NOTE: The following article contains adult language.
Artist Riley Rossmo is perhaps best known to current comics fans as the artists and co-creator of "Proof," the cryptozoological adventure series from Image Comics. Writer A.J. Lieberman has made his name as the writer of various Batman adventures including, most notably, the "Hush Returns" arc in "Batman: Gotham Knights." Both are now teaming up for a new series from the Shadowline imprint of Image Comics that might shatter any preconceptions about the work of either creator. Lieberman and Rossmo sat down with CBR News to discuss "Cowboy Ninja Viking" and what makes it different from other comic books.
"It's about people," said Lieberman. "Some normal, some not so normal. And then of course there's Cowboy, Ninja and Viking."
"Cowboy Ninja Viking" follows a unique sort of covert agent called a triplet. A Triplet is three-counter-intelligence-operatives-in-one, as each triplet is afflicted with multiple personality disorder. And the triplet of the title, Cowboy Ninja Viking, is the one called upon to rein in the other triplets when they become out of control assassins.
It's a book about clichés," said Rossmo. "It embraces, absorbs, and digests them. [It] regurgitates them into a new configuration. It's about the reinvention of stereotypes.
Lieberman describes Duncan, the triplet of the title, as a test subject in a covert psychological study. "Duncan is who the world sees (though he dresses with hints of all three); he's inhabited by a Cowboy, Ninja and Viking."
Duncan is the child of Dr. Sebastian Ghislain, creator of the Triplets. Said Lieberman, "Ghislain is a cross between Robert Evans (the Hollywood movie producer) and Sigmund Freud (not a Hollywood movie producer).
Also in the supporting cast is Sara Nix. "She's Ghislain's assistant, and finds herself CNV/Duncan's companion/partner," said the writer. "And of course, there's a series bad guy and a whole boatload of other Triplets. The first one Duncan goes up against being Gladiator/Pirate/Oceanographer."
Clearly, "Cowboy Ninja Viking" is not a book that fits neatly into a traditional category. Said Lieberman, "My goal was to write something that I looked forward to sitting down at my computer to write. I wanted to have fun. And I wanted to be able to ping-pong from bloody action to humor to drama and have all those things still make sense. Once I came up with the concept, I realized that goal was not only doable, but if done right but I could get away with doing all three in a single page. That kind of got me pumped."
Before achieving his self-set goal, however, there were some permutations to work though on the way to arriving at the concept's final form. "I had several ideas that dealt with the same overall concept, but had a very different execution," said Lieberman. "Once I realized that the character was the concept, it kind of freed me up to have more fun with the overall premise and it grew from there. "
Lieberman and Rossmo had known each other for some time and found "Cowboy Ninja Viking" to be the ideal project for the pair to work on together "The idea really dictates a certain style," said the writer. "Riley definitely has this manic quality to his work that I think works for the story, and vice versa. "
Rossmo characterizes his approach on the project as being experimental. "Lots of techniques - ink, pencil, acrylic, and collage," said the artist. "I want the layouts to be different than any other book. I used maps, photos, and tons of half-tones. I did all the colors and toning myself. It's nice to have creative control over everything. The black and blue, or black and pink in issue two, is something I've wanted to do for ages; it's color, but it's not. It has a cool effect."
Rossmo draws on a wide variety of artists and media for inspiration in the book. "I've been watching lots of old movies for inspiration," he said, including mention of early Sandman issues and hand-tinted photographs as influences. Rossmo also name-checked artists like Alex Toth, Wally Wood, Jim Steranko, and Bill Sienkiewicz as having influenced his work.
Additionally, the book will differentiate itself not only by its subject matter and artistic style, but by sheer size as well. "Cowboy Ninja Viking" will be hitting the stands in what the creators are calling "Golden Age format." The book will be slightly larger that most any other comic book it will be sharing rack space with.
Both writer and artist are prepared to follow up on the initial four issues if fans call for it. "If sales warrant more, we'll do more," said Lieberman. "I certainly want to do more. And I think once readers see how issue four ends, they'll be extremely surprised at how the series is positioned to unfold in the future."
If sales reflect the sort of reactions Lieberman has seen since announcement of the series based solely on the book's title, watching the future unfold in a positive fashion will be a sure thing. "Without a question, it's been the most positive and fun thing I've experienced since I started writing comics," said Lieberman. "Readers have been amazing. We had to almost double our first print run at the last minute on the strength of what was basically a few preview pages and word of mouth.
"In fact one of the best descriptions I've read about 'Cowboy Ninja Viking' was that 'just reading the book's description was like getting a vigorous hand job from a tornado on meth.' That was on Jinxworld forum. You cannot make shit like that up. And as cool and funny as that it is, I just hope we live up to everyone's expectations."
"Cowboy Ninja Viking" hits the stands on October 14, 2009.