Starting in October, VIZ will be releasing original comics based on the hit Cartoon Network series, REDAKAI. The anime-styled show follows a group of plucky kids, Team Stax, who are racing to find the all-powerful Kairu energy before it falls to the evil overlord Lokar and his minions, the E-Teens.
We’ve had the totally rad opportunity to chat with some of the writers and artists who’re bringing these adventures to print. Every day this week, we’ll be running an interview with these talents with some never-before-seen, exclusive art from the books.
First out of the gate comes Aubrey Sitterson…
ANIME VICE: What’s your role in this rather sizable endeavor? What were you doing before the REDAKAI card was dealt to you?
AUBREY SITTERSON: I'm one of a few different writers on the REDAKAI comics, with stories in volumes one and three of the series. I've actually been working in comics since 2005, when I first got hired as an editor at Marvel. More recently I edited KICK-ASS 2 at Icon/Marvel and have been concentrating more on my own writing, including work at Marvel, DC, Image and Oni Press, as well as some super-excited, not-yet-announced, say-anything-and-risk-the-wrath-of-mighty-editors new stuff.
AV: What have you enjoyed the most about handling these adventures of young Master Ky?
AS: Most of the comics work I've done in the past has been for older audiences, with varying degrees of violence, gore and not-so-kid-friendly language - editing books like THE WALKING DEAD, KICK-ASS 2, GHOST RIDER and PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL and writing work that while not NC-17-level, isn't necessarily something you'd want to hand to a kid. With REDAKAI, I've really loved the opportunity to get in there and rediscover my love for kid-friendly action entertainment, scripting big explosive fight scenes without having to make things dark, grim or gritty.
AV: Any players out of Team Stax and the various groups of E-Teens that you particularly like writing?
As for a favorite character, that's easy: Boomer. While Ky is the impulsive leader and Maya is the more reserved, mystical member of the team, Boomer exists in a kind of middle ground, neither fish nor fowl, which makes him a really interesting character to write. Hopefully some of that will come through in the writing, and fans will start loving the guy as much as I do.
AV: Appropriately enough, Nate Lovett said Boomer is his favorite character, too. You two have had a working relationship prior to this with your GEAR MONKEY comic. What's it been like working with him?
AS: I love Nate and his artwork and I'm so happy to be working with him on REDAKAI. We've known each other for a few years now, and have our first collaboration coming out this month as part of DOUBLE FEATURE FANTASY. It's really funny because Joel Enos, our editor on this project (who's also awesome, natch), approached both of us separately, not realizing we had worked together before. Nate brings a fantastic eye for gesture and character acting to the project, and we're lucky to have him on board.
AV: Obviously, though this project’s being produced stateside, VIZ has a staggering catalog of imported manga. Are you an otaku? What are some of your favorite manga titles?
AS: I'm so excited to be working with VIZ, the home of some of the most recognizable and beloved manga titles out there. While I wouldn't necessarily classify myself as an otaku, I definitely have an affinity for manga. Like a lot of American comics readers, I go nuts for AKIRA and LONE WOLF & CUB, but my tastes also go a little further afield, as I love anything that Junko Mizuno does and am slowly making my way through Osamu Tezuka's immense catalog. I also have a soft spot for BOBOBO-BO BO-BOBO, largely because of the way it spoofs and satirizes classic shonen manga titles like DRAGONBALL Z, which also just happens to be one of my favorite television shows of all time.
AV: And have these titles had any influence on your work?
While getting ready to write REDAKAI I, of course, spent a lot of time watching the television series, and thinking back to some of my favorite eras of DBZ, but I also spent a lot of time with NARUTO and ONE PIECE, trying to nail down the ways that those series approaching pacing and characterization and how it differs from western comics. I didn't want my REDAKAI work to read like a filthy gaijin doing a manga pastiche, so there's definitely a western feel to a lot of the pacing, but I also managed to work in more than a few manga-esque elements and moments.
AV: Once you confess to having a soft spot for BOBOBO-BO BO-BOBO and a love for Junko, you certainly qualify as an otaku. Considering your experience as an editor, what's your take on the similarities and differences of the American and Japanese comics industries?
AS: Hah! Yeah, while I don't spend a lot of time with the "Big Three," I do like to consider myself conversant in manga styles, tropes and trends. It'd require a series of essays to really do a deep dive into the differences between American and Japanese comics, but I think there are (obviously) pretty substantial ones. Outside of stylistic quirks, which don't really amount to much of anything of consequence, I think one of the largest differences is in terms of pacing. Manga, especially shonen manga, isn't afraid of giving readers panel after panel of action, and letting the fans fill in what happens in between. Meanwhile, American comics, by and large, have embraced a more deliberate, slow-building pace, where everything is explained and moments of big action get prefaced with some serious build.
A lot of that can be chalked up to how most manga is produced: A chapter a week, by a team of artists. While American comics creators just need their work to operate in 22page chunks, and whatever size the eventual collected version will be, manga creators have to make sure their comics work in much smaller piees, which necessitates a kind of truncation of certain storytelling elements.
AV: Do the "Big Two" of Marvel and DC have more in common with the "Big Three" of BLEACH, ONE PIECE and NARUTO than meets the eye?
AS: I think that the biggest similarity is in terms of the establishment of a house style. Of course, BLEACH, NARUTO and ONE PIECE (especially ONE PIECE) all look different from one another, but they still feel very much of a piece, reactions to and comments on a particular style. Similarly, comics at Marvel and DC, to varying degrees, all riff off the work of an amalgamation of certain foundational artists, and it’s the way that they differ, exaggerating some stylistic elements and downplaying others that make them interesting.
AV: You probably had to do plenty of hands-on research before writing this book. Be honest, now - - how well would you fare against an eight-year-old in a REDAKAI card game, now?
AS: I spent a lot of time watching the REDAKAI series, pouring over monster and power lists and inspecting cards, but speaking truthfully, there's no way that an experienced eight-year-old player wouldn't completely eat my lunch. That said, if we were to go a round of, oh say, Magic: The Gathering, circa Revised Edition and/or Ice Age, it'd be a very different story.
AV: Another REDAKAI writer moonlights as a pro-wrestler, and you've also worked with the WWE, so there's plenty of "kayfabe" running within REDAKAI. Obviously, pro-wrestling has much in common with superhero comics and fight shonen - - villains doing "face turns," cutting promos on foes, etc. The skirmishes between Team Stax and the E-Teens even seem like old school SURVIVOR SERIES tag matches.
So, what's your take on the unifying storytelling principles that connect these three areas of entertainment - - the tripled-sized heavyweight championship belt tied around all their waists, as it were?
AS: I've never had the pleasure of seeing Terrance "Spiderbaby" Griep wrestle in person, but I'm absolutely delighted to be sharing the REDAKAI card with an actual worker like him.
An embarrassingly large part of my life is spent babbling and proselytizing in the name of both comics and wrestling, because you're right, the two have an immense amount in common, even outside of the whole "Heavily muscled dudes in power fantasy-based soap opera morality plays" thing. Face-turns in DBZ are a great example - Vegeta's still stands as one of my all-time favorites, right up there with Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII.
I think the similarities between wrestling, superhero comics and shonen manga owe a lot to their serialized nature and the fact that these are stories that go on for the most part, indefinitely. At the same time as you are resolving one conflict, you have to be setting up a half dozen more, or else risk treading water for a few episodes, chapters or issues trying to establish up new plot elements.
That wasn't as big a concern with REDAKAI, as each of the installments is self-contained, but it was still something to be aware of, as we had to make sure that things fit comfortably within the established and growing continuity of the animated series. Whenever you have long-running stories -- even if you're only dealing with a piece of it -- it's always a challenge to find ways to have characters grow and progress, without losing sight of what makes them compelling in the first place, and that holds true of pretty much any form of entertainment.
AV: Say these books, or even this interview, get some readers curious to check out more of your work. Where can they get the rest of the Aubrey Sitterson experience?
AS: The best place to find me is on the appropriately named aubreysitterson.com - anything of import (mostly comics and wrestling related, natch) shows up there, and also gets pushed to the moon over on my Twitter feed. Come find me and lets talk about comics and wrestling! Or video games! I also know video games.