IMAGE COMICS: Let's start relatively normal and work our way up! On this page are a few of the core cast members of WAYWARD, VOL. 1: STRING THEORY—Ayane, Rori Lane, Nikaido, and Shirai, who eats ghosts and punches spirits. They're peers, more or less, and dressed quite differently from one another. What were you going for when designing these characters, and particularly what they're wearing in this scene? What does what they're wearing say about who they are?
STEVEN CUMMINGS: When designing these characters I was trying to get at their basic look/their basic default fashion. They aren't superheroes, so skintight colorful outfits or random fighting gear is out of the question. I kept normal teen fashion in mind while doing the sketching, trying to make their looks be both individual to them as well as not flashy. Most clothing worn by kids in school here isn't flashy because they don't have any money, and our characters here definitely reflect that. The exceptions are Shirai, who is in a school uniform for the first 5 issues, and Nikaido, who is always wearing cast-offs early on. That speaks to the fact that he is more or less homeless and has no possessions.
IC: Ayane, the nekomusume! "Catgirl" conjures a lot of different designs, if only because the concept has seen so much variety in pop culture. When designing Ayane, what were you looking to not do? How did you want to make her stand out from the crowd?
SC: When I was sketching Ayane I definitely wanted to avoid the cat girl anime trap where the character has cat ears and walks around doing the manekineko hand pose. Instead of making her look like a cat on the outside, I designed a look that could be mistaken for young fashion if you don't look too closely but there are some intended oddities about what she wears. Her actions all reflect a cat-like nature, though, as she is flighty and has a light-switch attention span at times. She pops so much by her actions and her fierce nature when it comes time to take on the bad guys.
IC: Nurarihyon is sometimes a rude houseguest, and sometimes a leader of monsters. In WAYWARD, he leans toward the latter more often than not. While he's often depicted with a bulbous, gourd-like head, you've drawn him much more normally here, but with a fascinating change to me: his clothing. The flat hat, bowtie, and suspenders feels very old in comparison to the setting of WAYWARD. What was the motivation behind this design?
SC: This was my favorite character when at the designing stage. The idea was to draw a Showa Gentleman from the 4th decade of that era. Showa is the prior imperial era (we are currently in Heisei) and the 4th decade would be between 1965 and 1975. The idea is to make him seem out of place among modern clothing looks. I think on the outside that older granddad look is disarming and almost charming to the people the character meets, and that is one of his weapons. But yeah, I love drawing that guy. He is kind of like an evil Colonel Sanders!
IC: Kappa are lake and river monsters, for the most part. They're often depicted with pools of water on their head, beaked faces, and slim builds. These guys maintain their aquatic elements in WAYWARD, but they're much buffer, more like barbarians than river creatures. Why are the kappa the foot soldiers of the yokai world in WAYWARD?
SC: Those little pools on their heads are actually little cups of water. If the water spills out or you can shatter the container you can defeat them. That's the tradition anyway. But since we are making these monsters our own we decided to make them menacing and scary. I mean, it's a lot more fun to draw badass than bookworm! But...I don't think we can call them the foot soldiers of WAYWARD but of one faction. There are also the Kitsune, who perform a similar function at other times. But Kappa are such basic monsters in Japanese folklore that they do make for great fodder.
IC: These are magical shapeshifting foxes, and the form they've chosen to take here is more or less typical samurai gear. They're notably techno-phobic, which makes me wonder about their attire. They're moving against the human world, but draping themselves in human clothing to do it. Is their beef with modern times or people in general? Why would they choose this gear when it's time to go to war?
SC: When Japan was still in the Edo period and opening up to new ideas (including guns) people would still gear up for war in samurai-style armor. I think the Kitsune are a little like that. They like the look and feel of the traditional outfits because of the power they perceive in them and try to live up to what those armors meant. But like you said, they have an aversion to modern technology (as shown in issue 3 when they freak out over a cell phone) but they don't just hate tech. They also have an issue with the human world and are struggling with how the Yokai can still try to control it in the face of the fast-paced changes round them.
IC: The kyokotsu is the maybe the most traditional-looking of the creatures in WAYWARD, from its triangle headband to its characteristically creepy design. The creature has a full head of hair, a skeletal body, and oodles of miasma leaking from all around. Why was keeping to tradition the right choice for this crazy bones?
SC: The headgear here is a traditional part of the burial outfit. The white(ish) kimono is, as well. Those items are kind of the other side of the coin to the skeleton, and together symbolize death. Those were things I wanted to add to the design to make sure we could really work up the creepiness of the monster. The miasma was just a last minute addition to keep the right level of ick in this monster. But since kyokotsu is a folklore monster, it was important to make it have some very solid Japanese attributes. Even though we are making these monsters our own with the WAYWARD version, it is still important not to stray too far from the Japanese origin of them, which is why I try to keep elements there for all of them.
WAYWARD #11 arrives on store shelves this Wednesday. WAYWARD is available in two collected editions (VOL. 1: STRING THEORY and VOL. 2: THE TIES THAT BIND), one deluxe hardcover collecting the first ten issues, and ongoing single issues.