Out this week from Dark Horse Comics, Eric Nguyen and Scott Burman’s White Savior takes a deeply problematic cinematic standard and puts a new and very distinct spin on it. From the Dark Horse solicitations: An ancient prophecy foretold of an outsider that would save the peaceful village of Inoki from an unstoppable army–a man who would confuse the people at first with his unconventional ways, but lead them to the light. Nathan Garin, Captain in the United States Army, known for his viciousness in battle on the American frontier, could be that man . . . if he weren’t such an awful, drunken idiot. Now it’s up to Japanese-American teacher Todd Parker to warn the good people of Inoki of Garin’s true nature before he causes the very death and destruction they are counting on him to avert!
To mark the comic’s release we chatted with co-writer and artist Eric Nguyen about collaborating with Scott Burman on the book, social commentary through humour, and what the future holds for the world of White Savior…
ANDY OLIVER: Let’s get the very obvious question out of the way to begin with and ask about the book’s premise, characters and what inspired it?
ERIC NGUYEN: Well first, if the title doesn’t make you do a double take, you probably aren’t reading it right. We came up with the idea around the time the movie The Great Wall with Matt Damon came out. Years before that, I read a script from my co-writer Scott Burman – watch out for him, he’s going to be the funniest guy in comics soon – so I called him up and said, I want to work on something new. We started brainstorming and thought, “what if Matt Damon, the guy destined to save everyone, was actually an idiot who made things worse for the people he was trying to save?” And thus, a comic was born.
AO: For all the comedy White Savior is a socially relevant book with important points to explore. In terms of communicating that message, what are the benefits of framing those themes in a humorous way?
NGUYEN: Great question. I always think that humor is the best way to get any message across. I think what makes our book stand out is that we approached it from the perspective of the story and humor first – mainly because we knew that if we hit those notes, the message would come across ten times stronger. I think many comics and works of fiction that address social issues spend so much time on the issue that they forget the story, and the message suffers because of that.
AO: How did the collaborative process between you work? In what ways did the dialogue and slapstick comedy develop and evolve as you progressed on the project?
NGUYEN: This was probably the best part of working on this comic. Early on, we figured out how Scott and I worked best. I wanted to mess with a lot of the rules you usually see in comics – breaking the panels, changing the style up – basically, I want to be free and unencumbered when I draw. And Scott – Scott told me, in his words, he wanted to make “the funniest f-ing comic in the history of the game.” For the record, Scott’s a little crazy, but in the best way possible. So we adapted the Marvel method, where we had a basic outline and script, then I’d decide how to layout the scenes, pages, and story for each issue.
After that, Scott and I would come together and create the best jokes possible for the page. I think one of the things that makes our book stand out is that many of the jokes were created in response to the art, which you don’t see in comics very often. It’s usually, “I wrote this, now you draw this.” But our method let the book breathe and evolve, and made for what I think is a pretty darn funny read.
AO: Did the comedic nature of White Savior give you an opportunity to adapt your visual style to the particular tone of the book?
NGUYEN: This is my first comedy book, and the first one that I took part in writing. Sometimes I’d say to Scott, I can make this funnier on the page, and he said, Eric, do what you want to do. Don’t worry about the funny, the funny is in the story. He told me to just draw what I wanted to draw, so I was able to just go nuts and trust that whatever we came up with would match the tone. Which ultimately meant, I could mix in a lot of blood splatter with the funny.
AO: I want to talk about Iwan Joko Triyono and Micah Myers on the colouring and lettering because their work plays such an important part in the mood of the book, particularly in the scenes set in the past. What did they bring to the mix for you in terms of enriching the book’s distinct tempo and atmosphere?
NGUYEN: Both of them are just beyond phenomenal. Iwan was just a gem to find, and we found him in a Facebook colorist group. He added so much atmosphere to the work and I was completely blown away when the colors came back. To make things even better, he has an old school work adage that when it came to any edits, he was beyond accommodating. And speaking of beyond accommodating, Micah was just so brilliant with his lettering. Because we adopted the Marvel method, it required a little more experimenting on the page to perfect the jokes, and everything Micah came back with was just flawless.
AO: Do you have plans for expanding the world of White Savior after the limited series?
NGUYEN: After this one takes off, I don’t know if they’ll be able to afford us 🙂 I am just kidding, for the record. We definitely have plans for both a sequel and to expand the universe and take on different tropes. We do want to work on something in between – I think once people see the work we’ve done on this book, they’ll want to throw me and Scott on a team. We have a killer Deadpool idea, and I know Scott’s dream book is a take on an old DC hero called The Heckler, who we’d love to update.
AO: And finally, what else are you currently working on?
NGUYEN: Well, as easy and fun as the comic was to create, the promotion is ten times more difficult. When you do creator-owned, you have to get out there and spread the word. To be honest, I’m looking forward to getting back to the simple joys of writing and drawing. Scott and I just finished this one up, but we have a smorgasbord full of ideas and are ready to rock and roll with our next big thing.
White Savior hits shelves and digital storefronts this week. For more on the book check out the Dark Horse Comics site here.