Starting in October, the VIZ Kids imprint will be releasing original comics based on the hit Cartoon Network series,REDAKAI, in addition to books like VOLTRON FORCE, MAMESHIBA and MR. MEN. 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.
Today, it's Ray-Anthony Height.
ANIME VICE: What’s your role in this rather sizable endeavor?
RAY-ANTHONY HEIGHT: Write Height Media, the production company I co-founded with my wife Shayla, was given the task of producing some of the artwork for the project. My role is mainly Art Director for WHM and contact person.
AV: Nate Lovett, of course, is part of the Write Height Team and Aubrey Sitterson's the writer of these first stories. What's it been like working with them?
Nate has been my right-hand man practically from the beginning. There is no way we could have gotten the book done without him. I guess that’s why I made him Assistant Art Director at Write Height Media!
Aubrey’s script was a lot of fun to work with. I even giggled a few times reading it. He’s written a great adventure with cool new characters and some hilarious dialog while staying very true to the source material. Aside from being a great writer, he’s a super nice guy and great to chat with.
I don’t want to forget to mention the rest of the hardworking WHM crew that helped bring the entire thing together. Mickey Clausen, Paul John Little, Dwayne Biddix, and Matt Wieman all did a bang up job for volume 1 and the fans of REDAKAI will be in for quite a treat in October.
AV: What were you doing before the REDAKAI card was dealt to you?
RH: At the time REDAKAI came my way, I was mostly working for Marvel. I think I was finishing up FEAR ITSELF: FEARSOME FOUR then. I got the official word we snagged the gig at New York Comic Con last year. Though, in actuality, the seed was planted way before then. My friend and sometime inker Walden Wong actually set things up between VIZ editor Joel Enos and myself months prior.
AV: What did you enjoy most about illustrating the adventures of young Master Ky?
RH: It’s got to be the fact that I was working in a completely different style than I normally do. This was a full blown animated style as opposed to my fusion (American/Manga-esque) style. It was LOADS of fun and was quite freeing!
AV: Which players out of Team Stax and the various groups of E-Teens did you like drawing the most?
RH: All of Team Stax, really. Though, Maya is my favorite. I love drawing girls and when Maya uses her Kairu powers, it gives me a chance to do some cool stuff.
AV: Obviously, though this project’s being produced stateside, VIZ has a staggering catalog of imported manga. Are you an otaku?
RH: No doubt! I’ve been a huge fan of manga and anime since I was a teenager. So much so that my friends and I would raid the Japanese book stores to see who could discover the coolest manga. I’m sure the the store owners thought we were going to rob the place considering the fact we were a group of mostly black kids and one Chinese kid! HA!
It’s kind of funny, but none of us could even read a lick of Japanese and my best friend Chris, who actually introduced me to it all, could only understand a word or two back then. All we knew is that it was new, cool, and different from anything we had seen at our local comic shops.
AV: What are some of your favorite manga titles?
RH: Oh boy! Let me just give you the short list! (Plus, I will try not to name the obvious Shonen Jump stuff that VIZ already does because those are a given for most otaku, right?)
My top few are SOUL EATER by Atsushi Ōkubo, TENJHO TENGE by Ito Ōgure (A.K.A. OH! GREAT,) D. GRAY MAN by Katsura Hoshino, DOGS by Shirow Miwa, and OZN by Shiro Ohno. Last, but certainly not least is GO DA GUN by Masanori Ookamigumi Katakura (who is probably better known for his work on the manga KUROHIME.)
Did I prove my otaku street cred, yet? LOL!
AV: And then some. Now, have they had any influence on your art?
RH: Absolutely! Masanori Ookamigumi Katakura and OH! GREAT were serious influences on my work for years. I collected everything they did and studied the hell out of it. Used what I thought I could translate well into my American comics style, but I had to leave a lot of the fun stuff alone. American comic book readers really don’t like too much manga influence in their comics, ya’ know - - I learned that the hard way.
AV: The fact that you and your friends got so excited about that manga - - without knowing what any of the text meant - - probably speaks to the power of their visual storytelling. As somebody who's worked on superhero comics, devoured superheroic manga and is now currently illustrating a book about a very anime-inspired Western cartoon, what's your take on the similarities, differences and assorted connections of all these different traditions of entertainment?
RH: Well, I might get some flak for this, but I believe Japan respects the animated and manga (comic) parts of their entertainment industry more than the American market does. To them, it’s just another medium. It isn’t pigeon-holed for children like America sees the animation and comics parts of the entertainment industry.
Only recently has the mainstream superhero genre started to be taken a little more seriously thanks to Christopher Nolan, Jon Favreau, and Joss Whedon. Let’s face it. A movie like BLADE had to be snuck by the American public to be taken even remotely seriously. I don’t think it would have gotten as many sales had it been paraded as a “comic book” movie. Instead, BLADE was received widely as a vampire flick.
At least, that’s my opinion. Both the Avengers film and the Batman films were taken seriously at the production level before a single scene was shot, executed well, and stayed pretty close to the source material. Both are billion dollar franchises. It’s not rocket science. Don’t put nipples on the freakin’ batsuit!! Take it seriously and the audience will, too.
As far as similarities go between East and West, our current animation here in the states has started to wake up and get with the program of cutting edge, beautifully-rendered, and beautifully-told stories that aren’t specially geared towards kids. Shows like YOUNG JUSTICE, LEGEND OF KORRA, BOONDOCKS and the upcoming BLACK DYNAMITE are the cream of the crop and could actually stand toe-to-toe with some of the best anime TV shows out there in Japan now.
Giving credit where credit is due, a lot of these shows are being produced by Korean animators. So, props to them for if their very generous contribution to the American anime market. Also, the guys at Titmouse here in the states have been bringing the heat. So, there is hope that we will actually catch up to our brothers in the East.
AV: With the heroes and villains of REDAKAI all grouped into specific units, it's clear that teamwork's a big part of the story. On that note... care to comment on the infamous, rap-star-like entourage that follows you at conventions?
RH: HAHAHA!! Well, what can I say? I know a lot of people and for some crazy reason…they want to hang out with me at conventions. Truth be told, I hadn’t noticed it until a recent picture of me at the end of the Long Beach Comic Con surfaced where there was quite crowded table at the local CPK. It was fun and insane!
AV: Lastly, 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 Ray-Anthony Height experience? And what's this MIDNIGHT TIGER thing we've heard so much about?
RH: Since you asked so nicely, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter. As far as MIDNIGHT TIGER goes, it’s my creator-owned series that's that I plan to pitch to a specific publisher sometime soon. The elevator pitch…It’s SPIDER-MAN meets BLACK PANTHER, generously dipped in the NARUTO-esque “must become stronger” anime hero trope.
Get your attention, Anime Vice readers? GOOD!