It might not be splashed all over the news anymore, but Japan is still suffering in the wake of the 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster that shocked the entire world. Whole towns were destroyed, over 18,000 people lost their lives and millions of people were affected.
Many fundraisers and campaigners may have already moved on to their next cause, but Steve Collier was determined to keep the fundraising going. He launched Japan Comic Aid, began recruiting comic creators, and has now released the first three Japan Comic Aid comics through new comics publisher Dead Universe. More comics are to follow, and all proceeds will go to the Japanese rebuilding effort.
“Just over a year ago I watched on TV as most of the world did as the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan,” explains Collier exclusively to Starburst. “The scale of it was so unreal, you saw literally villages, whole towns, the whole north east coast of Japan basically being swept away and it was insane and it really hits you, especially when it’s a country that has inspired you such a lot. I’ve always loved comics, so I thought why don’t I do that? So I got an email address, I got a Twitter account together and I sent a lot of emails and people responded.”
Two of the first JCA books boast scripts from Collier himself: The Mystery Boys, a buddy adventure about two agents tackling the supernatural across the globe – their first-issue adventures taking them to Japan – with art from Andy W. Clift, and Kaiju Steel, about a teenage boy coming into unexpected powers when the Earth is over-run with 100-foot monsters, brought to life by Lee Killeen. Both, obviously, have strong Japanese influences.
“I always liked things like Hellboy, Men in Black, X-Files, things like that,” says Collier of The Mystery Boys, “really kind of moody, adventurous mystery things dealing with supernatural creatures, so I wanted to do something like that. I’d always imagined a British version of it. I had this very basic idea of these characters and storylines so when Andy got in contact I saw that his style was very much in keeping with my ideas, lots of shadows and very dynamic, really cool.”
Artist Andy W. Clift, like all the other creatives, came on board after seeing Collier’s call for artists via Twitter, and was instantly taken with The Mystery Boys: “I was really excited about the story being set in Japan. It was an exciting challenge for me to draw such a rich culture that I wasn't completely familiar with, from the mountain villages and beautiful landscapes to the vehicles and the people themselves. It was extremely important to me to make all of that look as authentic as possible.”
While Collier would cite Men in Black as an influence, Clift brought other inspirations to the table: “I've always been influenced by artists who have had more of an animated style: Mike Oeming, Alex Toth, Darwyn Cooke, Bruce Timm, Jack Kirby, Tim Sale, John Romita Jr, etc. There's just something about the way they each see the world that always blows my mind. In terms of putting together the look of The Mystery Boys, the script had a real noir feel about it so I ran with that.”
Kaiju Steel had more obvious influences. “I had been to a screening of Monsters and it clicked that there were so many ways you could write a monster movie,” says Collier. “A few months later, the Earthquake happened. It occurred to me that a comic involving giant monsters would be a perfect tribute to a really influential part of Japanese culture while the threat of destruction by the monsters themselves served as a good analogy for the unstoppable power of nature. There are a few monster comics out at the moment which are very bright and cartoony in style, but if you watch films like Gojira or Cloverfield, you can really believe it's happening. I think what Lee has done with the art of Kaiju Steel is nothing short of stunning. I mean, some of this stuff looks photo-real which is great because I really wanted realism and grit in the tone.”
Rounding off the trilogy of books is Nowhereville, written and illustrated by Ken Bastard. It’s the odd-one-out, with no clear Japanese influences to the story, a dark Depression-era tale of journalist Ben Blake investigating mysterious goings-on in Massachusetts. It’s also a one-shot, whereas The Mystery Boys and Kaiju Steel are ongoing stories.
Ken came on board via Twitter,” Collier explains. “I don't think he'd seriously been involved in comics as much before JCA although looking at his output now, you have to wonder why! Ken had the story of Nowhereville down and really wanted to get involved as, like all of us, Japanese pop culture was a huge influence on him growing up. The character of Ben Blake continues to intrigue me personally... If you follow any of Ken's social network feeds or his website, you'll notice Ben pops up a fair bit and not just in the same time period. I keep saying I'd love to get another book done. I'd love to see Ben Blake as this serial character.”
The three comics launched on Free Comic Book day this year and made waves at Kapow! Comic Convention, with DC Publisher Dan DiDio being spotted buying all three. But where next for JCA? “The Mystery Boys and Kaiju Steel will both be ongoing series. In The Mystery Boys, we'll delve into Agent Neumann's backstory quite a bit over the next arc which will start in issue 3 and in Kaiju Steel we'll continue to follow Scott as he battles against a host of Kaiju (yes, we have a roster of monsters all lined up...). As for release dates, we're working on getting them done as soon as possible but we're doing it for free, life and paid jobs have to take priority. Unfortunately, the real world doesn't let you pay the bills by doing good! The second issues will be out this summer though.”
In terms of new titles, “We have two creators working on a book at the moment which I'm really excited about. I'll be starting to write the story for another series which will have a manga style to it. I want to continue getting A-list talent on board too. Tonci Zonjic is currently working on a series of three variant covers for the books which are stunning. They all link up to form one incredible image.”
But surely, you might think, what sort of lifespan could Japan Comic Aid have? What happens years down the line when the rest of the world has forgotten about the disaster? “The cleanup process in Japan and the healing after such an event will likely take decades as the next generations tell the story,” Collier says, adding firmly: “JCA will continue indefinitely.”
If you want to support Japan Comic Aid, you can find out more about them and buy the first three comics through their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/#!/JapanComicAid