Interview with Isaac Shapiro

-What inspired you to pursue writing Shonen King? Have you been involved in any activities concerning comic books? Was there perhaps a definite turning point in your life that led you here? Please provide specific examples.

Isaac: Scott and I have always been huge fans of shonen manga and always been looking to write our own sort of love letter/deconstruction of the genre. But we built our storyline around a kickstarter with an entire pilot chapter used as our launching point. I’ve written plays and done web series before and a lot of the fun of doing comics is, unlike low budget sketches or cheap theater, you can really just let you imagination fly without fear of actually having the means to pull off everything you imagine yourself. It’s a lot cheaper to get a drawing of an awesome fight scene or an epic space battle then it is to film or animate one. That’s the magic of comics and manga. There are no restrictions to what you can put on the page except what you can tell your artist to draw.

Scott: More or less. I don’t think there was a definitive turning point where I suddenly fell in love with anime and decided that my life’s work was going to focus on a parody of shonen battle manga featuring a guy who slaps people to death. That said, I think the turning point came when I finally decided I could brave publishing my work. I’m pretty sure that every writer has this terrible soul destroying seed of doubt in their mind. It’s a terrible fact of life. I’m still pretty sure I suck at this whole written words thing. But then, one day, I realized that I might suck at this, but other people are even worse at it than I am. That sounds terrible, but that was a huge confidence boost. It meant that as much as I suck at writing, that’s okay. There is someone worse out there, and at least I’m not that guy. And yes, there is a specific guy. Go read Felsic Current if you don’t believe me. I’ll wait.

- How do you define and achieve success? What, if anything, has proven instrumental to your success thus far?

Isaac: If we can achieve enough of a fan base to earn enough money to keep the comic going indefinitely, I’d consider that to be a huge success. There’s that new axiom going around that if a creator can amass 1000 true fan’s that’s all they need to make a living, so if we could hit a quarter of that and keep Shonen King going to our intended end point, I’d be pretty happy and call that a success. Of course there’s the vain part of me that feels that true success doesn’t come till you have a panel at San Diego Comic Con with packed auditorium of people hanging on your every word, but time has given me more modest aspirations.

Scott: Success at this point means enough capital to keep the lights on and the doors open. I would love to make enough money to do this as a full time job, but that thousand fans might be a ways off. Besides, since there are two of us and a freelance artist, we’d need closer to three thousand or something.
Anyway, I’d say two things are absolutely crucial to this whole success thing. One is obsessive determination. You must be willing to bash your head against a wall until the wall breaks. This is true of writing, getting your work published, and everything inbetween. Unless you’re very lucky, this will not be easy. In fact, it will be a gigantic pain in the ass, and you’ll probably spend a lot of your time asking yourself why you’re still doing it. And then you go back to doing it anyway because you’re stupid like that.

The other thing you need is some kind of financial stability. It is a miserable truth that unless you have money or someone providing you with money, you probably won’t be doing much of anything artistic because you’ll be far too worried about food and shelter. There will always be amazing exceptions to this, but I promise if they had enough to eat and decent living space, they’d probably make even better stuff that makes the stuff they’re making right now look like the product of a desperate hobo.

- Who is your favorite comic writer? What is your all time favorite comic book or character?

Isaac: It’s so hard to choose, but I think since we’re making a comic that’s a huge love letter to shonen manga, it’s only right to give tribute to my favorite currently running mangaka and that’s undoubtedly Eiichiro Oda. Oda manages to pour in so much love and creativity into every panel, and the fact that he’s managed to keep it fresh and relevant for over fifteen years is remarkable especially when you compare him to his contemporaries who seem to wear out their welcome or just plain run out of ideas. He’s also a masterful serial story teller. He’s able to incorporate a huge variety of different theme’s and art styles within his own framework and make them his own. He also does a brilliant job of weaving his shorter self-contained story arcs into a much larger mythology and giving wonderful pay offs for long time readers. The sheer love that comes through for just about everything he draws. Just look at the cover stories where he takes side characters and gives them entire mini-story arcs all told through just the cover art. Hell, look at Buggy the Clown! On the surface he’s a really dumb goofy villain introduced early on, quickly defeated and discarded. But years later, he comes back and plays a huge role in one of the most pivotal arcs. During Luffy’s quest to try and save his brother, Oda also managed to weave in a side saga where the previously completely incompetent Buggy the Clown; through luck and nepotism, manages rise to the esteemed status of one of the Seven War Lords.

In terms of one of my favorite characters I’d have to say for me that goes to Ussop. Now the reason why I love Ussop isn’t because he’s the funniest or the most awesome character in One Piece, but I think out of all the main cast of Straw Hats pirates the one who has gotten the best material has been him. On the surface it seems he’s just all based around one gag. He’s a liar responsible for constantly making outlandish boasts. But as time goes on he becomes a bit more than that. In truth he’s less a coward, but more of an audience surrogate. He’s the everyman, he doesn’t have any particularly remarkable skills or superpowers like the other crew members, even the one practical thing he can contribute which is his carpentry skills are mediocre at best. His cowardice becomes less a joke, but rather a survival mechanism and throughout the series we the readers get to see his struggle with the idealized vision of who he wants to be with the practical reality of what he’s actually capable of, which leads to a great deal of awesome humor and some great pathos as well.

Scott: Man, I cannot say enough awesome shit about Grant Morrison. As far as I’m concerned, the man could scribble incoherent symbols on a page, and I’d try to decipher it. He’s either completely written some of my favorite works or he’s written story arcs for them. I mean he’s done stuff including Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Hellblazer, Seven Soldiers of Victory, Flex Mentallo, and Animal Man. Holy shit, that guy is awesome. He got me to care about the Manhattan Guardian. The Manhattan fucking Guardian! He made me stop and care about some crazy shit about hobo pirates riding a secret system of abandoned subway tracks in New York city, something I would have probably slapped anyone else for even suggesting was a good idea. He took seven C list heroes and strung together a story I gave a fuck about because he was bored of A list superheroes. Speaking of A list superheroes, Arkham Asylum is possibly the best Batman anything I’ve ever seen. It takes a hard, ugly look Batman and his freakish codependent relationship with his rogues gallery. It was the first time I’d really stopped and considered just how fucked up in the head Bruce Wayne really is.

Anyway, my favorite comic book character? I’ll be honest, I don’t really know. I can ramble on like an incoherent schmuck for hours, so I’m just gonna pick my favorite One Piece character instead, since I think Isaac is right, and it’s only fair to pay tribute to the shonen legends we’re parodying. Right now, that honor goes to Trafalgar Law. He is pretty much everything Luffy isn’t, and when Law finally gets enough screen time, you realize just how much of a pass you’ve been giving the future Pirate King. Law has a plan. We’re not entirely sure what that plan is right now, but we damn well know the guy has one. He fights with strategy, and he actively considers who his opponents are as opposed to Luffy who just punches people until the stop moving and being evil. He makes alliances based on necessity and schemes to get where he needs to be. He’s not a villian, and he’s not spiteful, but he actually takes the time to think things through and make informed decisions. He’s the perfect foil for someone who acts with reckless abandon with little to no thought to what consequences his actions might bring and the recent interactions between Luffy and Law have been some of my favorite parts of One Piece.

- How and where do you get your inspiration for Shonen King?

Isaac: A better part of my time in college was spent watching fansubs and reading scanlated manga. Doing that for a couple of years will give you a pretty good itch that can only be scratched by trying to make your own. But we like comedy, so I don’t know if we could have ever done a straight laced 100% serious shonen manga. We love the stuff, but there’s so many wonderful things to make fun of. Shonen King is one part parody, but also kind of a celebration of the larger world of manga publishing. Shonen manga really is kind of the eastern equivalent of the western super hero comics. The big difference is that serialized shonen manga tend to have one central creative author who the series success lives or dies by. This generally leads to a more consistent brand of storytelling. Even some of the weirder shonen manga have an internal consistency that comes from having one central creative vision instead of half a dozen writer/artist teams doing work for hire and having very little reason to care for any previously established continuity. That’s the kind of stuff that leads to Doctor Octopus taking over Spiderman’s body for a year only for none of it to matter after Spiderman retakes his body resetting the status quo once again.

Scott: Oh holy shit. Yeah. This is why I don’t really follow a lot of mainstream comics. Every few years, DC or Marvel hits the reset button, and we’re back to business as usual. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the characters, but after a while, it just turns into one never ending infinitely looping nerdy soap opera. I love shonen manga so much because no matter how many winding plot arcs it takes, the story will eventually draw to a close. Anyway, Isaac and I spend a lot of time making fun of shonen manga because that’s what you do when you love something, and after seeing a few seasons of The Venture Brothers, I finally realized that poking fun at something can be the greatest praise imaginable. For those of us who grew up with those terrible Hannah Barbara action cartoons, we never realized just how much we loved them and how much we wanted to stop and revel in all the glorious stupidity that went along with them until Doc Savage and Jackson Publick sat us down and showed us. Isaac thought about it and realized that for us, Naruto and One Piece was our Johnny Quest. It’s what we spent an inordinate amount of time talking about, reading, and watching. It was part of the background radiation of our lives, and it’s something we desperately wanted to make fun of because it was such a part of us.

- What was the best comic con you participated so far? What aspect of comic cons do you enjoy the most?

Isaac: I have to say I’m especially affectionate towards NY Comic Con. Especially since I’ve been going since 2009 and I’ve gotten to see it grow exponentially. I’ve seen it go from being the ugly red-headed stepchild of San Diego Comic Con to… well, it’s still the ugly red-headed stepchild of San Diego, but now it’s the super rich stepchild after growing into the second biggest con in the world.

What I most love about cons are the panels. A lot of them can be pretty lame, but usually the best ones give the fans a chance to mingle ever so briefly with the kind of creative talent they love or better yet aspire to become. For me it’s not so much about the chance to see a celebrity, it’s more the chance to try and come up with a smart question to ask a favorite writer or producer from something on Comedy Central or Adult Swim. It’s a great place for the common folk to bump elbows with the lucky few geeks who’ve gone past the stage of merely consuming geek culture and have gone on to creating it.

Scott: Are we limited to Comic-con? I usually go to anime conventions a lot more. Probably my favorite is Anime Next up in New Jersey. I do love panels, but unless I’m with Isaac, I almost always go to cons for the LARP event. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s live action role play. I know the head GM of the A-Next LARP as well as the folks who designed the system. Hell, I know most of the people who go to the LARPs now too because at a certain point, it ends up being a lot like an extended family. Cons end up being gigantic three day cross-over events with Roger Smith from the Big O fighting Mobile Suits and teaming up with Kraft Lawrence from Spice and Wolf to negotiate contracts during his down time, and after it’s all over, you’ve met a whole ton of wonderful, good natured nerds. I’ve yet to convince Isaac to even get anywhere near tabletop gaming, let alone LARP, but I can always hope that one day he might finally give in and try playing Usopp.