Blazing Lego ninja action will come to kids' graphic novel imprint Papercutz this fall, with the publication of the first in a series of Ninjago graphic novels. Ninjago is a line of Lego products featuring ninjas who practice the martial art of Spinjitzu, a tradition found only in the Lego world.
"Ninjago is centered around four ninjas who have elemental powers of earth, ice, fire, and lightning," explained Papercutz editor Michael Petranek. "These ninjas study under their Sensei Wu, who is in charge of keeping peace on the above ground, because in the underground world, there is a skeleton army, led by evil Garmadon and his soldier, Samukai, and they are looking to take over the outside world and let evil prevail."
Although it is first and foremost a Lego theme, Ninjago is much more than a box of plastic bricks: Cartoon Network aired a two-part Ninjago movie in January that established the world and the essentials of the story, and an animated cartoon series is in the works for the fall. There's also a game for the Nintendo DS platform.
In the movie, the four ninjas go to the underworld and do battle with Garmadon and the skeleton army for the first time. "It set the character relationships," said Petranek. "We are picking up where the movie left off and filling in holes as well." For example, Petranek said, the first graphic novel shows Garmadon giving his lieutenant, Samukai, the task of taking down the four ninjas, and in the process, they make a wager: If Samukai fails, he will have to give up some of his power to Garmadon.
The graphic novels will take place in the same world as the TV series and will be consistent with them, but the stories will be new, Petranek said.
Petranek expects the graphic novels will tap into the existing Ninjago fanbase, children (especially boys) age six and up. "The reaction I have received from BookExpo America and also showing this to other people is that people who had kids who were really into the movie or toys were immediately drawn to this, especially because the art style is consistent, so there is not a jarring difference when you go from one world to another," he said.
The graphic novels will be published in two formats, paperback $6.99 and hardcover for $10.99, with a 6 x 9" trim size and 40 pages of comics in full color. The books will be available in bookstores, comics shops, and directly from Papercutz.
Current plans call for the first book to be released in November 2011 and a second volume in February 2012. "We do plan on keeping this an open-ended series, so there will be one graphic novel every three or four months," said Petranek. Lego will introduce new toys in 2012 that will be incorporated into both the TV show and the graphic novel.
The graphic novels will be written by Greg Farshtey, who already has extensive experience in bringing Lego characters to life as the writer of the Bionicle series for Papercutz. "He has a good history of setting up a complex world but being able to balance everything out, so the stories don't contradict and the storylines flow together very nicely," said Petranek. Paolo Henrique, who illustrates the Hardy Boys graphic novels, is handling the artwork. "He is very much a manga style artist," said Petranek. "That came out a lot with his Hardy Boys work. Being able to work with ninjas, that's really up his alley. As soon as we knew we were doing this, [Papercutz editorial director] Jim Salicrup and I didn't have to ask who should do the art—we knew." Papercutz recently rebooted the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, but they have not announced any new titles. "We are taking a little break," said Petranek.
Naturally, writing a story that ties in with so many other media requires some constraints, but Petranek said most of the guidelines are for the art, which must match the Lego figures. "We do have guidelines as far as what we can and can't do in the storyline, but we have a lot of freedom to explore the world," said Petranek. "They set the boundaries of the world for us, stuff we really can't do, and Greg and Jim work on the scripts from basically exploring this world and creating these stories."
Henrique's challenge is to create action-packed art using Lego characters. "They will look a lot like they do in the movies," Petranek said. "It's sort of a hybrid of a Lego and a person, but you will definitely see the Lego elements in them. If you have seen Lego Batman or Star Wars, we have followed the same guidelines for taking people and putting them into Lego properties. It will be the same art style—they are very consistent with that. It's been surprising to see how much you can do with those little Lego mini figures. I think there's a reason they have been around so long and the 3D Lego style has worked so well in the movies and TV."