In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, artist Fernando Dagnino talks about the razor-sharp action/adventure in Killers #1 (Valiant Entertainment). The Killers artist reveals what happens when a bunch of thrill-seeking assassins play a deadly cat and mouse game.
Five deadly assassins are recruited into a game of cat and mouse by their former sensei, the mysterious Jonin! But what does the Jonin want from them, and what do they gain out of helping him? Each of these assassins can channel their ki—the spiritual energy within all beings—in different ways, granting them incredible powers, essentially making them “superninjas!”
With Killers #1 out in stores now, Fernando Dagnino discusses the intense choreography behind the action sequences, the character design behind Ninja-G, and the references behind the international settings. Check out our review as Dagnino and I head on over to the artist studio to discuss the craft of illustrating.
VILLAIN MEDIA: How did you become involved with Killers?
FERNANDO DAGNINO: It all started last year at New York Comic Con. José Villarrubia is to thank as he was the one who introduced me to [then Executive Editor] Joe Illidge, and [Senior Editorial Director] Robert Meyers at the Valiant booth. I showed them some samples of my personal project, Smart Girl, and they liked the art. The following week, they made me an offer to draw Killers. The project was very appealing to me and I said yes, but I had to finish the remaining chapters of Smart Girl before I could fully commit. So It wasn’t until the beginning of January of this year that I began working on Killers.
VM: The opening pages start off with an exhilarating action sequence. Tell me about referencing the high kicks and gunplay in your choreography.
FD: The script starts with one of those scenes that is so action-packed, and full of emotion, that once you’ve turned the first few pages, you just can’t stop reading. I was a huge fan of ninja films and Shaolin martial arts movies as a kid. I even practiced some karate and kung fu as a teenager but I had to quit as it was me who usually ended up being beaten up in the combats on a weekly basis. My family would laugh at me. “Getting ready to get beaten up?” they would ask while I was packing my uniform. Then I realized that what I liked about martial arts was rather the dynamic choreographies and the aesthetic plasticity of it all. Rather than the bruises and the bags of ice on my back.
The way Frank Miller portrayed body language in the action scenes of Daredevil was a total revelation. It wasn’t just the elegance of Elektra or Daredevil when fighting the hordes of ninjas. But a set of poses unfolded in each panel that tell a story in itself during the action scenes, whether it was Elektra throwing a sai without looking ,or Daredevil skipping above three katana strokes with a single jump.
VM: Ninja-G stands out in her character design because of her sunglasses, earrings, and sword. How did her look come about?
FD: I took as a reference the designs by AJ Jothikumar. In the particular case of Ninja-G, she already had the sunglasses and the earrings and you could tell from the start that the intention was to portray a modern Pam Greer-ish sort of strong female character. But what I liked most about her is that she is not just a monolithic, strong badass. On the contrary, she has an emotional wound. She has the courage to show herself vulnerable. That’s where her complexity as a character lies.
In that sense, I think the big earrings and the sunglasses describe her inner conflict. She wanted to live a normal, peaceful life, to be a common person. But she carries a katana on her back and a past full of corpses.
VM: Ninja-J has an interesting look as well because he’s mostly in a suit. When he runs, the blazer and tie fly in the air like a cape. What went into creating the spy-ish look of Roger Thorpe?
FD: Ninja-J is like an elegant James Bond with the skills and talent of a ninja assassin. The suit was also part of the original design. He’s not wearing a special outfit like Ninja-K; he is more discreet and classier. I tried to squeeze as much dynamism and dramatism into his garments as possible.
VM: Roger Thorpe also has an incredible action sequence through an Italian market. How did you map the action through the alleyways and seaside in your illustrations?
FD: Coincidentally, I happened to visit Burano two years ago on a holiday trip around Venice and northern Italy, so I not only had plenty of references, but a first-hand understanding of what the island was like. Although I was not involved in an action scene with ninjas, I did meet fishmongers and local shop sellers.
VM: The locations jump around from London to Burano, Italy. How did you capture the international settings in your illustrations?
FD: I do love traveling. Although I do a lot of photographic research before creating a scene, it’s easier if I’ve been to the place; since I have more resources. And I can play with other narrative elements, such as the weather conditions of each location, which may come in handy to increase the drama.
VM: How did Killers change you as an artist?
FD: Killers is not only my first series for Valiant but it marks my return to American comics after a two year absence, because I was focused on my personal project, Smart Girl, and on another project for Glénat Comics called L’Agent.
With the initial hook for getting this job with Valiant were my Smart Girl page samples, which they liked a lot, I’ve tried to push forward the realistic work with ink and grayscale in the pages of Killers.
8) What are you working on now?
FD: Right now, I’m about to finish the last pages of Killers #3 and I’m writing a script for a comic, which I’ll also illustrate for Glénat Comics.
[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Links are highlighted in bold.]
Killers #1 is out in stores now.