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Interview: F.J. DeSanto

Film Producer and Author of the Cyborg 009 Graphic Novel from Archaia

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Cyborg 009 by F.J. DeSanto, Bradley Cramp and Marcus To

Cyborg 009 by F.J. DeSanto, Bradley Cramp and Marcus To

© Ishimori Productions

In the days leading up to San Diego Comic-Con 2012, Archaia Entertainment announced that they would be releasing a new graphic novel based on Cyborg 009, Shotaro Ishinomori's classic Cold War science-fiction/adventure story about a mismatched band of humans-turned into super-powered cyborgs against their wills.

Developed in partnership with Ishimori Productions in Japan, this new Cyborg 009 graphic novel will be released in early 2013 as a deluxe hardcover edition featuring an original story based on Ishinomori's manga written by film producer / writer F.J. DeSanto (Producer, The Spirit, and writer, Immortals: Gods and Heroes) and Bradley Cramp (Gattaca and Lord of War). The artwork, (which has a definite Western flair) will be drawn by Marcus To (The Huntress, Red Robin).

Western adaptations of Japanese manga is nothing new, but this particular adaptation is notable for its determination to walk the razor's edge between staying true to the original Japanese story, while making it accessible and entertaining to contemporary Western comic book readers. Can it be done? Well, we'll find out in Summer 2013 when this book is published. But in the meantime, you might be asking, "What is Cyborg 009, and who is Shotaro Ishinomori?"

WHAT IS CYBORG 009, AND WHO IS SHOTARO ISHINOMORI?

If you don't know the name Shotaro Ishinomori, you probably know of his creations. Ishinomori created many of the iconic heroes that live on today in Japanese pop culture: Kikaida (a.k.a. Kikaider). Kamen Rider (a.k.a. Masked Rider). Skull Man. Himitsu Sentai GoRenger (a.k.a. Go Rangers (a precursor to the Power Rangers series). In Japan, Ishinomori is often mentioned as one of the legends of manga. There are even TWO museums dedicated to Ishinomori and his creations in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.

Cyborg 009 was originally published between 1964 – 1981 in a variety of popular shonen manga magazines, including Weekly Shonen Sunday, Monthly Shonen King, Shonen Jump, and many more. It has been collected as a-36 volumes series in Japan, and has inspired several TV anime series, films, countless toys, and even video game adaptations.

The story of Cyborg 009 revolves around a group of people from different countries who have been kidnapped by The Black Ghost, a sinister organization of arms dealers. Through The Black Ghost's scientists' experiments, these nine people have all been transformed into super-powered cyborgs, designed to become weapon-warriors whose services will be sold to the highest bidder. But when Cyborgs 001 – 009 escape, they unite with a single goal: to destroy The Black Ghost. But it won't be easy, because their former masters have vast resources and numerous assassins who are out to recapture the fugitive cyborgs.

Cyborg 009 is packed with shonen manga action and eccentric twists that is reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy and Jiro Kuwata's 8-Man. So when I say 'eccentric,' what do I mean? Well, Cyborg 001 is a Russian baby who is a telepath. Cyborg 003 is a French ballerina with x-ray vision and super-hearing. Cyborg 006 is a Chinese man who can breathe flames. Cyborg 007 is a British actor who can shape-shift. Cyborg 008 is a former African slave who can breathe underwater indefinitely. And Cyborg 009? He's a former Japanese juvenile delinquent who is now a cyborg with super-strength, invulnerability and super-speed. In its original form, it's not the most politically correct manga ever made, but it is a fun, fascinating read that will remind you of American superhero team comics. For another take on this, check out David Brothers' appreciation of Shotaro Ishinomori's multi-cultural characters in 4th Letter!

Back in the day, TokyoPop published ten volumes of the original Cyborg 009 manga, which, well... let's not sugar-coat things... sold pretty poorly when they hit North American comics and bookshops between 2003-2005. These volumes are out-of-print and sometimes a little pricey, but not impossible to find if you're diligent. Shaenon Garrity wrote a wonderful tribute to the greatness of Cyborg 009 in her Overlooked Manga Festival series that will make you want to run out and find them.

UPDATE: ComiXology is now offering Cyborg 009 and several other manga titles by Shotaro Ishinomori in English online. Check it out!

Since then, anime and manga fans around the world have seen several incarnations of Cyborg 009, including several anime series, feature length movies, and most recently, 009 Re:Cyborg, a brand new re-telling of the story directed by Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) from Production I.G., due in theaters in Japan in October 2012.

Meanwhile, in the United States, plans are in the works to develop a Cyborg 009 live-action movie. This project is in development under the watchful eye of F.J. DeSanto, who is the writer and guiding force behind this new graphic novel from Archaia.

So what is it about this story about a band of nine multi-cultural misfits turned into super-powered cyborgs that has captured the imagination of fans around the world for over 40 years? And why is there a burst of new interest in reviving this Cold War-inspired story, almost 15 years after the death of its creator?

I spoke with F.J. DeSanto by phone, a few days prior to Archaia's spotlight panel at Comic-Con 2012, where he introduced the project to comics fans. He explained his childhood fascination with Shotaro Ishinomori's creations, and his plans for introducing them to a new generation of comics fans around the world.

A LONG-TIME LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE MANGA OF ISHINOMORI

Q: I got the impression from the press release and the conversation I had with Mel (Caylo, Marketing Manager at Archaia) that this project came about because you brought it to Archaia. Could you explain your connection with Cyborg 009, and why you decided to create this version of Shotaro Ishinomori's classic sci-fi/adventure series?

F. J. DeSanto: I'm a film producer, so I worked with the producers of the Batman movies for a long time, and I have a real love for manga and anime. For some reason, when I was a kid growing up in New York, I had access to anime series like Gatchaman (a.k.a. Battle of the Planets), and Space Battle Ship Yamato (a.k.a. Star Blazers), Macross (a.k.a. Robotech). So I grew up with a love for this, alongside American comics.

This eventually morphed into a lifelong obsession, where I'd buy manga in Japanese even if I didn't know what it was saying, just because I had a love for the artform. Cyborg 009 was part of that manga education of my youth.

I didn't really see the Cyborg 009 anime until much later. But reading Ishinomori's manga, even though I didn't always know the dialogue was, but I was blown away by the art, the storytelling, the design. So I just fell in love with it.

I also come from a comic-book writing background. In fact, the first thing I wrote was a Star Trek manga for TokyoPop a few years ago. (NOTE: Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Manga was published in 2009. It was a one-shot anthology of original short stories by various writers and artists, based on the TV series)

I spent some time in Japan because of my love for this stuff, and trying to find these properties. I've had a relationship with Ishimori Productions for a number of years; initially as a film producer who wanted to do a live-action version of the Cyborg 009 movie. This is still very much a priority, but I came to the realization that there's such a world of Ishinomori's work, from Kikaida to Kamen Rider to Go Rangers.

So we've been charged with putting together this strategy, to broaden the exposure of Ishinomori's work throughout the world. Cyborg 009 is our starting point for that. How do we reach new audiences, and create a new generation of fans? Not just by creating this graphic novel, but also by using this to make people aware of the entire history of this man's work, which I think is essential.

REVAMPING CYBORG 009 FOR WESTERN AUDIENCES?

Q: So is this project meant to be a movie tie-in, or a stand-alone project?

F. J. DeSanto: This graphic novel is not just some throwaway, 'Let's just put this thing out there' kind of thing. This has been well over six months of planning. When I started working with Archaia on other projects — I had worked on an anthology with them, I have an original project in the works with them that hasn't been announced yet. I came to the realization that the quality of the material that they release really matches the quality of Ishinomori's work.

So I had been working with a writer named Bradley Cramp, who is a dear friend of mine, who also an extremely talented writer and a producer. Bradley has worked for years with the director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War). For some reason, it just clicked with me that the themes in Gattaca were very similar to the themes in Cyborg 009. So I said to Bradley, do you want to work on this graphic novel with me, and we just dove right into it.

We worked on this, every step of the way with Ishimori Productions, then I brought the whole thing to Archaia. I told them, 'This has never been done like this with these properties. Let's try to take everything that's great about Ishinomori's original creation, and modernize it in a way that doesn't insult the core property, but makes it accessible to kids and new fans who might not necessarily be able to access 40-year old manga.'

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