Any fan of Western pop culture over the last 100 years or so is probably familiar with the “white savior” trope — that’s when Tom Cruise or Matt Damon, for example, show up in Japan or China or anywhere else in the world to rescue non-white people.
The solicitation text for the new comic, White Savior, describes it pretty well: An ancient prophecy foretold of an outsider that would save the peaceful village of Inoki from an unstoppable army–a man who would confuse the people at first with his unconventional ways, but lead them to the light.
But what happens when the savior doesn’t live up to the hype, and is, instead, a drunken idiot? That’s the premise of the new comic by Eric Nguyen and Scott Burman. The duo co-wrote it, while Nguyen and colorist Iwan Joko Triyono provided the art. While Burman is new to comics, Nguyen is a veteran, having drawn everything from Batman to Old Man Logan to Halo. He’s also the co-creator of both Strange Girl and Gigantic, in addition to White Savior.
Both Nguyen and Burman were kind enough to answer a few questions about White Savior, their approach to the humor in it and why it is also a time travel story. The first issue is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Eric and Scott, thank you for your time in doing this interview. I thought I’d start with your secret origins — how did each of you first discover comics? And what made you want to create them?
Eric: Todd McFarlane. He pretty much changed how comics were drawn. His creativity, the detail, and the amount of fun and imagination that went into his Spider-man, Wolverine and Hulk – hands down my favorite was Hulk – he just increased the charisma of everything he drew.
Scott: I remember going with my grandma every week to the comic store. Every Sunday, without fail, and it was my favorite time of the week. When I was eight years old, I actually wrote a letter to Marvel saying I wanted to draw and write comics for them – and now, 32 years later, I’m finally releasing my first comic.
And what brought the two of you together to work on White Savior?
Scott: Eric was stupid enough to answer a blind email from me.
Eric: Ha! That is true. I got this random email from Scott one day – and he sent me a script for a comic he wrote called “How I Got Drunk and Saved the World.” The script was hysterical – funniest thing I ever read –
Scott: I paid him to say that –
Eric: And I was working on a Marvel comic for the Weeknd at that point. But I kept in touch, and a little while later, I reached out to Scott and said, I want to do something funny.
Scott: And I said, “who is this?” Just kidding. I was super stoked – the fact that an artist of Eric’s caliber wanted to work with me floored me. So we started brainstorming ideas, and thus, “White Savior” was born.
Eric, I think most fans would know you from your work as an artist, but I believe this is your first co-writing credit, correct? Can you talk about what it’s been like to make that jump?
Eric: Well, I wanted to work on something FUNNY. I’ve done so much dark stuff, and I think I have a pretty good sense of humor. And I was brainstorming with Scott, and when we came up with this idea – spoofing the old white savior tropes – I was like, maybe I should try my hand at writing as well.
Scott: And it was awesome. We just bounced ideas back and forth, and adopted the Marvel method.
Eric: Yeah. So we created a general outline and script, then I would draw the pages, then we’d come together and throw jokes back and forth to make the pages as funny as possible. Scott’s a maniac – he would have like, ten jokes per panel.
Scott: And one or two of them would actually be funny.
Eric: You see what I mean? Scott never stops. But I think it really put me at ease, because it made the whole process fun and relatively stress-free.
I’d like to think that most people are familiar with the “White Savior” trope nowadays, but are there specific examples that inspired or influenced your work on this title?
Eric: I think Last Samurai is a good example. But the funny thing is, we actually love that movie. I’m a huge Tom Cruise fan, I love pretty much everything he does. So our book isn’t like, insulting The Last Samurai, it’s more insulting the fact that no movies, or very few movies, were made that told a reverse story.
Scott: Yeah, I think we sprinkled in a bunch of references to various “white savior” movies throughout the story, but we definitely focus more on our own story rather than lampooning one specific example. You’ll definitely see a lot of that in upcoming issues – which you’ll now have to buy and tell all your friends to buy, and their friends, and strangers, and people you hate… basically everyone. You should be telling EVERYONE to pick up MULTIPLE copies of our book. One copy is definitely not enough. There are variant covers, people!
I’ve always heard that comedy is harder than drama, at least when it comes to acting. Did you find that to be true while creating White Savior?
Eric: So I was concerned that my art might not be funny – and Scott told me to focus on the story, and we can easily make anything on the page funny. So it set a good tone off the bat.
Scott: Interestingly, Eric and I are a really funny pair, because Eric treats his art so sacred, and I’m the same with jokes. So, Eric would ask me about a tiny thing on one of his pages – like an orange on a fruit stand – and I’d be like, “Dude, does it matter, it’s just an orange?” And then, we’d be writing jokes, and I’d be like, “Oh, this word needs to be changed,” or “This word needs to be bolded to make it funny,” and Eric would say “Dude, what does it matter? It’s just a word.”
Eric: The dichotomy we have is really pretty funny. The focus we had on this book was always FUN. We wanted to be respectful of the subject matter, and walk that fine line without going over it, but ultimately, the goal is fun, comedy, and laughter, and we think that comes across on the page.
One of the things that I found surprising about the first issue was the time travel aspect. Can you talk a little about who the main character is, and why it was important that he come from the present day?
Eric: Todd Parker is –
Scott: Todd Parker is Eric.
Eric: Yes, we always joke that Todd and I have a lot of similarities. I’m a pretty regular guy – and so that’s kind of what Todd is like. We didn’t want to make him some superhero or kung fu expert – he’s just a regular guy like me.
Scott: And I think for me, Todd is a sounding board for the audience. Which is why it’s a time travel story. Because he’s from the future, he knows what’s really going on, and that the “white savior” is anything but a savior. To me, he’s a prime example of people who’ve never gotten a shot having to watch others being given opportunities just because they were born into it. So a little bit of him is me saying to the world, “Hey, what about me? Can I have a chance?” However, Todd probably looks a lot more like Eric and has much better metabolism than I do.
What can readers expect from the rest of the miniseries?
Eric: I think readers have no idea what they’re in store for. We think it’s the funniest comic out there – it’s got cool action –
Scott: Badass art –
Eric: I paid him to say to that. But yes, it’s got everything you’d want in a comic book, with a great message wrapped in there.
Scott: Eric’s a humble guy – I’m not. It’s the best damn comic you’ll ever read.
What else have you been working on?
Eric: We just finished this one, and are now in promotion stage, which is nowhere near as fun as the writing and drawing. We have a few ideas – a lot of people compare the humor in White Savior to Deadpool, so I think a Scott Burman/Eric Nguyen Deadpool book might be fun.
We also have a great idea to update a lesser-known DC character called the Heckler.
Scott: And a few other independent things we’re working on that we got to be a little hush hush about. And of course, we have the inevitable sequel.
Eric: For now, we’re just putting our offers on the table and we think we’ll have some good news pretty soon. But before that, be sure to pick up a copy of “White Savior!”