"My first thought was: 'awww, crap. I hope I didn't just kill that little kid's mom in front of him.' - Sam Noir, Samurai Detective

It's never just the story -- it's the telling of it. Encouraged and surprised by the sell-out response to their first series of Sam Noir comic books, Samurai Detective, local comic book creators Eric Anderson and Manny Trembley will make an appearance at Merlyn's on Friday to sign copies of the first issue of the second series, Ronin Holiday.

"What stood out about Sam [Noir], to us," says Jim Valentino, publisher of Shadowline comics, "was the concept. The juxtaposition of disparate elements -- Raymond Chandler meets Kurosawa -- with bad puns and offbeat humor. Sam was definitely a fresh take on some tired old genres."

"Just about every project we work on starts from a really bad pun or clich & eacute;, or a completely absurd concept," says Anderson. "We'll bat ideas around, and when we come across something that makes both of us groan: 'Oh, that's so stupid!' We gotta put that in the book."

Yet the striking black-and-white artwork done by Trembley is anything but clich & eacute;. While capturing the quintessential film noir vibe that the comic evokes, it also leaps off the page like a samurai revenging his woman's death.

Yes, a samurai -- as in, a sword-swinging, sandal-clad, pony-tailed Japanese disciple of the Bushido code, from feudal times. And also a crusty, cynical, hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, tough-guy detective full of gritty, reincarnated one-liners. That's Sam Noir, unfazed by the usual suspects: mobs of deadly hired ninjas. "I butter my toast with deadly," he narrates in the classic voice-over style of gumshoe drama as he slices and skewers his assailants. The carnage is mercifully muted by the black-and-white format, but there's plenty of it.

"Sam Noir is dark and violent," Anderson says. "We make no bones about it. It's stylized, but it's still a revenge story." Other characters refer to Noir disparagingly as "ronin," meaning "masterless samurai." The title of the second series is intended as a pun on Roman Holiday, the old Audrey Hepburn-Gregory Peck movie. It's also an expression that means, according the Oxford English Dictionary, "an occasion on which enjoyment or profit is derived from the suffering of others." It's an apt play on words, and a small window into the minds of Sam Noir's creators.

Trembley and Anderson, both 30 years old, work real jobs as 3-D graphic artists at Cyan Worlds, Inc., a local software company made famous by the popular game Myst. They met and became friends at a college in Minneapolis where Anderson was teaching and Trembley was an ambitious student; they discussed projects that were hopelessly beyond the scope of his assignments. Reunited in Spokane by fortuitous opportunities at Cyan, the pair teamed up to create Panda Xpress, an online comic about ... well, about a girl and her panda. And Pollo the evil goat. The authors describe PX as much more family-friendly than Sam Noir. (Not so stabby.) With 140 pages of color content posted online, and updated weekly, it has a loyal following of readers, drawing hundreds of visitors per day. Donations to the site, according to the authors, have roughly covered the cost of Web hosting.

"We've made way more money off Sam Noir, so far," says Trembley, "but that's relative to zero." With a grandiose flourish and a credible radio-announcer's voice, he boasts, "We've made hundreds of dollars off Sam Noir!"

"We've always told people: don't make comics because you want to get rich," Anderson says. "Do it because you love it. There are easier ways to make money than making comics."

That the first series of Sam Noir comic books sold out quickly is bittersweet both to the publisher and to the creators. It means people liked it. That's good. It also means that copies were not available to many who wanted them. That's bad. How many? Nobody quite knows, right now. "What it basically means is that the book was under-ordered," says Valentino. "We print to orders plus between 20 to 50 percent, depending on confidence. In this case, the book was ordered and the entire print run sold out upon release." The first series will be reprinted in a single volume, however, in order to meet demand. A third, concluding series is also planned, but the authors aren't offering any timetable for publication.

Every month, Merlyn's owner John Waite pores over a 500-page catalogue of comics. He says he has about 10,000 to choose from. "What was cool about Sam Noir is that I actually saw it, and liked it, and ordered it before I even knew it was local guys. The black and white thing caught me as a different style, and the art is tremendous. It's much better than your average comic book fare."

Eric Anderson and Manny Trembley will sign copies of the first issue of Sam Noir at Merlyn's, 19 W. Main Ave., on Friday, Feb. 9, from 5-7 pm. Call 624-0957.

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