When the ashes of the final battle stop falling, and the big evil has been vanquished, what happens next to a hero? From Dark Horse Comics, Aubrey Sitterson and Fico Ossio team up to walk us through a hero’s journey when there’s no one left to fight. Taking visual cues from the likes of the Dragon Ball franchise, No One Left To Fight is the story of the greatest hero in the hystory of the world: Vâle, who wins against his greatest foe, leaving a void and imbalance to the way of things.
Basically, it’s the hero’s journey after the destination was already reached.
Newsarama chatted up Sitterson and Ossio about the project, which hits stands July 3, about the reprecussions of war of this scale, digging deeper beyond the Dragon Ball analogy, and if there’s no one left to fight, does the biggest fight come from within?
Newsarama: Okay so Aubrey, Fico, you’ve given No One Left To Fight the moniker of “The Comic You Always Wanted”. Who is the “you” in that statement do you think?
Fico Ossio: Everyone who feels the same love we have for anime and manga (especially Dragon Ball!), as well as the Street Fighter games.
No One Left to Fight is an action adventure story, with a lot of similarities to superheroes, but it’s something a little different from what people might be used to. The real answer to the question, however, is…us! We know that it’s The Comic You Always Wanted because it’s The Comic We Always Wanted!
Aubrey Sitterson: Fico’s absolutely right, but I mean, let’s be honest here: Dragon Ball isn’t some niche underground phenomenon. It’s been around for three decades, spanning multiple series of manga and anime, as well as movies and video games! Just last year saw the release of not only the Dragon Ball Super: Broly movie in theaters, but also Dragon Ball FighterZ, which is still one of the most popular fighting games on the planet!
Dragon Ball is bigger than just manga or comic fandoms – I was just at the mall and saw Dragon Ball merch in a half dozen different stores. But not everyone has the time, money or inclination to dive headfirst into decades worth of black & white volumes! By taking everything we love about the series – as well as Street Fighter and dozens of other manga and anime titles – and swirling it all together, placing it in a full-color, monthly, American-style comic, we’ve created The Comic You Always Wanted…even if you don’t know it yet.
Nrama: This starts off as somewhat of an epilogue. Vale is this hero that finally rid the planet of the Big Bad, but there’s still some sort of conflict, I mean that’s why you’re here, right?
Sitterson: Of course! What’s a story without conflict!? And what’s more, we wouldn’t be doing everything we love about Dragon Ball and other fight manga without all the power-ups and screaming and energy blasts that people – including us – love so much!
Ossio: But it’s definitely not “You beat the bad guy…so here’s an even bigger one!” That’s not what we’re doing here. The tension and conflict of the series grow out of the characters’ years of training and intense battles. They’ve all made some serious life choices and now they have to deal with the consequences. And of course, since Vâle and Timór have been fighting side-by-side for such a long time, there’s more than a little animosity there.
Sitterson: One of the taglines we’ve been using is “What does a fighter do when there’s no one left to fight?” To me, that really sums up the central conflict of the series. It’s a story about moving into a new phase of your life, realizing that the choices you’ve made have locked you into a certain path and that there might not be time for a meaningful course correction. But of course, given the nature of the world we’ve built, and the influences we’ve been drawing from, all that angst finds a pretty exciting, explosive outlet!
Nrama: This has already gotten Dragon Ball comparisons, and in some part that’s intentional, but what did you want to do to set yourself apart from that imagery?
Ossio: No One Left to Fight is most definitely inspired by Dragon Ball – we aren’t shying away from that at all. In fact, our core cast is pretty obvious stand-ins for Goku, Vegeta, and Bulma! That influence can be seen throughout the series, in individual characters, as well as the type of world we’ve built. What makes No One Left to Fight different though is the type of story we’re telling. In Dragon Ball, Goku and Vegeta don’t grow old – they’re always at the peak of their abilities and getting stronger. But that’s not true for Vâle and Timór, who have to deal with a lot of real-life concerns and issues that don’t come up too often in Dragon Ball.
Sitterson: It’d be easy to call what we’re doing “Deconstructed Dragon Ball” but I don’t think it’d be quite accurate. We’re not trying to break Dragon Ball or make it darker or grim & gritty or any of the things people associate with deconstructionist comics. We aren’t trying to split apart the language of shounen fight manga, or undermine it, or satirize it, or any of that. We’re simply using that type of world and characters and storytelling language to present a different type of tale, with Fico’s eye-searing, brain-melting colors, with the pacing and format of American comics.
Nrama: But speaking of the imagery, let’s talk about these designs. Were there some that came to you almost instantly and others you struggled with? What was the collaboration like?
Ossio: The first designs I did were for Vâle and Timór, and I gotta say…they came pretty easily! I really love shounen manga, so there were a lot of places for me to draw inspiration from. It wasn’t a struggle at all – it was a blast! Designing characters is one of my favorite parts of the comic-making process, and it was even more fun on this project because of all the collaboration I had with Aubrey. It was a constant back-and-forth with ideas on top of ideas, constantly tweaking each other’s suggestions and sending them off in a new direction. We had so many ideas and so much material that we ended up having to cut a lot of it! With a little luck though, you might see some of it in the future…
I did a ton of research for Vâle and Timór, all based on the core ideas I had for the duo: A monk/champion and a ninja/ronin. Everything else about them grew from that. After I got the main cast locked in, the rest of the characters came even easier! The idea was to try and surprise the reader at every turn, with as rich and diverse a cast as possible. I always loved how Akira Toriyama would have all these strange creatures show up – or even just a dog as the mayor! We tried to capture that same feeling in our universe.
Sitterson: The amount of detail in Fico’s work is pretty readily apparent, but I think what a lot of folks might not know is how much thought goes into every single accessory and accouterment. If it’s on the page, it’s there for a reason, and chances are it grows out of some backstory or character element that Fico and I planned out. Some of my favorite bits in the character backgrounds are actually things that started as elements of their attire!
One of the things I really loved about Dragon Ball Z, which was my introduction to Dragon Ball, was that characters from the previous series would show up, and there would clearly be this intense, rich history attached to them. Everyone knew each other and would make passing references to their past adventures together. It was important to us that the design of the characters felt deliberate and real and lived in, so that we could elicit the same response from people, even without a prior series to draw upon!
Nrama: Fico, how did Aubrey pitch the story to you? What was the most compelling part?
Ossio: The first thing we did was talk about the type of story we wanted to tell. We were inspired by Dragon Ball but we never set out to make “a Dragon Ball story.” One of the first decisions we made was for it to be a “road trip” story.
Sitterson: And I think that was actually Fico’s idea! This wasn’t a situation where a writer shows up with a story and pitches an artist on doing it with them – we really did build this thing together from the ground up, based entirely upon the Venn Diagram of our interests and the fact that we’d wanted to work together for years. That’s how I like to work, and I think that collaboration results in the best stories.
Ossio: It was really similar to how we worked on the designs: Super collaborative with a lot of back-and-forths! And just like we designed the characters based on the story we wanted to tell, a lot of the story came about because of the types of characters we were creating – the conflicts and drama just started to feel natural. It was a lot of fun coming up with all this stuff, but it was Aubrey who had to put it all together and make it work!
So, after we got all the pieces, he went off and assembled them into a story outline. This was two years ago and I still remember the first time I read it! I didn’t even have any notes! I just loved it…it was perfect. Aubrey did such an amazing job with it. He took everything we’d come up with over months of emails – all the characters, ideas, and the love we have for the genre – and then came back with something totally new.
The most compelling part? There was a lot: The world building, all the twists and the way the story flowed. But what really grabbed me the most were the characters, their motivations and how real they all felt. We had just created them but they already felt so alive and relatable. I remember feeling like Aubrey really put me on the spot because I knew I was going to have to work on my character acting and expressions to make sure all the emotional beats hit!
Sitterson: Fico is being too modest here. The emotional beats in No One Left to Fight are just as important as the action ones, but the way he’s drawing them…they hit even harder. I honestly gasp when I see some of these pages, and how he captures the raw emotion of our characters. It’s stunning.
Nrama: These colors are so uncommon, what led you to use this sort of palette?
Ossio: Thank you! And really, it was just having so much freedom! I’ve been working on licensed books for a long time, with characters that are already defined and mostly in a pretty realistic world. And even then, I wasn’t doing a lot of color work – mostly just covers. To have this opportunity, on a book of our own, in a world of our making…I just wanted it to be different and, most importantly, totally unexpected.
Sitterson: And it’s working, man. I’ve been doing these retailer calls, trying to get the word out about No One Left to Fight, sharing PDFs of the first issue, and every single person who opens it up – or even just sees the cover in previews – says the same exact thing: “Those colors!” As much as we’ve found inspiration from a lot of familiar sources, Fico’s colors are ensuring that The Comic You Always Wanted looks like nothing else on the stands.
Ossio: Again, it’s like the characters and world in Dragon Ball…I kind of applied a similar logic. Or lack thereof! At first, I would simply do the opposite of my natural instincts. So, for a tree, instead of green…magenta! After a while, it became a style of its own! It was like that for everything – just us having fun and letting this be our own thing. It’s been such a freeing experience, being able to do whatever we want, breaking rules wherever we want!
Nrama: In Dragon Ball, the names always had a second meaning and collective theme, whether it was food or even clothing, what’s the connecting theme for the names here?
Ossio: Aubrey came up with the names, and I loved the immediately. Of the entire cast, I think we only ended up tweaking one of them! I really dug how Vâle and Timór had the accent marks to make them feel a little different. There’s another character with a number behind his name, which has a lot to do with his backstory. We didn’t go with an overall theme for the character names though.
Sitterson: I place a lot importance on character naming – that stuff’s never just random for me. Every name in No One Left to Fight is meant to evoke something, whether it’s Fargan VI’s backstory, Vâle and Timór’s origins, or the nature of some of our villains. Sometimes it was as simple as just making the names feel and sound and look like the characters, while for others I leaned on some dead language word origins to kinda subconsciously point at character traits. Saying any more would be like a magician explaining his tricks though!
Nrama: The thing about Krysta is interesting since she carries around the sword that took her arm, it’s sort of like a trophy but also a reminder of war. What does that say about her character as well as what something like war does to people?
Ossio: It shows how utterly badass she is! Bruton inflicted some serious damage, but she held her ground and our heroes triumphed in the end. Krysta payed a serious price in their past battles…and she’s not the only one.
Sitterson: Lan, I think that’s a really smart, interesting takeaway, which thrills me, because we worked so very hard to layer meaning and thematic depth into this thing. That you’re picking up on stuff like that so early is really encouraging – it’s a sign that we’ve done our job creating something with a lot to say. But actually interpreting it, and deciding what it all means…that’s the readers’ job, and I wouldn’t presume to tell them what to think, especially with so much left to reveal!
Nrama: So you probably can’t go into what’s next for Vâle and company as their next big bad, or if there even is one, but what was something you both wanted to do about how you handle fight scenes?
Ossio: We both wanted to go really over-the-top – it’s what the shounen fight genre does best! It was all about finding a way to bring the action and movement and excitement of anime to an American-style comic.
I can’t wait for people to see our fight scenes – how raw and brutal they get. And there’s a lot of meaning baked in there as well. For instance, Vâle and Timór both have their own distinctive palette for their energy blasts, and it has to do with who they are and the nature of their training.
Sitterson: Anyone who’s familiar with my work – whether on The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling, the action-packed G.I. Joe, the tournament fight-comic Street Fighter x G.I. Joe, my wrestling podcast Straight Shoot, or my gnarly sword & sorcery podcast, Skald – knows how much importance I place on fight scenes. In my opinion, they are the absolute best way to show something about the nature of your characters. Who are they when everything is on the line, when it’s a matter of victory or defeat, of life or death?
No One Left to Fight is the purest distillation of that theory yet, because from the very beginning we knew that there were going to be certain crucial battles we wanted to depict, and everything else about the series has been designed to build to them, imbuing them with meaning. That’s the structural answer to your question!
On an executional level, it was all about creating space. If you read a fight scene in a manga volume, it’s nothing for it to go on for 20 or 30 pages – longer than most single issues of American comics! That space allows for not only amazing visuals, but quieter beats to break things up and, again, really communicate something about the characters and what’s important to them. The ability to do that in manga comes as a result of how the work is published and serialized – we couldn’t do the exact same thing in only five 20-page issues. So our task was figuring out a way to capture the same feel, while working within the confines of our format.
Fortunately, I love a puzzle!
Nrama: You’ve brought on letterer Taylor Esposito, what was the style you wanted to have with the lettering and design for this?
Ossio: We talked about this a lot while we were putting together No One Left to Fight. Manga lettering is really distinct and we wanted to capture some of that feel, which is tough, as the typography is so different from what American comics use.
Sitterson: That was the trick. As with all of this stuff, we wanted to evoke manga we love, and lift what works, but we never wanted to do a manga pastiche, so you aren’t going to see Japanese language sound effects or anything here. Taylor is one of the best at sound effects though, he takes a lot of pride in actually working them into the page as design elements, not just stuff slapped on top of the page.
Ossio: It’s even more impressive considering how unique the book’s colors are, and how drastically they change scene to scene. It was important that the lettering always worked with that, never against it, and Taylor is absolutely nailing it. He’s an integral part of the team – it’s why his name is on the cover!
Nrama: Lastly, comic adaptations are almost an everyday occurrence now, do you feel like this book could have that multi-media appeal or is there something to be said about it being a comic and end there? It seems like it’s built for a fighting game at the very least, but what do you think?
Ossio: I think it’d be great! After all, No One Left to Fight was inspired by a franchise, Dragon Ball, that’s crossed over into every type of media! The thought’s crossed our mind, of course, especially with Dark Horse’s new Netflix deal. But that’s not our main focus right now.
We’re putting all our energy into doing justice to our story and making No One Left to Fight The Comic You Always wanted. How could we do otherwise? We’re working in a medium we’ve both always loved and a genre that we feel just as passionately about. As for what happens next, the most important thing is that we continue telling No One Left to Fight stories at Dark Horse! Beyond that…anything’s possible!
Sitterson: Fico nailed it. Our first goal is creating a good comic. Not just a good comic, but a great comic, a comic that utilizes the medium and format to its fullest potential. This isn’t one of those “rejected pilot script” comics that you read sometimes. It’s not a bid to get something else made and retire. We want to keep doing No One Left to Fight comics forever – we’ve certainly got enough ideas and material to make it happen!
That being said…a No One Left to Fight fighting game would be a dream come true! I would only ever play as the intergalactic rock star Billy Von Katz.
And truthfully, with Dark Horse’s amazing track record of adapting comics to other mediums – everything from Hellboy to Umbrella Academy – I think No One Left to Fight could make a pretty big splash as an animated series. Just as long as they’re able to match the gonzo vibrancy of Fico’s art and color palette!