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Feb 5 '13

Ann Nocenti Talks Katana, Kurasowa and the Changes She’s Seen in Comics

imageAnn Nocenti made her mark in comics with her legendary run on Daredevil during the 80s. At that time she was one of the female writers in the superhero genre. After a break of a few years she is back in the genre at DC where she is about to launch Katana, a solo title for the former Outsider and Bird of Prey and soon to be Justice Leaguer.

I spoke with Nocenti about her upcoming run on the book as well as how the comics industry has changed when she first started in the business.

Where do find Katana in her first issue? What’s her challenge? What’s her greatest fear?

Katana was forged (just like her Soultaker sword) in the spirit of vengeance. Her challenge is to follow what she believes is her fate: to route out and destroy the rotten Sword Clans of their bad elements. Ancient Samurai, which began as protectors of nobility in pre-judicial times have devolved into hired hands, yakuza. So her mission is righteous, but Katana’s biggest fear is that her acts of revenge are changing her into someone she herself doesn’t like. In her first issue she has left the Birds of Prey to move to Japantown, San Francisco. She encountered the Dagger Clan in Japan in BOP, and it startled her into taking action on what she sees as her and her Soultaker’s destiny. So far she’s been seen as a tightly wrapped, serious, guarded person. She needed to launch herself somewhere new to be able to step out of that restrained personality. In Japantown, we introduce her new supporting cast, friends that will begin to pull out a lighter, more humorous side of Tatsu. She also fights COIL of the Sword Clan, one of the men that killed her husband and originally turned her into a creature of vengeance. Then in issues #2 and #3 the events and guest villains are so surprising, everything changes for her.

One of the things that always interested me about Katana is her story had been fairly gender independent. She’s motivated by revenge and personal tragedy - in some ways she was like a female Punisher - I’m curious given that you’ve written Frank do you see any parallels between them?

imageI think the Punisher is far more hardcore than Katana. When I wrote him, he was a judge, jury, executioner. In the past Katana may have been a bit like that, in terms of defensive killing, but for the New 52, and from the influence of her working with the Birds of Prey and next with the JLA, I picture her as having learned quite a bit about the fallacy of being judge and executioner when personal motives are involved. The Punisher doesn’t seem to question his right to kill, he is inflexible, a warrior, whereas Katana wants to CHANGE rotten elements into something better, if she can.

Katana kills people, seems to show little remorse but still falls on the side of hero. How much do you think superhero comics has moved beyond the stereotypes of what a female protagonist can be since you created Typhoid Mary because you were “sick of girls in comics”?

Katana will no longer be a remorseless killer. As she masters her martial arts, she learns that the best martial artists survive by being flexible. Aikido teaches that— deflect your enemies’ power rather than confront and kill.

When I wrote Typhoid Mary, there were some strong female protagonists in comics, but I didn’t like the gender garbage bins that female extras went into: wife, bimbo, good girl, slut, witch etc. But men were often disposable in the same way: lunkheads, etc. Now I see plenty of strong females in comics. But both men and women in comics still get used as “cannon fodder” (I am guilty of this myself) where a one-dimensional male or female is needed to play a stereotype and disposed of. But the female leads in their own books, the ones I’ve read, like Batgirl and Wonder Woman and Batwoman are very strong characters.

I was struck how a few years ago you referred to your run on Daredevil as “Too much Oliver Stone, not enough Kurosawa” given that you’ve mentioned Kurosawa as big inspiration for this series. What is about his work that inspires you? If you told readers of Katana to go watch one film of his to get a better feel for what you’re doing in this book, what would it be?

By too much Oliver Stone I meant that I thought my comics were too preachy. At the same time, I still get letters from fans that tell me “your animal rights stories on Daredevil inspired me to be a vegetarian,” stuff like that. Which is delightful. But I’m not even a vegetarian! I’m conscious to not eat farm-raised animals, but there is a difference between the character’s agenda and the writer’s agenda. There are fine examples of journalistic comics, but action comics need a better balance.

As for Akira Kurosawa, his early films are heartbreaking, films like Ikiku are so tender. Roshomon completely changed the way I thought about storytelling, Seven Samurai is a masterpiece, his crime films have amazing pacing… but I’m a longtime film geek, I had a film magazine Scenario for many years, make and teach films, so I could go on forever about great films. The other films I’m influenced by for Katana are the Zatoichi films— he’s a soulful blind swordsman with a heart. He’s a bit like Daredevil, in that his heightened senses overcome his blindness, and he was created in the 1960s, so there is a rich history there. Most of all, he is quietly FUNNY. That’s the best part of Zatoichi. The humor.

Katana’s has so far been portrayed as a loner even when working with the Birds. What kind of people do you see Katana associating with or socializing with?

She is absolutely a loner. It is part of her discipline and single-mindedness of her vision. But as I said earlier, for honor’s sake, coming on missions for the JLA will force her to understand the importance of community. She will be flirting with the highest echelons of the Clan society— the Swords, and with the lowborn thugs, The Daggers, but also with the Madam that runs a brothel near where she lives, the woman that runs the Sake bar, the local drunk… the regular folk in her new hood.

A number of readers have mentioned your mini with Batman and Poison Ivy, Cast Shadows as one of their favorite stories by you. Katana is a former team mate of Ivy, any chance we’ll see you writing her again soon?

I would absolutely adore to write Poison Ivy again, but she’s very busy right now. ;)

Who does Katana respect the most in superhero world? Who does it “right” in her mind? What female hero does she look up too, if any?

That’s a very good question, but as yet I have no answer. In real life, I imagine she’d think Rosa Parks from history, or Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma would be heroes to her. Women willing to risk imprisonment or even death for an ideal.

You’re writing both Catwoman and Katana and both are in Justice League of American. Are you coordinating with Geoff Johns on the book?

The JLA thing is brand new, so not much coordinating yet, other than to slowly inch Catwoman and Katana towards a more heroic sensibility, so that it dovetails with them wanting to do something that is not selfish, but for the good of others. Katana, a woman on a personal revenge trip, and Catwoman, a master thief, have at times buried their “honor” very deeply, but it is there and is being inspired to come out.

Given how close you are to the two how would do you see them getting along?

They meet in Catwoman 19, but it is not a pleasant meeting. The JLA will handle their further encounters, but I imagine Catwoman will resent Katana at first, for their bad first meeting, and Katana would find Catwoman’s love of jewels and fashion a bit silly. Catwoman is reckless and Katana very reserved. I very much look forward to how the JLA writer handles the two of them!

The art so far looks amazing. How is it working with Alex Sanchez?

imageAlex is great, he’s very open to everything, he’s got multiple styles to choose from, and he’s been masterful at created that “ancient yet modern” layering that is the spirit of the book. He created an imagined Japantown, San Francisco, where the few blocks left have hidden alleyways that resonate back to pre-1940s when Japantown was thriving, and even further back to antiquity. He’s designed the villains Coil and Sickle in a strikingly new way. I’m thrilled to be working with Alex.

Ann, you hadn’t written comics full time for awhile before jumping on board for Green Arrow last year. What was the biggest change you found from when you left, if any?

I was rusty when I took over Green Arrow. And his 60 years of history were extremely inconsistent, so it was difficult to find my footing. I think Catwoman has a consistent history and spirit, so she is much easier to grasp.

There are many changes in comes then and now. Until last month, I still did all my own balloon placements, not knowing that wasn’t done anymore. Back when I wrote comics we used “thought balloons” but they seem to be considered too old fashioned. (I still love them.) And of course, instead of waiting for the post office to deliver pages, they are shot to you instantly as electronic files. Pages aren’t hand lettered anymore, which is sad, there was a great art to hand-lettering, but the coloring has made great leaps forward into being more like painting. I think I’ll stop now, before I remind myself what a dinosaur I am. But the years away from comics I was in the film and magazine business, so similar changes took place in those fields too.

You’ve been on the creative side and been an editor as well. How to you balance that? Do you think it helps you or hinders you?

Being both a freelance writer and an editor has been great. As an editor, you understand the big picture: all the financial, marketing, and creative forces in play that lead editorial decisions. And practical things like making deadlines. The stress of an editor is enormous, the work load is crazy. I was editing all the X-Men and Mutant books plus all sorts of licensed characters and graphic novels and mini-series. Sometimes ten books a month! It is crazy fun and crazy stress. So I have sympathy for the pressures on editorial. On the other hand, the freelancer can often feel left out, paranoid, confused as to why things are changed. So I think it is great training to see both sides, so that you become more flexible and easy as a freelancer, and more open and honest as an editor.

You started writing superhero comics 30 years ago and were one of the few women writing them. Did you think 30 years later there were still be so few women in the genre and that it would still be a topic of discussion?

Back then there were 3 terrific females working as writer/editors/artists on staff at Marvel: Louise Simonson, Mary Jo Duffy, and one of my personal heroes, Marie Severin. I’m not surprised at the lack of females in comics, but that’s an industry-wide problem— it’s the same in film, publishing, politics etc. These are the big questions I have no answers for!

For people who may be on the fence about buying this, what would you say to get them to pick it up?

Katana will be an action-packed comic in the tradition of martial arts flicks, loaded with surprising twists and changes, so I do hope fans buy it and like it.

Thanks Ann! Katana #1 is on sale February 13.

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    Interesting Fact#1: She omits to mention Catwoman, a character SHE’s writing, as one of the strong female characters in...
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    I’m so picking this up! :D
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