire was colored with the same palette as the other Arabs on the page. Luke requested the revision for the red and white scheme seen here, so he’d stand out among his fellows.

Dark Horse staff colorist Dan Jackson pitched in on the issue when Rob got pinched on deadlines prior to Christmas, so Dan made the change. The red scheme really works to draw the eye, as the pasha is the only character in the last scene to appear in that color.

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