Yoshiki, the drummer-pianist-rock star commonly referred to as “the Bono of Japan,” has a new alter ego — Blood Red Dragon, the title character in a new comic-book series from Stan Lee’s Pow! Entertainment and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. The first issue will be unveiled at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Hero Complex contributor Rebecca Keegan talked to McFarlane about creating an alter ego for the rock star, how American and Asian comics differ and his thoughts on Comic-Con.
RK: What went into the design of a character based around Yoshiki?
TM: Yoshiki kind of flaunts his androgynousness. He was quick to point out that he didn’t want to be muscle-bound. You can tell he’s not American because then he would want to look like a bodybuilder. He wanted to make sure that when he was not in costume he still looked wiry. When he turns into the dragon character, which is his alter ego, he didn’t want it to be like the Hulk. He wanted to be lean and mean.
RK: Why did Yoshiki want his own comic book?
TM: Comic books are a big deal in Japan and they’re read by adults too. We have a stereotype of comic books in this country. We might giggle if Bono wanted a comic. In Japan, reading a comic book on the subway to work is not frowned upon or thought of that you have arrested development. Yoshiki’s crowd is used to manga. Comic book creators there, they’re [Derek] Jeter. We live in a little bit more obscurity here.
RK: Music plays a role in the plot of the comic. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
TM: Yoshiki’s character is a metal rock star just like he is in real life, and music helps him transform into the hero. Bruce Banner just got pissed off and turned into the Hulk. This happens more mystically. We’re going to be doing a musical comic book, like those musical cards you get at the Hallmark store. There will be a sound chip in the comic book so it plays a riff when you open it. Those are only going to be at Comic-Con.
RK: How hands-on was Yoshiki in the making of the comic?
TM: He’s very specific in what he wants and what he doesn’t want. Sometimes artists can give you these ethereal notes, “I’d like to be more empathetic.” His notes are succinct – “Can you make my hair longer?”
RK: Tell me about the villains, like Ky’Rann.
TM: If you have a good guy, you don’t know how good he is until you put him up against a really bad guy. He’s the foil to the hero. If Yoshiki is Batman, this is his Joker. You give the boss the big cool name. And these other guys are, well, we call them bullies in real life. We have to give them fancy names in the comic.
RK: Did you make the comic in a manga style that you hoped would appeal to Yoshiki’s Japanese audience?
TM: That would have been my thought, but Yoshiki had the opposite mind-set. In Japan there’s a bit of an infatuation with America. He wanted to do an American-style comic, which is different than manga style. That would have been a slightly different look, maybe black and white. He was aware of what American comic books look like and he wanted that. That’s why he went to Stan Lee, because Stan’s the godfather of that style.
RK: Do you think we’ll see more American comic book companies moving into other Asian countries in a big way?
TM: Either those countries have their own heroes, their own books, their own styles, or they just like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man. They’re not looking for the hybrid. I’ve never seen the example of somebody figuring out in America how to do Chinese-esque comics for Chinese people any more than somebody from Spain is going to do better American-style superheroes than we do.
RK: How many times have you been to Comic-Con?
TM: My first one was in 1982. It was in some small dumpy hotel. It was a true comic-con. I went because I was trying to break into the industry. I was toting my portfolio. I’ve probably been 20 times. Everybody in the planet should go at least once, because it’s just a visual spectacle. For me it used to be cool, and you’d run into all your peers and all your friends. Now it’s so giant and diverse. You bring out your wares. You glad-hand as much as possible. You give autographs. Do a couple of panels. You can do art lessons. Then it’s Sunday and you go, “God, I didn’t even get to walk the floor!”
RK: Can you go and take in anything for fun, or do people stop and approach you?
TM: I try to sneak a little time and go look at young artists in Artists’ Alley because there’s always a diamond in the rough there. When it was just a comic show you were one of the big guys walking around. Now that it’s gotten so diversified with people from all different fields you can walk around in relative obscurity. There’s a lot more anonymity than there used to be. Now they have people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in to flog their movies. When it was just comic book guys, we were the heavy hitters.
— Rebecca Keegan
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