Pronto Presents: Writer & Creator Derrick Charles

Pronto Presents: Writer & Creator Derrick Charles
By David Rondinelli

Profile PicWriter Derrick Charles grew up in the Bronx and studied Business Management at the borough’s Herbert H. Lehman College. As president of his college’s hobby club, Club Live, he realized that business studies weren’t for him and decided to pursue a career in comics. Charles’ premier title for Pronto Comics is Ninja Express. The story is an action-comedy that pokes fun at the tropes of manga (Japanese comics). The story follows an awkward student who desires to join his high schools ninja club, only to get stuck on the C-list version. The comical, lighthearted adventures have been a main feature in Pronto’s Manga Nation anthology. Being collected into its first full-length issue this winter, Ninja Express packs a lot of punches—and punch lines—making Charles a writer to watch out for.

Pronto Presents: Tell me how you found out about Pronto, how you got started, and how long you have been a writer for the group.

Derrick Charles: I’ve been a writer with Pronto Comics for three years. Before I joined Pronto, I had been working on my project, Ninja Express, for about two years. After having two artists abruptly quit the project, I was at a loss for how to proceed with my career as a comic book writer. The New York City Comic Con was coming up, and I took note of a panel called Creator Connections. I was a creator and I needed a connection so I decided to check out the panel. At the panel, I met Pronto member Achilles Yeldell, and he suggested the group to me. I attended Pronto’s next meeting, and I liked what I saw, so I joined. During my first year with Pronto, I worked closely with editors Jorel Lonesome and Josh Cabrera. Josh served as Ninja Express’s first editor. Josh helped me work out a lot of the early kinks in the series and his advice inspired me to rewrite the early issues and retool the story.

The main characters of Ninja Express.

The main characters of Ninja Express.

PP: How many chapters of Ninja Express have you produced?

DC: Currently, I have written eleven issues of Ninja Express. Before I started working with Pronto, I had four issues written up. Then after an insightful and disheartening meeting with Josh Cabrera, I realized my first few issues sucked. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes of my broken dreams, new inspiration emerged. I cut unnecessary characters, changed unintentional character personality clichés, and reorganized the plot to flow more organically. I have written seven issues of the retooled Ninja Express series, which is the version that is currently appearing in Manga Nation. Out of those seven issues, issues one and two have been drawn up by my current artist John Somoza and are being worked on by my friend Osjua Newton, who is working as my letterer and colorist. My artist, [who goes by the pen name] Drake, is currently working on Issue 3 and from what I’ve seen of it so far, it’s coming out great.

PP: Aside from Manga Nation, are there any other books or anthologies you have been a part of while working with Pronto?

DC: I wrote a story for Jorel Lonesome’s anthology, Blackout. The story is called Cold Night. Like the anthology’s title may suggest, the story takes place during a blackout. Cold Night follows a guy named Will, who gets turned into an ice pop after suffering a fatal accident. Will must reach the freezer before he melts, but a dangerous foe awaits him in the darkness. Cold Night is drawn by artist Chris Pirate, check it out in Blackout #3.

NE#1-Page9PP: Tell me a bit of the back-story on how you came up with Ninja Express’s story and when the idea first came to you?

DC: I first got the idea for Ninja Express like how I get a lot of my ideas, while joking around with friends. We began to discuss how we could do a better job. I thought to myself, “Why not give it a try?” I wanted to do a comedic series poking fun at a lot of recurring themes [in anime]…but also tell an evolving story with interesting characters. I spent the next few months working out plot points, creating and tweaking characters, and bouncing ideas off my friends.

Ninja Express evolved a lot over the first few years. The story ended up being about an otaku named Otaki who joins his school’s ninja club. He feels as if his life isn’t really his own. like he lives like a secondary supporting character rather than being the main character and focus in his own life. Originally, though, I was going to call the story Animanga and it would follow a 10-year-old mecha [giant robot] pilot, his childhood best friend who’s a kunoichi [female ninja], and her weird pet animal. This concept didn’t last long, but those characters inspired a few that will or have already appeared in the current Ninja Express version.

PP: Do you feel there are many differences between writing a manga-influenced story as opposed to western forms of comic book script writing?

DC: Yes I do. I feel manga scripts are able to give more focus to battles and fight scenes where comics generally just have two guys punch each other while trading one-liners. Manga also just generally feels less rushed than comics. This statement about comics is very general and I’m mainly referring to mainstream super hero books. Manga probably has a little more leeway due to being stand-alone stories and the creators have more creative control. I think that’s why I’m more attracted to writing in a manga style, whether or not I’m writing a manga story. I want to take my time flushing out characters and storylines. In one of my more recent Ninja Express scripts, I had the opportunity to write a multi-issue fight scene, and I really liked how it turned out.

Derrick with artist Alex Ross.

Derrick with artist Alex Ross.

PP: What do you feel makes for good writing in comics?

DC: First and above everything else, the writer must care about the project. I can tell when I’m reading a work of passion or the writer was just crapping out the issue for the paycheck. Second would be understanding the material. If a writer is jumping on an established franchise, they should get to know the world and characters before diving into writing for them. Fans will notice the inconsistencies in an unfamiliar writer’s work. Writing your own story can be difficult for the same reason, but now you’re the one setting the tone. As I write issues, I always try to keep in mind what I want my characters’ personalities to be and try to keep them functioning within the parameters I set for them. I hate when I can’t get a read on a character’s personality or a writer has characters act out of character just to push the story forward, it can be jarring for a reader.

NE#1-Page12PP: Can you tell us the process or technique you take to write your scripts?

DC: When I first started out, I Googled “comic book script examples” and I went with the one that was considered the “DC” script style. This style had the most organized page and panel layout so I decided to go with that.

My process for writing a script usually always starts the same way—stare at a blank word document for several days until inspiration strikes. Once I decide what I want to happen in the story, I write a brief synopsis of the entire issue. Deciding on the end is always the most important part for me. Once I know where I’m going, it’s far easier to get there. After that, I just focus on the pacing of the story. I try to make sure the story doesn’t drag or feel rushed. Ninja Express is an action-comedy so I try to keep in mind if the issue is focusing on one aspect over the other and if so to what degree. I mainly try to be consistent with my writing.

PP: Can you share with readers how you went about forming your own creative team? Many beginning creators may wonder how to find a reliable person to work with. How did you accomplish this?

DC: Let me just say it is not easy at all to find reliable collaborators to work on a project with. The mistake I made early on was working with people who were not as serious about a career in comics as I was. I went through several artists on Ninja Express before randomly finding John in a Pronto meeting. My first Ninja Express artist lost interest in the project and just stopped working on it without giving me a heads up. I had a very fruitful meeting with my second artist, but after that first meeting I never heard from him again. My third artist was a work-for-hire. He was months late on the issue of Ninja Express he was working on and he did a rushed, mediocre job.

So the advice I’d give for finding collaborators is 1) find people with the same goals as you, 2) if you hire anyone onto the project make sure to get your money’s worth, 3) do as much of the work yourself to cut out the middle men. One last bit of advice would be that starting out, especially for a writer, can be a very disheartening and lonely experience. Finding people in person or online who understand your work that you can talk with is very helpful. That was the major selling point for me joining up with Pronto.

Derrick with a Yoko Littner (of the anime Gurran Lagann) cosplayer.

Derrick with a Yoko Littner (of the anime Gurran Lagann) cosplayer.

PP: Is there a character or scene from Ninja Express that you have enjoyed writing the most? Any characters in particular that are challenging to write?

DC: I have yet to find a character I dislike writing about in Ninja Express, but the two characters I like writing the most right now are Otaki and Yuki (another ninja in the group and the younger sister of head ninja Sayaka). I feel they have the most of me in them. They are both big anime and video game fans, so I find them really easy and fun to write about. I feel like I’m putting myself on the page.

So far my favorite scene I wrote in Ninja Express took place in Issue 6. I can’t say much about the details of the scene, but Otaki was going through a big character-building moment. With Ninja Express being the longest story I’ve written, this was the first time I had an opportunity to write a scene with a lot of emotion behind it. This was the first time I had a chance to show a character’s growth in one of my stories, and I really liked how Otaki came through and changed in that moment.

I haven’t had anything challenging of note yet while writing characters, although as a man I feel writing for female characters might be a big challenge later on. A friend of mine always talks about writers who make their female characters “guys with boobs,” which means they act completely male but they just so happen to be female. As my stories progress, I’ll have to keep touching base with my female friends to make sure my girl characters act accurately.

PP: Who are some of your influences when it comes to both western and eastern comics?

DC: My big western comic influences are Robert Kirkman and the duo Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle. I really like Robert Kirkman’s story pacing and character moments in his two series, The Walking Dead and Invincible. Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle did amazing work during their runs on New X-Men and X-Force. They made me care about a new generation of X-Men characters, some of whom have become favorites over the classic characters. It takes a lot of skill to build up new characters in mainstream comics and get people to care about them. I want to give the same character development to my characters that these writers gave to the X-Men.

Ninja Express is influenced by every anime, manga, and video game I have come in contact with, but I’m trying to base the series’ fight scenes off the work of Soul Eater, created by Atsushi Okubo. I really like the choreography of the fights in Soul Eater, they are usually quick and strait to the point. I hate fights packed with a lot of “filler,” like meaningless punching and swordplay, just in there to pad out the issue. Every action in a fight should move the fight forward, just as each word in great dialogue moves a conversation forward. I feel Atsushi Okubo accomplishes that well in Soul Eater.

NE#2Page5PP: Aside from being a writer, what other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?

DC: I’ve always been into comic books. I grew up a Marvel kid, but I mainly stick with X-Men books. I have recently gotten into indie titles. Recent favorites of mine have been Preacher and Locke & Key. As for anime, I’ve been on a “slice of life” genre kick lately. I really liked Chuunibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai! (Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions), but my favorite anime airing this season is Shingeki No Kyojin (Attack on Titan); that show is sick!

Video game-wise, I’ll play anything. Currently, I’m playing Persona 4 on Playstation 2. Yeah, I’m keeping it old school. During college, I got into the card trading game, Yu-Gi-Oh!, but switched over to Magic the Gathering a few years back; I’m currently rolling with Guild Semic. Also in college, I discovered that reading books without pictures is in fact fun. School lied to me! I’m a big fan of Brent Weeks and I anxiously await his third book in the Lightbringer series. I’m also really into sci-fi and fantasy. I’ve been a Dungeon Master of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for the last three years and one of my players turned me on to Doctor Who last year.

PP: What are some upcoming things we can expect to see from you in terms of both Ninja Express and any other projects?

DC: I have a lot of fun and cool things packed into the first storyline of Ninja Express, which spans from Issue 1 to 7. I also have a few characters I can’t wait to see how people react to. I’m really looking forward to what readers think of the Hench-Ninja Rangers. Like I said before, I have Cold Night coming out in Blackout #3. I’m also working on an independent series titled Ruin, which deals with a world torn apart by warring factions that employ ancient magic and advanced technology. A girl named Winter is caught in the middle of the conflict and she has a mysterious power that can change the course of the war. I’m trying to pitch that to comic companies right now. Besides my work on comics, I do have plans for working on a non-comic story, either a short story or a book, not sure. I’m still in the early stages of planning for the story, though.

To learn more about Derrick Charles, check out Prontocomics.com. To see the latest chapters of Ninja Express, check out Pronto’s Manga Nation anthologies as well as Pronto’s collected volumes of Ninja Express, coming this winter.

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