“What would be the most amazing pairing to see on screen… Elvis and Bruce Lee” how to create the perfect hero and anti-hero with Motorcycle Samurai writer/artist Chris Sheridan

Chris Sheridan portraitIf you liked what you saw in our fantastic preview of Motorcycle Samurai from Top Shelf ComiX, or checked it out after it was featured in last week’s Sunday Digest then you’l know it is an awesome mix of the wild west and 70s samurai movies with a generous does of digital comics dynamism thrown in for good measure. The man behind this eclectic mix of styles is  writer/artist Chris Sheridan, and we were keen to find out more about this awesome new Guided View title so we got in touch to get the lowdown on the world of the ‘White Bolt’, ‘Happy’ and the ‘Hornets’.

Tell us a bit about the inspiration for the title, where did the idea for the characters come from – it’s got a very spaghetti western meets Mad Max vibe to it!

CS: Thanks! I drew a lot from both those sources. I didn’t want to copy either of those two, but I certainly was aware of their influence on this project. I had been watching a lot of Deadwood & Westerns in general. The Man With No Name Trilogy stands out. I only watched these once I was an adult. But I was as amazed as a child at just how perfect they were.

I never was a huge John Wayne fan, but I always loved Rio Bravo. I appreciated what Wayne stood for in relation to westerns, but he was always THE HERO. Rio Bravo seemed to be flirting with the Anti-Hero motif. And the Spaghetti Westerns & Mad Max were defined by that Anti-Hero.

I was always fascinated by a story combining John Wayne’s HERO & Eastwood’s Anti-Hero. They could have overlapped in the late sixties early seventies. That was the germ of the idea. I never had any story though. Just that set up.

Which is the round about way I came to Motorcycle Samurai.

Thats when along came Elvis. Or at least, there came Brett Warnock, publisher at Top Shelf. I had been doing the Pacific Northwest circuit of Cons. I got to introduced to Brett while showing work around. He dug it and asked if I wanted to draw in his sketch book. He had one for Elvis. I didn’t know anything about Elvis other than the quick A&E Biography outline. I knew of him, but never listened or appreciated him. I knew he had a picture with President Nixon, and I had that postcard on my wall for a long time.

There was something so incongruous about the two of them smiling in the White House, each wanting what the other had.

Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to draw the collar & the quaff for Brett in his sketch book. And it was. So much so that I kind of liked the design I came up with it & retooled it for an Elvis Samurai poster for the Spokane Comic Show. He was standing in the desert with red boots wearing his DEA badge as a belt buckle. To me the character was starting to take shape just as a visual collage. People pointed and smiled. No one bought it, but people thought it was a funny design.

Chris Sheridan Elvis Sketch

Chris Sheridan’s original Elvis sketch that inspired Motorcycle Samurai

The more I thought the more I wanted to have this guy go on an adventure. What would it be, though? I didn’t want to do an Elvis story.

But what if it was an Elvis movie?

The desert. A John Ford western. Shot in technocolor. Elvis with a badge on his belt.

Perfect. I had my hero. Now I just needed the anti-hero. I thought of what would be the most amazing pairing to see on screen, and I couldn’t imagine anyone more amazing or dynamic then Bruce Lee. Who else could match the sheer energy of Elvis? Only Bruce Lee.

Boom. There was Motorcycle Samurai.

So how did you get from that initial idea to the comic we see before us?

CS: I built out the world and added backstories, because I didn’t want them to be just shallow husks of the inspirations. So I cobbled lots of things together, realized Bruce’s character was a woman, and figured out where most of the major pieces on the board went.

This was about six to eight months of tinkering. Just about time for the Cons to start again.

So I took the first story I worked out and pulled the Prolog together. I just wanted to show Brett what I had come up with. I wasn’t ready to do the full book. I wasn’t even looking to do it. I was going to just work on it in chunks for the following year.

But when I went to drop it by the table for Brett at ECCC I ended up putting it in the hands of Chris Ross as Brett wasn’t around. I knew Chris from the previous year & working in his sketch book as well. Chris flipped through the books nodding. He asked if there were more of these. I said ‘yes’. I had storyboarded the full story, but hadn’t done any pages yet.

Chris Sheridan Motorcycle Samurai sketches

More origin sketches from Chris Sheridan’s Motorcycle Samurai

He asked how much more I done and I told him ‘the whole book was pencilled’.

He asked if i’d be willing to make a few changes, mainly lettering, and i said, ‘YES’.

From there Chris was into doing the story serialized for Top Shelf Digital.

I think it was just really luck. They were looking to push their Digital Catalog and I came along with something that could work for what they wanted. I am thrilled it worked out this way. They’re amazing collaborators, but also, just push you to make what you want.

It helped I knew them, but even so, I had to wait to find out if Chris Staros, the other publisher with Top Shelf, was into the book being part of the Top Shelf library.

As I found out, luckily for me, The sketchbook Brett had of Elvis was actually Chris’ sketchbook. So having a character based on someone the publishers is into isn’t a bad way to get attention it turns out.

All in all it was a crazy turn of events. One that is truly in keeping with everyone in comics getting in in a different way. It was such an odd turn of events that led to the project, and one that has had very fun results.