“We wanted to create a kick-ass and funny comic that would incorporate everything we love about the 1980s!” Adam Dravian and Jessica Safron talk Satan Ninja 198X
What do you get if you cross nerds, ninjas and the 1980s – why Satan Ninja 198X of course?! Adam Dravian and Jessica Safron’s 80s-inspired webcomic of rad-ness was one of our favourite discoveries of 2015 and so we had to talk to them about the inspiration for this amazing series – and it truly is an epic! We find out about Adam’s rock star past, discover Jessica’s favourite 80s metal albums and get the answer to why blood and boobs are OK to put into a webcomic!
Satan Ninja 198X – where did the idea and the inspiration for this come from?
Jessica: In 2008, when we first decided to do this comic, it was originally about a dweeb in the 80s who finds a magical ninja gauntlet that turns him into a badass ninja, and for a long time we planned on calling it Shinobi Fist: Legend of the Badass Ninja. The first issue mainly focused on some ninjas breaking into a mansion to steal the gauntlet (actually, they were originally plain old burglars, but I said “No way, Adam. This is a ninja comic. They’re ninjas.”), and a Mr. T-inspired bodyguard trying to stop them. Since we really wanted to inject our story with more 80s Satanic flavor, Adam later decided the ninjas should be part of a Satanic ninja cult. Adam would also periodically suggest making Eddie some special kind of ninja to make him stand out against all the other ninja stories out there.
OK, so we get the ninjas, but where did the Satan stuff come from?
Adam: That comes from the “satanic panic” of the ’80s. Back then, at least in the US, there was an odd paranoia in the general populace of secret satanic cults operating in seemingly normal suburbs. There were all these urban legends of these satanic cults abducting children and performing sacrificial rituals, or using Dungeons & Dragons to recruit teenagers into satanic covens. All that fun stuff. And then of course there were the heavy metal bands of the era that used cheesy satanic imagery, and parents were afraid that if their children listened to such music, they’d become devil worshipers.
Of course the “satanic panic” ended up being baseless paranoia. But we thought it’d be fun to have it actually be true in the alternate ’80s universe where our comic takes place. So in the SN8X-verse there really are secret satanic cults in the suburbs and people who use table-top role-playing games to recruit new cult members. And we thought the idea of there being a clan of satanic ninjas that secretly dwell in the sewers below suburbia was funny.
Jessica: We decided to add an arcade scene to the beginning of Issue 1 and tied the main game in with the Satanic ninja cult. Adam called it “Double Dudes vs. SatanNinja” as a cross between “Double Dragon” and “Bad Dudes vs. Dragonninja” (more commonly known simply as Bad Dudes). As I was finally working on these new pages in 2013, I was so amused by the concept of a Satan Ninja that I asked Adam if we could somehow work that into the comic even more. That’s when we decided to have the glove be hell-forged and bestow satanic ninja powers. We had to change the title (though we’re still using the name “Shinobi Fist” of Hellpower for the glove itself in the comic). The new title had to convey the tone and the core elements of the premise: Satan, ninjas, the 80s, humor, and over-the-top bad-assery. After a couple days of brainstorming with Adam, I finally suggested “Satan Ninja 198X.”
Adam: But basically, yeah, we wanted to create a kick-ass and funny comic that would incorporate everything we love about the 1980s.
Speaking of the 80s, it’s a real key influence for the book, what books, games, films and video games should new readers check out to get all the in-jokes?
Adam: Well, you’d basically need to be an ’80s mega-master to catch every single reference, but we try to do our references in a way that makes them mostly invisible to people who aren’t in the know. We don’t want to go the lazy route of having all our humor rely on references, and we don’t want people to feel like they need a PHD in ’80s pop culture in order to enjoy the comic. After all, a lot of our readers weren’t even alive during the 80s.
But for anyone who’s curious to check out our inspirations, the FAQ on our website includes a huge list of ’80s movies and games and such that inspired the comic: https://SatanNinja.com/About/FAQ
If I had to choose, I’d say the single most influential ’80s product, as far as the basic plot structure of Satan Ninja 198X goes, is the 1985 film Teenwolf, though that’s far from our favorite (we both love the idea of the movie more than the movie itself). Weird Science and The Last Dragon are also tonally similar (and awesome). The comic is mostly inspired by cheesy genre movies, but also some video games, cartoons/anime, and heavy metal music. I actually can’t think of any books that inspired the comic, unless you count D&D rulebooks and magazines like Nintendo Power, Heavy Metal, and Playboy. Ironically, the only comic book that comes to mind as an influence is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Jessica: Well, everyone should play Bad Dudes (the arcade version). Double Dragon, too. I can think of at least three Ninja Gaiden gags in Satan Ninja just off the top of my head, from both the arcade and NES versions (the two versions of Ninja Gaiden are completely different games). If you can’t play them, you could check ’em out on Youtube.
Although the basic structure of the comic stems from Adam’s love of 80s teen-movies like Can’t Buy Me Love, I actually don’t really like teen movies. Well, unless the premise is weird enough, like with Weird Science. I think the most normal teen movie I’ve enjoyed that’s had some influence on the comic might be Just One of the Guys.
Return of the Living Dead was a big influence on a few characters in the comic, and it’s been one of my favorite movies since I was fourteen. Trick or Treat (1987) and The Toxic Avenger also share some elements with our story. And then of course there are all those must-see classic 80s cartoons like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Thundercats. The original Dirty Pair TV series from ’85 might be the biggest anime influence. I take a ton of influence from the music world too (especially metal and rock), so checking out some 80s music videos would also be a good idea. If you haven’t seen Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, definitely watch that at least.
Tell us a bit about the working relationship with you and Jessica? How did you meet and come up with this crazy idea for a comic?
Jessica: When I was sixteen, my favorite song was Slumber Party Massacre by a horror rock band called The EverDead. I’d carry around a printout of a piece of insert-art from that album in one of my folders at school (if I’d used a locker like everyone else, I probably would have stuck it to the inside of that, but I had a folder full of fun pictures instead). The cartoony insert-art depicted a girl blowing a greaser dude with a giant drill-bit for a dick, the drill-dick bursting through the back of her head and the greaser smiling and shrugging his shoulders. I think it said “blood and cum shooting everywhere” underneath, a lyric from the song. The EverDead was local but I’d never seen them in person, only in pictures and videos on the Internet.
In early 2007, during my first year of college, a classmate mentioned his friend’s brother/roommate being Adam Dravian, the lead singer of The EverDead. He told me anecdotes about how Adam was constantly drunk and wears aviator shades and a leather jacket indoors at all times. “One time, I went to my friend’s apartment and Adam was sitting on the floor in the dark just downing beers and playing Final Fantasy 1, wearing his leather jacket, bat pajama pants, and aviators.” (My classmate later admitted to being a pathological liar, so only a couple of those things were actually true.) Adam was looking for a girl to play a part in a movie he was making called Raz McFurion and the Demon Cult of Final Winter, so my classmate hooked me up with his AIM screen name. At first, I was just really amused and interested in talking to him as the EverDead guy. I’d never had a crush on him or anything, and I didn’t expect him to be so relatable. He also turned out to be way more attractive when he wasn’t covered in fake blood. We ended up talking non-stop, discovering that we shared everything important in common, and started dating.
Adam: Back in the late ’90s, I wrote a script for a full-length movie called Dark Relic, which I planned to make with my friends on a micro-budget. It would’ve starred me in the role of a dorky teen named Eddie who finds an ancient magical glove that turns him into the super cool dude that he’d always longed to be. It was heavily inspired by my favorite ’80s teen movies, but it didn’t actually take place in the ’80s, since that would’ve been hard for us to pull off. But the movie never ended up getting made anyway.
Fast forward to 2008. Jessica and I had been dating for about a year, and we’d been talking about adapting one of my unfilmed movie scripts into a comic for a while. We finally settled on Dark Relic. Since budget would no longer be a concern, we changed the story so that it took place in the ’80s, and decided to have the magic glove turn the main character into a magical ninja instead of a “cool guy,” and Dark Relic became Shinobi Fist: Legend of the Badass Ninja. Over the next couple years, while Jessica was attending art college, she drew about half of Issue 1 and made a flash animated trailer for it (which is so rough that it’s sort of painful for her to watch now), but then life got even busier and the comic was put on hold.
Jessica: In 2013, my schedule eased up and we started getting really gung-ho about doing the comic. Since then, our working relationship has been incredibly stressful. I’m extremely scatterbrained and absent-minded, but also an excruciatingly meticulous perfectionist, and I have mountains of art to make. On the other hand, Adam is an efficient machine of a man with much less work on his plate as the main writer, so he spends a lot of his time cracking a whip over my head as my boss while also acting as my secretary, errand boy, cheerleader, maid, researcher, promoter, frozen pizza chef, best friend, and boyfriend. So Adam is wearing a ton of different hats while I’m wearing an enormous one, and it’s super stressful for us to look so ridiculous all the time with these heavy, stupid hat configurations.
However, we’ve shared a ton of fun and excitement while working out the story, dialogue, and characters together. We’ve also had a lot of fun experiencing a huge range of shitty and amazing things from the 80s as research over the years.
You release it as a webcomic with regular updates, why did you go down that route rather than put the whole thing out as a digital issue or printed collection?
Adam: The end goal for Satan Ninja 198X has always been to collect it all into a one or two volume physical graphic novel. However, Jessica’s not the fastest artist, and her OCD and perfectionist tendencies slow her down even more. Doing this comic is a full time job for her, and she’s typically able to finish a page a week. If we were to wait until everything was done to collect it and unveil it to the public, that’d mean Jessica would have to slave away at the comic for five years or more before getting any kind of feedback from outsiders. If we went that route, she’d likely get burnt out long before finishing the comic. Plus, that would be five or six years of Jessica working on the comic full-time without making any sort of income.
By releasing it week to week, we get feedback from fans, and their encouragement tremendously helps out our morale. Plus, some fans are awesome enough to help support the comic by pledging money to Jessica’s Patreon ( https://Patreon.com/JessicaSafron ). Another benefit of the page a week format is that it encourages the reader to really soak in each page, instead of merely reading it and moving on to the next.
Of course, there are downsides to doing the weekly format, such as the occasional awkwardness of pages ending mid-conversation, and not everyone has the mentality (or desire) to read a comic at such a glacial pace. But those people can simply wait until each issue is done before they read it. And fortunately, there are plenty of people who don’t mind the page a week format.
We’re basically putting the comic out there as fast as we can, and right now that’s about a page a week. If Jessica’s Patreon becomes successful enough, then she’ll be able to take on fewer commission jobs and dedicate more time to the comic so that updates can become more frequent.
How important do you think it is for you to create a website that compliments the comic and create an overall amazing package of 80s-ness?
Jessica: I designed the look and general layout of the site, and our webdude Ghoul did all the web development stuff to make it work. I was really intent on making it look as rad as possible, along with the main logo I designed for the comic and the graphic design I do for the issue covers. It totally paid off, too. Some people who’ve casually meandered to the Satan Ninja site from sites like Reddit have told us that they immediately knew that they’d come to a rad place because of the design. It’s really inviting to the types of people who’d likely be into the comic, which is exactly what we need. I also wanted it to be something that could somehow subtly pump readers up in their peripheral vision as they read the actual comic pages, without being too distracting.
You have gone fully multimedia with Satan Ninja producing videos and trailers to accompany it, and even adding playlists to the website what inspired you to make these? Shouldn’t you be working on the comic rather dressing up and goofing around?
Adam: Much of my childhood was spent watching ’80s movies on HBO, so I’ve always had a love for cinema. As soon as I got my hands on a camcorder, I began making my own terrible short movies with my friends. I have a long history of shooting videos, and Jessica and I can both act and look good in front of a camera, so it just made sense to make some kind of live-action promo for Satan Ninja. The hardest part was coming up with the Satan Ninja outfit (I ended up buying a Nintendo Powerglove and a Michael Jackson Thriller jacket with inverted colors and then having them modified). Our friend Jay at Evil Duck Workshop did a great job on bringing the glove to life. In fact, we had several friends who brought their expertise to the promo. It wouldn’t have turned out nearly as rad without them.
We didn’t spend too much time making the Satan Ninja Promos. In fact, most of the footage was shot in a single day and night, which was out of necessity because that’s the only day I could get everyone’s schedules to align. Of course, it just happened to be a remarkably cold and windy day, so in all the scenes that were shot outdoors, everyone was shivering and miserable in-between takes. Especially Jessica, since she was wearing such revealing clothes. Another fun fact: Jessica was so drunk during the shoot that she doesn’t even remember shooting most of the sequences where she played the blue-haired punk chick.
We recently added those videos to a new section of our website, here: https://SatanNinja.com/Extras/Videos
I decided to add the “unofficial playlist” to the sidebar of the website, because I love the outrun/synthwave/newretrowave genre (especially Perturbator) and listen to it almost exclusively when I’m writing the comic. I figured fans of our comic might be into it as well.
One of the milestone goals on Jessica’s Patreon is for her to record an EP of Satan Ninja inspired songs. She’s always had a musical inclination and she’s a great singer, so she’s excited at the prospect of recording some ’80s-style songs for the comic. So perhaps someday we’ll have a more “official” soundtrack.
Jessica: My idea of an ideal soundtrack for the comic would likely be a little different than Adam’s. The synthwave stuff is cool, but I almost exclusively listen to satanic 80s metal while drawing the comic (Mercyful Fate, Slayer, Venom, Bathory, etc.), but also occasionally other stuff like DEVO, Weird Al, and Matt Gray. Adam likes 80s metal too, just not the kinds with non-melodic aggressive vocals. I used to have more straight up 80s pop in my listening rotation, but oh god am I sick of so many of those tracks after playing them to death over the years.
Matt Gray did the soundtrack for the 1988 Commodore 64 game The Last Ninja 2, which Adam and I discovered on Youtube in 2008 when we first started talking about doing the comic. Adam was trying to look up a ninja game he’d played in his youth, which ended up simply being called Ninja, but we happened upon a video of LN2 first and I said, “This… this music! It’s so… awesome!” I went and downloaded the game’s badass soundtrack and it’s been part of my Satan Ninja music rotation ever since. I actually discovered sometime within the past year that Gray did a Kickstarter to revamp the soundtrack, and his previews of the new tracks have been amazing. That soundtrack is probably the biggest and most appropriate overlap I have with Adam on what the soundtrack should be like.
You’re not afraid to go a bit NC-17 in the book with swearing, nudity and violence, was that a deliberate nod to those 80s action movies and whose idea is it to put those in, yours or Jessica’s?
Adam: It’s definitely a nod to ’80s action movies, and also horror movies, and b-movies in general. Even mainstream comedy movies of the ’80s would often feature a gratuitous scene of a topless busty babe. And of course you can’t have an ’80s cop movie without a strip club scene. I’ll let Jessica answer the other half of that question, since I imagine it’d be more interesting to hear her perspective on that.
Jessica: Before Adam and I met, I drew plenty of busty cleavage girls, but not really naked ones. I’m just not super into bare nipples or genitals, I guess. When I was thirteen, I started drawing comics starring my superhero alter-ego, Captain Bigboobs (I was sort of an early bloomer, physically speaking), and combining sexiness and violence with humor was kind of an ongoing theme in my artwork. Adam and I have different ideas of what looks the sexiest, though, and I end up compromising with him quite a bit. Big boobs are great, but he likes them even bigger. I think really big lips on cartoon girls are off-putting, but Adam likes them fuller. Not that Adam’s into the bolt-on-silicone-breast look or the bee-sting-inflated-collagen-lips look. We just have slightly different idyllic thresholds that we’re probably a little too hung up on.
I’ve always thought most people are waaay too hung up on nudity and swearing. But while we’re certainly including a lot of this raunchy stuff as a nod to its prevalence in the 80s media we love, I’m pouring so much of my time, a chunk of my life, into this project that I need the end product to actually be something good, and in order to do that, the raunchy stuff needs to be used as effectively as possible. Oh man, that probably sounds naive, and a bit silly considering how trashy a lot of the subject matter is.
I think Adam and I are mostly on the same page, but we actually argue about this stuff from time to time. For instance, he was pretty adamant at first that Eddie’s bedroom should have some Playboy-type spreads on the walls, because that’s what a teenage boy living with a grandma who’s too loopy to care would realistically decorate his walls with. My argument was that having these fully nude chicks constantly staring you in the eyes from the background (as opposed to the posters of rad and silly shit along with some not-quite-so-naked babes) would be really distracting and as a result might clash too much with the tone of whatever’s going on in a given scene. Adam ended up agreeing, and I compromised a bit anyway by adding a poster of a heavy metal chick wearing a see-through bra and panties.
Things like that are pretty sensitive, because I’m trying to make a legit critique, but it can come off to the defendant’s ears as prudish censorship. Then there are things like the “Space Boobs” page with all the gratuitously bare-breasted alien slave girls, or the parts with dream-Veronica only wearing a thong and heels, or all the boobs Psycho Sam encounters in his weird adventures. Those are some of my favorite pages! I personally feel like those were all naked boobs used to great effect. I want to command these boobs with finesse and intention, not spew them out wantonly as though I’m using a hard dick as a paintbrush! Painting with finesse using a dick would be pretty impressive, though.
If you could include any 80s character in the book from any genre (movies, books, video games), who would you include and why?
Adam: It’s sort of hard to answer this, since if we really want to put an ’80s character into the comic, then we do, although we change the character up a little bit, of course. Many of our characters are combinations of actual characters/actors from the ’80s. For instance, Viper is mostly a combo of Mr. T and Sylvester Stallone. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don’t exist in the world of our comic, but our main character’s favorite comic book series is the Cowabunga Ninja Gators.
However, if we could have one ’80s character put into the comic, unaltered and with no fear of copyright infringement, it’d have to be… Shit, this is tough. Hmm, I’ll go with Ash from Evil Dead II. He’s one of my favorite characters of all time, and the Evil Dead series pretty much changed my life when I discovered it in my tween years. What about you, Jessica?
Jessica: There are some “evil” musicians who seem like they’d be fun to have cameos of in the comic, like King Diamond or the guys from Venom, or Samhain era Danzig. As far as fictitious characters go, hmm… Adam’s right. This is hard considering we just sort of mash up characters from the 80s all the time. I guess Robocop might make sense. This is Michigan, after all. Maybe Elvira. Or Jack Burton. Or April O’Neil. Or Arnie-style Conan the Barbarian. I know we have characters down the line who are inspired by at least a couple of these guys.
And finally, what’s next for you guys and any plans for this year you can sure with us?
Adam: We pretty much live and breathe Satan Ninja 198X. Now we’re finally at a spot with the comic where we’re ready to go into full-on promo mode, so that more people can become aware that our comic even exists. And we plan to finish issues 3 and 4 this year. The comic gets so fucking rad as it goes on, and we can’t wait for people to read it. And someday in the future we’d love to make some kind of Satan Ninja video game, but there’s no way that’s happening this year. Oh, and a movie version is something we sometimes fantasize about.
You can read Satan Ninja 198X at www.satanninja.com and you can purchase the first two collected issues from their store here. And be sure to help support Jessica via Patreon if you want to see her continue making Satan Ninja 198X!!