This past year was filled with milestones for some of comics’ most recognizable and influential characters. Not only did Vampirella hit 50 this past July, but Shi celebrated her silver anniversary as well. The character’s award-winning creator Billy Tucci and Dynamite Comics celebrated by putting together an Indiegogo campaign for a special, exclusive cover featuring both ladies for Vampirella #1, Christopher Priest and Ergun Gunduz’s wildly popular new ongoing series.
Funded in just 24 hours, the campaign is a testament to how popular both Shi and Vampirella really are. For Tucci, Shi put him on the short list as one of the top creators for independent comics in the 1990s. Through his publisher Crusade Fine Arts, Shi has been printed in five languages and has sold millions. Tucci also has history with the Daughter of Drakulon, which makes this cover team-up even better for fans and collectors.
Tucci chatted with The Beat about the Indiegogo campaign (which is ending soon!) as well as his history with both characters and his support of crowdfunding.
Deanna Destito: Shi is celebrating a big milestone. Can you share any plans you have for honoring 25 years of a character that is so important to you and ‘90s comics?
Billy Tucci: It’s been a truly wonderful year! About 100 issues of Shi were published between 1994-2005, garnering three Eisner Award nominations, selling millions, and featuring crossovers with some of the biggest companies in comics, like Marvel with Daredevil and Wolverine, and Image with Witchblade. But after 10 years of working exclusively on the same character, you do tend to get a bit burned out.
There is so much excitement surrounding the new graphic novel Shi: Return of the Warrior debuting on Indiegogo next month. But 2019 has also been incredible in regard to the few Shi: Way of the Warrior #1 25th Anniversary Editions specifically produced in very limited qualities for specific conventions. All have sold out, but our last will be exclusive for the New York Comic Con and features an homage to the one book that got me to return to comics, Amazing Spider-Man #300. Spidey-Shi #300 will also be printed on (almost) the exact same cover and interior stock – so it’ll be much more than just a variant cover. It’s a whole variant edition and unlike any other book we’ve ever published. We’ve just about sold out of the pre-sale for that book as there is a total of only 500 copies and we’ll need at least 100 for the NYCC. But we’ll keep that pre-sale running for another couple of days for those who cannot make it to New York City in October.
Destito: What is your favorite memory from working on Shi?
Tucci: There have been so many over the past 25 years. But perhaps it was working on Shi: Senryaku written by Gary Cohn (creator of DC Comics’ Blue Devil and Amethyst). Our three-issue miniseries serving as a biography of Ana Ishikawa’s early life and training. It was told from her grandfather’s perspective using the 36 Stratagems of the Chinese Art of War. We had the very best artists in the industry participating in the series, from Jim Lee to Amanda Conner, Joe Jusko, Marc Silvestri, Adam Hughes, Jae Lee, Jeff Smith, George Perez, and so much more, all contributing beautiful double-page spreads. We even had Frank Frazetta paint the cover to our Eisner Award nominated trade paperback. Yeah, that was a good one for sure!
Destito: How did you come up with the concept for the character and book?
Tucci: I’ve always been a huge history buff and lover of Japanese cinema. In college I took an art history course and we learned about Japanese woodblock printing and art. To say I was blown away by the style would be a grave understatement. The style is a huge influence on turn of the century Western Art, illustration (Alphonse Mucha being one), fashion and design and even comic books. Through that I kept researching the amazing samurai depicted in the prints and that led to my discovery of the Warrior Monks and Nuns of medieval Japan (Sohei). The story really just kept developing from there. The original concept was titled “Ran” (Rebellion) and it was about a Shadow War between the various secs of warrior monks and samurai that has carried over to the present day. But this war mostly takes place within the shadows of modern-day Japanese politics, the arts, and business. My character, Ana Ishikawa, is a simple soldier drafted into this war. A war she is far from prepared to fight.
Destito: The character is getting new life for new readers. Can you share some details on upcoming Shi projects, any crossovers with other characters, etc.?
Tucci: Yes! Return of the Warrior crowdfunding campaign launches this October and the story will take place today and literally be 25 years removed from the debut series back in 1994. Ana, now the curator of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, is far removed and beyond her warrior days. She’s a single mother raising her teenage daughter, Hotaru. Hotaru is a real NYC metalhead, artsy type who has no idea of her mother’s (or her father’s for that matter, you’ll have to read it to see who that is) past. Life for the two is quite comfortable, when that past resurfaces in the most dangerous way and Ana must once again pick up her naginata to save her daughter!
2020 marks the 25th Anniversary of Shi: Senryaku and we’ll be releasing a Writer and Artists Premium Edition with full color scans of the original black and white art. In the original the artwork was covered by type, but now for the first-time people will see the artwork it in all their original glory with Gary’s story beautifully reprinted in a separate section.
2020 is also the Silver Anniversary of one our most successful crossovers and we’re planning to create what is best described as the Destroy All Monsters of indie comic characters. I don’t want to give too much away, but it will be a sequel to that particular crossover and reflect what’s going on in the comics industry today.
Our third crowdfunded campaign of next year will be the follow-up to Return of the Warrior with Shi: Hotaru. My Zombie-Sama co-creator John Broglia, and I also have plans for ZS II: Dorm of the Dead for the fourth quarter of 2020. Going to be nuts!
Destito: Vampirella also had her 50th this year, and you currently have an Indiegogo campaign for an exclusive cover celebrating both characters. Why do these two work so well together?
Tucci: I love Vampirella. I love everything about the character, and she holds a very special place in my heart as it was such a special time that Vampi returned with Vengeance of Vampirella #1 one week after Shi: Way of the Warrior #1 was released. The characters visually really complement one another physically, and all the creators who’ve worked with the various crossovers we’ve done have been able to have the two literally become friends and share a universe. It’s just wonderful and a true privilege!
Destito: You’ve worked on Vampirella over the years as well. What about her keeps you coming back?
Tucci: My very first signing was with VoV’s Buzz and we became lifelong friends, so that started what I like to think of as a “beautiful friendship.” I love drawing her as you have to admit, she truly is one of the sexiest and most groundbreaking characters in comics history. Vampi is a badass and truly independent. She’s always been an anti-hero that contrasted with all sorts of social “norms” but always reflected the times she was being published in. She was the first female character that did not care what any “man” in her life thought or wished. The books have always been on her terms. It’s a form of inner power and enlightenment that changed comics.
Destito: What other projects that you can talk about or tease are coming up?
Tucci: I’m doing tons and tons of covers for all the major publishers (and some minor ones), and I completed a DC Comics project that’s scheduled to come out during the holidays, but what I’m most excited about is bringing back Golden Age Icon Miss Fury through Dynamite Entertainment this spring! Miss Fury: The Joy Division will be a premium graphic novel that will stay true to Miss Fury’s creator June Tarpe’ Mills’ canon and will fit perfectly into her original universe with all the original characters. The story takes place during WWII and has Marla Drake taking the fight to the Nazis behind enemy lines. It’s an important story that brings to light one of the darkest (and least known) episodes during the war. I think it just may be the best thing I’ve ever written and cannot wait till Dynamite launches it via crowdfunding!
Destito: Why did you choose to get so involved in crowdfunding and use it as a platform for your work?
Tucci: For a decade I published over 200 issues of comics through my company Crusade Comics. I then got a bit burnt out of being a businessman rather than a creator. The majority of my time was spent on chasing talent, advertisers, retailers, and dealing with printers and promotion. I needed to get back to creating comics so I spent the past decade having a lot of fun working for the “Big Two,” but missed Shi and after discovering Kickstarter and Indiegogo felt this truly was the best way to get your indie books into the hands of fans and to actually help you compete with the larger publishers. It’s a real personal way of publishing and I love the idea of producing three to four graphic novels a year and for Crusade to return as a literal “boutique publisher.” It’s a wonderful way to connect with the fans one-on-one and also to bring your books through Diamond Distributors and comic shops as once you solicit through Diamond, your books are complete and printed. It’s a great way to promote your books with guaranteed shipping and that will encourage local comic shops to support you and stock your books, knowing that these books will be in their stores on a particular date.
Destito: Tell us about your YouTube channel for crowdfunding comics. What can viewers get from the information you share?
Tucci: With our YouTube channel,(https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8CYzjJfKzn3BfMFIZtI8_A), my partner Nile Scala and I have crafted a very positive and friendly forum for anyone who has crowdfunded a comic. So far, we’ve produced over 50 live shows and have guests on at least twice a week. These creators range from seasoned pros who’ve earned millions to young people just starting their creator-owned dream of producing a comic. Everyone is welcome, and we hope we offer an inviting and educational experience. We’ve only been doing it for a couple of months but have already garnered almost 2,000 subscribers. It’s just a real positive experience and one that I’ve found to be integral in my own campaigns. I’m learning every week from our kaleidoscope collection of diverse creators. I hope you’ll check it out. We have a blast!
Destito: Why is now such a good time for a comeback for certain characters and creators?
Tucci: This truly is the new golden age of creator-owned comics. An explosion of nostalgia has erupted throughout the industry with creators perhaps not as active as before being thrust to the forefront. Let’s be honest, unless you’re in a certain clique you’re not getting work for the majors. Ageism is a terrible reality in comics as is identity politics. People are getting work based on who they are rather than what they can do. Fans are tired of it and comic shop sales prove it. Even DC Comics admitted that fans are clamoring for reprints of their classic stories, creators, and characters. If the characters are well thought out and interesting, there will always be an audience waiting for their return. Look at all the great ‘90s comic characters and storylines returning. That decade was second only to the 1960s in regard to comic book evolution. Most of all it was just plain entertaining. People want their comics to be entertaining, and the best creators, no matter when they last worked in the mainstream, always provide the best entertainment.
To support the Vampirella and Shi campaign with art by Billy Tucci on Indiegogo click here.