Blazedent recently had chance to chat with artist Dan Hipp via e-mail about his latest project, Gayakushu! What followed was an interview that touched on everything from his hit Image series The Amazing Joy Buzzards to aquatic sports. Behold, one of the most interesting Blazedent interview to date. Enjoy!
BlazedEnt (BE): Dan, I have just recently read Gyakushu! vol. 1 and I must say, it was great! What has the overall response been like for the book?"
Dan Hipp (DH): From what I can tell, it's been pretty grand. I was a little weirded out at first because all the reviews were really positive, and I just generally don't trust things that everybody loves. But then, I saw a negative review and it felt like I'd finally arrived. HIGH FIVES!!!
BE: How did you first come up with the idea for the book?
DH: The book is basically an amalgam of a ton of the things I love and have always wanted to put in a story: a world of ice, a bandaged man with no name, swords, blood, REVENGE! I'm sure I could put together a composite list of the movies and stories that I'm paying massive homage to. From The Empire Strikes Back to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, [it's] a giant nod to all my influences.
BE: For those who have not read it yet (and should), can you describe the overall plot of the story?
DH: The story is set up as your "seemingly" basic revenge saga, and for the first volume it more or less plays out as such. We follow a thief, who stole something precious from the wrong person and ends up paying a heavy price for it. The twist is that it's told out of sequence, with a heavy dose of flashbacks, ala LOST. So in a lot of ways it's a story you've heard before. The trick for me was to try and tell it in a new way. With that in mind, the story is set on a world of ice and snow, and the tone falls somewhere between a samurai tale and a spaghetti western, with plenty of sword play, decapitation and general mayhem. HOORAY!
But if all that was confusing, it basically comes down to: Thief steals from bad man. Bad man take everything from thief. Thief want REVENGE!!! However, if you've read the second volume, out now, you'll see that there are a few more layers than that.
BE: What can we expect from volume 2?
DH: Volume two is out now, so go get it! In terms of what to expect, let's just say that The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie, so I LOVE the middle chapter of a trilogy. You get to flip things a bit on their ear and play off of the expectations set up by the first volume. So hopefully I did that a bit. Regardless, [This book has] the best action sequence I've ever drawn, the best characters I've ever designed, the most entertainingly sadistic death scene I've ever drawn, and some radtastical twists. It was a lot of fun to put together.
BE: Is there a planned ending for this book or are you just playing by ear?
DH: As I write this, the third volume is entirely scripted, thumbnailed, and being worked on, so there is indeed a planned ending. That said, I knew from the beginning where everything was more or less going. I certainly left a few doors open, because I think a lot of great ideas come during the production of the book, but I definitely had a plan, as you'll see in the second volume and everything it's setting up for the third.
BE: I read on your blog about how you went to Italy to promote the book. What was that like? Did you get the rock star treatment?
DH: Italy was amazing. It was a bizarro experience to begin with, because prior to the trip, I'd been up for two days straight finishing Vol. 2 of GYAKUSHU!. I literally sent the last pages in a few minutes before I walked out the door at 4 in the morning to drive to the airport and take a ridiculously long flight to Milan, which naturally you don't get much sleep on. Then right away, I was whisked off to do a radio interview and a store signing.
Totally bizarro introduction to Italy, but incredible. The trip was a week long and I was treated fantastically by my hosts at Renoir Comics. The whole thing ended at the coolest convention I'd ever been to in Lucca (northern Italy). Picture Comic Con, but in this medieval, stone town, surrounded by a giant wall. You had to park outside the town and walk in. It was crazy, but the best! Probably the closest I've been to rockstardom at this point in my life.
BE: You flexed your writing muscle for this project. Do you plan to do more writing once you are finished with Gyakushu?
DH: I'll certainly do more writing for myself. I was lucky to start my comic career with Mark Smith (writer on Amazing Joy Buzzards), because he was really open to new ideas and letting me flex my story-telling chops on the book. That was a great set up for GYAKUSHU! and now it's hard to picture working any other way. Of course, I WILL work on other books as just an artist, but writing is a lot of fun. I think that most working artists out there are pretty great writers too, they just don't always choose to flex that muscle, or know that they can.
BE: How did you get into drawing?
DH: I'm one of those kids who was talented at drawing, but it wasn't until I started reading comic books, in fourth grade maybe, that I felt like I had a reason to actually draw. Towards the end of high school, I started to lose interest in comic books and moved more towards film. It wasn't until I'd been in college for a few years that I realized that making comic books was basically like making your own little movie, but you get to control every aspect.
I love what the Wachowski Brothers said in the introduction to Doc Frankenstein, how in their eyes comics are the superior medium because not only is anything possible, but you can control every aspect of the production. You're not cutting corners in the way that you might on a set, or making compromises. I'm probably ruining the quote, but there you go.
BE: What is the best thing, in your opinion, about being a comic artist?
DH: I'll just piggyback on what I was already saying. The best thing is that I get to sit at home everyday and create my own world. Now, that sounds terribly unhealthy in the wrong context, and I recommend to any up and comers to make sure they have some kind of daily distraction that gets them out of the house, but hopefully you get the point.
I get to make my own little stories everyday. I control the lighting, the dialogue, the editing, whatever. It's not always easy, and like all things, work is work, but it's still the most fun thing I've ever done.
BE: If you were not an artist, what would you be doing for a living?"
DH: I sort of randomly ended up teaching art a few years ago and it gave me the teaching bug. I never would have guessed it, but I love teaching. It'd be pretty great to say I'd be a director, or whatever, but teaching is awesome. I would guess that someday, somewhere, I'll end up doing it again. But there are too many stories to tell now.
BE: You draw a pretty mean zombie. Any projects lined up in the future where you can stretch your zombie-drawing muscle?
DH: Nothing is lined up at the moment, but do I have my zombie epic? ABSOLUTELY! I'm sure the time will come to flex that muscle, and I love me a zombie like a zombie loves brains, but there are no announced projects..he said as he twisted his moustache..
BE: I heard a new Joy Buzzards book is coming out soon. When is that coming out and what can fans look foward to in this new chapter?
DH: Right now it looks like the new AJB book will be out this fall. It's going to be pretty great. Lots of monsters, lots of spies, lots of ROCKIN'! It's one of the projects I'm working on now, and it's been way too much fun to draw. I didn't realize how much I missed the band until I started drawing them again. So be on the look out, loyal buzzard-heads! MONSTER LOVE IS COMING!!!
In the meantime, the first AJB trade is out of print, so I've put together a remastered edition of the first two volumes and we're soliciting it as the definitive VOLUME ONE of The Amazing Joy Buzzards. When the new volume comes out this fall, it will be the new Volume TWO.
BE: As an artist, what is the best advice someone has ever given to you?
DH:"We already have a Mike Mignola," Which came from Scott Allie at San Diego Comic Con like five years ago. I doubt it's the best piece of advice I've ever gotten, but it was good at the time.
Back in the day, I was one of the many Mignola clones. So I hijacked Scott Allie at the Dark Horse booth and showed him my portfolio, since I had showed it to Mignola already and he was sweet (peach of a man I tell you). That led to the aforementioned quote, which was a kick to the head. A year later I was being published at IMAGE with The Amazing Joy Buzzards. You can still see some of the Mignola though.
BE: While doing research on you and your work, water polo was something that came up a lot. Why such love for this aquatic sport?
DH: Well,he said as he threw his humbleness aside, it turns out it's something I'm good at. I went to college to get an art degree, but I ended up majoring in water polo. I became the ever-elusive nerd-jock. It was strange, but fantastic. I ended college as an All-American and spent a few months with the National Team before I remembered that I also got an art degree and I was heading in the wrong direction with my life.
So now, I coach at the local high school to get out of the house, and I'll cheer my sister on when she's playing in China (she's a goalie on the Women's National Team).
BE: Okay, final two questions. Name 3 things you cannot live without.
My lady, My James Bond DVD collection (unless you were going to take the Pierce Brosnan ones out Or the last Timothy Dalton one. In fact, just take everything after The Living Daylights. But don't you DARE touch my Daniel Craig!), and Water. I mean, think about it, it's true for everyone! But I will go crazy if I spend more than a month out of a pool. CRAZY I TELL YOU!!!
BE: Name 3 guilty pleasures you would think twice about admitting to.
DH: N64 MarioKart (which I'm only listing because now, not only will I be challenged on the street by someone, but I'll have to embarrass them to a ridiculous degree with my skills!), My love for awesome, but kind of bad, but also TOTALLY AWESOME movies that I have and watch too much of (see The Warriors, Escape From New York, Mad Max Beyond ThunderDome, The Quick and the Dead (Crowe, Hackman, Dicaprio version)) and Nestle Tollhouse homemade cookies. I've recently discovered I'm a COOKIE MONSTER, so it's back to the pool for me.
Thank for that wickedly entertaining interview. Gyakushu! is in stores now. For more information on Dan and his daily activities, go to mrhipp.com
- James Chan