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Sharp-eyed readers may notice a number of Easter eggs planted throughout the comic that have real world correspondences. The publication dates of the series echo the dates of events in the fictional timeline or publication dates of fictional books in the story. These carefully scripted links help create the surreal sense of the interpenetration reality and fiction. Chang Sheng also hoped to maintain some implicit connections to the original series. The period of the original comic is referenced in the Prince album Purple Rain, which appears several times as a device to move the plot forward. In the original comic, Guy Ninemann reincarnates as a variety of life forms, including a dog or a tree. Chang Sheng kept the idea, but changed the specifics, having his Guy Ninemann reincarnate as a robot and a bear.
The cover of the comic book is no exception to the meticulous planning characteristic of the project. Chang Sheng worked with the publisher to ensure that no writing would appear on the outside jacket. By leaving only a symbolic representation of the number nine to hint at the contents, Chang Sheng hoped to leave space for readers to form their own interpretations.
Persisting in the Face of a New Challenge: the Warmth of Hand Drawn Art
Time’s Wheel presented a major challenge to Chang Sheng. It was the first time in his more than ten years of drawing comics that he forwent the use of computer technology, instead producing the art completely by hand. The new approach allowed him to leave a physical record of his progress in the form of the original artwork.
When discussing his work habits, Chang Sheng reaffirmed his belief that maintaining consistent hours and consistent output is the only way craft a superior comic. To stay on schedule he had to work roughly ten hours a day. However, because he was more familiar with computer art tools, producing art by hand took roughly three times as long.
With the additional time required to collect the reference materials on which he bases his realist art style and develop the various links between the real world and the fictional world of the comic, Chang Sheng was soon barely coping with the pressures of staying on schedule. When he was close to missing a deadline, he reluctantly requested aid from his old assistant, the computer. After submitting his work, he couldn’t help joking with himself: “It’s a good thing I’m working on Nine Lives Man. Without nine lives, I’d be dead by now!”
High-Concept Comics Translate Better to International Markets
In recent years Chang Sheng has established a formidable track record, winning numerous national and international awards, and selling overseas translation rights in a variety of foreign markets. But if you ask him if he’s satisfied with his work, he responds with characteristic self-deprecating humor: “Ask any creative person. They’ll always say they’re unsatisfied!” But he does admit to a significant point of pride which may be the key to his headway in foreign markets, namely, his works are built around simple, but powerful, core concepts that transcend the demands and orientation of the market.
A concept that’s good enough will always attract readers. When paired with art that presents a clearly distinct visual style, you’ve got a comic that directly impacts the reader, thus transcending the language barrier. Nine Lives Man: Time’s Wheel is a stellar comic book that succeeds in shaking up conventional notions of time and reincarnation. With a high-concept plot and painstakingly detailed artwork, it seems destined to shake up international comic book markets as well!