Let’s talk about Long John’s hair.

It became codified somewhere near the end of Chapter 2, which makes a lot of sense considering the strange trajectory of the creation of this comic. However, let’s start at the beginning. That is somewhere in 1997.

I’ve never been a big reader––which is a shameful thing to say as a person with two English degrees. I genuinely didn’t start reading regularly and for fun until I was 22 years old––having flunked out of college and moved to a new city with no furniture, video games, nor friends (or a job). In the meantime, I started buying books that sounded like the video games I enjoyed and found that––who knew?!––reading could be a fun time. Before then, I had only a few dalliances with reading as a teenager in the ’90s, one of them being a series of books by Laura Joh Rowland about a samurai detective in 17th century Japan named Sano Ichirō.

Drawings of Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichirō in disguise from the novel, Shinjū, from 1997. Click for a larger version.

Combining my love for Japanese history and noir, Rowland’s first three Ichirō novels hit me hard. I was a particular evangelist about the first book at the time, thinking the character and story were the great undiscovered franchise of the decade. I remember there was a particular scene in the first book––Shinjū––where Sano proceeded into enemy territory in disguise, and Rowland’s description proved particularly evocative for this young artist’s brain.

Whether part of the novel’s description or not, I envisioned Sano in a large, wide-brimmed hat, severely spiky hair, and a long cloak. Over the years, different aspects of the design stuck with me, but the hair more than other aspects stood out artistically. I found the abstracted Mickey Mouse ears/Sonic the Hedgehog spines enticing in that it was a recognizable design in flat black, one that strikes a memorable silhouette.

From page 3 of Chapter 5––Long John’s “bat wing” hair is fully codified as being between 2-3 points on either side of the head at all times.

While I didn’t initially design Long John with that homage in mind, it’s a design that worked its way back to this Sano character from teenage D. Bethel. From the start I designed Long John with the idea of having perpetual “hat hair.” Since he was a man always in a state of travel, it only made sense for his hair to be longer than a close-cut man of aristocracy––it also accentuated the hat hair.

By Chapter 5, however, Long John’s hair is specifically 2-3 “wings” on either side of his head. While he always had wings, it really wasn’t until the end of Chapter 2 that things became locked in stone.

The evolution of Long John’s hair. Click for a larger image.

Admittedly, Chapter 2 as a major turning point for the comic. It took a year-long break in the middle of it due to vocational responsibilities and tragedies. When I was able to come back to the book, I put the pedal to the floor, which meant that repeated elements became cast in concrete. Though these decisions became decided in the latter half of Chapter 2, I don’t really feel that Long John became the Long John I draw now until the beginning of Chapter 3.

It could be a variety of factors that make me feel that way: getting enough pages under my belt, developing comfort with the design, overcoming my own prevailing sense of fatalistic doubt. Optimistic or not, the Long John of today had a short growth spurt over two chapters before unveiling himself at the beginning of chapter three with his (hair) wings spread wider than they’ve stretched before. It was such a powerful design that, at the start of Chapter 3, I decided that all of The Johns would be designed with between 2-3 “wings” of hair visible at all times.

All of The Johns from Chapter 3. They all have the same “hair wing” design, though made unique to each member of the team. Click for larger image.

While a lot of this design is intentional, I can’t deny that initial “sawblade” design stretches back to my teenage years geeking out on this niche historical noir novel series I couldn’t get enough of. Though I’m not sure she’ll ever see this, I suppose here is no better place to state this than ever––I’d like to publicly thank Laura Joh Rowland for the incredible amount of inspiration, entertainment, and validation for a kid who, at the time, wasn’t receiving much of that due to his esoteric historical interests (among other things). If she ever sees this, I hope she can be consoled by the fact that, via a very long round trip, Sano Ichirō lives on in this gruff western character trying to find his own way forward.