25 years after the debut of SHI, in the pages of SHI: Way of the Warrior, Billy Tucci is bringing Ana Ishikawa back for a new generation of fans. This is an older and wiser Shi, with very important stakes. Billy was nice enough to stop by First Comics News and let our readers know all about what is going on with SHI.
First Comics News: For younger fans who may not know, who is Ana Ishikawa?
Billy Tucci: First off, hello Rik! Great to talk to you and many, many thanks for this interview.
Now, who is Ana Ishikawa? Shi is basically a modern-day samurai story. Ana is a descendent of the sohei – the warrior monks of the 12th century and her moniker, Shi taken from a coin left on the body of her dead father. Shi literally means “death” and the kanji was inscribed into the coin as a calling card for her father’s murderer. Ana is a soldier drafted into a “shadow war” that has existed for 500 years and is still being fought amongst sects and clans. But rather than fighting in the vast plains in the shadow of Mount Fuji, these battles now take place within the shadows of business, the arts, entertainment, and politics. Ana is a product of two worlds as she was not only raised in the marital tradition of the sohei but also by her Catholic mother.
1st: At the time Shi debuted there were a lot of creator imprints popping up, what made you decide to start Crusade Comic rather than publish with a company like Image?
Billy: No one would take it. I pitched it to lots of companies, Defiant, Harris. I was told that my style didn’t fit there’s and that “Girl books don’t sell.” I was asked afterward by Marc Silvestri to join Image but it never came to pass. I’m truly fortunate as I love self-publishing and never having to answer to anyone creatively.
1st: What is it like as a young creator trying to finance your own publishing company?
Billy: I was insanely broke at the time. I had just gotten laid off from a new job designing children’s wear. I had a nice future designing for Macy’s private labels but was approached by another company who knew of my work and made me a great offer. Macy’s was only paying $23K a year at the time (!) and this new company offered me $35K to start. Little did any of us know that that company would go out of business four months later.
Anyway, I was working my tail off freelancing (mostly t-shirt designs) and that gave me the time to develop Shi: Way of the Warrior #1. I had no idea how to publish a comic, how they were ordered, colored, printed, and shipped, but I love comics and once I committed to making it a career, nothing was going to stop me.
As for financing, again, I was completely broke, six months behind in my rent, and had to borrow about $2,500.00 from friends to pay for the Preview’s ad (they wouldn’t release the numbers until I paid for the advertising).
Then I met Fred Pierce from Valiant. They were getting their color separations from the same print house that a friend worked at. It was just fate that the day I arrived (with all the colored pages) that Fred was there. We struck up a conversation and he really loved the book. On his word, he asked them to do the separations for my book. Then he called Sparta printing and di the same. After a conversation with the rep from Sparta, I somehow convinced them to print 50,000 copies of Shi #1. I had pre-orders of around 37,000 copies, and by the grace of God, they believed in the book too! The thing is, that I was so enthusiastic about the book that I guess my passion for it had shown through and my enthusiasm was contagious. I just knew it was going to work and because of that passion, I think others thought so too.
1st: I remember ordering Shi: Way of the Warrior #1 from Previews. Was Shi: Way of the Warrior an immediate success?
Billy: Thank you! By doing so, you helped change my life! The funny thing about WOTW #1 is that I had advertised it with a glow-in-the-dark variant cover – I loved Mark Texiera’s Ghost Rider cover and was told by Diamond that I needed a “gimmick” to compete with all the bigger (well, everyone was bigger than us at the time) publishers, so I was like, “How about glow-in-the-dark?” The rep liked the idea and thus it was advertised as such. Problem was that Sparta didn’t do glow-in-the-dark so I had to make the book returnable. We did get a box of returns that very first week of release, but within about three weeks we had orders of over 140,000 copies. I only had 50,000 total so I had to tell them to not order anymore because the books just didn’t exist.
Another thing I did was (again, hubris of being young) was I did not advertise Shi: Way of the Warrior #2 until #1 was on the shelves, and our orders for #2 were around 80,000 and it just kept on going up from there.
Billy: I believe we published over 100 issues of Shi (including specials and miniseries), and after 10 years of working on the same character, you get a bit burned out. I had also published many other titles and became more of a businessman than a cartoonist. That coupled with the collapse of the industry in general made the decision to put it aside and work in the mainstream, which was fun, but also heartbreaking and frustrating.
1st: Shi: Was of the Warrior debuted 25 years ago, what made now the right time to bring Shi back?
Billy: I’ve been planning it for at least five years and knew I was going to go the crowdfunding route, but to be completely honest, I was terrified. My good pals Jimmy Palmiotti and Brian Pulido were incredibly generous with their time and encouragement and I just had to take that plunge and boy am I glad I did!
But I also wanted the character to progress with time since fans last saw her. I’ve always said that Ana Ishikawa writes herself and this too was the case. I wanted a character that does not have to be a 23-year-old waif, but rather a mature, confident woman of the world. I’ve been with my wife for 30 years and she’s never looked more beautiful to me. So I figured, (or rather Ana Ishikawa did) to have her age in real time. We did and the fans seem to respond really well to it. She’s still a stunner, though we do play with the certain nuances that come with age, like the costume having to be altered to fit her present body and how the white kabuki face paint actually “takes away the years.” My co-writer on Return of the Warrior, and now, writer on Haikyo, Steven Peros, and I are having a blast exploring those aspects and revising a comic book character who has “grown up.”
1st: What has Ana Ishikawa been up to in the last 15 years?
Billy: Ana having long since put her warrior days behind her ending up falling in love and getting married to NYPD detective, Peter DeNyse. Pete was investigating the original Shi killings back during the Way of the Warrior series. At that series end, we see him ambushed by corrupt forces within the city and become an anti-hero himself. The difference between Ana and Pete is that Ana was able to let the warrior within go, while Pete could not. While Ana was pregnant Pete was arrested and is still in prison on manslaughter charges. Ana has since had to raise their child, Hotaru on her own (with the help of Ana’s paternal grandfather, Yoshitora, a spry 92 years young) and has had to cope with being a single mother, providing for Hotaru, and having a career. She is presently the Cultural Affairs Director of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and doing her best to live a peaceful existence. Of course that all changed in Return of the Warrior and its sequel (no on Indiegogo, Haikyo). The difference is now her daughter has been kidnapped by a copycat Shi killer and Ana must once again, embrace death so that her daughter may live.
1st: Who is Hotaru?
Billy: Hotaru is Ana and Pete’s 15-year-old daughter to gains a real appreciation and fascination (which is going to get her in trouble) with her Japanese heritage and martial traditions. She’s strong, but also carries a bit of a temper and drive that really makes her personality (much to the chagrin of her mother) more in tune with the way of the warrior. On the other hand, she’s a real NYC Brooklyn girl, and Steve and I will really get deep into that in Haikyo’s sequel (and final part of the Return of the Warrior Trilogy), Shi: Sakura which will launch via crowdfunding in late May.
1st: What is Ana’s and Hotaru’s relationship like?
Billy: Of course they are very close, but as teens and parents do, butt heads and come into conflict with one another. In Haikyo the stakes are life-threatening as again, Hotaru is kidnapped by the killer and used for bait by the copycat who’s become obsessed with Shi.
1st: Who is Masahiro Arashi?
Billy: Ah… Masahiro Arashi is the man who actually murdered Ana’s father and younger brother decades ago. He was the main antagonist in the original Way of the Warrior, who after ultimately defeating Ana in battle – yes, she failed in her mission, realized the ruin that has come to the young woman’s entire life and it was all his fault. He chose dishonor over death, confessed to all of Ana’s crimes, and gave her a second chance in life.
1st: Why does Shi ultimately team up with Masahiro?
Billy: Arashi was institutionally imprisoned for Ana’s crimes (he was guilty of many of his own but was never caught) and has been suffering from dementia. According to him, in prison, he was subject to a great deal of torture, both physically and psychologically, by Dr. Brian Blevins. Arashi has recently escaped and it was Dr. Blevins who had been assisting Ana and the NYPD in capturing Arashi. Ana, however, knew where to find him, they did battle and now, because Ana does not have a choice, must ally herself with Arashi to find Hotaru. But the question remains, is Arashi really helping Ana find the killer (who he believes is Blevins) or leading her into a trap.
1st: How much of SHI: Haikyo is complete?
Billy: All script, word balloons, artwork, and covers are complete. We are just waiting on the final color pages. The special Rough Cut and Pure Line Editions go to press this week with a plan for all color editions to press the following week! Going forward from here on, all Crusade Comics books will be complete before launch so our pledge to press time is a little over three months – hopefully even shorter!
1st: What is the difference between SHI: Haikyo and the SHI: Haikyo rough cut edition?
Billy: We have three editions of Haikyo, the Rough Cut, Pure Line, and Color. The 58-page Rough Cut is our “First Draft”, meaning my original pencils with Steven Peros’ original script. It’s the most organic and “rawest” of the edition. Lots of energy and movement, like watching the book come to life as we do. The Pure Line Edition, like the Rough Cut, is also, 58 pages and limited to 300 copies, but now adds Gardenio Lima’s amazing pencil finishes to the book with the final draft of Steve’s script and Mindy Lopkin’s word balloon placement. Haikyo’s story and art pages have grown from its original 48 pages to 58. I just wanted more story to draw!
Of course, our 64-page color editions include our premier Hard Cover and Glow-In-The-Dark variant (I knew I’d somehow have one!), along with our special variants, the first ever Cosplay cover edition featuring Joanie Brosas, Conny Valentina, Maria Laura Sanapo, Jeff Chapman and our Indiegogo and Kickstarter exclusives.
1st: What is included in the SHI digital collection?
Billy: The digital edition contains all 64 pages of the color editions, featuring prelude, credits, and a cover gallery.
1st: You are also offering SHI: Return of the Warrior with the SHI: Haikyo Kickstarter?
Billy: We have hardcover editions leftover and are offering those. We’ve been getting lots of requests for our variants (George Perez, Amanda Conner) and are planning to go through what few we have of those (very few actually) and will hopefully offer those on www.billytucci.com later on this Spring.
1st: What comes in the Mystery Bag?
Billy: All mystery bags contain an issue of Haikyo (can’t say which, since it’s a mystery), another Shi comic (could be a Way of the Warrior #1), and lots of other fun stuff, that again, I really can’t say since it’s all a mystery!
1st: There is a lot of debate between whether to use Indiegogo or Kickstarter, you use both, why both?
Billy: We call our approach the #NoFanLeftBehind campaign. It’s a strategy that ensures that all fans, regardless of their crowdfunding preferences, have the opportunity to support Shi on whichever platform makes them most comfortable. I’ve learned that there simply are those who prefer Indiegogo to Kickstarter and vice-versa, so it was a no-brainer to offer Shi on both markets.
1st: Is the Indiegogo/Kickstarter combo a better deal for independent creators than Diamond?
Billy: I love Indiegogo and I love Kickstarter. I also love Diamond and would have nothing if it weren’t for them. I know they’re making great strides in promoting indie publishers and we will be soliciting through Diamond at the end of 2021. That said, I believe that crowdfunding really allows small boutique publishers like Crusade Comics to compete against the mainstream. I’m getting calls every day from Big 2 artists and writers asking me how they to can get in on it. That’s a whole other conversation, but in a nutshell, it’s a lot of work. I tell them that when the marketing department is working, the art department isn’t. Same with the production and shipping. It’s incredibly expensive and tough, but the rewards, if done right, can be bountiful.
1st: What other rewards are you planning for your Kickstarter?
Billy: We have all sorts of fun stuff currently Indemand on Indiegogo: https://igg.me/at/2yZuxrKpqKY/x/20487910#/
The Kickstarter campaign has ended, but Indiegogo Indemand is like a store where fans can still pledge for all books and rewards. We’ve got challenge coins, prints, original art and apparel, pretty much all things, Shi.
Our backers have also already unlocked a ton of stretch goal rewards that every backer who pledged for a physical perk (pretty much everything over the digital edition) will get for free!
1st: What add ons are available?
Billy: All books, variants, and other perks are available as an add-on (unless it’s sold out). My wife Deborah is currently working on the Crowd Ox surveys that will be going out to our backers in the next week.
1st: When will SHI: Haikyo ship?
Billy: Haikyo is set to go to the printer in the next two weeks, so fulfillment begins in early March!
1st: For anyone still on the fence about SHI: Haikyo, what makes SHI so cool that no true comic fans should miss it?
Billy: Shi has been described as a ghost story, a martial arts comic, and even a thriller, but deep down it’s really the story of family and a mother who must do the impossible to save her daughter. I think it’s a beautifully tense and terrifying world about one woman who must be the light and ensure it never extinguishes.
You can find SHI: Haikyo on INDIEGOGO.COM