Most people associate Oni Press with Scott Pilgrim, or Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country. But as an innovative independent publisher they continually release new products. In November they released the Orphan Blade, an original Graphic novel about an adventure set in an alternate historical Japan. I had the chance to interview the artist, Jake Myler.
This Week In Geek: Is “Orphan Blade” a rousing adventure for young readers, but with enough conviction and craftsmanship that it can be appreciated by an audience of all ages, like the popular Avatar show or Bone or The Goonies?
Jake Myler: Orphan Blade is something that I’d hope can stand up to properties like those! And it was made with as much love and attention as we could muster and should appeal to a wide swath of readers. Though I have to caution that it is not a book for all ages. It’s more like Blade of the Immortal in the violence department, so it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to gore. I’d suggest not reading this unless you’re at least a teenager.
TWiG: Is it a tale of not only defeating the enemy, but also self-discovery that despite the exotic setting, we can all relate to?
Jake Myler: It really is, especially for the central character. He starts off pretty naive, but then goes on to learn a lot about the world, how cruel it can be, and ultimately how he wants to live the rest of his life. One of the reasons I took on the project initially was the great line of character development Nick was offering with his script.
TWiG: Tragically the writer and overall super cool dude Nick Almand passed away a year ago, although I’m sure his influence can be felt on every panel of the comic. Roughly how much of the book was completed before he passed away and how much was developed, as I imagine, with you trying to speculate on how he would have done it?
Jake Myler: Nick and I worked closely on every page of the book for about 3 years, and we were well into doing development work for the second book. But then Nick was suddenly gone, and although Orphan Blade volume one was just about done, it ended with kind of a cliff hanger. So I offered to finish the book up with what I know were Nicks ultimate goals for the characters and tie up any loose ends. I talked to him pretty much every day so I knew what he had in mind. Therefore by expanding on that list of goals, things came together pretty quickly and I was able to complete the book in what I think was a pretty satisfying way.
TWiG: As I understand, you’re taking some time away from comics, but if Marvel or DC came up to you asking if you were willing to do a few issues of Iron Fist or Richard Dragon would you be willing to pick up the pencil again?
Jake Myler: I think that I’d totally jump at the chance to work with Marvel or DC, it could be a lot of fun and I like to meet new people in the comic industry in general. Also even though working on original properties like Orphan Blade can be very fulfilling, working on a Licensed property with other characters can be a lot of fun. That’s why I jumped at the chance to draw Fraggle Rock.
TWiG: The book seems to take place in a divergent history. Did you spend a lot of time researching details for the design of things or were you mostly just going off of what you knew, making up the rest, and hope nobody scrutinizes it too closely?
Jake Myler: I’m pretty obsessive when it comes to drawing backgrounds in general, and for all the town scenes, buildings and background people I kept things pretty authentic as far as I could. Right at the start of the book I even made a trip to Japan to take a ton of reference pictures!
Jake Myler: Was there any editorial influencing on the book to make things more kid-accessible or action packed or did you guys have mostly creative freedom?
Jake Myler: Nick worked on the story-line at least a full year with Oni before I was asked to be the artist. So there may have been some back and forth with our editor Jill. But the great thing about Oni Press is that they are a publishing company that really want creators to have their own voice, and they aren’t afraid to publish books that push boundaries! So yes there was almost 100% creative freedom.
TWiG: Since there won’t be a sequel, what material do you suggest for readers who enjoy the book and want more of something with a similar tone and feeling?
Jake Myler: Although not in the same time period, I think a story that does have some of the same flavor as Orphan Blade would be: “Nabari No Ou” by Yuhki Kamatani about young Ninjas dealing with forces trying to destroy the world. Also I read a lot of the excellent “Vagabond” by Takehiko Inoue in preparation for working on the book, which is a much more true to historical Japan and what it might have been like back then, and is just a masterpiece in general.
TWiG: Has there been any complications from people confusing your comic, Orphan Blade, and the Canadian Sci-fi television series, Orphan Black?
Jake Myler: Haha! I don’t think so, although it does try to auto-complete as Orphan Black when you’re trying to type Orphan Blade into Google.
TWiG: Thank you very much for your time. I’ll personally be sure to pick up a copy of the book and I hope this piece convinces some more readers to give it a shot. The book can be purchased through Oni Press’s online store. Or Amazon. Or it can be ordered through comic book stores using the code AUG141582, and it’s available for digital reading on Comixology. To borrow a term from Nick, it’s the “Bees Knees.”
–Michael Ryan December 10 2014
I’m very glad I had the chance to publish this piece. Nick was an internet buddy of mine from a silly anime roleplaying club back around the 2000s. I was never close to him but I knew he was a cool dude named Taima with good taste in classic anime. Embarassingly it was only a couple weeks ago I found out he had passed away over a year ago. Here’s a sprite edit I did of his character back in the day.