Interview w/ Dan Hipp, Creator of GYAKUSHU! and Amazing Joy Buzzards

As both a fanboy and creator of some of the comic world's sleeper hits, illustrator Dan Hipp harnesses his quick wit and a knowledge of nerd-pedia to craft some of the most meaningful and punk-rock stories I've ever read.

Dan's biggest work to date, GYAKUSHU! offers an in-depth experience with a tale of bitter revenge that takes its cue from classic films such as Star Wars and Frankenstein. Sprawling 3 complete volumes, the third of which has been recently made available, GYAKUSHU! packs in more punch both visually and from a writing standpoint than most books on stands today by well-established creators. Hipp took some time away from his crazy, monster-hunting, samurai killing, rock'n'roll adventures to grants us a glimpse into his mad, mad world.
Thanks for joining us, Dan, it's great to have you. Feel free to kick your feet up, grab a refreshing Hi-C Ecto-Cooler to quench your thirst and relax.

Thank you kindly, sir, but no Hi-C. I'd prefer a glass of your delicious milk.

So, I heard that you think you can stick more swizzle stick up your nose than me. Let's go then. Ready? One... two... three...

(2 seconds later) You win.

All artwork © Dan Hipp

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I'm a California native, growing up in Central California, going to school in Southern California, and living there still. I was the awkward kid that was good at art growing up, which unfortunately meant I probably didn't work as hard at it as I should have. Now that I draw comics for a living I have to care a whole lot more about that. The first full length comic-book I drew was the first issue I had published, so there was a lot of learning as I went. That's the mistake most up and comers make when it comes to drawing; they think they can draw a sequential book because they can create a great pin-up or cover. It's not true, kids! If only I had learned that lesson sooner (sob, cry, boo-hoo). Anyhoo, that was me growing up though; drawing super-heroes and monsters all the time (just not sequentially). The upside to that is it still makes me hungry to be better. Speaking of hungry, I was a chubby kid too, so that puts a nice bow on the standard nerdy-kid picture hopefully.

At first glance I would say that your style has a lot in common with Mike Mignola, has he been a strong influence on the development of your work? Who else has influenced you?

Yeah, Mignola has certainly been an influence, along with Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame, and Jamie Hewlitt of Gorillaz fame (yeah, I know and Tank Girl too, you nerd). There are all kinds of other influences I pick up here and there, but that's become the standard answer.

All artwork © Dan Hipp

You first gained recongnition for your work w/ Mark A. Smith on the The Amazing Joy Buzzards in 2005. What was the series about and how did that collaboration come about?

The Amazing Joy Buzzards is a super-natural, adventure story about the world's biggest rock band. They get into all kinds of Scooby-Doo type adventures, fight monsters, and rock out, all with their mythical Mexican wrestler buddy. It has something for everyone, except that one guy who complains about stuff on the internet. Mark and I met by chance at Comic-Con just after we'd both finished at our respective universities. Comic synergy happened and we had a book deal with Image Comics by the next Comic-Con.

Looking back 5 years later, are you still happy with the work you did on that title?

That was the book that I was learning as I went on, so it's far from perfect, but I have a great amount of appreciation for having had that opportunity to learn. I still really love that book. I don't compare it to anything I'm doing now, because I certainly hope I'm better than I was, but it took that to get me here, in the same way I hope I can say that in another five years about whatever I'm doing, in comics, or life (so deep, Mr. Hipp).

All artwork © Dan Hipp

Any news from Image on when the second volume, Monster Love, will be dropping onto store shevles?

Monster Love, which is awesome, by the way, will be on store shelves when I'm able to finish it. I have so much of it done, but that book is a labor of love, which is a fancy way of saying it's not something we're given fistfuls of dollars for. So unfortunately it gets done when it gets done.

Next up was your creator-owned manga series GYAKUSHU! which has somewhat of a bittersweet history in regards to publisher Tokyopop. What inspired the project to begin with and how did it land at Toykopop?

That book was developed specifically for Tokyopop because they wanted to do a book with me. I was fresh off of Joy Buzzards and naively thought that having my foot in the door meant I'd easily get another book. It wasn't as easy as all that, but Tokyopop was very positive about giving me a shot as a first time writer/artist, which I was grateful for. I'd always wanted to do a revenge story that was all out action so I pitched it and they bit. Once I started developing it I began to add layers and layers to it. It became this monster of story that I'm now very proud of, but it all started as just a standard revenge/action story. It has tastes of all my favorites, from The Empire Strikes Back, to The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, and Lord Of The Rings, with a healthy dose of blood and carnage.

All artwork © Dan Hipp

Volume 1 and 2 were released by Toykopop in 2008, but then the title seemingly vanished. Was their anything in particular that caused the delay between Volume 2 and 3?

Anyone interested can track down the gruesome details by Googling Tokyopop and tracking the history of recent years, but basically Tokyopop took a big hit in the economy for varying reasons and they dramatically restructured the whole company, cutting back on most of their titles. GYAKUSHU! got caught in that unfortunately right after Volume Two's The Empire Strikes Back ending. I was already working on Volume 3 when it happened. The good news was that Tokyopop always wanted me to finish the series and paid me to do so. It's taken longer than anyone would like, but you'll be able to pick up a printed copy soon. Tokyopop has always controlled what goes on with the book, I'm just happy that I was able to finish the series as it was planned, and they were even cool with me putting it online for awhile for free. The whole series has been printed internationally and I saw Volume Three in print last year in Italy (along with a boxed set), so it's not as sad a story as it might sound.

You've also mentioned GYAKUSHU! being your 'warped allusion to Frankenstein.' Without revealing too much, what elements of Mary Shelley's immortal man-beast inspired you?

It's basically my version of a man with no name being re-made from death, all because of a guy named Viktor (so subtle, Dan). There's a bunch of other man versus nature and science stuff in there too, especially in Volume Three.

All artwork © Dan Hipp

Not one to rest with idle hands you have also been working with Peter David on a series of books for Ben 10: Alien Force AND you've teased at a new book, Stray Days, coming out in 2011. Are there any other new developments or plans that you'd like to share? A return some indescript flock of featherless, carrion feasting, hard rock fowl perhaps?

Ben 10 was a really fun project to work on, and my new book Stray Days is pretty much the best thing I've ever done (I say before finishing production, yikes!), though I can't tell you much about it. Like most artists/storytellers, I have a bajillion ideas for projects and little things maybe happening here and there all the time, but my approach right now is one project at a time. I don't want to be that guy who talks about all the possible stuff I'm working on that you never see, you know? I've been waiting for years now to see Volume Three of GYAKUSHU! printed, so I've learned to keep my mouth shut until the stars align, if that makes sense. For now, I'll just keep the spotlight on Stray Days coming from Hermes Press in 2011, in FULL COLOR, all by me. It has monsters, it's awesome.

As a fan of zombies and other assorted monstrosities, what's the best monster movie you've ever seen?

That's a rough question, and when it comes monster movies I think "best" probably means "favorite" because I don't want to end up at a convention in a fight with some monster-nerd that reads this when I'll only have a knife and they'll have a gun and they tell me in a horrible Sean Connery accent that... anyhoo, just sayin'. So my favorite would probably be John Carpenter's The Thing. I still watch it all the time, or have it on when I'm working.

All artwork © Dan Hipp

If, in mindscape of some twisted, intergalactic 12-year old's psyche, you were given the choice of being squished by Godzilla's foot or eating gerbils which would you choose and why?

I would eat gerbils, even if I didn't know where they had been because it was not clearly stipulated HOW they must be eaten. I'm just saying I think that gerbils might be delicious if prepared properly. In fact, I'd probably host a "Gallopin' Gerbil BBQ" at my house, you're all invited, BYOG.

Time for the lighting round! What's the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?

Squishing bees with my fingers. I don't know what I was thinking. Eventually I was stung and I had to sit in the kitchen with my hand in baking soda, or something, watching Masters of the Universe on TV. Though it did give rise to a fourth grade classic:
I squished a bee upon the ground,
Now it's just a yellow mound.
I've squished a bunch of bees before,
It wouldn't hurt to squish some more.

All artwork © Dan Hipp


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