Accomplished writer and artist Billy Tucci, best known as the creator of Shi, took time to discuss his experience in writing the Sgt. Rock: Lost Battalion series, and how he befriended war veterans from the 422nd Battalion.
Andre Lamar: Prior to Lost Battalion, the last Sgt. Rock book released was 20 years ago.
Billy Tucci: The regular Sgt. Rock series hadn’t been printed in 20 years but Brian Azzarelo and Joe Kubert did Between Hell and a Hard Place and Joe Kubert did The Prophecy in 2003 or 2005. They were miniseries that came out or trade paperbacks…they went through Vertigo.
AL: Did you feel any pressure in taking on the task to reintroduce this series?
BT: I was under major pressure because, again, I’m known for doing girl books and um…this is like comic book lore. No one’s really done Sgt. Rock for decades other than Joe Kubert, and Joe did the covers if he wasn’t drawing it and being the editor of the books.
So I was kinda coming into this unknown territory…so yeah…in a nutshell, yes. I was really nervous about this because I loved it. These were the books that I bought…I bought Sgt. Rock and Batman growing up…I love the war stuff.
AL: To my understanding you’ve befriended a number of war veterans and were compelled to tell their stories in this miniseries. Briefly explain how you met these courageous men.
BT: Through the internet…literally through the internet that I posted on the 36th Infantry Division website saying I’m doing a book on this story, and the family members came out of the woodwork. Then when I met Mark Higgins he put me in touch with the Japanese American Veterans, then with the J.A.V.A. J.A.V.A. stands for Japanese American Veterans Association, and I got in touch with them and became friends with Jimmy Yamashita who was one of the eight.
Then I got to meet Joe Secada who was awarded the Medal of Honor during one of the Banzai charges. He came to San Diego and I had him at my booth.
These guys kind of accepted me as a grandson you know. [Chuckles] They said, “Well you’re not a Japanese American why do you care about this?” Well you guys don’t understand you’re my heroes! What you went thru…how bad they had things, they were given the worst in World War II…you know? You were on a suicide mission…that’s it… send in the Japanese, because their superior officers didn’t care if they lived or died. They really didn’t care…their just a bunch of Japanese…just send them in. And that’s actually what the general did because, after the white troops tried to breakthrough to them and failed, he sent the 442nd in and they went in with tanks, machinegun fire, mortars, and grenades on their feet.
AL: Have any veterans read the books from the Lost Battalion series?
BT: Oh yeah…yeah, they’ve been buying it a lot. [Chuckles]
AL: What was their response?
BT: They like it…well they’ve been telling me they like it. [Chuckles]
AL: Now that Sgt. Rock #6 was released in June, will you continue to write for the series?
BT: I’m going to push them and pitch a Sgt. Rock series which will be more war. I wanna do it like they do Jonah Hex, [with] self contained good old fashioned war stories and telling the stories of war veterans and stuff…you know not as heavy handed as this.
AL: Will Shi ever hit the big screen?
BT: Well hopefully. You know we signed a new film deal, we got with a producer, [and] we re-upped the option. After Sgt. Rock I’ll be working on the second draft of the screen play.
AL: Aside from the recently released, Lost Battalion #6 , what other projects can we expect from you in the near future?
BT: That’s it…I gotta do a new Shi. This is Shi’s 15th anniversary so I have to put out a book by the end of the year or people are going to have to kill me. And um…I have other secret projects that I can’t tell…that I can’t talk about, with other cool ideas.