Ron Marz: The Eastern Trilogy - Part II

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Ron Marz sure is a busy writer these days, penning Witchblade at Top Cow, Blade of Kumori for Devil's Due and two mini-series at Dark Horse with Samurai: Heaven & Earth and The Dragon Prince.
In "Ron Marz: The Eastern Trilogy", Broken Frontier takes a better look at three of Marz' projects that have one thing in common: they're all dealing with orient-inspired material. In this second installment, the writer discusses the first of his Dark Horse projects, Samurai: Heaven & Earth, of which the second issue goes on sale next week.

Ron Marz: The Eastern Trilogy - Part I

BROKEN FRONTIER: Like we did last time, let's open this interview by explaining the premise of Samurai: Heaven & Earth. What is it all about?

RON MARZ: It's straight historical adventure, no overt elements that could be construed as horror or fantasy. It's set in 1704, and follows a samurai named Shiro who travels across the breadth of Asia and Europe in order to be reunited with his love, Lady Yoshiko, who has been kidnapped and spirited away. His travels eventually lead him to Paris , even to the Versailles itself, where he's pretty likely to cross swords with a certain trio of the King's Musketeers.

BF: I don't think that I'm doing the book a disservice when I say that it's a love story at heart, right?

RM: Not at all. It's just a love story with a lot of swords and a few beheadings.

BF: Unlike Blade of Kumori and The Dragon Prince, this book is firmly set in the past, namely the 18th century, during which Shiro has to travel to Paris to recapture Yoshiko. Aside from the appearance of the three musketeers, will we also get to see Louis XIV in the book?

RM: Absolutely. He's a big part of the book, as is the palace at Versailles . One of the things I really like about the series is that it has a great sense of history, and of place. Or maybe "sense of places" is a better term. The first issue very much had feudal Japan as a character, the second issue very much has feudal China as a character, and the remaining issues have Paris and Versailles as characters. So much of what's on the stands has the same contemporary urban setting, it's been a real pleasure to delve into another time and place.

BF: Did you draw upon Alexandre Dumas' classic The Three Musketeers for inspiration when crafting the story?

RM: Of course, the original Dumas text as well as a number of the film adaptations of his tales, both Musketeers and things like The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo for their sense of swashbuckling adventure. So much of what Dumas wrote forms a big part of the heroic heritage in Western culture. I think everybody immediately summons up some pretty strong imagery when you mention The Three Musketeers, and one of the inspirations for this series was putting a classic samurai warrior into that setting.

BF: In literature, a travel or journey often is a motif in a coming of age-type story. Will Shiro discover more of his inner self when he finds himself on the road in pursuit of Yoshiko?

RM: Not to any great extent. Shiro knows who he is. This is not a protagonist with feet of clay who needs to find himself. He's honorable and true, that's what keeps him going.

BF: When Broken Frontier recently ran a poll asking which of the four books you're currently writing, Samurai: Heaven & Earth was the overwhelming top choice. Does the poll's outcome reflect your sentiments, particularly when compared to your other two 'Eastern-themed' series?

Click to enlargeRM: Well, I can say I'm hugely satisfied with Samurai: Heaven and Earth, but we're also further along on it. I have just as much fondness for The Dragon Prince. Both are near and dear to me, because the artists and I created them. We own them, so they're very much our babies. I had a pretty big hand in bringing Blade of Kumori to life, but in that case, at least a framework was handed to me and I built upon it. Even though a good deal of the book is me, it's still a work-for-hire project,  and those just aren't as personal as something that's truly yours.

BF: The artist on Samurai: Heaven & Earth is Luke Ross , whom you cooperated with on your Green Lantern: Homecoming story arc. Did you recruit him specifically when writing Samurai?

Click to enlarge RM: I had a couple of creator-owned projects I wanted to get off the ground. One was Samurai, the other was a more science fiction-oriented concept. I sent them both  to Luke, because we intended to keep working together after the Green Lantern arc, and told him to pick whichever one he liked best. He chose Samurai because, as he told me, he wanted to do something that would allow him to gather and apply a lot of reference. Obviously it was the right choice, because I can't imagine anybody else drawing this series now. I doubt you'd find anyone who wouldn't agree that this is the best work of Luke's career. A lot of the reaction has been, "I knew Luke was good, but not this good." Luke is really killing himself on every page, and then Jason Keith, the colorist, goes in and adds to it. I think it's a testament to what can happen when all the elements of a project come together, which doesn't happen nearly often enough in this business.

BF: What makes Luke the perfect artist for this series?

Click to enlarge RM: The most obvious answer is that he's just a damn good artist, just phenomenally talented. Luke's been at this a while, but more often than not, because he's adept enough to work in any number of styles, editors would ask him, "Can you draw this so it looks like Jim Lee?" or "Can you draw this so it looks like J. Scott Campbell?" When Luke came to CrossGen, which was where I met him, the only direction he was given was, "Draw like Luke Ross ."

Whatever I put into a script always comes back looking even better than the picture I had in my mind. A big factor is that Luke and I have very much the same storytelling sensibility. We both tend to think cinematically, so we're prone to approaching any given scene in the same manner. We're pretty much on the same page right from the beginning. I've said this before -- it's a bit like working with my long-lost Brazilian brother.

BF: You guys ran a special black & white four-page prelude as part of an event by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. What was the event about and how did the team-up came to be?

RM: Every year John Gallagher, who does a really great little comic called Buzzboy, puts together a benefit book -- it's really more of a benefit trade paperback -- for the CBLDF. Brandon Peterson and I did a short story for the 2003 book, so Luke and I put together a short story for the 2004 edition, along with some sketchbook pages from Luke and Jeff Johnson , who is drawing Dragon Prince. The story serves as kind of a prelude for the Samurai series. Jason Keith eventually colored it, and Dark Horse put it up on their website. And then I guess history repeated itself, because Jason went in and colored the story Brandon and I did, and that will appear in the Desperado Primer, which should be out from Image soon. It's a bit of a hint at things to come, both from Desperado and from me.  

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge

BF: Broken Frontier ran the prelude - in color - a few weeks ago. I assume it will see print as part of the series' trade paperback collection?

RM: Assuming there's a trade collection, most definitely. We'd like to include some of Luke's designs and sketches as well, and we're going to hit up some friends to contribute pieces to a pin-up gallery. I admire how the Hellboy trades are put together, with a really great design sense and a nice mix of extras, so I'd like to do something along those lines.

BF: Samurai: Heaven & Earth is mapped out as a five-issue miniseries. Do you have any plans to revisit this world once issue #5 has sailed off to stores?

RM: We've actually got at least two additional mini-series planned out, with room for more if we're that fortunate. Sales have been pretty strong, and the critical reception has been very positive. Dark Horse overprinted by a bit, and reorders have been coming in steadily, so they're expecting the first issue to sell out completely. We're hoping the market's initial enthusiasm will continue, so we can keep doing this. Luke, Jason and I all feel like this is about the most satisfying, creatively rewarding project we've ever been involved with, and we'll happily continue for a good long while.

BF: The first issue shipped December 1st. Can you already offer fans of the book a bit of a glimpse at what is coming up in the next installment?

RM: As far as I know, issue #2 is due out next week (originally, the book was supposed to be on sale on Jan. 10, but the release got pushed back a week because of the Canadian printer being on a two-week holiday  -ed.). Shiro is in China, searching for the warlord who kidnapped his love, Yoshiko. He also happens to be the same warlord who took the head of Shiro's samurai lord for a trophy. So there's likely to be a fairly serious ... disagreement ... when the two of them meet up. I think everybody on the team, as well as the editor, Dave Land, feels like the second issue is even better than the first one. Hopefully the readers will have the same reaction.

- Frederik Hautain

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