Beyond Innocent: The Avi Arad Interview
Hollywood producer Avi Arad discusses his new book, the manga thrill ride The Innocent, a wild ride incorporating vengeance and the afterlife.
Why did you want to do a manga story?
I’ve been in the world of comics all my life, and specifically into Japanese comics in the early days, before manga attempted to penetrate this market. I wanted to do The Innocent a long time ago. It stayed with me quite a while. Once I got out of Marvel Comics, it was one of the things on my bucket list to do a manga. I had an idea and I followed it, and here we are.
Did you grow up reading manga?
I discovered manga later, really when I came here. I came to the united States in 1970 and it became one of the formats of comics that I really liked, but we couldn’t get going here. U.S. publishers have had a really hard time with publishing them. I’ve been involved with many publishers in Japan, and still am— I’m now making movies based on Japanese video games, translating them to American movies that will play around the world—and I thought, Let’s give it a shot!
How did you get involved with writer Junichi Fujisaku and artist YaSung Ko?
Well, I have a relationship with Production IG; I’m quite involved with them. And they found the writer. The artist I picked up by looking at some pieces of art from different artists in Japan. I liked her cinematic feel and expression drawing style. It’s magnificent. And actually one thing that influenced her is she knew that I come from the world of movies, and she was thinking in terms of movie scenes. She had this romantic thing about the drawing and at the end of the day I felt that one of the things we were attempting to do here is tell a movie-like story. Also, The Innocent is kind of a love story: Ash’s love for his sister, and his love for the woman that is no longer around. He turned out to be a really great character.
The book is full of interesting characters.
I come from the world of supernatural-type movies. I made Blade and Punisher and X-Men and the Spider-Man movies. That’s my world. So I needed my character to have something in the supernatural. That’s what I gravitate to. I thought that if I get Ash right—he’s a lawyer in the story, and if we were doing it as a novel, his relationship with the woman he loves was kind of strictly sexual. Neither one of them was really ready or able to have a normal love relationship. Not until he is electrocuted [after a wrongful conviction] do the two look at each other and realize that there was more there. The misunderstanding. But Ash was willing to cut a plea so he could at least have some access to his sister, who is in a coma. And after he dies and is given the job or redeeming human being, it goes in such a way that he discovers that actually the woman that he thought was to his mind almost guilty for [framing him] is really someone he loved very much and obviously he is there to save her life. In stories like that you have to create rules, and him as an angel coming from the other world, he can only give life to the dead. Maybe sometime in the future he’ll have to make a very difficult decision. Maybe if his sister dies, he could trade a life for hers.
How did you develop Ash?
Through many things. The fact that he had what I call a tick, when he smokes a cigarette he smokes a little bit. He is forever trying to quit. He breaks the rest of the cigarette in half. Not too many people do that—cigarettes are expensive now! And when he goes to visit his sister, [his lover] notices something: a broken cigarette. She has this premonition, she knows he is around. How do you make this relationship work? So at the end of that saga, he gives her life then he has to figure out how does it work? How do they make it work? How do they get back into something that is so precious to him? His character is like Nicholson in Chinatown—he lives on the edge. She’s on the side of the law and when she realizes how his setup [for the crime] was completed, she goes into the mafia to see if she can exact revenge. In many ways, it’s a revenge story, too. And the judges above Ash suspect that he may elect to go for revenge rather than redemption. And then there’s Angel [Ash’s postmortem “supervisor” and trainer]. She doesn’t like Ash initially, just because she doesn’t like anybody from earth. Ash is almost getting under her skin. I don’t know if she falls in love with him, but she realizes that he’s basically a good guy. But he’s also very dangerous for her. And he is dangerous for her because, as he says, I do things my own way, which results in her getting punished. I like Angel’s story a lot. In a way, Angel realizes that there is redemption for humans. That she hates earthlings because of what happened to her as a kid, but maybe it’s not that bad. And now she’s starting to get involved with Ash.
What do you see as the theme of this book?
I felt that we took care philosophically of the issue of who is innocent. I thought that we kind of covered that in an interesting way, because he ends up helping people. All of his life, he claimed he didn’t care about anybody; he only cared about the cases he was on, about the story he was working on. I think of him in terms of almost like Jimmy Breslin, the New York journalist. He was rough, but if he came across a story that he believed in, he was not afraid of anybody. He was a guy that thought, yeah, that’s the right way to do things.
Do you see this as a series? Or just one standalone book?
I would love to make it a series, because there are more elements to the story I still want to tell. I never got into the ultimate unrealized love of this series. My next thing would have been Angel’s story and how do she and Ash try and have a semblance of a relationship without being totally human? Does love need physical manifestation? It could simply be their love is in the risk that they took to be together. He seems human, but I don’t see him as human. I see him as someone who was put on earth to be an incredible killer. When you look at the scene where all the dead birds are, it’s just like target practice to him. He doesn’t hate birds. He doesn’t hate anybody. He loves death. And ultimately that would be like an ongoing battle.