San Diego Comic-Con International lived up to its name when it welcomed comics legend Stan Lee (the creator of Spider-Man, Iron Man and too many other iconic heroes to mention) and Hiroyuki Takei, the creator of Shaman King and Lee's creative collaborator on Karakuridoji Ultimo, a.k.a. Ultimo to SDCCI 2009.
Ultimo is a ground-breaking Japan / U.S. creative venture developed from Lee's story concept and brought to fruition by Takei and the editorial staff at Shueisha. It's a time-traveling tale about a mysterious scientist, Dunstan (who looks a lot like Lee) and two robot boys, one representing ultimate good, and the other representing ultimate evil. Ultimo is currently serialized in Shonen Jump Magazine in the U.S. and in Jump Square magazine in Japan.
Lee and Takei appeared together for a lively and often hilarious conversation at Friday morning's Shonen Jump panel, where they were interviewed by Shonen Jump Editor in Chief Grant Lowrey and the American editor for Ultimo, Joel Enos.
Lee and Takei-sensei also appeared at a joint autograph session at the VIZ Media booth where a few lucky fans got to meet and get their copy of the July 2009 issue of Shonen Jump signed.
In addition to their panel appearance, I got a chance to chat with Mr. Lee and Takei-sensei after their panel appearance. So for those who weren't able to make it to the panel, I've combined the transcript of what they had to say about their "ultimate" collaboration both at their public appearances and in our later conversations.
At the Shonen Jump panel, Takei-sensei and Jump Square editor Takanori Asada were up first for some Q & A with Enos and Lowery.
ULTIMATE GOOD AND ULTIMATE EVIL... OR SOMETHING MORE?
Q: Why is good and evil the focus of Ultimo?
Hiroyuki Takei: Mr. Lee came up with the concept to make the characters represent ultimate evil and ultimate good / justice, and I just kind of went along with it! (laughs)
Q: Do you know which side will win?
Hiroyuki Takei: I actually have decided which side will win! ...vaguely. (laughs)
Q: There are some new characters in the latest chapter of Ultimo featured in the September 2009 issue of Shonen Jump. It introduces the new concept of the "Vice master" and the "Ultimo master." Can you go into how that works in the story?
Hiroyuki Takei: Concept? Hmm. (turns to audience) Have you guys already seen this issue? (half the room raises their hands)
Okay, so the Vice master K. is modeled after a staff member at my production office. He's kind of a small person. (laughs) What I believe about what is good and what is evil is portrayed through the Vice Master K. Please keep your eye on this character in Ultimo.
So from now on in Ultimo, we'll be focused into this story of a battle between good and evil. Now, what I believe is different than this clear cut, black and white concept of good and evil. Please keep these things in mind when you read Ultimo. Maybe this is a little hard to get, but please enjoy.
Q: Your prior work Shaman King was released here in the U.S. What does it mean to you to see your work translated and shown to a different audience than what was intended?
Hiroyuki Takei: Hmmm.... Hmm. (thinks hard) Of course, I'm very happy about that. But sometimes, I wonder if the meaning and intentions of these works are being conveyed to you guys. I worry about that. My creations are usually vague and leave questions (in readers' minds) about the concept.
Q: In Ultimo, there is a lot of time-jumping between 12th century Japan and modern days. Could you talk a bit about your decision to show character as incarnations in different times?
Hiroyuki Takei: So when we talk about 'ultimate evil and ultimate good,' when we portray it in our daily lives, it seems offbeat and not truly believable. This is especially so in Japan, where we don't have guns or anything like that. Of course, we also don't carry around katana (samurai swords) any more. Well, but in my previous series, people did carry around swords, but in this new series, I wanted to portray events in a more realistic way.
I didn't want murder to happen in this current life cycle (of the characters) -- but it happens in past. That's my thinking behind it.
Q: You did a lot of work on Shaman King for many years. Has your process changed over the years, from then compared to now?
Hiroyuki Takei: I have to deal with less work, and I'm glad about it. I can relax and drink coffee while I work on stuff. Now that I'm working on a monthly serialization, I have more time to think about things, so I use that time thoroughly.
EAST MEETS WEST: INTRODUCING TAKEI'S DUNSTAN TO STAN LEE
Q: When did it first occur to you to create the character of Dunstan, around your co-creator?
Hiroyuki Takei: I thought of the idea of Dunstan when I first met Mr. Lee. Since he's the creator of this story, I wanted him to be the creator of Ultimo and Vice in the story.
Q: Were you nervous about showing the concept art to Stan Lee?
Hiroyuki Takei: (sheepishly) I thought he was going to kill me. (laughs) Since Mr. Lee shows up in the live action (movie) versions of his own creations, I thought he might enjoy showing up in his manga.
Q: You used Mr. Lee to create Dunstan. Did you use yourself to create a character in the series?
Hiroyuki Takei: (shakes head) That's too embarrassing! (laughs)
Q: Can you walk us through how you two work together?
Takanori Asada: (Japanese editor for Ultimo) We only produced Ultimo. Stan had the characters, the setting and other details that were provided to Takei-sensei. He then created name (storyboard sketches) based on that. From there, Stan checks the name, and we can go from there.
In order to make Ultimo appropriate to Japanese audiences as well, Takei-sensei incorporates his own original concepts and art. We'd like to thank Mr. Lee for allowing us to take these ideas and put them into the series as well.