Interview: Ann Nocenti Cuts a Swath with KATANA

Katana_1From the pages of Birds of Prey and the forthcoming Justice League of America comes Katana, a former Japanese assassin now on a righteous path. Armed with the mysterious Soultaker, a sword that may or may not be possessed by the spirit of her dead husband, Katana is about to embark on a brand new adventure with series writer Ann Nocenti (Daredevil, Catwoman). Nocenti generously took time out of her schedule to answer a few questions for us about the upcoming book and share her thoughts on DC Comics’ next big star.

Matt Santori: Thank you for your time, Ann, and congratulations on another upcoming series at DC Comics! Can you share a little bit about what brought you back to full-time comic writing after years away, and what kind of influences have you brought back into your writing?

Ann Nocenti: Thank you!

I loved the sweet and crazy imaginative life of a comic book writer, but I wanted to try something else, and headed into journalism and film. I went for my Master’s in International Relations at Columbia University, and started writing serious journalism. Then I started getting calls to write films. But I’ve always missed comics, like a friend you adore but haven’t seen in a long time that still dances around in your memory. So when I met with Bob Harras and Dan DiDio, and they asked me if I’d be interested in writing comics again, I was thrilled. Working in film is similar to comics: a breakdown of scenes with dialogue. There is more elasticity in film, when the actors join the party, but the principle is the same: melding words and pictures. Journalism taught me how to dig and research to make things feel authentic, so I brought that back to comics with me.

MSG: How did development of this new series come about? What drew you to the character of Katana?

AN: Bob Harras asked me if I’d be interested in writing Katana. Her visual alone is so striking, I wanted to try. And I have a deep love of Japanese film, especially martial arts films, so a girl with a sword resonated with stories I wanted to tell. I’ve studied martial arts; karate, judo, akido. So I was always enamored of my sensi, my teacher’s, talent. Levels of talent and skill I could never hope to reach. The discipline required in a dojo, where you train, was intense and serious. So when I read some Katana stories, I felt like they got her right — her guardedness, her reserve, her grim personality fit someone who is training seriously. And yet, the best teachers have both that seriousness, and a sort of goofball playfulness. So I knew right away I wanted her to come out of her self-imposed shell and learn the art of humor.

MSG: Duane Szwiercynski has been writing Katana in The New 52’s Birds of Prey for over a year. What cues for Tatsu’s character and motivation have you taken from his run, or how do you plan to diverge from her established path?

AN: Again, the Birds of Prey established her seriousness, but also a certain tolerance from her teammates about her talking to her sword. They seemed to humor her, but clearly she seemed crazy, to think her dead husband was in her sword. The process of developing the new Katana was complex, Rachel and Rickey, my editors, and Dan and Bob, were all involved, reading pitches and tossing ideas at me. It was a very creative, fun process. Together we realized the sword, her Soultaker, was the key, and the sword should be a big player in her game, an actual character. So Katana #1 sets the stage for her new life in Japantown, San Francisco, her supporting cast, some nasty new villains, and then in Katana #2 and #3 there are some startling guest stars and events that alter everything for her.

MSG: Will Katana be primarily set in America, or will the book take us and the character to Japan and other international locales? How will Tatsu’s heritage influence her place on a team created by a government foreign to her own?

AN: Katana, in the first issue, seeks out Japantown, where she feels at home. Alex has been doing stellar work in creating a world that is both Japan from antiquity and a modern world. The first page of Katana #1 is so stunning, you know this is a change for her: she looks vulnerable, crazy, powerful, and otherworldly. And yes, she’ll be traveling to Japan soon. As for the JLA, whatever personal demons she’s exploring in her solo book, she puts a lockdown on it when on a JLA mission. She’s a total professional when she’s with them.

MSG: As current writer of Catwoman, and now Katana, you couldn’t be blessed with more opposite characters to write about monthly, and yet each one operates within the darker side of the DC Universe. What space do you see each occupying in relation to each other, particularly now as teammates in the Justice League of America?

AN: Yes, I agree! Catwoman is wild, reckless, and shares herself, her personality, freely. Katana is a closed book. And yet, there is that school of mastery in martial arts that believes you can only survive and go the distance with some level of humor. Humor is both wise and a weapon. Catwoman and Katana meet in Catwoman #19, and it is not a pleasant meeting. So there is plenty for the JLA writer to play with: will Catwoman resent Katana? Will Catwoman use her charm to draw Katana out? I’m interested to see what Geoff Johns does with that!

MSG: Katana’s publishing history is closely linked to Batman and the other characters that comprised the Outsiders. Do you have any plans to place Tatsu in the path of the Dark Knight or recreate some of the connections she’s had in the past to currently unused characters such as Halo and Geo-Force?

AN: No plans yet for Batman to meet Katana, but you never know! Katana issues #2 and #3 bring back some surprising villains. I love bringing back forgotten characters and re-fitting them for today’s world, and I’m sure my editors and I will have discussions about that. The creative editorial staff I’ve had helping me with Katana has been amazing. Rachel tossed me a few ideas that changed the direction of the book!

MSG: What’s it been like to work with artist Alex Sanchez?

AN: Alex Sanchez! He has such a range of styles, and he’s using them all, often on the same page! I am ecstatic about working with him. He is capturing a layered world of ancient Japan and a modern sensibility with beauty, power, and great style. He’s creating a supporting cast and new villains for Katana that are visually fantastic.

MSG: Anything special you can tease for the Comicosity audience about February’s first issue?

AN: I think it is daring of DC to give an Asian female character her own book, especially one that has such reserve, but I feel that the time is ripe for a Japanese martial arts book, and I hope the fans enjoy the book and stick with it as we take Katana someplace new.

MSG: Thanks so much, Ann!

Katana #1 launches from DC Comics on February 13, 2013. Check out brand new preview art by series artist Alex Sanchez  for the debut issue below!

Images courtesy of DC Comics.



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