Hunter Ninja Bear, Volume 1: Provenance from Fenom Comics
As I told you back in April, Black Gate photog Chris Z and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2). During that adventure we crossed paths with brothers Joe and Tom Fenoglio, founders of the indie comic company Fenom Comics. They were promoting their graphic novel Hunter Ninja Bear, Volume 1: Provenance, which caught our attention due to the incredible illustrations.
I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a copy and having had a holiday weekend to devote to reading it, I must admit I’m now kind of obsessed with this story of three forces of nature (a hunter, a ninja, and a bear). I had to know more, and Tom indulged me with a quick response to all my questions as well as some juicy graphics.
So, Tom meet everyone. Everyone, meet Tom, cofounder of Fenom.
GC: When did you first become interested in telling stories through comics? Were you a comic fan as a kid?
Looking back, it seems like storytelling through comics was always a part of my childhood. My mom kept all my school projects and home stories, so it has been rewarding to revisit some of those early concepts from time to time. The earliest “complete” story on record was from third grade. Not too good by any stretch of the imagination, but you have to start somewhere.
As fans of comics, my brother Joe and I definitely started at an earlier age. Batman & Iron Man really stand out in my mind. MAD magazine was also a fun read with all the inappropriate art and dialogue, what wasn’t to like! The strongest influences seemed to have come from the early cartoon TV-series like Super Friends, Spider-Man, Harlem Globetrotters and Thundar the Barbarian. Awesome time to be a kid!
Where do you and your team draw inspiration for the storylines?
Joe and I pull most of our ideas from either classic cinema, great literature or from our dreams. All of which seems to go hand in hand. You see or read something that electrifies your imagination and then some variation of it finds a spot in your nighttime slumber or your casual daydreaming. All of our ideas have popped up from that wonderful realm of unconscious thought.
Hunter Ninja Bear from Fenom Comics
Hunter Ninja Bear is such an interesting concept. Can you tell us a bit about the story, and how the idea developed?
Thank you for that. We love the overall concept as well. Hunter Ninja Bear was pulled from our seeing the variation of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” being played in James Wan’s fantastic sequel, Insidious: Chapter 2. The overall idea of three ginormous forces battling each other within a defined set of rules made our minds run wild with possibilities. The timeless John Ford westerns, Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese masterpieces and Ishirō Honda’s Godzilla epics screamed out to us instantly.
The general premise was set rather quickly. We both quickly agreed that the origin story to this triangle of death needed to be done first out of the gate. Hence, the kick-off volume of Provenance was off to the races.
The illustrations are truly incredible and do an amazing job visually augmenting the story. Do the artists have free reign to imagine how the narrative will appear visually?
That’s very nice of you to say and I appreciate you asking this question. The main reason why we made the move into comics was simply because of the artistry. We love the art of comics! And, if I do say, there could not have been a better fit for this story than the all-star team of Mel Rubi (pencils), Rob Hunter (inks) and Ivan Nunes (colors). They were a machine from day one! The pages came off fast and dazzling. With each stage of the process, the individual pages became even more stunning. It was a wonderful learning experience to witness the evolution of each panel on every page. Mel, Rob and Ivan generously opened their world to teach us the complexities and subtleties of the art.
These artists definitely had free reign in their depiction of the script and that’s a tribute to what they created. Their combined styles are an integral aspect to the story. There is an old-world Japanese feel that seems to pop out the second you open the book. Rob’s inks drive a grittiness over Mel’s soft pencils, while Ivan’s colors add a warming depth to the pages. Truly gorgeous.
Art from Hunter Ninja Bear
How do you choose the illustrators who bring your stories to life?
That is a hard question to answer. Artist selection seems to have differed throughout the books in our catalog. Maybe the 30,000 foot answer is that we chose artists that we really admired. There are a lot of great artists out there; top notch. Some artists’ work just hits your eyeballs a little differently than others. Not sure how to quantify that.
Each story has a different tone, so it’s just a matter of being lucky enough to match it to the right artistic style. If it works, you realize it immediately like a freight train roaring past you. If it doesn’t work, it’s like a freight train running over you again and again.
I understand you formed a partnership with Jay Johnson (film designer). Can you tell us more about how Johnson contributed to Hunter Ninja Bear?
Jay Johnson is a legend, plain and simple. Working with Jay was easily one of the biggest thrills for us. Knowing that he designed all the iconic movie titles (except Reservoir Dogs) for Quentin Tarantino’s films, we were excited to see what he thought of our story and our initial concepts for the Hunter Ninja Bear logo. He loved the story and was very gracious in his analysis of our initial title designs.
The process was rather simple. He created a collection of ideas for us to review and pull from. After dwindling down the choices, we dug into our favorites. We all eventually came to like certain aspects of a design of Jay’s and one of our original concepts. Jay brought these two designs into his workshop and presto! Out came the final look. I smile every time I look at it.
Art from Hunter Ninja Bear
As an indie comic company, can you give us a glimpse into what it takes to go from concept to finished comic?
Our goal was to offer our customers the highest production value that we could muster. The two main hurdles were cost and talent. The bigger the talent, the higher the cost. That cannot be understated or avoided. Our goal was to compete with the best products from DC, Marvel and Image. We believe that we have.
A great comic is a sum of all its parts. The reader will notice the flaws, whether in story structure or in the quality of art. If the reader is taken out of the world of fantasy, it is hard to bring them back.
Our mantra is quality, not quantity. It’s not how fast a project can be completed, it’s the quality of the final product. No one looks back at Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and wonders how long it took to make. You will be judged on the final work. Take your time to make it the best it can be.
The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (DC Comics, March 1988)
Hunter Ninja Bear is a whopping 360 pages of awesomeness, and I read you’d like to see this story on screen. Can you tell us more about that evolution?
Hunter Ninja Bear will find its way onto the silver screen. Right now, we are very busy putting the right pieces in place to make this happen. Definitely a lot of parts in motion at this time, but hopefully we will have more specifics for our fans shortly.
All stories from Fēnom Comics are created with the transition to film in mind. Reading through the books, readers will notice the cinematic approach to our storytelling. We love larger than life epics, huge explosions, tear-jerking love stories and thrilling thrillers! Can’t help it.
If someone has a story they’d like to see made into a comic, do you have any advice as to where to begin?
If it’s possible, bring in a professional writer. Putting together a solid comic script is not a simple endeavor. Everything rolls downhill from the script. If the script has holes, the art will have holes. The best decision that Joe and I made was to bring Chuck Dixon into the mix. Even though Chuck has more books under his belt than anyone out there, he was very thoughtful and humble throughout the entire process. He knew that we were eager to learn from him and he didn’t hold anything back. It was exciting to see that he was immediately intrigued by our synopsis and story breakdown. So, it was fun to see him take the story and make it his own. Sometimes the best way for your project to become the most it can be, is to step back and let the professionals do their job.
Star Riders from Fenom Comics
Hunter Ninja Bear is Fenom’s first publication: what’s next for Fenom Comics?
Next up…. Star Riders! We are extremely proud to follow up Hunter Ninja Bear with a sci-fi thriller that will have everyone on the edge of their seats. A phenomenal story that works on many levels. What makes us human? When is humanity no longer humanity? Are we living in an alternative timeline?
Writer Tony Bedard teams up with artist Scott McDaniel to bring this immediate classic to life. The book’s beauty is only outdone by its incredible story, and we would love for everyone to check us out on Kickstarter here. Your contribution would mean the world to us. At the end of the day, we are just two brothers telling our stories. Your support makes that a little easier! We have three more original titles releasing soon after Star Riders. All loaded with tremendous artists from top to bottom. Keep an eye out for Fēnom comics. Phenomenal stories await!
So there you have it, aspiring comic creators. And a big thanks to Tom for sharing his insights into the biz. You can pick up a copy of the beautifully illustrated, fast-moving tale Hunter Ninja Bear, Volume 1: Provenance on Amazon in print or ebook, or wherever comics are sold.