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AICN COMICS Q&@: Masked Man talks with storyboard artist/director Dave Bullock & introduces us to THE SAVAGE BLADE OF KING RONOK!

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Q’s by Masked Man!

@’s by Dave Bullock

Masked Man here. You might not know it, but Dave Bullock has been a storyboard artist and director on some of your favorite animated projects, working with Bruce Timm on BATMAN, SUPERMAN, JUSTICE LEAGUE and other projects. He also worked with George Lucas as a director on the STAR WARS: CLONE WARS series and movie, KIM POSSIBLE, SYM-BIONIC TITAN, and THE AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTEST HEROES. He was a series director on SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN and directed the DVD movie JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER. He's no stranger to comics as well, doing short stories and covers for years and the DEADMAN series from DC's WEDNESDAY COMICS. And now, like many other creators, he's jumping into self-publishing, with a Kickstarter campaign of his own creation, THE SAVAGE BLADE OF KING RONOK (row-nock).
MASKED MAN (MM): First off, it's nice to speak with you Dave.

DAVE BULLOCK (DB): Thanks, thank you for your interest.

MM: So you've been working in animation so long, why this move to do your own comic book?

DB: Well as you say, I've been working for so many years with so many companies, and you kind of see how things get done with so many sources of input, and all the media and marketing, toys and all. So many things happen that you can't figure out why; I wanted to do something of my own, and this was the best way to achieve that. You know, I've played with the company toys, now this one is mine to have some fun with.

MM: I see, and you've recently moved to the East Coast, are you done with animation?

DB: No, definitely not; the move was for family reasons, but I still work with a lot of great friends in animation. I've done some storyboards on BEWARE THE BATMAN and currently I'm working with Hasbro on TRANSFORMERS PRIME.

MM: How does that work, being so far away from the studios?

DB: Well, I've seen other people do it, so it's been a proven method. I work with a Cintiq using the software Storyboard Pro to draw out the storyboard, make animatics and send them off. We all have access to the same material, and being off location keeps me out of meetings, so I have more time for things like RONOK.

MM: Is animation your first love, or is it comic books?

DB: Well, we grew up at a great time--the 80's had so many cool shows, like GI JOE and THUNDERCATS. But I remember my first comic books were bought at markets, where they slashed them apart-you know, to send back the covers and get them redeemed from the publisher. So they were all slashed up, but we didn't care--we loved them, so yeah, I think comic books were my first exposure to all this.

MM: Thinking about all the animation projects you've been a part of, what would you say is the one you are most proud of?

DB: Wow, what a great question...

MM: Well I just can't ask you what your favorite is, because I know they all are your favorite.

DB: Well, I worked on this small DVD movie, VAN HELSING (THE LONDON ASSIGNMENT)--it was a tie in with the Hugh Jackman movie, he did the voice for our toon too.

MM: I don't think I even knew about it this.

DB: Well it was a prequel to the film’s story. I boarded a fight on a train in the London Underground, it was the first time an overseas animation director really got what I was doing on paper. Like, we were really on the same page, with the timing and all. Just seeing it all come together the way I had intended, that was big.

MM: Now as I try to steer this car towards comics, what work are you most proud of in comics?

DB: A while back I did some Superman covers for ACTION COMICS. And later one was used in the book, SUPERMAN: COVER TO COVER. So there's my work in this book with the likes of Neal Adams and Frank Miller, yeah. So I was pretty happy about being included with these guys that I grew up digging. And at the time some people didn't like the look, it wasn't, you know Image or what have you.

MM: Well now it's deemed a classic, so what do they know.

DB: Yeah (laugh).

MM: So with your comic, THE SAVAGE BLADE OF KING RONOK, is this the first time for you really writing?

DB: Well in storyboards, the animated process--it often goes, you know, from the producers, who lay everything out, then the series writers work on it, then it goes to the director and the storyboard artists, and we kind of all hammer it out, finding the best way to make everything work. So I was writing on some level for years, and then DEADMAN (DC's WEDNESDAY COMICS) which I did with Vinton Heuck, who is helping out again with KING RONOK.

MM: So did you write full scripts or just storyboard it out?

DB: I wrote down the outline and fleshed out the story beats, like I had seen James Cameron put together. Just laying everything out and then honing it down to the pages. Blocking in temp dialogue and figuring out specific dialogue later.

MM: Really.

DB: Yeah, just letting things come together, and developing the story that way.

MM: What was your inspiration for RONOK? What moved you in that direction?

DB: As a kid, I was always a fan of sword and sorcery. Early on I remember getting SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN.

MM: The large black and white comics from Marvel.

DB: Yeah, and I just remembering be 13-14 and thinking, maybe I shouldn't be reading these. Maybe these are for adults. With all the sexy girls running around and, you know, sword swinging. And when I was working on DEADMAN, people would telling me it seemed like a Conan story, so that's about when I start putting Ronok together, why not just do it.

MM: So then, who is Ronok, what's THE SAVAGE BLADE all about?

DB: So Ronok has been a guy working for a Keshian Empire as a hired sword for many years and he's been a loyal guy who's worked hard for this kingdom without question. Over the years he's forged some really great friendships, some tight bonds with family members of the kingdom. He gets to a point where he starts to see the inner workings of the empire and realizes things are not what they seem, so he has to take matters into his own hands and decide does he still fight for this corrupt kingdom, or fight for what he knows to be right and true, which is the loyalty of his friends and family?

MM: So does he become a rebel or resistant fighter?

DB: In some respects, while he was working for King Nago, he was part of this special guard (The Blood Guard), a kind of SS. So the king sends him out on special missions and things. And now that he's an outcast, and can't rely on his usual alliances, his only contacts are now the criminals of this savage world. So he has to turn to these characters, who he's had prior dealing (as a Blood Guard) with, whether they be monsters or ghosts or a sorceress to ask for aid and support in his new efforts. So he's not necessarily trying to bring this kingdom down, but he's trying to help his friends survive the attacks from this kingdom.

MM: So who are some of adversaries King Ronok will be facing?

DB: Well there's a gal named Valka, who's an emissary of the north. She starts out, you're not quite sure, but I'm pretty sure she winds up on Ronok's side (laugh). But one of the big groups is the royal house of Trajan. This is a cursed kingdom that Ronok turns to for help. They have a history with the Keshian King. And, ah, one of the monsters is a guy called Beastor. He is a mutated banished knight with the strength of ten men and definitely a foe of Ronok's.

MM: Tell me about all the beautiful women in his life.

DB: Thunda The Barbarian Queen is a sultry thief who Ronok (as a Blood Guard) has had to lock away on a few occasions. They have a bit of a spark between them, too, which will be fun to see how it turns out. Then there is also Valka, and Halia.

MM: And what about his relationship with the Princess Halia?

DB: Ah, Ronok has spent a lot of time with her over the years. Working for the kingdom, he's become really good friends with...ah, I don't want to get too much into that, let's just say they are traveling companions for a time(laugh).

MM: Ok, what about a main villain? Is there a big bad to the whole story?

DB: There is. The cursed Prince Nobu, he may or may not be the villain--we'll have to wait and see.

MM: I see you more interested in creating character arcs, as opposed to casting characters as good guys and bad guys.

DB: As a viewer I most appreciate the films that, as Brad Bird says, felt "hand made". A lot of films/stories seem to come off a cookie cutter assembly line, and are beat for beat the same and boring. So yeah, you do what you can to make your story unique and emphasize the things that are different about it. Personally, I'm most intrigued by characters who are struggling on some human level. It's what we all relate to.

MM: So what kind of story is this? Straight up action or more humorous?

DB: If I had to choose, I'd say it's a straight pulp adventure, though I'm trying to make it more like a character piece than just a Ray Harryhausen slugfest--but it's definitely all that too.

MM: Ok, now for my mean question: in a marketplace that has Conan, Warlord (Travis Morgan), Warlord of Mars (John Carter)- why should we be reading Ronok?

DB: Well because all those are milk-toast generated by huge corporations that don't really have any individual passion or soul to breathe into those properties anymore. That said, I really enjoyed the John Carter film and love, love the early Conan films, but for the most part, lately these properties have not delivered what I want from them, which is brutal barbarian fun! Unfortunately, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE also seems to be having an identity crisis for some strange reason.

MM: So King Ronok is more of what you'd like to see.

DB: The truth is, I feel there is a lot of untapped goodness in this genre. And this is my answer to that, being a disappointed fan of the last barbarian big movie push. I hope to show you can have epic action and great character in one smart adventure.

MM: Amen. So giving away as little as possible, what one scene, in the first book, do you think will stand out for the readers?

DB: One of the sequences that's going to be the most fun is a tower fight sequence against some winged demons. I am opening this up to Kickstarter: two lucky supporters would have an opportunity to have their likenesses drawn as characters in the fight. And if they have interesting faces, they might be able to hang around longer.

MM: (laugh) So if you are too good looking, sorry--you'll be dead.

DB: That's right (laugh).

MM: How will you be putting this story together?

DB: So the idea is, this is one story broken into three acts ... a miniseries, let's call it. Each (hardcover) book will be 64 pages long, including 45 pages of story, full color, and 12 pages of pin-ups and sketches (These extra pages will include work by the late great Ernie Chan, Rudy Nebres and Pablo Marcos). Depending on the story, the final issue might have more story pages and less extras. With the Kickstarter campaign (starting) in July, we'll be looking for the funding of the first book.

MM: How long have you been slaving away on Ronok?

DB: Four or five years now.

MM: How much on the actual pages?

DB: Just the past few months, but the past several years have been devoted to designing the look of the characters--my earliest idea was to make this a cartoon, so I was working in a much more animated, sort of linear art direction. And I just decided, at the end of the day, that it was just too childlike and it was not giving me the believ ability for the adult-toned story I wanted to project. So I scrapped my very H&B (Hanna & Barbera) look and leaned into something that's much inkier and more reminiscent of maybe the painted posters of the old He-Man toy art and things like that.

MM: So aside from becoming Disney's next tent pole movie of the summer, where would you like to see Ronok go?

DB: I have to tell you, I have no big plans beyond making these books at the moment. It would be fantastic to have a toyline, video game--all those things--but I really just want to focus on making a great story with great visuals that people can connect to and just continue to make this unique.

MM: Very cool, but when Disney does buy it and makes the big movie, who do you see playing Ronok?

DB: That's a good question, man--gosh, you know, there's a couple of different guys...I'd have to say a young Bruce Willis would be my guy. Someone who comes off as tough, but also personable. He's not tough to the point where you don't care if he gets killed off in the first act. He still has to be warm and lovable, to some degree.

MM: Now, you do have a mature readers label on Ronok, so would you even like to see it become an animated show or anything?

DB: Well, it's funny--going back to the goofy Van Helsing video, I'd love to put something together that was sort of a DVD movie format. As far as these animated films and things go, that's the only place to really do something that's more adult, maybe with an R rating. But I'm not really looking to make another kids cartoon. We can make something more for adults, something we can enjoy.

MM: Preaching to the choir. I feel we’ve been asking for something like that for 30 years.

DB: That was a big part of why I wanted to work at WB on those Superman and Batman toons in the early days. Cause they were making something that didn't seem to be talking down to kids. You could watch it at home regardless of what age you were, if you liked those characters. There's a lot of wonderful Sponge Bob-type stuff out there for the kids, but there's not enough of this type of thing for adults, as far as I'm concerned. I guess in a large way I'm making this for myself, too; I want to see more of this sort of thing out there. Something that is smartly put together visually and just has good, smart characterizations and a fun story.

MM: I'm sure looking forward to it. But before we end this, any last thing you'd like say?

DB: Just that the Kickstarter will start in July, and I hope you all check out the blog. I've posted a lot of character designs, pin ups and development art there, so please check it out! Also keep an eye out for some really fun covers I've been working on with Valiant comics--ETERNAL WARRIOR and more. All that stuff should be hitting the shelves in July. And I've got a short BATMAN story for DC that should be solicited in July and I believe in your shops in October.

MM: Lastly, as we Batman fans wait patiently for BEWARE THE BATMAN, can you tell us anything about it?

DB: (laugh) Well, it's definitely going to be one of the coolest Batman toons you've ever seen on TV. No doubt. It's got some really wonderful shadow play and aside from that, it's Alfred like you've never seen him before.

MM: (laugh) So we've seen from the promo art! Well, thanks for talking with u,s Dave--we wish you success.

DB: No sweat man, I appreciate the support. Take care.

MM: Keep a look out for Dave Bullock's Kickstarter campaign next month, and be sure to check in with Ronok's blog, where you can listen to Ronok's theme music by Kevin Manthei (the guy who wrote the music for JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER), see more of Dave's awesome art and get production updates!

Learn more about the Masked Man and feel free check out his comic book CINDY LI: THREE OF A KIND and CAPAIN ROCKET at

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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