Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
Emertainment had the pleasure of sitting down with FJ DeSanto, the writer of Archaia Entertainment‘s new title Cyborg 009. This graphic novel is a retelling of the classic manga series by Shotaro Ishimori, who is widely known as the Stan Lee or Jack Kirby of Japan. His titles have made their way over to America through anime, english translated manga, and even Power Rangers, which was inspired by Ishimori’s series Kamen Rider and Super Sentai.
Emertainment Monthly: Tell the readers a little bit about your background. Where did you start, what have you worked on, and how you came to be the writer for Cyborg 009.
FJ DeSanto: I attended NYU Film before I worked forMichael Uslan and Ben Melniker, who are the executive producers of the Batman franchise. I worked with them for a lot of years in their company, which was all Batman films and production. I’ve worked on movies like Constantine and they had also produced movies like National Treasure. I then co-produced The Spirit movie, and that’s when Iwent off on my own. In the last couple years, I sold a pilot to Syfy, and I’m also a co-producer on the forthcoming Doc Savage movie, with Shane Black as the director.
Although I grew up a comic fanatic, I never entertained the thought of writing until about five years ago. My writing career jumped with the Star Trek manga by Tokyo Pop, and I wrote some Spirit comics when the movie was coming out. And then I created an original book called Insurgent, which DC published this year. It’s culminated with the CYBORG 009 graphic novel.
Besides the obvious, what’s the difference in being a producer of a movie and the writer of a comic book series? Do you have more control in the story, what makes the approach different?
When I’m writing a comic book and I have an editor, I’m getting notes from the editor— which is no different than what I do as a producer, where I am the one giving a writer notes. It’s funny because I’ve had a bunch of editors say, “You’re really easy to work with and collaborative.” And that’s because I understand their perspective. There are a lot of similarities—When I wrote Insurgent, it was world building, it was brand new, we’re creating from scratch. If you take Cyborg 009, Batman or The Spirit, you have certain guidelines for the character. It’s your job is to maintain the integrity and don’t violate the characters, but present something new and interesting. You figure out the most compelling way to make it fit the format—for example, how do we create the best CYBORG 009 graphic novel. No one is thinking about anything else other than how to make this the best possible book.
Like any creative collaboration, sometimes it doesn’t work, but when all the “stars” align perfectly and everyone is so emotionally invested in the project, you can produce a book that’s very, very special and Cyborg 009 has become that special book. It’s more than I could ever imagine. It’s my responsibility to maintain the integrity of the characters, working for the Japanese rights holders who have years invested in this property, and we’re doing this to present these characters and this franchise to a brand new audience. It takes a lot of time educating everyone involved on it, getting them excited about it, and then making it happen. We really have such a great team—Stephen really deserves all the credit for putting this team together. He brought in everyone, including DJ, the letterer (who actually lettered all of the original English language CYBORG 009 translations), and Jon Adams, who designed the book and elevated it from being “just” a graphic novel to something more of piece of art. Again, all the credit in the world to Archaia and Stephen for identifying the best possible collaborators to achieve this.
What’s the process you had to go through to get the rights to Cyborg 009 and can you expand a little bit on the process of adapting this popular manga to this new format?
With the rights holders in Japan–which is Ishimori Production—this came together on the entertainment-wise. I’ve been developing the feature film versions of some of their characters and Ialso working with them to expand the profile of Ishimori and their characters here in the US. The idea was that we need to explain these years of Ishimori’s history to the world that doesn’t know—he’s really the Stan Lee or Jack Kirby of Japan. He’s a legend. I introduced the Ishimori group to Comixology and we made it so that—and this is an ongoing process—Ishimori’s original manga in English has now been released on Comixology. That was the first step, and the second is this graphic novel.
For the graphic novel, Bradley Cramp—my co-writer, who is a fantastic writer and producer —and I went through the original source material: the original manga and anything we could get on the property. For example, the Ishimori group has internal detailed archives, encyclopedias, and files on all the characters and storylines. We wanted to go through all of this and figure out what’s the best beginning, middle, end of a retelling of the original story.
The best comparison I can make is Batman Begins. What’s great about Batman Begins is that actual story didn’t happen in the comic book—Ra’s Al Ghul didn’t train Bruce, etc.. They took things that were “cool” about the franchise and created a new way to present it to the world, and that’s what we strove for here. The story was first and foremost and Brad put together a 30 plus page treatment. From that, we would work in conjunction with Ishimori to make sure this was in line with what they liked and what was respectful of the source material. Honestly, it was a pretty painless process, because Brad and I developed an intimate knowledge of the property, and Ishimori were very helpful—once we had that story, we knew we could start turning it into a graphic novel.
We made a deal with Archaia and Stephen Christy came on board. He roped in the talent—he brought in Marcus To and Ian Herring as illustrators and they went into designing the characters based on Ishinomori’s originals. Everything we did was run by Ishimori Pro before we would take the next step, and simultaneously Brad and I wrote the script. We broke down the 30 page treatment into a 105 page story. In retrospect, it was a very long process, but Stephen really pushed us to do better and better. Bringing it back to circle—everybody’s really happy with the story: it’s a good, fun adventure that hopefully captures the spirit of Ishinomori, which is what the book is supposed to do.
The book is supposed to come out in Japan in Japanese on the same day here. It’s never been done before like this. It’s coming out through the ShoPro, which is the publisher that releases all the DC and Marvel books in Japan—it’s very high profile. We’ve done something head-to-toe that I think is really innovative.
How would you describe your writing style and how have you developed it?
I don’t really know how to describe my writing. My approach is how do I make something engaging and fun, and what will make somebody want to pick up this book and come back for more? Or have these readers want to seek out the original manga and more about the source material. There are so many options in terms of graphic novels and comics, and I always try to think of who’s going to read this. This was a very collaborative effort, and Stephen really pushed it—pushed me—forward. He made me such a better writer. Certainly, I’ve improved through this experience. No one held back, this was a legitimate team effort.
What has your experience been like, working with Marcus To as your artist?
I’m like a giddy little kid when I get an artist like him, because he’s just one of those guys—and Ian, the colorist who works in same studio—Marcus is a guy who’s done a lot of stuff for DC, and I feel this was a big opportunity for him to really let go and go crazy. I’m really glad we were writing while he was drawing—especially when we got to the climax, because knowing what he could really just turned it up. It got to the point where we said, “Marcus, here’s what we want to do” instead of explaining it in every detail, because we knew he could handle it. You can tell he’s just loving every page of it, especially some of those double-page spreads! I couldn’t ask for a better artist. He’s a hell of an artist and Ian takes everything Marcus draws and brings it to that next level.
I was with Marcus last year at Comic Con and I can’t believe people don’t understand this: he gets a line of teenagers—the audience publishers want the most—he connects with them in a unique way. I watched him draw maybe a hundred Red Robins or Kid Flash, and he really understands teen heroes. Marcus’ name came up for the book, and I got really excited. Some of his Tim Drake drawings looked a lot like Joe, the main character of 009, and Marcus was able to capture the essence of that. People line up for him, and for good reason!
Cyborg 009 is the real deal, folks. This action-packed graphic novel tells a classic action story that delivers stunning visuals, relateable characterization, and overall gumption that’s lost in most traditional comic books recently published. You can find out more about Archaia Entertainment at their website!
Check back in the coming days, as Emertainment also got to sit down with Editor-in-Chief Stephen Christy and artist Marcus To about Cyborg 009 as well!