Like many comic concepts, Shy Ninja started as a sketch in a notebook. This particular notebook belonged to Ricardo Sanchez’s daughter Adara (discovered on the way to San Diego Comic Con no less) and after some coaxing from Dad, was eventually turned into the graphic novel that will be released on June 1 from Humanoids.
Sanchez took some time to talk about his and his daughter’s journey to Shy Ninja as well as how a comic, and comic culture, can help people deal with their anxieties in this exclusive interview.
You mention in the foreword to Shy Ninja that the idea was one that came from an illustration by your daughter Adara. How did you convince her to let you turn her idea into a full blown graphic novel?
Ricardo Sanchez: It wasn’t easy to convince Adara to turn Shy Ninja into a graphic novel. At the time, Adara was 13 and had built up an entire world around the character (that isn’t part of the comic) and was excited to draw it all. But she agreed to work with me on the idea, even if we ultimately just did it ourselves, and warmed up to the idea in the process. She ultimately decided that she really did want to see the idea come to life in graphic novel format, and she also knew she didn’t want to do that kind of art – she’s more interested in illustration – so she was pretty excited when we signed up with Humanoids.
What is the main premise of Shy Ninja?
Sanchez: Shy Ninja is the story of a Rena, girl with social anxiety disorder, who gets talked into learning to become a Ninja as a way to break out of her comfort zone. It doesn’t hurt, in her mind, that some of the skills she’ll learn will actually help her hide from human interaction. But as her skills grow, she develops more of a willingness to actually address her anxiety, and, like any good comic story, she’s called on to use those new found abilities to save the day from villainy and evil!
You work with artist Arianna Florean on Shy Ninja. What does she bring to the story in terms of the art and coloring?
Sanchez: Arianna is such an amazing artist! Her ability to infuse characters with expression and emotion is incredible. Comics are a visual medium. The best story with a so-so artist is a so-so comic, so I’m really grateful to have Arianna doing the art, as I think she delivered spectacularly on the world that Adara and I created.
Much of the story is about Rena overcoming her social anxiety issues. Do you feel that comics and comics culture allows teens to feel comfortable with people with similar interests?
Sanchez: I do! There’s a really remarkable study that details how reading helps people develop empathy. It’s not specifically about comics, but I suspect that it is true for this medium as well. When I talk with people who’ve read my books, the stories people are most excited to talk about ones with a main character who’s genuinely relatable, whether that be because the story does a good job of helping the reader get into their shoes, or because the reader has faced similar challenges. You don’t have to have social anxiety to identify with Rena when she’s laughed at in class, for example.
Why are ninjas still such popular character class in comics and animation?
Sanchez: I think it’s because Ninjas are mysterious and powerful. They have almost magic like powers of deception and stealth. They can vanquish foes ten times their number, or twice their size. They also have cool toys to play with. And it doesn’t hurt that four mutant turtles have been indoctrinating several generations of kids into the way of the ninja.
What is it like bringing a title like Shy Ninja to Humanoids, which has a reputation for much more adult fare.
Sanchez: Unexpected! Honestly, I wanted to do a high concept science fiction story or thought provoking horror piece for Humanoids. I didn’t even know the company was doing kids comics when I chatted with them the first time. But having said that, Humanoids was awesome to work with. All through the process, my editors helped me focus on getting the best story possible into the script. They also helped ground me in what was, or wasn’t, an age appropriate sequence. There’s a scene in the book where Rena is flexing her new found skills. My draft of it wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t going to be entirely relatable for a younger reader. The awesome folks at Humanoids kept pushing me until we got it just right, and, to be honest, it’s a better scene now for any reader, of any age.
Upcoming projects that you are working on?
Sanchez: A few years ago I did a zombie alphabet book, The A, B, Zeeees, and I’m getting the sequel ready. They’re kid friendly, for some kids who find silly gory stuff fun. I also have two very not kid-friendly collaborations with Jheremy Raapack, the artist that worked on Resident Evil with me. And I’m thinking about sequel stories for Rena and Shy Ninja!
Shy Ninja will be available in comic shops and bookstores on June 1.