Uncovering The Dark Secrets Of The Ninja Programme: Christos Gage On Ninja-K And Writing

by Gary Catig

This past weekend, many comic book stores held events to celebrate Local Comic Shop Day.  The celebration is to call attention to locally owned independent comic book specialty stores.  The fine folks at Knowhere Games and Comics celebrated the day with a signing from writer, Christos Gage, who was promoting the release of the new Valiant series, Ninja-K.  I was fortunate enough to sit and talk with him about his new comic and his writing experiences.

Gary Catig:  Ninja-K serves a good jumping point for the franchise.  For those new to the series and are interested in checking out, could you briefly describe what it’s about?
Christos Gage:  Sure.  Ninja-K, also known as Ninjak, has been a Valiant character that has existed for a while and the premise is sort of “What if James Bond was a ninja?”. What we’ve done with this series that’s just launched is we’re taking the readers into the previously unexplored past of the Ninja Programme. The idea is that Ninjak is actually Ninja-K and there have been previous ninjas going all back through the alphabet starting with Ninja-A, B, C and onwards and it explores questions like “Why does the British Secret Service have a practitioner of a Japanese art like Ninjitsu?”.
We explain that, which is that Britain and Japan were allies during World War I and that’s when it started. I don’t want to spoil anything, but we delve into the past of the program as Ninjak in the present day is dealing with someone who is killing people associated with the program and its past. In the course of investigating that, he will be uncovering dark secrets. We have tremendous art by Tomás Giorello who did X-O Man of War’s relaunch, which is a beautiful painted style art. Knock on wood, I hope people like it. The first issue is double sized at no extra charge. I hope people check it out.
GC:  The character Ninjak, also known as Colin King, has been around in the Valiant Universe for a while and different creative teams have been behind it. What drew you to the character, and will you be doing anything different with him to distinguish your run from others? Or is your main focus exploring the mythology of the Ninja Programme and Colin’s predecessors?
CG: Really the main focus is to tell good stories. We are starting with the Ninja Programme, but what’s also important about it is how it affects Colin’s character in present day and what he learns about himself. In terms of what makes my run different, obviously every artist’s and writer’s run is different just because of their creative inclinations. What drew me to it was I grew up loving comics like Master of Kung Fu and Nick Fury: Agents of SHIELD which were spy oriented. I’ve been writing comics for a long time, but I’ve never gotten to do a spy comic before, so that was really exciting to me.
Also, I was a fan of the character going back to the early 90’s version so that was exciting.  Also, I loved what Matt Kindt and his collaborators did on the prior run, which I thought was terrific. Obviously, I don’t want to duplicate what they did. They did a great job on establishing Ninjak’s past, his training, where he came from, and where he got his skills and abilities. They also did a lot of great stuff exploring the supernatural in his world so I’m staying away of the supernatural for a while and focus more on the Ninja Programme itself and its past. Then as we go forward, we are exploring how Ninjak and the rest of the Valiant Universe currently fit together. Who’s friends?  Who’s enemies? I don’t want to spoil things again, but there’s some interesting stuff coming up in the Valiant Universe at large that will be impacting our book as well.

GC: You’ve discussed how you’ve been writing comics for a long time.  You’ve worked for different publishers like the Big Two, Dark Horse, and IDW. Ninja-K is a Valiant title and you’ve worked with them on other projects previously.  How has your experience been working with them and is there anything in particular about them that makes a creator like yourself want to work with them?
CG:  Well, Valliant, they’re terrific people. They really care about their books. They’re not just trying to come up with IP to sell to the movies. They bought the rights to the Valliant characters because they love the characters. They really want to make the best possible comics they can make and that’s always attractive. I knew Warren Simons, my editor, from when he was at Marvel. I liked him and we got along well. I knew he was a good editor so that has a lot to do with it too. Pretty much anytime you know you’re going to be working with good people, you want to work with them again. That’s why you go anywhere. Sometimes editors move from one company to another and if you worked with them before and liked them at one place, you’ll probably like them at the other place. I try to get to know as many people as I can, and the ones I like, hopefully I work with more than once.

GC:  In addition to comics, you also have worked as a screen writer for TV and film including Daredevil. What made you get into that industry? Was it something you always wanted to do and can you compare and contrast your approach writing for TV and comics?
CG:  Well, I have always wanted to do screen writing as well.  As a matter of fact, I did that before comics. I went to film school, The American Film Institute, and got a Master’s degree in screen writing. That’s where I met my wife Ruth and became writing partners on the screen writing stuff. I’ve always just been interested in writing in general. One of the things I think is cool is that when I first went to film school, you were supposed to, as a writer, stay in one area. You weren’t supposed to do a lot of crossing over, but then people like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon broke the barriers, and now it’s actually seen as desirable to write comics, movies, video games, TV, everything. That’s exciting to me.
As far as comparing and contrasting, there’s a lot of similarities. The cool thing about TV and movies is when you have actual living actors acting out your scripts, you can be more subtle and get things across in a look or gesture. In comics, sometimes you have to be a little more direct with your dialog to make sure things get across and are understood. Having said that, I love comics because there’s literally no limit other than your imagination and the artist’s imagination. Budget’s never a problem. Movies, even with the technological advances we have today, they can’t do what Jack Kirby did with a pencil 50 years ago. That’s what is amazing about comics.  I love working in all of them. I actually think as a writer, moving back and forth between one medium and another keeps your metaphorical muscles sharp in terms of writing in general. I think it makes you better overall.
GC:  You’ve discussed how you met your wife in film school and you collaborate with her quite often.  How would you describe working with her, and do you both have similar styles or does she provide a different point of view and approach that complements how you work?
CG:  Yeah, it’s the latter. Generally speaking, and I’ve co-written with others as well like Dan Slott and other collaborators. Generally speaking, if you have two writers who have the same skills and strengths, there’s no point in them collaborating because they’re just duplicating each other. If you complement each other, as Ruth and I do, then you make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Ruth is very thoughtful, she thinks things through really thoroughly and tremendously. I make sure we hit the deadlines and get the pages done.
For example, in our Daredevil episode that we wrote, I had written a scene between Matt Murdock and the priest, Father Lantom, and she said, “You know, I think we need an actual Bible verse here that we can use to make it feel more real. I think a real priest would use a Bible verse here”. She found a wonderful one that really summed up what we were trying to do in the scene and really summed up the characters to the point where years later, they’re still using that Bible verse in the promos for Daredevil season 3. She also came up with some really terrific action sequence stuff for the ninja fights. Generally, when you have a writing team, what you’re hoping to do is put together people who can create something together that they couldn’t create separately.  Hopefully that’s what we do.

GC:  Finally, you’re here today promoting the release of Ninja-K. Are there any other projects of yours that you would like to plug that are out right now or are coming soon?  I know you have Rom vs. the Transformers finishing up.
CG:  Yeah, Rom vs. the Transformers is finishing up soon. The final issue is coming out very soon. Then Rom and the Micronauts is a new series that I’m doing with IDW, which is fun because I grew up reading both of those books. It’s exciting to combine them. There is Ninja-K obviously, which is ongoing. I’m doing a Batman miniseries for DC which is based in the world of the Telltale Games Batman videogame. It’s somewhat different than the regular continuity so that’s exciting. Then there’s some other stuff I can’t talk about yet.

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