Inside Look: Samurai's Blood #2
Lowdown - Special Feature
Posted by OGWiseman on Jul 18, 2011
Inside Look is Broken Frontier's director’s commentary-like feature in which creators take you behind the scenes of one of their latest comics to hit the stands. In this edition: Owen Wiseman on Samurai's Blood #2.
As we begin the second issue of Samurai's Blood, our three heroes—Katashi, Jun, and Mayuko—have fled their village, after soldiers of the evil Gakushi burned it to the ground and killed their families. They have pledged their lives to vengeance against Gakushi and to the restoration of the Sanjo Clan, the once-proud ruling family of the province, of which Jun and Mayuko are the last surviving heirs.
As a writer, I know I have a little text on the inside cover to catch people up to the story, but it's never enough, so it's important to use the first page or two to reset the scene. Dialogue helps also, but I try very hard to come up with something visual. In this case, the image of the castle being repainted came to me early on, and the artists really nailed what I was going for.
I think even someone who had not read the first issue would realize that someone had recently conquered this castle in one way or another. This way I can use the dialogue on the pages below to re-establish the emotional dynamics of the group, and they don't have to be talking about Gakushi directly. In the end, the problems of the master-retainer relationship that's happening now between Jun and Katashi will prove nearly as large an obstacle as Gakushi himself, so I wanted to make sure we're keeping that in focus.
I know there are some people who prefer necessary exposition to come through dialogue, but to me one of the joys of comics is the ability to put text right on the page. It can establish tone and feeling without just having single shots of characters of close-ups on their faces. These three kids are in real trouble, in an alien place, and the idea of them sitting around the fire and not being able to think of anything to say, but with these heavy thoughts in the air, really appealed to me.
This is the last of the 'reset' pages, where I'm going back over what was covered in the first issue. Katashi and Mayuko are deeply in love, and we simply must be clear about that if the remainder of the issue is to make any sense. I'm also setting up the rest of the issue, but the focus here should be on that relationship.
This is a page I worried about a lot and rewrote a lot, because I really don't like to have pages that are just talking heads, but I think that Nam and the art team did a great job of coming up with enough unique and impactful images to make it work. The last panel, in particular, is well-captured, I think, and it saved me from having to insert and dialogue there at all. The look does the work, with the text serving as counterpoint.
This is a page where I had five or maybe even six panels in the script, but which Nam simplified, much to the better of the end result. I absolutely love the main image here, it's got amazing depth, and I wouldn't trade it for five panels of dialogue. Indeed, after seeing this image of Araku, I made changes to later scripts to give Nam more room to do similar things. I knew he could do wide shots really well with amazing detail, but this image taught me about the power of a great shot to advance the plot and turn a scene.
Just from the look on his face and the swiftness of his motion, we can see that Araku is a really, really evil guy. He doesn't have to say anything beyond that one line. (Also: If you want to read more about Araku, check out a prose story I wrote about him on our Facebook page or on samuraisblood.com)
This is where we really start to see what Jun is capable of. We start to see what makes him really special. Katashi's strengths are obvious, and while Jun is no slouch in combat, that's not where he really shines. It's his schemes that define him. But it presents an interesting writing challenge, because, again, I don't want to have just talking heads in a scene.
On this page, the simple act of lifting a body together onto a cart puts these two characters into motion together, and provides the kind of visual variety that prevents stagnation.
I'm really proud of this page transition here. The last panel of the previous page is a great shot of Jun, and now here we're jumping right into the next scene. No matter what I'm writing, I think it really helps to jump into a scene as late as possible.
I could have spent time showing them walking up to this bar, or standing outside arguing, but it would have just been the same argument we've already seen on page 1, outside the castle. Much better to just jump in here, and it also reflects that this particular incident is not going to be a giant story point. It's an action beat, but we're still in the issue's opening pages. It's these sorts of subtle decisions that make the difference between good pacing and bad pacing.
The central image of this panel, of Katashi from behind, takes my breath away. It's a shot right out of classic Kurosawa cinema. In fact, savvy readers/watchers will be able to pick out quite a few Kurosawa shots and touches throughout this series. That central panel, of course, also turns this scene with a single line: Katashi is disobeying Jun's order, and offering the samurai mercy.
They don't take it, to be sure, but he still offers, and that disobedience is something a good samurai cannot abide. Jun will have to somehow break him of that habit, and while I'm not going to give away any spoilers, it's not going to be pretty.
Another fantastic image to start this page, and it plays out the emotional dynamics far better than any dialogue ever could. Indeed, I'm sure there will be people who will maintain I could have done without the white-on-black text as well, but I do think it provides a nice counterpoint, plus it allows the reader's eye to linger a bit longer on the image. Then after, of course, Katashi does what he has to do to keep them alive.
This is the first time where he makes the sort of compromise that puts his code in serious jeopardy, and I think that final panel of his face does a brilliant job of capturing just how much it's going to cost him.
Katashi, Jun, and Mayuko have started on their journey towards Gakushi and Araku, and towards their vengeance. However, they have started to see the terrible costs that the journey will extract from them. As we go forward, all these themes will deepen, and they will begin to pay costs they could never have anticipated.
Meanwhile, other characters will swirl around them, each with their own goals and their own secrets. Some genuinely want to help, but even those will have their own agendas. The flame of vengeance of the Sanjo Clan will burn on meager wax, waiting for their moment of fate to arrive, but when that moment does come, the three sworn to vengeance will be ready.
Samurai's Blood #2 (of 6) from Benaroya Publishing and Image Comics is out now. Story: OWEN WISEMAN, Art: NAM KIM, MATTHEW DALTON & JESSICA KHOLINNE. Get updates on the comic @samuraisblood.
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