Created by Marcus Johnson, co-written by John Lawrence, illustrated by Christopher (Kuzomari) Krady, and set to the backdrop of an unforgiving dystopia where "organized crime IS law", Arms Of The Dragon takes us through a world of violence and poverty as seen through the world-weary eyes of his two children-protagonists, Shou and Jun. In this interview, NSZR speaks to the man at the helm of Hype's most anticipated series, Marcus-Kwabena Johnson:
➢ What initially inspired Arms Of the Dragon?
Initially, Johnny reached out to me for feedback on the Primus project that he and Vaughn were working on. Over time, I went from giving feedback to actually revising sections of the story, world building, character backgrounds, etc. He liked many of my ideas and asked me to officially come aboard. After a while, he encouraged me to pursue creating my own concept.
➢ Where did the overall concept come from?
Where the story is now is nothing like my original idea. After a very long week of school (I’m a fulltime high school teacher), one Saturday I decided to isolate myself in my living room and unwind by watching some of my favorite movies, shows, etc. While watching The Last Dragon I jokingly thought to myself, “What would it look like if Shonuff and Leroy were friends”. That one thought sparked the whole concept. But the questions that followed molded it I would say.
➢ How long did it take you to solidify said concept?
Within a week I completed a skeleton that contained most of the the major events that would take place. Though a lot has been added, scratched, and revised since then; the core of the story is still the same.
➢ Was this a story in the works for many years, or was it spur of the moment?
A mixture of both, actually. I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing as a hobby, as a means of dealing with emotions; but never imagined creating on this scale. So from that standpoint it has been in the works for many years. In terms of this particular story and how it came about, totally spur of the moment
➢ What inspired the title of the story?
Dragons are cool!!! In all seriousness it derives from the story, so I don’t want to divulge too much. Beyond that, it draws inspiration from Asian dragon mythos. The story of the koi that becomes the dragon. The lead characters (Shou and Jun) will experience much, and the readers will watch them stumble and get back up as they grow to reach their potential. In that respect, I thought it was fitting.
➢ What inspired the themes of your story?
It’s hard to pinpoint actually. A number of things. Feeling like an outsider in the only home you’ve ever known. Mental illness masquerading as hyper masculinity and toughness. The burden that survivors of sexual abuse are forced to bear. The connection between poverty, crime, violence and its cyclical nature...countless things. Though they may not be apparent on the surface, topics such as these and many more often cross my mind while I am writing. While I will assure that the manga will contain action, suspense, and some comedic elements, I also want to raise awareness when possible.
➢ What genre(s) would you say your story fit in?
In all honesty, I don’t concern myself with genres. I just create. I will leave it to the readers to decide which box to attempt to fit us into. I really hate labels.
➢ Describe your creative process: how do you put yourself in a creative space (“mood”) to write/draw, etc?
There really isn’t a process for me. Inspiration comes to me so sporadically. While I’m driving, playing with my four-year-old son, or in the middle of a lesson in my classroom. I usually stop what I am doing to record my exact thought at that moment...and as soon as I have time to sit down, I write it all out until I’ve exhausted every possibility. It usually comes in bits and pieces that I end up puzzling together. Music is one of my greatest muses (and loves) though...Tribe, Prince, Coltrane, Curren$y, Jill (I can do this all day lol) But once I have that spark...I need total silence and isolation to follow through.
➢ How long does it generally take you to come up with a chapter(s) and the artwork?
In the beginning it was rough. I am more of a big picture person. After I create a concept and the events that will take place within them, the actual scripting takes me a while. My co-writer, John Lawrence, has done an excellent job assisting me with pacing and tying everything together. Without him I don’t think we would be having this discussion. Now that we’ve got our flow down, it usually takes us two weeks. The first to write, the second for us to discuss and revise.
➢ What/Who were the inspirations for your characters?
I mentioned The Last Dragon movie earlier, and its two main characters. But also movies like Enter the Dragon, specifically the characters portrayed by Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly. Big Trouble in Little China was also an inspiration, the Jack Burton and Wang Chi characters, and most definitely The Three Storms. Though they may not necessarily be reflected in this particular work, anime like Yuyu Hakusho and One Piece, and comics such as X-Factor, X-Force, and New Warriors influenced me greatly. In general, authors such as Chinua Achebe, JK Rowling, Ngugi wa Thiango, and George RR Martin are amongst my favorites. Their words literally paint the clearest pictures, and I admire them for that ability...to bring words to life.
➢ What do the character’s backgrounds have to do with your personal experiences, if any?
I think the average person understands loss and/or has experienced a major obstacle at some point. I am no different. The characters in this story reflect the various ways various people cope with those realities. Not necessarily in terms of right and wrong. But in the sense that there are times in which you have to accept an outcome that you may not like, but it is the least offensive to you and your ideals. It’s ultimately about persevering.
➢ Who would you say is your favorite character and why?
Tosh hands down. He’s a prick. But he’s comfortable being a prick lol. He’s comfortable in his own skin. And makes no apologies for it.
➢ When working on the artwork for the characters, what sort of model did you go off? Did you already have a specific set of physical traits in mind?
I tried to relay to the artist that I wanted him to capture the subtle nuances of the aesthetic of people of color. I was wary of the characters becoming caricatures...which to me, there is a major distinction. While I was very particular about Shou and Jun, I also make a conscious effort to allow John and Chris some creative freedom as well. I think we have a certain synergy that has come about organically, and it has really enhanced the finished product in my opinion.
➢ How have your characters evolved in both artwork and character development from where they originally started?
They have changed a lot in terms of development. In the beginning Jun was to be the sole lead. But as John and I began to write, Shou’s role grew more and more. And a minor character created by John (Chizuru) has turned the duo into a trio. These things all happened naturally. As we write, we don’t try to force the outcome, but rather allow the story to shape itself. And as the events of the story have changed, so to have the personalities of the characters to a degree.
➢ How have your characters evolved you as the writer(s) and artist(s) overall as a person, personally? Much like how children (hopefully) inspire growth in a parent, how have your characters inspired growth within you as person?
They have allowed me to explore content and topics that I would not have been open to previously. Issues that many experience, but are often forced to bury. To go a step further, I never saw comics, anime, manga as anything more than a hobby/source of enjoyment from the perspective of a consumer. But in the same breath I have also lived through them to a degree, seeing parallels between my life and those of the many characters that I love.
So now that I am in the role of creator, I keep in mind that there may be someone reading who knows what that feels like. Not so much as a writer, but as a man, Shou and Jun are sort of my way of demonstrating my ongoing evolution as a person, and my ability to process and come to grips with my feelings and my place in the world. The feedback from the artwork alone has shown me that there is an audience that shares some of my sentiments, and that what I am doing (through Noir and Hype) is necessary and welcomed.
➢ What have been some challenges in creating, writing, drawing, and producing the series?
Being that myself, John, and Chris all live in different time zones, scheduling has been the biggest conflict. Aside from that we have really taken to each other. We’re a tight unit and I am going to go out on a limb and say you can expect more projects from us in the future.
➢ What have been some of the biggest successes?
At this point I would rather not focus on trying to quantify success. I’m dedicated to creating a project of the utmost quality from top to bottom. And I’m sure Chris and John feel the same.
➢ What would you say is the general demographic for your readers, andwhich mainstream series fans do you believe would enjoy your work?
Great question (and a tough one). It’s hard for me to say. Arms is a story for readers of all walks of life. Due to the nature of the content, maybe age 14 and up (feel free to chime in John). Though every story is unique, I feel that if you like mangas such as Gangsta and Sun-Ken-Rock...and animes like Michiko to Hachin and Black Lagoon, you will love Arms.
➢ What’s your overall goal, hopes, and vision for the Arms of The Dragon series?
To create a story that people genuinely enjoy. A work that I can be proud of and will stand the test of time. A piece of work that spans the spectrum of emotion as well as enthrall with action second to none. Creating this project has awakened something within me, gives me a sense of fulfillment. I hope that it provides me with other opportunities to maintain that feeling while also meeting like minded people to take this story, and others like it, from the page possibly to the screen.
➢ Where can fans find you on social media/keep up with your activities and progress on this series (or any others you may be working on)?
In terms of the project...you can follow/like Noir Caesar on IG and Facebook as well as our website www.noircaesar.com
Personally, you can find me on FB as Marcus-Kwabena Johnson, and IG dapp_stylez, but I must warn you upfront that I’m a boring follow. Nothing but fatherhood, selfies, music references and blerdiness lol