Black culture and Asian culture in America have more in common than either would care to admit, as they have shared similar struggles and history which actually has created more connections than separations between the two. This connection was explored through many of the exploitation movies of the 1970s, the most notable being Enter the Dragon, which featured a very diverse, cast for its period. More recently, this connection was explored in Samuel L. Jackson’s Afro Samurai which harkened back to the great Japanese samurai films with some futurism thrown in there. Now, enters Jean-Paul Deshong’s Sons of Fate, which tethers itself to history more intimately than most comics in recent memory.
I got a chance to talk to him about the series, its influences, and his love of anime.
Graphic Policy: So you just came back a few weeks ago, from the 1st volume of Sons of Fate being inducted into the Kyoto International Manga Museum, was it your first time being in Japan? Did you visit any famous sites while there? How was the ceremony?
Jean-Paul Deshong: It was the first time being in Japan. Between Kyoto and Tokyo, I hit all the historic, and famous sites. As for a ceremony for the Kyoto International Manga Museum, there wasn’t any induction ceremony. It was more of a mutual expression between me and the administration who run the museum. They were very interested in having my book, and I was VERY INTERESTED in having my book inducted there. I signed a few papers, allowing then to use the books in their library, advertising and such, We took a few picture, and talked to a few people. That was pretty much it. It was an amazing experience!
GP: Did you meet any manga writers you admired while there?
JPD: Unfortunately, no. It was a whirlwind trip especially, for the fact that it was the first time I’d been there. Japan is HUGE!!!!
GP: What was your original inspiration behind the story?
JPD: There was really no one source of inspiration that inspired me to make Sons of Fate. It is the amalgamation of experiences I had in life that inspired me creatively. As for making a graphic novel, it was my contribution to the field for which I love.
GP: Did you grow up watching samurai movies/anime? If so, what were your favorite ones? Did any of those movies/anime influence Sons of Fate as it feels like a classic Samurai movie?
JPD: I was RAISED on Anime and Kung-Fu ,and Samurai movies,…a pure child of the 80’s. I was one of those kids who had anime on video tapes that weren’t subtitled. Hell, I didn’t see a dubbed Akira, Fist of the North Star, or Macross until I was an adult. When I did see them in my native language, I was surprised to see how closely I pieced together what was going on to it’s actual story. All except Akira (I still don’t know what Kaneda caught in his hands at the end.. in any language) That understanding serves as a true testament of how well those movies tell a story through visuals. As for my favorites, that’s a tough question. The thing about anime is the people who make it always end up outdoing themselves by creating a better one after their prveious endeavor ( a true testament of how life should be). Adding to the complexity, they mentor the younger generation who go on and make more great art from their influence from their mentors. Lastly, it seems there guys never retire (another true testament about a great artist), so the list grows.
With that, Ninja Scroll (AKA The Wind Ninja Chronicles) is my first and foremost favorite anime. There are many others I want to name, but if I do we’ll be here all day. This topic could be an interview all in itself. So much anime… so little time.
GP: How much research did you do before writing Sons of Fate?
JPD: I did A TON of research for the book. I read books about code, culture, lore, mythology and most importantly, its history. On the trip I went to the actual Tokugawa castles and temples and took a ton of pictures. I actually stood in rooms I illustrated for this series. To my delight, my “researched” reference was spot on. ( Thank you internet.)
GP: What made you set the story in Tokugawa era of Japan?
JPD: I thought the Tokugawa area was a great place where I could incorporate the story I wanted to tell and parallel it with the actual history of feudal Japan. Sons of Fate serves as the lost chapter of why the Tokugawa Shogunate closed its doors to the West for 200 years.
GP: Will either of the shoguns show up in the story eventually?
JPD: (SPOILER ALERT!) Tokugawa Ineyasu is already is in the story. He is MAJOR character is Sons of Fate.
GP: Did you know about the legend of Yasuke, before writing Sons of Fate, and if so, did his story have any bearing on overarching story arc? (Yasuke was the only African samurai known in Japanese history – editor)
JPD: In my research I knew already knew I wanted to do the Tokugawa Era.Yasuke is a generation (and then some) previously from where I started. From the beginning, I knew, from a storytelling perspective it was the place that was best to write a story which I could incorporate my story and still have the historical impact. After I did my research, I looked into the warring states. It was tempting (because there I could run with the action), but for me story comes first and foremost. By the way, I love the Yasuke story, but would NEVER touch it. But, then again…..
GP: Did you read The Book of Five Rings in preparation for the story? (Book of Five Rings is a classic Japanese tome that shaped philosophy of Samurai in Japan – editor)
JPD: Funny you ask about about Book of the Five Rings. I am a HUGE fan of Musashi Miyamoto.( I hope i spelled it right.) I had read that as well as Hagakure. with that, In the web series…..wait did i mention the web series yet? I’ll get back to that in a sec. So, I based Daiki Jinjaku’s father on Musashi. I love the unassuming warrior idea. As for the web-series. On my site, blackberryjuice.net there is a web series that continues the main story through a side stories which fleshes out characters for the main story. The first web-series called Fishing With My Father is the story of a young Daiki Jinjaku, and his adventures in the wild with his unassuming fisherman/ warrior father. The web series serves as a in-between for the graphic novels, or an introduction for those who haven’t yet invested in Sons of Fate. I wanted Sons of Fate not just to be a once- a year- graphic -novel, but and entire experience.
Oh, BTW,, (you’re gonna love this.) I listened to The Book of the Five Rings WHILE I drew Sons of Fate, for both Origins and Legacy. My hope is to know the book by heart.
GP: I have seen elements of Moore’s and Gibbons’ Watchmen throughout the story, which definitely heighten the mystery and action throughout, what do you, believe makes for great storytelling?
JPD: Firstly, …for saying you see elements of The Watchmen in Sons of Fate, …. THANKS FOR THAT!!!! I read Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns the summer of 88. I was 13. Those books changed the way I saw comics and inadvertently started me on the path of HOW I wanted my stories to feel. As for the influence, you probably can tell form my previous statement, they influenced me a lot. With that, there is a TON of other influences in Sons of Fate. I’ve laid easter eggs THROUGHOUT the entire series. Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, even newer influences like Samurai Champloo, and Naruto to name a few.
As for storytelling, not to go all Yogi Berra on you, but ‘”It ain’t over till it’s over.” What I mean is great storytelling should be about telling great stories.( See what I mean about the Yogi reference?) A person is creating should hold no boundaries as long as those boundless parameters bring about a robust experience. There are stories that work, and ones that don’t. Great storytelling can be about an epic experience (I’ll name examples here) , like The Lord of the Rings, which Is a grand epic or Death of a Salesman. (Which is by far not an grand epic and much smaller in scale.) I’ll go to say Death of a Salesman the polar opposite of LOTR, in most if not all aspects. With that, they are BOTH examples of MASTERFUL STORYTELLING. Although extremely different, they both encompass the idea that you have a boundless amount of freedom as long as you use that to tell a rich and robust story. In Sons of Fate, I tried to make THE STORY the main character with the characters backing up the story: A character driven story about a character if you will.
GP: In reading this, I almost could imagine hearing music being played in certain sections of the story, did you listen to any music in particular while crafting this story?
JPD: Being a visual person, I feel music, is the other part of a perfect melding of great storytelling. I actually wanted to make SOF come with a playlist you listened to while you read the book. I plan to do that in releasing digital copy in the future. So, in short yes. I hear orchestral music in some parts and slow simple flutes in others. Drums and flutes. It would have to be music indicative of the lands in which they inhabit. So it would be a meld of African and Taiko drums which not only are native to the lands SOF inhabit, but also to the story as well.
GP: How do you feel about the comparisons to Afro Samurai? What do you believe sets it apart?
JPD: Have a seat this is gonna be good!
LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT AFRO SAMURAI, (I pause and exhale). I already wrote SOF and was thinking about how I was going to shop it around when Afro Samurai came out. I remember when it came on TV. In a word…AWEASOME! EVERYTHING about it was perfect. The story, the art, THE MUSIC!!!! It was great story telling, AND IT WAS ORIGINAL. As I watched it my phone rang. It was a friend of mine who read and saw some of the SOF artwork. I picked up the phone and, “Hello?” on the other end I heard,” J, I am so sorry.” “ I know.” I replied and hung up the phone. That’s how good it was.
The character even looked like Kamau. So, I was beat, and I shelved it. There was NO WAY I could release SOF now, without hearing I was an Afro clone. Beside that, It was FANTASTIC!!!!!
AFTER THAT, TWO THINGS HAPPENED:
Years later, I was at San Diego Comic-Con, looking for work, and ended up at I went to the Afro Samurai 2 panel. It’s hard to explain the feeling of joy and hatred at the same time over the same thing. Especially hatred over the fact that the hatred you had was because it was soooooo good. With that, I was excited to see the next chapter because, again … IT was SOOOO GOOD!
So, I sat there and watched this amazing experience expand to the next chapter. It STILL had the same great art, story, and originality, not to mention this time… KUMA WAS A DUAL WEILDING SWORD SAMURAI ON A CHOPPER!!! I left beLIEving that that SOF would never see the light. This great thing was going to go on, and I could never release SOF without the stigma of clonage.
That was the set-up. Here’s what happened.
I watched it. It was great ….UNTIL THE END.
SPOILER ALERT AHEAD;
The first thing.
As part of the audience I was unfulfilled by the ending. I LOVED the fact that they resurrected his dad. I LOVED the fact his father was better than him. I ABSOLUTLELY ADORED the fact that in order to become the #1 again, meant he had to kill his father to do so. What I didn’t like was that HE DID IT… AND Kuma died helping him. I watched that whole show with the idea of how great this was, so to me when it fell apart at he end, IT WAS PROVIDENCE! It was ( baseball fan reference , and I’m sorry for bringing this up. He SHOULD BE exonerated!) Bill Buckner missing the grounder that led to the NY Mets winning the World Series in 1986. A game I saw in person as a child. I WAS the Mets. Afro Samurai MISSED the grounder.
The second thing.
A friend of mine who was a BIG FAN of Afro Samurai, who was a BIG comic fan asked me to tell him about SOF after he overheard a conversation about its dashed dreams (told by another friend) over Afro Samurai. More importantly, earlier he read a Star Wars (another love of mine) story I wrote that was also shelved. He loved the Star Wars story (as everybody who read it did: shameless plug), and wanted to hear if I wrote anything else. After I gave him the synopsis. I let him read the story it it’s entirety. He told me that after hearing about what it was, HE THOUGHT it sounded nothing like Afro Samurai, and wanted to know what happened in the story. After he read it he was positive that not only was it NOT Afro Samurai, but also it was vastly different than Afro Samurai. Most importantly, it was something he would be interested in reading. The rest was history… and a little procrastination( but that is another story).
So in short.. after the long of it, what sets it apart is the story. I wanted to create an original piece of fiction free of a derivative story.
GP: Are you reading any comics right now? if so any indie comics you believe doesn’t get enough love?
JPD: As for what I’m reading right now, I TRY to get to the comic book store casually as much as I can, but with little success. I’m literally one-man-banding it. I keep i like right on my desk. I just got into Blacksad, and I’m a big fan of Korean Mahwah Shaman Warrior is my favorite. Outside of that i collect a lot of Art books. I think ALL OF INDIE DOESN’T GET A LOT OF LOVE. I just blogged about it. Here’s the link.
GP: What is the ultimate message that you want the reader to take away from reading and following Sons of Fate?
JPD: Your actions, good or bad, have far reaching consequences. In some cases ( such as these) they have the capacity of forging a nation.
GP: What can you tell us about the final book in the series this early?
JPD: The final book is the grand conclusion and result of the consequences of our protagonist’s actions. In the previous two entries you see the immediacy of his actions, but those consequences ripple through and create the events that end up forging Feudal Japan. Again in creating SOF, I wanted to make a historical fiction where in made up character s interact with real people in history. SOF is the lost story of why Japan closed off its doors to western civilization for 200 years.
GP: Thank you for your time!
JPD: No problem. It was a blast!