Thursday, August 6, 2015

A conversation with Motorcycle Samurai creator Chris Sheridan

A conversation with Motorcycle Samurai creator Chris Sheridan
by rick olivares

When Motorcycle Samurai was included in Free Comic Book Day last May, it created a buzz because the title first made waves as a digital comic and now it was coming to print.

It was massive because on one hand, it could entice print loyalists to check out web-based comics and vice versa.

Motorcycle Samurai became one of the most sought after Free Comics that fine May day. And that led to the recent San Diego Comic Convention where Top Shelf Productions published the title in its entirety as a trade paperback.

We picked up the title that had elements of Mad Max, spaghetti westerns, and reviewed it recently on

Here is a conversation with the talented Chris Sheridan about Motorcycle Samurai.

Rick: How different is it creating comics for digital as opposed to print? Did you have to make changes for the trade paperback of MS?

Chris: Print and digital are parallel, but each their own executions. They're not a one-for-one execution. Some of what was built for digital had to be adapted to work for print. The wide screen stacking worked really well in the digital format. Some of that had to be shifted in the print because an animatic scene meant to reveal moment in overlays doesn't always have the same impact as a full page spread.

So there was a lot of tinkering per platform.  But the good thing for me as a designer is having built in the ability to crop and cut up the artwork to fit both print and digital. Sure you have to make choices in how you execute that, but its just a matter of tailoring the work for the platform.

Rick: MS is oft compared to Mad Max? Was that film series an inspiration? If it was, what elements did you grab from the film for MS?

Chris: The Mad Max world is certainly an inspiration. The visual sense of that series always knocks me out. I loved the practical aspects of the original series and how they focused on action while burying character moments deep into the storytelling. In fact, in the pitch, I called the story an 'Akira Kurosawa remake of a John Ford version of Mad Max.' So, yeah, there certainly is some Max in the DNA of this world. It's funny too, MS started before the new film got back on track, so, it was certainly amazing to see Max back in the theaters with a female lead. 

Rick: Who are you influences in creating comics (both digital and print)? What comics did you read when you were younger? What do you read now?

Chris: I got into comics in the late eighties, early nineties. So my interests were very different then. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a huge influence. The gritty style of the Eastman & Laird work blew my mind. Especially when seeing the mainstream kids cartoon. I was kind of mystified by the duo-tone. It took a long time for me to discover how that process worked. When I got a few sheets of it and tried it I felt so legit. I got some of the original magazine size issues and still love to check them out from time to time. 

I think it took a long time for my tastes to reflect my own off-kilter style in terms of what creators I was drawn to. Geof Darrow (Shaolin Cowboy) was a huge influence from the start. I still marvel at his work across the board. He and Mike Mignola (Hellboy) both. They encouraged me when I was younger to stick to it, and not to try to change my style to become an artist that could just hop in on any book. It really pushed me to find my own path.

More recently I've been amazing lucky to get to know Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Hawkeye), Mark Waid (Daredevil), and Mike Allred (Silver Surfer). Each of these creators have such diverse abilities, great talents, and good people. 

Rick: Will you continue to do digital comics? What else is up the road for you? What's next for MS?

Chris: Personally I love the digital format. It’s a great way to tell stories in a unique way and explore your own avenues. With MS there were not individual issues, it was set as a full graphic novel from the get-go. As such, each chapter could be exactly as long as it needed to be. It wasn't limited to a page count. And as a creator that was wonderful. Each moment could be brought out and really highlighted. It did lead to the print version being a lot longer than originally planned. But that’s the great thing about digital and print, they aren't exclusive mediums, though they are different.

I love stories that develop over time, and that your perspectives not he characters change as you get more information on them That is something I am looking forward to with MS. This was certainly designed as an opening tale. One that introduces a lot. Which is part of why there are only hints at certain things. The main motivation of the tale was to set the stage. There are a lot of stories and miles left when it comes to White Bolt & All Star.

Rick: In your blog, you "cast" MS? Cool & inspired choices. Any chance we're going to see this happen? Or an animated version?

Chris: Ha! I wish Bruce Lee could play the White Bolt & Steve McQueen could be All-Star!

I think framing the characters that way helped me play in that strange cinema mash up world in exploring how the characters moved and spoke. I wanted their movements to be different, and  their speech and action. Adding the 'casting' just helped to tap into the amazing character actors I love and let that help define the tale.

As to if MS will appear in any other format, we'll see. I think animation would be a natural fit as the world is pretty absurd. I mean, it'd be tough to pull off the hair in this tale on film as a live action. It'd be pretty ridiculous. But in animation I think it could be very fun. I obviously have a love for (Russian-American animator) Genndy Tartakovsky's work (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars to name a few), his sense of timing and character and location. I think it'd sure be fun to see. But who knows.

Rick: Any nice San Diego Comic Con anecdote that we can share for the story?

Chris: SDCC was the release of the book that had been in production for two years. In fact, it had been in progress for about three years or so. And to finally have a printed book, as much as Chris Ross, the digital director for Top Shelf would hate to hear, it felt great! 

It was a chance to show traditional comic fans something I had done, and not have to ask, 'do you read digital?'. So just having the full book in lively color was wonderful.  

I also was able to share the print book with Geof Darrow and Mike Mignola. Both were sitting together as they were back long ago when they encouraged me to keep going. So that was really a great moment, kind of closing the circle a little, to be able to share something I had done with them.

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