Alex Wilson writes,
MJ Steele is an up and coming artist in the industry, currently working with Klaus Janson on Dark Knight III along with publishing his own comics and one shots. I had a chance to talk with him about his experiences an independent creator, working with Jenson and Frank Miller, and his new one shot comic, ShintoTech, a Meiji Era detective comic.
What attracts you to the setting and time period of early century Japan in this story?
I am primarily focused on Meiji Era Japan, roughly 1868-1912, because it is such an interesting collision of East and West. Aside from just being fascinated with the history, I feel that it is an extension of my own identity, being half asian and half caucasian.
The main character in ShintoTech is a detective with impressive sword skills. Could you walk us through how you came up with the concept and character?
Many of my concepts stem from this eastern/western juxtaposition. Shintotech is my exploration into the pulp, noir, and chanbara genres while siphoning indigenous folklore and history of Japan. I have been greatly inspired by works like Hellblazer, and Hellboy, as well as manga like Mushi-shi, where there is a very matter-of-fact approach to the super natural, but there is always an underlying kernel of truth – like a modern day parable.
Michio Honda, is basically my Hellboy or Constantine. I am very attracted to the concept of a character who stays relatively the same and it is the world or cast of characters around them that change. That stoicism is quintessential to the genres I previously mentioned. The sword fighting aspect is obviously connected to chanbara and the historical context in general, but I also have a background in martial arts, so swords and combat interest me very much.
You're the writer and artist. What were some of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of taking on the whole project yourself?
Well foremost I don't think I have a tremendous amount of insight. Shintotech is my first full length one-shot. That said however, I learned a ton. The most immediate advantage is control. I don't mean creative control as in the handling of ideas, but production control where changes can be made up to the very moment you send it off to the printers. Comics is a very interesting medium and it is most often the case where an end product is the result of different stages where different groups of people are making alterations – usually to optimize production, but sometimes to the detriment of the content. When one does all the chores of making a tangible comic, the production becomes apart of the storytelling just as much as the drawing or writing. Getting that full grasp of creating a comic, the process of creating something from essentially nothing, is both the most challenging and rewarding aspect.
What advice do you have for others looking to start as writers or artists in the comic industry?
With my education from the School of Visual Arts, and my little bit of experience post graduation, my best advice would be to create comics. It simply isn't enough to just write, or to just draw. Even if one desires to choose solely to be either a writer or artist it is imperative to understand the graphic relationship of words and pictures ON A PAGE. Words are pictures too, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to organize each and every graphic element. In Japan, manga writers, and writer-artists, don't create scripts like in the west. They create name which are rough storyboards. I think this method of working with words and pictures simultaneously is the best way to grasp comics. Do it fast, do it crude, get from beginning to end as fast as possible – then refine from there.
I heard you've been working on Dark Knight III with Klaus Janson. Any fun stories from that process?
Probably the best experience thus far was when I was with Klaus when he got the news he was going ink over Frank for the Atom mini comic in issue one. It was the first time they've worked together in thirty years. Soon after, Frank's assistant started bringing in original art and I was essentially the guy between Frank and DC. I was handling all his art for the first 2 issues, seeing it before anybody out west was. Mostly it has just been nice to be useful and sort of witness a little bit of comic book history in the making.
What's next in the comic pipeline for you?
I intend to launch a kickstarter for Shintotech to fund a larger print run – approximately 200 copies, nothing major. Mean while, I am beginning the next issue of Shintotech between other freelance work. A couple short comics here, some illustrations there, applying for work when I can. Post-grad freelance life can be tough and I'm still hard up for work so if anyone wants to contact me may do so at email@example.com – and my work can be seen at www.wasabipunk.com