Ronald Wimberley will say something overwhelmingly pessimistic and laugh about it in the same breath. We’re supposed to talk about how his outer borough samurai swords comic, GratNin– it’s free ninja, of course, is collected in print, but the conversation continues to drift into things. Film, comics, design, ask him a philosophical question and he will give you a very precise answer that will change the feeling of the question. Wimberly talks about the things he loves, what he gets out of them, and more, the movements they are part of, the concepts they were born from. You just have to listen.
Today, Beehive Books is launching its Kickstarter campaign to fund the GratNin Deluxe Box. How a boutique editor captures an ‘endless scrolling’ comic where bad times in the Gowanus channel lead to the toughest martial artists throwing off their hippie robes and throwing themselves against corruption (and hackers)? A graphic novel, but with a single page, of sorts, a page four hundred feet long and accordion-folded into six hundred parts. A wall-sized subway map of New York’s ninja secrets, a handful of maps, a variety of production levels that end with “a 26…handwritten edition of A-Z” which, how don’t you like you not this wording. Here’s what they have to say about free ninja:
The Namba family are masters of the deadly device KyokuGen Muron Ryu (KGMR), but on the streets of Brooklyn riddled with police and pirates, it’s always been best to keep those powers a secret… But what’s the point of being a ninja if you Can’t protect your hood?
Welcome three new recruits to the Namba clan: Mo Brown, a weed dealer; 9ONE, an anarchist vandal; and Kibo Evars, the fastest blade and deadliest DoorDasher in all of Brooklyn. These three decide to secretly use their ninja skills to fight crime. And that’s where their troubles begin.
“GratNin has a unique dynamism that counters traditional publishing,” said the publisher and editor Josh O’Neill. “So we did what our team at Beehive does best: reinvent what a book can be. [An] accordion-folded accordion enveloping NYC’s urban sprawl in a multi-faceted world of paper.”
Wimberly and I spoke briefly about influence and ardor in relation to GratNin and his Romeo and Juliet bushido remix prince of catsand the man drops lists that will keep you busy for hours after donating to the Kickstarter.
Arpad Ok: The GratNin junket is about hippie ninjas emerging from their neighborhood community center, which made me think of the period piece (as opposed to sci-fi) sword story being a masked modern critique. A legend of chivalry as Zatoichi Where Lady Snowblood about someone without status (wanderer! bandit!) defending innocent people from the wrath of knights and kings, is a contradiction of roles, but makes sense in the context of storytellers reacting to what they saw in post-war Japan, or wuxia made in occupied China. Do I read you like King Hu? Eastern Depot fuck bad monks? What do you think is about the old tales of bushido and blade that suits modern resistance stories so well?
Ronald Wimberly: I think I just like the cuts, to be honest. The clothes, the plans, the choreography.
I have never entered wuxia. I love ashes of time. I loved The one-armed swordsman joints. I just saw Dragon Inn recently. It was fun. I watched it just before watching Goodbye Dragon Inn. I did not like Lady Snowblood. But I liked Yakuza Female Tales. I would not describe Lady Snowblood Where Zatoichi as having anything to do with chivalry. Would you?
Agree: Maybe revenge love song is a bit more on the nose than the first, but yeah 100% chivalry. Postmodern chivalry, where the head of state is an ignominious monster and those who would avenge or defend the innocent are exiled criminals. I just talked about it about Cyril Pedrosa’s new series.
Wimberly: I’ve watched a lot of jidaigeki, but I don’t like heroic samurai tales. Some of my favorites are critiques of chivalry and heroism, where chivalrous characters are tragic, demoralized, or even wicked. One of my favorite chanbara is Zatoichi. He’s not a samurai. He is an anma, a blind masseur, who pushes the yakuza who try to take advantage of his inability to see. Zato reluctantly does good and gets beaten down by his humanity every episode. [Laughs] Another one I like is Yamada Yojiit’s Twilight Samurai.
prince of cats was definitely one of those types of stories. Tybalt is tragic. The ninja in GratNin are also confused for most of the story. They recover, however, with the help of their elders.
Agreed: GratNinThe scrolling style format of seems timely for experimentation with the potential size and shape of story beats. The editing techniques of classic martial arts films also relied on cutting, to make powerful blows and impossible stunts visually seamless but also torn. Did you think about all of this when navigating how to place the breaks in the strip – did you have any control over how the folds landed when you were composing the next print edition?
Wimberly: contrary to prince of catsI didn’t think too much about movies when I was working on GratNin. I’m sure I’ve internalized them so much after watching them. I was probably still watching them while I was working on the comic. I was mostly thinking about the specifics of the form and how I might use it. The same care is given to the printed edition. This care also extends to the packaging. Chloe Scheffemy design partner, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how the storytelling experience begins at the packaging presentation and continues beyond the final comic book image.
Ok: the way you talked about this tape is as if its main reader was you: I read that it was born out of a conversation born and linked to your previous work, prince of cats, but I was struck by how many times you called your choices self-indulgent. Do you fancy what you do on GratNin isn’t that how you would normally tell a story? I’m curious what standard you are measuring against.
Wimberly: I feel like we’re usually our own primary reader, right? I can’t say that I ever thought of all that. GratNin because a concept is prior prince of cats. prince of cats is a GratNin story in the sense that there is Gratuitous Ninja in it. This part is kinda forgiving of me. The aesthetic choices were very personal. I don’t really measure myself against a standard… maybe Shirato Sanpeithe drawings. Ninja Bugeichō. naruto. Manga stuff. May be Jose Munoz. THB. [Shrugs]
I remember thinking that some episodes of Samurai Champloo were for me and about a dozen other people who had seen the Hanzo the Razor trilogy, read Andy Warhol’s philosophyknew how to give gas face and also knew the meaning of kurofune.
Agreed: GratNin is a comic that broke away from the traditional format for an avant-garde layout, but its form imposes other, even more inflexible restrictions on content. Gesture studies are as much the basis of realism as character designs, aren’t they? But anatomical precision is considered sophistication, and expressive works of art like this in GratNin breaks the rules of gravity which is supposed to look. Do you think there is any true universal rules for making good comics? What are you trying to avoid?
Wimberly: [Laughs] At this point, can’t we say that there is evidence of universal rules everywhere in our universe?
I have a very strict way of thinking about comics – which I try not to impose on others. I’m mostly interested in how designers approach the medium where even writing is a type of drawing. Comics as a type of synthesis. As if I was calling Hollywood Africans Where Captain Underpants a comic before I call a lot of projects where a writer who can’t or doesn’t want to draw asks an illustrator to illuminate a storyline that frankly can’t stand on its own. That said, there are some very good examples to the contrary. Even a handful of my favorite cartoonists have worked with writers.
OK: OK, now I will confess my indulgence. Going back to the Pharaoh’s Den grocery store break-in and finding out that Sun Ra’s Arkestra really is from outer space, can you say something about the influence of music on GratNin? When you think about it, when you work on it, what plays?
Wimberly: I can’t say that the music directly influences the production of GratNin a lot because I don’t even listen to music until I’m inked…sometimes. Music can change my rhythm and my mood. That said, the first song that comes to mind when I think of GratNin is “Slug Named God” by Melt-Banana and Otomo Yoshihide. If I had to do a mixtape it would probably be a bunch of Flat Bush Zombies, young fathers, Yasuaki Shimizuit’s Kakashi, Show me the body, Otoboke Beaver, Velvet floor, Suicide, Death Grips, Yaeji, boot camp clique, A$AP Mob, LOSS/Vic Vaughn/Gedoraand Wu of cours.
To support the GratNin Deluxe Box Set, visit their Kickstarter. Also check out LAAB, the arts and culture serial journal that Wimberly publishes with Beehive Books.