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‘The Adventures of Dr. McNinja’ Comes to Dark Horse [NYCC]

At New York Comic-Con today, Dark Horse Comics announced that they’ll be publishing print collections of the popular (and awesome) webcomic The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, the continuing story of a doctor who is also a ninja and his kid sidekick, a twelve-year-old who grew a moustache through sheer force of will and rides a dinosaur. In five years on the web, Dr. McNinja has battled against lumberjacks, zombies, an action star bent on eradicating ninjas from the world, and of course, Dracula, and now he’s joining Hellboy and the Goon at Dark Horse, where “Dr. McNinja Vol. 4: Night Powers” is scheduled to hit shelves in April 2011.

ComicsAlliance was able to speak with “Dr. McNinja” creator Christopher Hastings about the upcoming books, how sending in an unsolicited pitch pays off if you just wait half a decade, and what he’d like to do next, and his glowing recommendation from Bill Murray!
ComicsAlliance: Dark Horse seems like a company that’s actively seeking out webcomics, with collections of “Perry Bible Fellowship,” “Achewood,” “Wondermark,” and now you. How did they approach you about doing collections of “Dr. McNinja”?

Christopher Hastings: Oh, well the lady who is now my editor, Rachel Edidin, emailed me and said that she was a fan of Dr. McNinja, and she worked at Dark Horse, and wanted to know if I was interested in bringing the book to them… Yes, I saw the email, and I just laaaaughed. You see because they still haven’t responded to the Dr. McNinja pitch I sent them six years ago.

CA: I was wondering about that, since you mentioned getting rejected by different publishers way back one of the earlier strips.

CH: To be fair, I look at the pitch now, and it is awful. The comic has grown over the years.

CA: Do you think that’s one of the advantages of doing a comic on the web?

CH: Oh yes! Obviously the quality of my comic was not to the standards of any publisher, and yet by putting it online, I was able to get enough of an audience who was forgiving [enough] of my artistic shortcomings that I was able to make a living from it. All the while, having to produce more pages per week than I ever had previously of course made me improve.

CA: Have you mentioned to your editor that you had actually pitched it before?

CH: Haha, actually no I don’t think so. I’m sure it was incinerated long ago. I can’t even remember if at the time I properly followed their submission policies, or if they were just shut off form unsolicited submissions at the time.

CA: It definitely seems like a lot of publishers would’ve dismissed it based on the premise alone. Did you ever have an experience trying to describe it to someone and you could just tell you were losing them?

CH: Everybody. I have learned a hundred times over not to bother trying to explain it to someone and just let the work speak for itself.

CA: Before the Dark Horse deal, you produced your own collections of the series, published through TopatoCo. What’s been the major difference between doing it yourself and working with a bigger company?

CH: Well, I imagine I haven’t even experience the joys of working with a bigger company yet, which of course is actually having the book in stores that sell books. I like that I just have to turn in the pages and not worry about other stuff. I love that I was able to turn in the cover art, and then just give direction to an in house designer for the typography and the copy. It’s nice to not have to do everything yourself.

CA: Are you and your wife and former colorist Carly Monardo still involved in the design aspects?

CH: Yes, Carly did the cover art, and we agreed on a style that we were looking for. Originally we were going to make the cover like a Sunday comics page, with Dr. McNinja styled parodies of popular newspaper comics. We got a few done when we decided it wasn’t really iconic.

CA: The Dark Horse book starts with “Monster Mart,” which, even when you’re reading it on the web, seems like a big turning point for the series.

CH: Oh sure, well that’s the exciting moment when we introduce colors other than black, white, and grey. I knew that the switch to color would be a jumping on point for new readers, so I treated it as a soft reboot of the series. All of the continuity is still there, but it’s gentle with you.

CA: You also get a look at Doc’s origin and a larger picture of the world around him that includes super-heroes, and a pretty big recurring nemesis.

CH: That’s true. The inspiration for Marty came at the airport in Orlando Florida. There was one of those groove hologram things covering a hallway wall, and as you walked past it, you saw Bruce Banner change into the Hulk. And I noticed that he looked really doofy in the middle of it. Just this really tall gangly guy, screaming, and with ENORMOUS teeth. And that got me thinking about what if he got stuck there.

Also I made him purple.

The recurring nemesis, King Radical was devised to serve a specific storytelling purpose. I had recently finished up a 220ish page story that took about a year or more to tell on the website. And I wanted to do shorter stories again. But I also wanted to have each one provide a tiny piece of a larger one that will come to a climax much later on.

CA: And you decided to do so with a character dressed like a playing card king, but with Eazy-E shades, fingerless leather gloves, and a dirtbike. Chris, don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you might be my hero.

CH: Haha, well I’d been doing the comic a couple years, and I think I figured out the themes, and Dr. McNinja’s character pretty well, so I thought I finally had a guy who fit in really well, and really stood up to Dr. McNinja’s own awesomeness. King Radical, the most radical man in the radical lands. I had to milk it

CA: I really love the idea that his major nemesis is someone who’s just as radical as he is, and actually seems pretty benevolent despite blowing up buildings and extorting small business owners

CH: Yes, it’s very frustrating to Dr. McNinja. He feels like he’s the only person in town who knows King Radical is up to something. It only makes him more obsessive.

CA: What all is going to be collected in “Night Powers?”

CH: The first three color stories, “Monster Mart,” “Death Volley,” and “Doc Gets Rad,” as well as a never before seen, print exclusive story by Benito Cereno and Les McClaine called “Beyond Winter Wonderdome.”

I think all together it comes to about 215 pages. “Monster Mart” is the story of a man who can transform into a giant ogre like creature, and uses this ability to market his own chain of grocery stores. One day he gets stuck halfway in between transformation and comes to Dr. McNinja for help.

“Death Volley” is about an ancient secret island temple off the coast of South America which contains a doomsday device which is prevented from triggering only by defeating the machine at tennis.

And “Doc Gets Rad” is about when Dr. McNinja gets a magical motorcycle.

CA: And there is also The Robster.

CH: The Robster, a nautical themed mob boss in the classic style of Batman villains… except he is a horrifiying lobster man in the worst way. Yes, ole Marty the monster got involved in some organized crime, and that’s how the Robster and his robstering ways come into the story.

He is a lobster who likes to steal you see.

CA: The first three books — one of which includes a story called “Punch Dracula,” for anyone still on the fence about buying it — are available online. Are there any plans for Dark Horse to reprint them, or are they just picking up the new stories?

CH: Well the first three books are published by TopatoCo, a company who has treated me exceptionally well, and I’m happy for TopatoCo to keep them.

CA: Dr. McNinja idolizes Batman, and you mentioned that your art teacher was Walter Simonson. Do you have any interest in doing mainstream super-hero work, if the opportunity arose?

CH: Yes, definitely! Something that would allow for humor would be ideal. I pitched a Robocop project once that never went anywhere. That’s definitely a dream. I would also love to do Deadpool, for sure, and I’ve got this Batman story that’s been steeping in my brain for a while. I think you and I both appreciate Batman for his endurance to a very wide spectrum of interpretations. Batman is to me simultaneously the coolest character in comics, and also one of the funniest. I’d like to be able to reconcile that contradiction.

CA: Anything else people need to know?

CH: Bill Murray told me that I was very funny once.

CA: Wow, seriously?

CH: It was at a karaoke bar, and has nothing to do with the book, but that’s still a pretty good reference, right?

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