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31 January 2008

Return of the Zinja!

Today I'm digging deep into my filing cabinet to bring you some of the oldest artwork of mine that I still own, and one of my first true comic book attempts.
Back sometime in the 1980's, when I was still in high school and living in a small fishing community on the arse end of nowhere, two of the things that kept me within some reasonable bound of sanity were books and comics. I was literally addicted to both, consuming them as fast as I could get my hands on them.
For a brief while at age 15, I studied kung fu with a local instructor, and developed as well a strong fascination with all aspects of martial arts, including Eastern philosophies. For a time, my reading was dedicated to this kind of subject matter, and I discovered many good books and ideas as a result.
One of the books that stood out at the time was "Shike" by Robert Shea (perhaps better known as the co-author of the Illuminatus series with Robert Anton Wilson). In two hefty volumes, this was the story of the "Zinja", a group of Japanese warriors somewhere between ninja and Shaolin monks, and of the Mongol boy Jebu who was raised among them.
Shike stood out for me not only because it played into my fascination for martial arts, but also because it contained elements of high fantasy that engaged my imagination, and more importantly, it was a very well written story. In the years since I left that small community, I have acquired and disposed of thousands of books. Outliving all of them, my first paperbacks of "Shike" still sit amongst the 100 or so books that are displayed on my shelves right now. It's been a while since I read them, but I know that if I were to sit down with them again, I'd find them just as engaging and enjoyable.
At one point just before I left high school, I attempted a comics adaptation of "Shike", partly for the exercise of it, and partly because I considered that if I did a good job, maybe I could use it as a portfolio for approaching the big publishers. For reasons that will shortly become evident, my attempt languished in a drawer for the past 20 years.
However, yesterday, "Shike" was brought to mind once again, thanks to that repository of wonderful things, BoingBoing. In one post yesterday, it was announced that Michael Shea, the son of late author Robert Shea (who died of colon cancer in March, 1994), has made "Shike" available to the internet under a Creative Commons licence. This means it's now free to read, copy and distribute. Michael Shea is doing this in hopes of reviving awareness of his father's work, and his generosity is your gain. If you would like to read "Shike" for yourself...and I heartily recommend that you do...the full text can be found at (direct link to the text here). If you do enjoy it, and I think many people will, do yourself a favor and go find some of Robert Shea's other work. I have to be honest and say that I have not read any of his other novels yet, but I will definitely make a point of doing so soon.
Upon learning of this, I emailed Mike and asked if he would have any objection to my posting some of the pages from my early attempt at adapting this story to comics. He happily agreed, and you'll see the result here.
I'll warn you...these pages are very rough. They're the very definition of "warts and all". They're pencil only, as I didn't have access to proper inks at the time, and done on bond paper...which makes it a miracle that they survived at all. What's more, they're not terribly original. Much of the artwork was shamelessly lifted line for line from issues of "Masters of Kung Fu" and "Savage Sword of Conan". So if you think you recognize something by Paul Gulacy, Mike Zeck or Gary Kwapisz, it' because you do.
What it does have going for it is that it is sincere. It was a labor of love at the time to put this together, and I think for all its flaws, it's a pretty good adaptation (if you don't count the lettering...I still can't do hand lettering to save my life). Also, it taught me a lot about the process of putting together a comic book, lessons that are invaluable even now.
Every now and then I think that I'd like to take another crack at this, but so far time has not allowed. Maybe one of these days, I'll get around to it. In the meantime, here's a blast from the past for your amusement. What you have here is the first 1 1/2 chapters of the novel, up to what I thought made a logical breakpoint. For some reason, for chapter two of the comic, I made a jump to chapter 18 of the story. Those pages are not here, but if you would like to see them, I am including a link to a cbz file containing all 16 pages I've drawn. This is perfect for reading in cdisplay or your favorite comic book reader, of you can unzip it and view the images individually.


Anonymous said...

Nicely Done, one of my favorite novels and I always wanted to see it done as a graphic novel

Anonymous said...

A comic book of My favorite novel,I love it