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Blade for Barter: 20 Questions with the Creators

Name: Jason DeAngelis
Birthplace: Philadelphia
Zodiac Sign: Scorpio
Bloodtype: Unknown
Likes: Japanese hot springs, my cat snoring
Dislikes: Fat people who stomp on hardwood floors in the apartment above
Favorite Color: Dark blue
Favorite Manga: Berserk, One Piece, Lone Wolf and Cub
Favorite Food: Curry rice
Least-Favorite Food: Canned tuna fish
Hobby: My ray gun collection, Tango dancing
Special Talent: Telling jokes to Japanese salarymen

Tell us a little bit about Blade for Barter.

The place is New Edo, a massive city-state that's like a blend between feudal Japan and modern day New York City. New Edo is ruled under the iron fist of Lord Hoseki, a narcissistic dictator who wallows in wealth in his palace while the rest of the population lives in squalor. The samurai used to be the highest ideal, but now they have fallen on hard times. Between the corrupt Samurai Union and the sleazy packs of ronin who roam the streets, the ancient code of Bushido has all but disappeared.

Enter Ryusuke Washington, a young, impoverished samurai-for-hire, who, along with his loyal dog Hachiko, struggles to walk the straight and narrow path in a world gone mad.

Is there a character in Blade for Barter that you particularly relate to? Who and why?

I relate most to Ryusuke. Like me, he's an individualist to the core, and an idealist. He always struggles to do what's right, based on his own standards, not the group's. He's an outsider too, and though he's young, he's something of a dinosaur, and follows an old code of ethics that people scarcely remember. I'm kind of the same way.

"Hachiko" sounds familiar... Is Ryusuke's dog inspired by something?

You bet! Hachiko, otherwise known in Japanese as "chuken hachiko" ("loyal dog Hachiko") comes from a very touching and true story:

In 1925 Japan, an Akita dog named Hachiko accompanied his master, a university professor, to the train station everyday, to see him off to work. Everyday after work, the professor would return to the same place, and loyal Hachiko would be there wagging his tail, overjoyed to see his master. One day, the professor had a stroke and died at work, never returning to the train station where he left his dog. Hachiko waited and waited, to no avail. He'd go home in the evenings, only to return to the station the next morning, waiting all day for his master's return. This pattern continued for the next 10 years, when in 1935, Hachiko passed away on the same spot where he continually waited and waited. As a memorial to Loyal Dog Hachiko, a statue was erected there, and remains to this very day. The station is Shibuya Station, in Tokyo.

There's a lot of East-West fusion in Blade for Barter, from the gumshoe/Samurai protagonist to the "Mafuza" thugs. Did you ever find yourself thinking "This is too American," or "this is too Japanese" in the course of creating the manga? What was the biggest challenge of blending the two worlds?

I never thought of making it more Japanese or more American. The whole premise itself is that of a world that completely blends the two cultures. I actually first conceived of Blade for Barter when I was walking through a shopping mall in Southern California. I saw a Japanese girl walk by who had the whitest porcelain skin, and looked like she'd stepped straight out of a Japanese woodblock print. She had that classic Japanese look, and could have easily been mistaken for a geisha, save for her modern, hip clothes. And suddenly it hit me! What if the whole mall were populated with geisha in mini skirts with designer bags and samurai in running shoes? And indeed, what if the whole city were like that?! What if the Yakuza met the Mafia (=Mafuza) and Sumo met football (=Fatball)? And from there, the rest fell into place.

Much of Blade for Barter's appeal stems from the visual humor. When you were writing the script, how much did you plan out the sight gags and how much came directly from the artist?

Well, it's very much a collaboration between me and Hai. The process starts with the script, which I write in screenplay format. I believe that screenplays lend themselves perfectly to manga, which I believe is an inherently cinematic form of storytelling. So, it's not as hard as you might think to script sight gags for manga. It's just like writing a movie.

After the script goes to Hai, he's free to interpret it his own way. The dialogue and situations as I write them usually remain, but Hai always enhances the scene, by adding hilarious and often brilliant little details I never would have thought of. Also, we'll often bounce ideas back and forth by instant message, making a scene funnier and funnier, until we're both laughing ourselves silly, in front of our keyboards.

The series must have evolved a lot over the course of its creation. What are some of the biggest changes in the final work from what you first imagined when writing the script?

Well, in the early version of Blade for Barter, both Ryusuke and Hachiko were adults. They were still cute, but they were a lot more serious than they are now, and even grim. My initial concept was that the rest of the world was crazy, and only they were sane. They sort of resembled classic manga characters in the Tezuka style, and were a bit old-fashioned. They were film noir meets Astro Boy.

It wasn't until many months later that we decided to make the heroes much younger, and funnier. Hai was a little resistant at first, because he'd grown so attached to the old versions, but he agreed that the younger Ryusuke and Hachiko added a greater element of fun to the story. Plus, he enjoyed drawing them young! Also, Hai and I agreed that the characters will grow up over the course of the series, and we'll get to return to the adult Ryusuke and Hachiko later on, better than ever.

Blade for Barter is steeped in Japanese traditions. As an American writer, how did you create a world so distinctly Japanese?

I lived in Japan for six years, and learned a thing or two about their culture. I lived in Tokyo for three years, and then in the mountains of Akita for another three years, where I studied martial arts intensively under a Karate master. I lived in an old house with a peaked roof, with a pond and a garden, surrounded by rice fields. I also studied Japanese calligraphy, the bamboo flute, Japanese swordsmanship, and of course I read manga diligently - in Japanese. Maybe the world of Blade for Barter is what the inside of my brain actually looks like - a mish mosh of East meets West.

As someone who's lived in Japan and written and translated manga in America, you must have read a lot of manga over the years. Can you tell us a few of your favorite series?

Well, I majored in Japanese in college, and during that time, I took it upon myself to read the first 30 volumes of Dragon Ball in Japanese. It was the first manga I ever read, and I still consider it my "first love." At the time, it took me hours to finish reading a single page, with dictionary in hand, looking up every word. When I moved to Japan after college, I found a hidden treasure in a used bookstore: the entire series of Lone Wolf and Cub in these gorgeous old, oversized editions! It took me six months to finish reading them. After that experience, I could read just about anything in Japanese without a dictionary. And manga became part of my daily life, like white rice and scalding hot baths.

Until recently I was a snob about manga - I refused to read translated ones in English. I would only read them in the original Japanese. I'm fully aware of the irony of this, considering my current situation. Anyway, I adore the entire Berserk series. And right now, I'm reading Genshiken, which is fantastic.

Can we look forward to some big action scenes in the upcoming chapters?

Yep! Those swords that he wears on his hip aren't for toasting marshmallows.

How about romance? Does Ryusuke get a girlfriend?

He sure does! Princess Lapis Lazul, the beautiful, narcoleptic daughter of Lord Hoseki. Ryu and Lapis fall in love, but like Romeo and Juliet, powerful forces struggle to keep them apart. But that storyline won't get started until Volume 2, when Ryusuke is ordered to commit seppuku (Hai - am I giving too much away?)

Name: HAI
Birthplace: My hobbit hole
Zodiac Sign: Aquarius
Bloodtype: Last time I checked it was A. But it keeps changing.
Likes: Cute superdeformed anime characters, my drawing table, indie comics
Dislikes: Empty wallet, snobs
Favorite Color: Pikachu Yellow
Favorite Manga: One Piece, Dragon Ball, Hunter X Hunter, anything by Hayao Miyazaki
Favorite Food: Spicy Spaghetti
Least-Favorite Food: Icky veggies! Yuck!
Hobby: Making my own webcomics and stories
Special Talent: the ability to wake up only to eat

Tell us, Hai, Blade for Barter is such a visual series, the story and characters wouldn't be the same without your unique style. How much of collaboration was it creating the series?

It was rather difficult when we started out a year ago because Jason wanted to use a particular style that I have never used and liked before (Fortunately, he managed to change my shortsighted views by sending me some incredible teenage manga).

One of the best things that I enjoy in making this title is the fact that Jason allows me to exercise my own artistic interpretation to his story. Using his idea as a guide, we came up with the character designs and overall atmosphere of the story together. It is truly a wonderful collaboration.

The art style is quite unique--I see influences from both Japan and the West. Are there any artists who you particularly admire and have inspired you in creating your own work?

As anyone would notice at first glance, Blade for Barter is very much inspired by the One Piece manga. I wasn't really a big fan of the Shonen-jump type of manga when we first started out with this project, but in time I became really impressed with the works of Eiichiro Oda and Akira Toriyama. They are now two of my most favorite manga artists. One of my favorite western artists is Sergio Aragones whose work in the amazingly funny Groo series inspired much of the crowd scenes in Blade for Barter.

I am also deeply obsessed by the works of Hayao Miyazaka and anything Ghibli.

Your characters designs have so much personality! Which one is the hardest to draw and why?

Hachiko! Because I really don't know how to draw animals! Really!

The crowd scenes in Blade for Barter are so full of sight gags and little details. How long does it take you to draw one of those two-page spread crowd scenes?

It usually takes me from 3 days to a week to draw a two-page spread depending on the amount of detail I want to include. I really like doing the crowd scenes so I hardly notice how long it takes me to do one.

Do you work with any assistants on Blade for Barter? If so, how do they contribute to the work?

Unless you count my imaginary friends, I do all the artwork for Blade for Barter myself. My imaginary friends don't do much work but they're there to keep me company. However, due to time constraints, we have opted to hire an amazing letterer to do the lettering and sfx work.

Can you describe for us your work environment? Do you have any favorite drawing tools? Do you listen to music while you work?

I usually start work late in the evening when it's cold and silent. My working hours start from 12 am until 9-10 am. I usually sleep the entire day and wake up late in the afternoon. I really have no social life whatsoever!

I'll have to say that my most favorite drawing tool is my cheap 3"x3" drawing tablet and my broken-down pc-clone. I think I'm the only person left in the world still using a Pentium III 733mhz computer. I also love my drawing table and chair.

I usually listen to anime theme songs to get into the right mood. A couple of my current favorites include "Bon Voyage" from One Piece and "Beyond the Bounds" from Zone of the Enders. I really like to listen to upbeat music when I'm working.

When you're not busy drawing manga, what are your other interests and hobbies?

I write children's fiction and my first children's book came out last August. I also maintain my own alternative manga site (www.homanga.net) where I post my original works from time to time. Aside from writing and drawing, I don't think I have any other interests and hobbies. I'm either writing or drawing. Oh, I'm a big fan of sleeping too. Did I mention that I really don't have a social life?

What were you working on before you started drawing Blade for Barter?

I was finishing work on several contributions for various comic anthologies when Jason contacted me in mid-2003. I think Jason saw my work first in www.wirepop.com where I have my own little series called Automatic. Jason practically saved me from going broke and panhandling in the streets.

Blade for Barter volume 1 goes on sale in February. Do you have any hopes for the series after the book is releases? (Animation, publication in other languages, games, stuff like that)

As the artist of the book, I hope that the readers will enjoy the story and continue to support the book. Having the readers laugh out loud at the work that we have done on Blade for Barter is the greatest reward I can hope for. Everything else will be just icing. I really would like to see a Hachiko plushie though.

What advice do you have for aspiring manga creators around the world?

I'm sure everybody must have heard this by now but please don't give up on your dreams. Always believe in yourself and in your abilities no matter what other people say. Only you can make your dreams a reality so work hard and enjoy what you are doing! Cheers!

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