“Black Sun” Creator Joseph Abbott Talks Samurai, Myth, and Learning From Past Failures (Interview)

Independent comic book creator Joseph Abbott recently launched his second Indiegogo campaign, this time for Black Sun, a samurai action adventure featuring creatures from Japanese legend. We were fortunate enough to get a chance to discuss his campaign, which is available to support here.

As always, the answers below are represented as closely to “as written” as possible with only minimal edits.

The Splintering: You describe Black Sun as “Kurosawa meets Tolkien.” Can you expand on that? What elements from each creator were most inspirational for Black Sun?

Joseph Abbott: Tolkien for the world building and the solidifying of the numinous (i.e. myth) into a concrete world. Kurosawa for the artistic expression of the samurai aesthetic and ethos.

TS: Aside from the obvious Japanese myths and samurai tales, what other inspirations did you draw from when you were coming up with Black Sun?

JA: I’ve seen a thousand movies, read thousands of comic books, watched a thousand tv shows. Read at least a few books. Compared to past generations, I feel like I have orders of magnitude more media absorbed into my very being. It just spews out of me into my stories. I can’t even help it.

TS: There is clearly a lot of Japanese myth and history at play in Black Sun. How difficult will it be to follow the story for those readers who are unfamiliar with this aspect of Japanese culture?

JA: About as difficult as following King Kong if one had never read the Gospel of Luke, or following Star Wars if one had never heard of Flash Gordon. Barely an inconvenience.

TS: Which of the Japanese mythological creatures (tengu, beshimi, nezume, kappa, kitsune, oni) is your favorite? Is there one that has the most striking presence on the page?

JA: My favorite is the adorable trickster tanuki. In Japanese myth, he is a playful shape-changer, but in my story he has already assumed the most horrible form possible, so there is no need to change shape at all!

TS: Do all of these creatures make an appearance in the first issue, or are they scattered across the full six-issue series?

JA: No, only tengu, nezume and yataiyo make an appearance in the first issues. As the adventure continues, more regions are explored and more creatures are encountered.

A ratlike nezume sounds the retreat

TS: What would you say is your target audience for Black Sun?

JA: People who love timeless, archetypal adventure stories. People who want to see the familiar done in a way that blows their minds.

TS: How would you describe your working relationship with your artist, Seraphinus Calvin? Seeing as how he’s half a world away (in Jakarta, Indonesia), have there been any communication or collaboration difficulties to speak of?

JA: My wife is Indonesian, so when I started working with Calvin I told him that he was welcome to have her help translate if there were any issues. But she didn’t have to. Calvin is extremely fluent in English, in fact I think he is a better speller than me (so is my wife). He is also knowledgeable about the language of the visual medium, symbolism, and Japanese film and so the communication between us was easy.

Out of all the comic artists I have worked with, he was the easiest to communicate with and discuss artistic direction with. He was an absolute pleasure to work.

TS: Your first Indiegogo campaign for Le Grande Osiris didn’t go so well. How have you adapted this time around for Black Sun? Were there any “lessons learned?”

JA: Le Grande Osiris started as 10 page short and received a huge amount of positive response, including a majority of 5 star reviews. Yet when I launched the campaign to complete the story, it fell flat. To successfully crowdfund one needs a lot more than a amazing idea that is well received. I am putting my nose to the grind stone in terms of marketing for this book. Someone told me that marketing is 90% of a successful crowdfund, and I am starting to believe them.


TS: Reaching out to samurai film actor Keita Arai for his thoughts on Black Sun was a really interesting idea. How did you approach him for his comments on the project?

JA: Keita San actually reached out to me after coming across some preliminary art for the book, just to say it looked interesting. We talked back and forth about samurai for a while and then I decided to ask him to look at the script. I was definitely hesitant at letting him read the script at first, as obviously my western interpretation of Japanese mythology was bound to be surprising to him. But I thought it best to put my ego aside and seek his feedback in the interest of authenticity.

I truly despise inaccurate western interpretation so Japanese culture that use it as mere window dressing without understanding the true nature. I’ve lived in Japan. I’ve experienced the kami directly, several times. But I am still a foreigner. So, I let him read the script and yes, he was shocked. Certainly no Japanese would write what I wrote. But the spirit of it, he seems to have loved.

Westerners view samurai in a particular way, usually as submissive servants of their master. But that isn’t how they were historically, they were fiercely independent. They fought battles for personal glory. They wanted their own names and their own achievements to ring out. His biggest issue was, he thought my character names were very strange. No one in Japan is named “Kegare Hakajima” (which means Disorder Grave-Island). But no one is going to look up what the character names mean, right?

TS: Once this first issue of Black Sun is fulfilled, do you plan to charge ahead into issues two through six, or do you have other projects in mind during the interim?

JA: Once we are funded then we will dive into completing #1 and shipping it as soon as it is ready. Unlike traditional comics where the #1 issues does the best and subsequent returns get lower and lower thereafter, with crowdfunding, it seems you get more and more backers for issues #2 and #3 etc., so we will just keep on going, producing the art for the next issues. We will run crowdfunders for #2, #3 etc. as the art is completed but they should come out much quicker once we have the confidence this is the kind of thing fans want to see.

TS: I noticed that you set up a Discord channel expressly for Black Sun. Is that the best place for those interested to find updates on the project?

JA: Yes, I setup a discord but no, I am not on it very often because I forget to log on. Contact me on the Indiegogo campaign page if you want to ask a question.

Nice house

TS: Besides comics, in what other entertainment mediums do you see Black Sun?

JA: I’ve done a ridiculous amount of world building for Shinkoku, the fantasy realm for Black Sun, so it could very easily be turned into an RPG. It could also be a cool video game, but only if there was an “honour” bar, like a health or stamina bar, and when the honour bar for your Samurai dropped to zero you would jump to a cut screen of your character committing seppuku in dishonour.

TS: A year from now, how would you describe success for the Black Sun project?

JA: Success for us would be reaching our goal, completing the book with fantastic art that surpasses even what we have shown in the samples, sending it out to all our backers without a hitch and having everyone love it and be screaming at me for the next book.

TS: What would you do with the power of the Beyonder?

JA: I would make Star Trek the real world, and they would have to watch TV shows about us going to work, standing in line at McDonald’s and doing our taxes. Seriously, why is any of that boring stuff real? Someone messed up.

Cover and poster options

We would like to once again thank Joseph Abbott for taking the time to answer our questions and to have some fun with us. You can visit the Black Sun Indiegogo page here. And of course, thanks for reading!

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