Weddings and comics don't always mix so well. For every issue featuring the smooth-sailing exchange of vows, there are dozens plagued by villainous party crashers. Hopefully, the nuptials in "Okko Volume 4: The Cycle of Fire" is one of the former, but in reality, it probably won't be. But then, what more do you expect from a wedding attempting to join two previously warring families guarded by 100 samurai and a band of demon hunters led by series star Okko?
Written and drawn by French creator Hub, the fourth book in the "Okko" series is set to hit stores in the States on February 26, after having been available in France for about two years. Debuting as a two-part story split between December 2011 and January 2012, "The Cycle of Fire" finds Okko and his crew of demon hunters hired to help protect the ceremony set to ally two major clans of Pajan through matrimony.
In 2007, Hub introduced the world to Pajan, a combination of his fascination with medieval Japanese culture and long-time love of fantasy. Okko, a ronin, wanders the land getting into a series of adventures, published in America by Archaia.
CBR News spoke with Hub, and the writer/artist talked about finally getting the book published in the States, Okko's journey in this chapter and his creative process.
CBR News: How does it feel to have "Okko: The Cycle of Fire" finally coming out in America?
Hub: To be entirely honest, I don't have very strong feelings on the topic; it's kind of abstract to me. I'm under a lot of pressure to wrap my next book right now, and barely have time to lift my head from the pages. My own ivory tower, I guess.
This volume finds Okko and his group heading to a wedding that will join two of the Empire's major clans. Why are they invited and how will their presence change the course of the intended nuptials?
The two clans in question have recruited their 100 best samurai to form a White Guard meant to insure the security of this key event. But in order to get a different perspective on future events, and to have a man around who isn't bound by bushido -- a man thus capable of certain other acts -- the two clans hired a 101st samurai: a ronin, to be exact, someone used to "navigating troubled waters." Hence the presence of Okko and his crew. In fact, their presence will have a crucial influence on events to come, but not necessarily in expected ways -- but let me stop there. Saying any more would be revealing too much.
Okko winds up on the run from a group of bounty hunters in this book. What can you tell us about them?
Actually, in the second half of "The Cycle of Fire," swarms of bounty hunters set out on the heels of Okko and his companions. Following them all could be confusing, so instead we follow just the Guild of the Sensu (folding hand fan), led by a one-eyed woman. Though the bounty hunters aren't the focus of the story, I tried to make them charismatic and believable.
Have any of characters surprised you with where they wound up in the series?
Yes and no. When I started working seriously on the "Okko" series in 2004, I mapped out the cycles to come, as well as the major traits and arcs of my main characters and the end I was heading for, "The Cycle of Nothingness" [TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: This may also translate to "The Cycle of Emptiness" or "The Cycle of Oblivion], which would bring this epic to an end. Still, it's incredible to see how the logic guiding my heroes grows stronger page by page, book by book. It's fascinating and beyond my wildest hopes.
When you first spoke with CBR about "Okko: The Cycle of Water" in 2007, you said you were relatively new to comics. How do you feel about the medium after working in it these past several years?
Comics have definitely changed and evolved; the day they stop they'll fall into a dangerous decline. They have to keep pushing the boundaries of art and narrative. For my part, comics remain a terra incognita. I keep moving forward with passion but also a lot of sweat and hard work. I've tried to put in as much honesty and sincerity as I can without abusing my luck, because I am lucky to be making a living from comics.
What were some of the larger themes you were looking to explore when you launched "Okko?" Have they changed since you've been working on it?
Ever since my earliest childhood, two themes have always fascinated me: On one hand, the history of ancient civilizations, and on the other, fantasy. I think "Okko" as a series puts these two together. But I think this has been less obvious in the more recent volumes than at the beginning. A different kind of narration has been added to the tapestry, and right now anything is possible. Some cycles will be more epic and the next will focus more on a love story, or political intrigue. I try to balance the themes so they're in harmony with the symbol of the cycle in question.
You've talked about your love of Japanese culture and storytelling, but what other elements have influenced "Okko" over the years?
I'm not sure, really. I talk about this amazing culture through my very Western viewpoint; I make no secret of that. It's a culture of dizzying depth and complexity, and I proceed humbly into it with as much respect as possible -- at least, I hope so. I'm always discovering new details. It's endless. I try to reproduce them as faithfully as I can.
When actually working out a new volume of "Okko," how do you go about the writing and drawing process? Do you pen a script first and then work from that?
I do start out by writing a script. When I'm working on one Cycle, I think a lot about the script for the next one. Then everything comes at once, with dizzying speed, in less than a day. Of course, there's always revision, where I try to perfect the narration and dialogue. Once my publisher approves the script, I start on layouts. I consider this a crucial stage, the spine of the book, so I get help from a friend who casts a different gaze -- a female gaze -- on it. Going from words to images can be hard sometimes. Then it takes me several months for the definitive drawings, and inking. The same friend takes care of the colors for the most part, but I always like adding little finishing touches here and there. Together, we shoot for a certain moderation when it comes to effects, so as not to disturb the drawings -- we're biased that way.
After four volumes of guiding " Okko" are still you finding new, intriguing corners to explore in possible future books?
Yes, there are still lots of possibilities. But I promised myself I'd finish the adventures of Okko in five cycles. After that, will I still be inspired and motivated to keep going with certain characters from the world of Pajan? I don't know. Only time will tell.
"Okko Volume 4: The Cycle of Fire" debuts in the States on February 26.