Not Yet a Major Motion Picture (but hopefully one day): An Interview with the creators of The Man they call Ned by Kent Hill

In this age where the next hot graphic novel can most assuredly become the next big Hollywood blockbuster it brings me great pleasure to introduce PTS readers to a book in the making that I for one really want to be a hit so I can go see the movie.

It’s Mad Max meets Batman meets Lansdale’s On the far side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead folks. It’s post apocalyptic madness along hard boiled action. It is The Man they called Ned.

And then there were the zombies – in their hundreds and thousands and millions. They have taken over society in a damned and desolate land down under; splitting into different casts, no longer merely the slow, mindless automatons feasting on anything with a pulse. The ZWO (Zombie World Order) is all powerful – controlled by a mysterious shadowy figure known simply as The Minister.

But from out of the wastes, a lone figure emerges. Coated in steel, driven by vengeance – he strikes fear into the lifeless hearts of the flesh-eating hordes. His justice explodes from the barrel of a gun and the edge of a blade. In this land where those living are plagued by the dead, in a low voice he tells the wind, “I am the man they call Ned.”

I was at Supanova (an Australian pop culture expo) selling books on the far side of the convention centre, when the awesome took hold. All I remember seeing was this big-ass poster with a futuristic-looking Ned Kelly holding a decapitated head and I was smitten. He might have been the man they called Ned but the lads at the booth were Max Myint and Yuu Matsuyama. They were there to generate interest, put the word out about this uber-cool juxtaposition of a fresh take on the quintessential Australian outlaw. Throw that into a blender with Robocop, Batman and the Man with no name in a Planet of the Apes style dystopia with the monkeys replaced by zombies. A man, a symbol hope, a vigilante hitting the undead powers-that-be where it hurts the most. The dynamic and electrifying artwork of Zac Smith-Cameron turned heads and sparked excitement, even in the most casual of observers. But this was merely the hook. After you stopped at the table you heard more about the man, the legend, the world he inhabits: a dilapidated and discarded world where the decaying dominates. Max and Yuu are empire builders, and as I spoke with them, I was in awe of the depth and detail to which they had infused this incredible new incarnation of the mythical Australian icon.

Lads, firstly it was great to meet you and share the alley with you over the weekend.

YM: Fantastic to meet you too, Kent. It was actually our first con, so we were wondering who we were going to meet, but it turned out just really great, enthusiastic people.

MM: Awesome to meet you too Kent. Couldn’t have asked for a better neighbour at our very first con! Time sure flied didn’t it?

I admit I was hooked from the get-go. That poster just spoke to me and I wanted to take the ride.

YM: Tell me about it! The thing is over 2 metres tall, and even we were surprised when we first saw how big it was. It’s just got that great vibe to it of that dark, dystopian future and with Ned almost busting that decapitated head right through it.

MM: We’re very cinematic when we approach things, and both Yuu and I have a particular affection for theme parks – so the emphasis is always on creating a display that sucks people into our mythology right from the get go! It’s in your face and absolutely demands intrigue from by-passers. And let’s not forget the fact that it’s an amazing piece of art because it communicates so much. The best comic covers always tell you enough of the story to pique your interest so that you’ll want to turn that page and take the ride!

So enough from me, let’s talk you. Give the audience a little of the backstory; your creative roots and the like.

YM: I think you’ve explained it pretty well in your intro, and I don’t want to give too much away, but – Australia in the near future has been taken over by zombies, but not just any zombies. Zombies that have formed their own society and culture, an undead civilisation with its own way of living, its own economy (in human flesh, of course) and its own leader. This man, protected by a strangely familiar armour, comes in to take back the country against the oppressive authority that is now the Zombie World Order. His armour is a symbol, much like Ned Kelly is now, for the everyman, fighting back against impossible odds until the bitter end, inspiring others to do the same and for generations to come.

In terms of creative roots, for me, I studied creative writing at university as well as getting into some acting in a small theatre group locally (Brisbane). It was such a small group, we had to set up our own lights and build our own props and everything, but it really got you working hands on in a lot of different forms. The study at university also really sparked my interest in all sorts of mediums as well, everything from script writing (which isn’t dissimilar to comics) to novels.

MM: Yuu couldn’t have said it better. We have taken a genre and completely subverted it in order to tell a story that demands the rebirth of the essence of Ned Kelly, and re-defines what he symbolizes in a new era.

I have a passion for film and art and all the mediums that present these elements, be it in video-game, comic etc. I just love telling stories and creating mythologies…it’s about getting that emotion out of people and taking them on that epic rollercoaster. I started as a self-taught sculptor working as hands for hire on independent projects. I soon found work at a small little film studio where I got into some prop work and prosthetic FX in some truly god-awful indie horror flicks. Despite the calibre of pictures I was working on, ironically it was my exposure to the indie film industry that really fuelled my desire to start my own projects and it’s been a great journey so far.

 When did you team up?

YM: Well, it seems like yesterday, but it was actually back in university, which was (and now I feel old) almost 8 years ago. We were just hanging out because we were in some of the same classes and we just ended up talking about how much we both wanted to start creating things, build worlds and tell stories through different mediums, and the rest, we hope, will be history.

MM: We have very similar interests when it comes to pop culture and it’s just the case when you meet someone and things just click instantly. I was at a stage where I was looking for like-minded people to collaborate with and we just ended up talking for hours whenever the topic of pop culture came up. It’s great to have someone whom you can share a creative chemistry with which contributes to the evolution of ideas, and ultimately leads to a better story.

How far into your friendship was it before Ned came about?

YM: I think the genesis of the Ned idea started about 4 years ago? It took a few iterations for it to come to the form we see today, and the idea came about just amongst a bunch of other projects we were working on.

What was the project’s genesis?

YM: We wanted to see something uniquely local, as in Australian, because one of the things that seem lacking in this country are pop icons that go beyond the occasional pop/movie star. There is certainly a dearth of cultural, symbolic exports from this country. So we thought, what’s instantly recognisable as Australian, but also something that crosses generations and be able to be reimagined in a way that is relatable and contemporary? The answer seemed so obvious when we first thought about it, I was really worried that it had already been done. But it turns out, it hasn’t, and we would like nothing more than bring the image of Ned to the world stage.

MM: I wanted to see an Australian ‘superhero’. I felt that this was something that was greatly absent in Australian pop culture. Initially the idea was to play it as a straight anti-hero story where Ned was taking down a corrupt and oppressive government. We had discussed a lot of elements and started to develop the story – and to be honest something didn’t feel right. To me, it felt flat and Ned as a concept deserved better than that. One day we were discussing the plot and we basically just threw out a ‘what if?’ – What if our Ned was in a reality that fought zombies?

I saw this new direction as an opportunity to go deeper into the mythos of zombies and that’s where I decided to infuse inspiration from the Planet of the Apes, because I felt like that that angle had never been fully explored to this extent before with zombies. I really wanted to venture into what a pseudo-intelligent zombie culture would be like and how people would co-exist under their dominion. It’s been interesting to dream up all the different facets of the universe we are creating, and the hope is that fans out there will appreciate the amount of detail and thought we have put into building this world to deliver something that really no-one has ever seen before!

Tell us of your collaboration with Zac Smith-Cameron?

MM: Well…simply put neither of us can draw for sh*t, and most certainly not to the level that would do this comic justice. We searched high and low for the right artist, and as it turns out we just happened to stumble along the right one when we were looking into publishing resources in Brisbane. Zac is not only super talented, but also one of those uniquely enthusiastic artists that you could just talk to for hours. At the time Zac was running his own collaboration of collected indie comics and we were looking to get our man Ned into it. Ironically, Ned missed out because we couldn’t find an artist in time…but as fate later would have it we crossed paths with Zac further down the road and the rest is history.

You are putting the story out there with this awesome little trailer-comic. Was that something you wanted to do or was it a necessity before moving to the next step in the project’s evolution?

MM: There’s a lot of story to tell and we have spent so much time building an intricate plot as well as a uniquely rich world that it was certainly a necessity to market it properly. We felt that with such a unique concept, a trailer type comic was the right way to go. As Yuu said earlier, our campaign is to build awareness and build that fan base, so that we can grow an audience and demand for the official release of the story. We wanted to ensure that people didn’t just dismiss this as your average tough guy fights zombies schtick. There really is a more heart to it than that.

Max you sculpt as well, and you had a killer bust of Ned on display.

YM: I think I saw Ned being killed as opposed to being a killer – his head fell off a few times.

MM: Cheers Kent! I actually designed the look of Ned from head to toe in sculpture. I felt it was necessary to update his armour for the universe we created rather than just re-using the original. It was certainly a challenge to undertake because that armour is so iconic. There are very subtle updates to really illustrate a level of angst and intimidation that lends more character and presence to the helmet. I don’t want to give too much away…but the bust that you saw on display was only Mark I. There’s a lot more in the works!

I am a movie geek so I am always looking at things from a cinematic angel. I guess, could you perhaps discuss what I perceive as a definite cinematic quality that is apparent in Ned?

YM: Totally agree with the angle that it would make an epic film. It’s such a visual story, and I think that’s why it comes off as cinematic.

You are the writers – was it always multi-media (book, film etc.) or were you always looking at getting into comics?

YM: I think both of our passions are actually to write for film, but there are so many similarities between a film script and a comic script that it came pretty naturally to us. Although there are different consideration to make such as how many panels need to be on the page, to make sure that the last panel of each page is a micro cliff-hanger, there certainly are cinematic considerations when writing a comic. The idea of writing comics came a couple of years after we started working together, but now we have a bunch of different ideas in that medium that it’s become something we work on fairly regularly, not just Ned.

MM: Our work has always been pre-dominantly film based, but there was always a desire to work on other mediums where we could tell our stories. For me, I’ve always had a desire to get into comics. There are many freedoms that a comic allows when you don’t have to worry about the costs involved in funding a film. And so when it comes to crafting the fantasy you can really focus on the mythology without feeling constrained on concerns of practicality. I really believe that there is still a sacred magic in the ability that a comic book holds to teleport readers into their world simply through the exploration of panels.  

What do you see is the next step for you, where does the journey take Ned from here?

YM: At the moment, we want to keep spreading the word on Ned. We want to get this out there, create more awareness, more of a following, because we want the comic series to come out. We are literally two guys that collaborate in a lounge room, so the challenges are definitely there. But I think that the idea is great, the story is fantastic, and people will love it even more. We want to build that world, tell the story, get people excited and lost in the world of Ned.

MM: I don’t want to give anything away – but there is LOTS more to come!

Boys, again it was swell hanging out, and a genuine pleasure doing what I can to tell the world about this super-cool concept of yours. Just promise me you’ll remember me when you make it big – oh, and keep me a ticket when the flick comes out.

YM: Will do, Kent. I’ll be there with the armour on.

MM: YES! Remember Yuu, we have that in writing now. It’s been fantastic meeting a person like you who is as passionate about this stuff as we are. How’s about we get you IN the movie as a zombie cameo?

I already feel humbled knowing that people have enjoyed what we have to offer so far!

That was a couple of exciting talents with an equally exciting work that is, I believe, set to take the world by storm. It was a privilege to be here at the beginning and to meet you both. Final words?

YM: He is Ned, and you’re either with him, or with the zombies.

MM: I really think it’s long overdue and about time, that a true badass like our man Ned represented Australia! Stay tuned, and keep supporting our campaign to bring The Man they call Ned to life!

Max Myint, Yuu Matsuyama ladies and gentlemen. For more on The Man they call Ned you can find them currently on Facebook @ IAMNEDCOMIC. I sure the progression of the masterwork in the making you’ll able to keep track of by giving their page a like. I know I will be waiting eagerly for news of the exploits of these fine creators and the future of Ned.

THE LIVING HAVE SURRENDERED…

EXCEPT FOR ONE MAN.

THEY CALL HIM NED.

 

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