Alex Kolesar is a freelance illustrator and internet builder from the USA. He is the creator of No Need for Bushido.
NN4B is a popular weekly webcomic featuring samurai and ninja set in a fictional feudal Japan environment. It is drawn by Alex Kolesar and written by Joseph Kovell, and takes inspiration from various sources including the popular manga Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X.
We got in touch with Alex Kolesar, who is in charge of the drawings, and he agreed to have an interview with us.
Samurai Art: Hi Alex, let’s begin by talking about the birth of the NN4B project. How did it all start?
Alex Kolesar: Back in high school, I did a short comic illustrating the aspects of the samurai code. It was a terrible comic that no one will ever see, but it did involve the first incarnations of the three main No Need for Bushido character; Yori, Ina, and Cho. During my first year of college, I started reading webcomics, and the thought hit me that I could do something similar! So I resurrected the main characters from that high school comic, and stuck them in what, initially, was a very simple premise. I didn’t really have a plan of where it was going to go, other than I wanted there to be plenty of action and comedy elements and wandering samurai tropes. I spent some time fumbling around figuring how to get the comic online, since, at the time, I was internet illiterate. When I first started NN4B, I wasn’t sure how to promote it, but I quickly discovered Keenspace, a free webcomic hosting site and also cross promoted the comics it hosted! Although we eventually moved off of Keenspace, it was what initially helped us gain the beginnings of a readership.
Initially, I was ready to have the comic be just a one man show, I was going to write it without much outside input, but around the 8th comic strip, I realized I couldn’t think up a good punchline for Ina, the main female protagonist, to say after falling out a window. I turned to my newly acquired college buddy, Joe Kovell, who had a similar last name to mine and thus we shared a number of classes together, and asked him to help me write the comic. We’ve been working together on series ever since!
SA: Why did you choose a feudal Japan as the setting?
AK: I was and am still mad for anything samurai related. The fever gripped me back in highscool at the turn of the century (1998-99), and hasn’t let up since. Rurouni Kenshin is pretty much the primary culprit for this, and that series played a major part in inspiring NN4B, especially in certain character tropes, such as the angry guy with a big sword, and the bumbling swordsman with hidden talent. I also got very into Kurosawa films, and any anime that set itself in Feudal Japan. The mindset behind eastern philosophy turned out to be very appealing to me, especially the idea of looking inward for personal strength and motivation, and the shedding of feelings of entitlement. Those aren’t native to eastern culture, but they’re featured prominently in its stories. My love of that time period and culture, as limited as my knowledge of it was at the time, was my main reason for wanting to set a comic there.
SA: If you had to choose two adjectives to define NN4B?
AK: Exuberant, Anachronistic
Exuberant because No Need for Bushido is written and drawn with the mindset of “what fun/awesome/hilarious thing can we have happen next?” Joe and I spend a lot of time trying to construct great moments for the characters, and we tend to write by the seat of our pants,often editing script even after the art for each page is done. It sounds chaotic, but there’s method to the madness, and it’s a joy to see where the writing process takes us!
Anachronistic because the comic has never tried to be historically accurate. It’s more a melting pot of tropes and homages to movies and series we love. We don’t break the fourth wall, but we do throw in plenty of references and jokes that wouldn’t make sense for the time period. Some of the movies and series that have inspired us over the years include Samurai Jack, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Last Samurai, Shogun (the book and miniseries), Star Wars (not the prequels!),Blade of the Immortal, Sword of the Stranger, Naruto (namely for ninja jokes), Onimusha, and Tenchu, along with about a hundred other series I can’t think of at the moment.
The actual time in which the comic takes place is somewhat nebulous, although it falls around the 1580′s. We don’t include any actual historical characters, mainly because when I started the comic I didn’t really know many and I wasn’t following historical events, but we do have some characters that are inspired by real figures. Hirotomo Wataro is inspired by Oda Nobunaga, the man credited for beginning the reunification of Japan, and Genchu is inspired by Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary swordsman known for wielding two blades in combat.
SA: Who is your favorite character in NN4B?
AK: This is such a difficult question to answer since I love all of my characters! My favorites to draw, at least, are Yorikiro Wataro and Ken Daisuke, and they may also be my two favorite characters to write.
Yori is this flamboyant 18 year old samurai kid with a heart of gold who loves playing the hero. He’s kind of a goof, falls over a lot, but deep down has the potential of a master swordsman. Despite being a 15 year old prodigy with a blade, he gave it up for three years after some traumatic events. After setting out to forge his own path divergent from his overbearing father, he quickly started catching up to to where he left off in terms of his skill level. I enjoy how he’s constantly underestimated because he’s a seemingly bumbling idiot, but then pulls out some masterful skill and wins the day.
Ken was orphaned at a young age when his entire clan was massacred by the Wataro clan. When he first meets Yori, Ken immediately tries to kill him, but soon finds out Yori doesn’t approve of his father’s warmongering, so they team up. Ken is the antihero of the group. He’s mean, he drinks a lot, he punches random bystanders and takes their money to fund the group’s expenses, and he loves kabuki theater. He’s a real drama queen, although he certainly has the tragic back story to back it up. His most notable feature is the 12 foot long sword he carries around. Anime loves its giant swords, and I wanted to play that up to the extreme by giving a character the most impractical huge sword imaginable. It’s sheer implausible size and weight is a running gag in the series. Luckily we’ve never let a little thing like physics get in the way of a good joke!
SA: If you could make a crossover with another comic/manga, which one would it be?
AK: Oh so many to choose from!! My first reaction would be Rurouni Kenshin, since it was a primary inspiration for No Need for Bushido, but I think a cross over with The Legend of Korra would be more appropriate, since the humor and character beats are more similar. I suppose LoK isn’t a comic or manga though! Perhaps Berserk, since I’d like to see Ken and Guts team up to take down behelit wielding monsters with twin giant sword attacks! Farnese, Schierke, Casca, and Ina could form a sort of sisterhood that’s always reprimanding the boys, and Cho could share his infinite wisdom with Puck and Evarella. Also, Yori and and Serpico could spar in their free time while not fighting sacrifice demons, and Isidro could get into all sorts of comical antics with the bandits Fumio and Fujio!
SA: It has already been more than 10 years since you started the project! Where do you see it going in the future?
AK: We’re finally at a point in the story where all the characters are coming together to spiral toward an epic conclusion! I’m very excited to have Genchu, who, at this point, has only appeared in flashbacks, finally appearing as a present day character. We also have Portuguese traders bringing fire arms to Japan, which will definitely create a power imbalance between the clans! Also, as is currently happening in the comic, the main cast is infiltrating the ninja lair where Ina’s father has spent the majority of the comic imprisoned. I think anyone who’s enjoyed NN4B up to this point is going to love all the events that are coming up. The writing and the story are only escalating in quality, or so I hope!
SA: Any words on your future projects?
AK: Although not a future project, during a year hiatus from NN4B over 2012, I was commissioned to illustrate a 100 page webcomic called Hoopfighter, which is about a future sport that combines basketball and MMA. Also STARRING SHAQUILLE ONEAL(‘s likeness) as the main character! Certainly worth checking out for its zany take on sports movies and over the top concept, or if you like my art! (hoopfighter.com)
As far as future projects once NN4B is complete, that’s still a long way off, but Joe and I do have some ideas.We both love science fiction so I think that genre is a sure fire next step. I would love to do a scifi cop procedural series! Something similar to Judge Dredd where the police are patrolmen, detectives, and swat teams all in one, but more cyberpunk, in the vein of Ghost in the Shell. I imagine storylines dealing with everything from bank heists, drug trafficking, cyber terrorism, undercover cops, hunting down serial killers, and courtroom drama. It’s a number of years away, but everyone feel free to start getting pumped about it now!
Thank you Alex, for taking the time to answer our questions and providing us with this interesting read!
If this project picked your interest, I suggest you take a look at the site of the “best action-adventure-comedy-drama samurai-based webcomic ever conceived!”.
Below you will find some links if you want to know more about No Need for Bushido and its creator Alex Kolesar.