Anime Vice News

Anime Inspires Comics :: the THANATOS DIVER Interview

Former staff writers Nick Tapalansky and Alex Eckman-Lawn are OTAKU COMING HOME again, telling us all about their new, manga-esque adventure comic -- which Anime Vice actually inspired!

You lunatics might remember Nick Tapalansky and Alex Eckman-Lawn. They're creators I know from the American comics scene, and are both heavily influenced by anime and manga.

For a while, they were writing OTAKU COMING HOME here, an editorial series detailing their travails as Eastern-inspired fans/artists. Nick would share how SAILOR MOON molded him as a boy and FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST rescued his fandom, then Alex would pen odes to maverick anime director, Satoshi Kon, and stress how otaku must appreciate animation style more. It was solid perspective every week.

Eventually, they had to move on and focus on their comics more. Touchingly enough, though, their time at Anime Vice shaped this new work. Writing about their anime/manga influences -- and interacting with the passionate otaku in our commuity -- actually put Nick and Alex in even closer touch with those influences. So here's... THANATOS DIVER.

I've been following the development of this book since the first sketches, and the final product reads like a perfect distillation of ZELDA and GARGANTIA, by way of Ghibli. An awesome read for anybody who's wanted to see Japanese-style fantasia coming out from this side of the Pacific.

The first issue's coming out soon, so I figured it was a good time to call these otaku home again for a chat about this comic that Anime Vice created, in part...

Nick Tapalansky
Nick Tapalansky

ANIME VICE: So what exactly is THANATOS DIVER about?

ALEX ECKMAN-LAWN: Might as well go with the official synopsis...

NICK TAPALANSKY: Samantha is bored out of her skull. She lives on an island, her entire world is covered in ocean, and she's explored pretty much every crusty corner of the sunken city that surrounds her home.

She's just about accepted a tedious, excitement-free life when a contest with a rival diver sends her deep into the sunken city's forbidden zone, where she discovers a pathway to a world more exciting, and more dangerous, than anything she’d ever imagined -- one full of uncharted lands, mysterious creatures, and the mythical Thanatos Diver who, depending on the teller, is rumored to either save both worlds or destroy them..

AE: How about that?

Alex Eckman-Lawn
Alex Eckman-Lawn

AV: How many of your OTAKU COMING HOME influences went into the DNA of THANATOS DIVER?

AE: I discovered anime and manga at a really young age, so I had the distinct pleasure of growing up with things like RANMA 1/2, DRAGON BALL, AKIRA and NAUSICAA, among many others. Some of my fondest memories of comics, and illustrative art in general, is from those early days discovering manga and anime. So now finally I have a chance to really embrace that stuff and make something that 12-year-old Alex would have lost his mind over!

NT: I think our actual mission statement when we started working on the book was that, no matter what, it had to be fun for us first. It just turns out that we’re still twelve, because this stuff is still what we think about when we want to have a good time making things up! Alex mentioned NAUSICAA, but just that Ghibli feeling in general, that fantastic sense of another vibrant world, was something we were definitely inspired by.

Ditto on DRAGON BALL, especially the pre-Z days, when anything could happen and humor was right up front with the action. It’s been so long since we first discovered this stuff, but I think we might even love it more now as adults than we did as kids.

AE: So yeah, the influence of anime, manga and video games of our youth, and young adult-hood is ALL OVER this book! We want to make something that captures the amazing feel of the stuff we grew up loving.

AV: Alex, you mentioned video games as an influence, too. I definitely picked up a ZELDA vibe, and just a general undertone of those halcyon days of Super Nintendo and early PSX/Saturn JRPGs. What games were your favorites back then, and which ones are lurking in the fundaments of this book?

AE: Oh man. this is an awesome question.

NT: Pretty much the best question.

AE: ZELDA is definitely in there, but there are so many others as well! I loved the SHINING FORCE games, PANZER DRAGOON, FINAL FANTASY, of course, and you'll find nods to these classics in the book if you look closely enough! I also found out in the last few years that Moebius did designs for the early PANZER DRAGOON games. That explains a lot about why I am the way I am.

And... CASTLEVANIA!

NT: WHAT?!

AE: No good?

NT: No, I just meant the CASTLEVANIA thing. Where do you see THAT in the book?

AE: Oh, no. I just remembered CASTLEVANIA is awesome. Remember SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT!? Oh my God, that game.

NT: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT ruled my summer the year it came out. Inverted castle rocked my world so hard.

AV: And what about you, Nick? You mentioned ZELDA.

NT: Yeah, all those old ZELDAs, especially A LINK TO THE PAST (though it’s impossible to ignore WIND WAKER’s mark here, too), are definitely in play.

I was a huge nerd and loved classic Square games like SECRET OF MANA and CHRONO CROSS, the latter of which I just played through again a couple of years ago and it still really holds up. And then there was LUNAR. Oh, LUNAR. That was my first solitary RPG playthrough at nine years old, and it was the original Sega CD version. It stuck with me so hard that I imported every Saturn and PSX version that they put out and played through them with a printed FAQ next to me.

I don’t think there are too many specific elements in the story that parallel any one piece from these games (though there’s plenty of Easter Eggs, so eyes peeled fellow nerds!), I think we’ve both loved these things for so long, and gone back to them so often, that it’s impossible for them NOT to start bleeding through here.

AE: I'm making my girlfriend play through PANZER DRAGOON SAGA with me and it's probably the most emotional experience I’ve had in an adult relationship. No idea why she puts up with me.

NT: That’s hysterical. I’m replaying LUNAR with my wife right now, which she’s never played. I swear we didn’t plan this, but we are indoctrinating others daily (though to be fair, she indoctrinated me to FINAL FANTASY VII, which I brazenly ignored in my younger days in favor of WILD ARMS for some reason that was almost certainly related to the snazzy opening and theme song).

AV: So let’s talk about the book for a few minutes. What’s going on with Sam when we first meet her?

NT: Sam’s bored pretty much out of her skull when the story kicks off.

Every day is pretty much the same routine: go diving for salvage (and maybe some hidden treasure) in the sunken city beneath Cervaile, her island home, sort the haul with her dad at their shop, and deliver orders to islanders who’re waiting for stuff.

What she wants is some excitement! Some adventure!

And she gets a bit of that when her rival, Jade, challenges her to a salvage contest - first one back with the most valuable haul wins! Of course Sam thinks she’s got it locked down, but Jade has some... Strategies that Sam might not be expecting.

AE: Determined to find some excitement and show Jade up, Sam heads for the forbidden zone, deep in the heart of the sunken city. What she stumbles upon changes everything for her, and starts her on a whole new adventure that she never expected, including a run-in with our eponymous Diver.

AV: Just who is the “Thanatos Diver,” exactly? He only makes a brief appearance in this chapter, but obviously holds greater significance to the story.

AE: I don't know if we want to answer that just yet - we wouldn't want to give anything away!

The Thanatos Diver is one of the big mysteries introduced in this first chapter. How he fits into Sam's world and her current adventure is one of my favorite things about this book, and I’m really excited to get to it!

Unfortunately, you'll just have to keep reading to find out more.

NT: Yeah, the Diver is someone we have TONS of plans for (which is probably obvious from the title of the book).

What we can tell you now is that there’s a lot of stories out there about the guy, and some of them say that seeing him is a really great thing, while others... not so much.

AE: Sorry for the big fat tease of an answer. I really can't wait until it's all revealed and we can get into the really intense surprises that Nick and I have planned for future volumes!

AV: So I noticed the map of Cervaile Island on the back cover (which, again, evoked that great SNES RPG vibe). Will readers get a chance to explore all of Cervaile Island? Where else will Sam’s adventures take her?

AE: That and so much more!

Without giving anything away, lets say Sam's world really opens up over the course of this first chapter.

NT: Totally! Sam would be the first one to tell you that Cervaile isn’t a very big or exciting place (though it definitely has its secrets that she’ll have to uncover one day), and we’ll see a lot of the island in this first story arc. What she finds beyond that, though, are some astonishing places she couldn’t have ever imagined.

AE: She'll be exploring tons of new and uncharted territory, both at home and in distant foreign places that people haven’t seen in centuries.

And, of course. there's treasure to be found everywhere!

NT: Let’s just say that there are a lot more maps to come -- in fact, the back cover of issues 2-5 assemble to form one giant map, so as Sam explores readers can too!

AV: So where can Anime Vicers find out more about the book, and when can they get their hands on the first issue?

NT: Anyone who wants to nerd out with us can find the book on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Alex and I both have our own homes on those services too, so people can totally hit us up there as well.

The first issue is already solicited for a November release and was even Certified Cool by Previews (the catalog that comic shops order from) which is awesome. Of course, just because it was solicited doesn’t mean shops have to order it -- you have to make sure they know you want it!

So we created this handy pre-order form that you can print up, throw your name on, and bring to your local comic shop to make sure you get a copy of the first issue, and everything that comes after (if you want).

And if digital's your game, it’ll also be available for download on the day of release, November 19th, through for all you technophiles who like to do your reading online.

AV: Well, thanks for coming home, fellas. Looking forward to the rest of this series.

AE: Thanks for having us, Tom! It's good to be back on the Anime Vice wagon.

And it'd be seriously awesome to hear from you guys about your favorite old school games, anime, etc, so feel free to hit us up on any of those websites or in the comments down below!

Destinyheroknighton Aug. 28, 2014 at 5:58 p.m.

Look interesting, I think I'll check it out

NickTapalansky staff on Aug. 28, 2014 at 6:44 p.m.

@Destinyheroknight: Thanks, man! Much appreciated.

takashichea moderator on Aug. 28, 2014 at 8:18 p.m.

Samantha's design reminds me of Cyborg 009 which I never had a chance to finish the series. The whole premise reminds me of Dragon Ball and One Piece with their emphasis on world exploration. I definitely got a good glimpse of the anime series influencing this comic book series.

What inspires you to design Samantha? I had Zelda in my mind when I read.

I'll give it a try. I haven't read a lot of comic books, so I call myself a new fan to the world of comics.

NickTapalansky staff on Aug. 29, 2014 at 7:51 a.m.

@takashichea: There is DEFINITELY that Dragon Ball/One Piece concept in there for sure. We want this to be a world everyone spends time in. We have some really cool plans for the main story, but we've left plenty of room to see the sights and hit on some "side quests," you know?

I think Alex can speak more to her physical design, but I can definitely see a bit of Zelda in her physically and in terms of personality (especially Wind Waker). When it came to getting to know her as a character for me as a writer, she really is a mix of people in my life: my wife, one of my best friends, and sort of how I imagine my due-any-day-now daughter growing up (uh-oh).

AlexEL staff on Aug. 29, 2014 at 8:02 a.m.

@takashichea: the look of the Zelda series for sure played a part in Samanatha's design. Cyborg 009 wasn't really on my mind, but now that you mention it i do actually see what you're saying! They use a lot of bold colors, limited color pallettes and they all have scarves etc.

I am a big fan of more reserved designs that feel a little more realistic. Nausicaa is a great example of that, or Now and Then Here and There. And of course a bit of oldschool Dragonball is undeniable.

Really glad you're thinking of taking the plunge into comics! I'd like to think Thanatos Diver could be a great place to start.

takashichea moderator on Aug. 29, 2014 at 3:52 p.m.

@NickTapalansky:

I see. That's a nice blend for Samantha and quite endearing. I might play the Wind Waker music in my head when I read this.

@AlexEL:

Cyborg 009 just pop in my head when I saw the promo art before I start reading the article to find more what you guys had used as inspiration for the comics. I was still looking a series or a franchise to start diving into comics. There are so much to see. I don't know where to start due to the confusing universe and canon things I see in Marvel and DC. I never look around obscure and minor comic series. I definitely try this one since it's more familiar territory, being influenced by anime, manga, and video games.

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