Stories, comedy, comics, essays, and stuff
Hidden Dawn

Story

Synopsis

Set in the 1930s of an alternate history where Vancouver is Japanese territory, the story follows Imperial Investigator Kitazawa Saburou as his investigation of a terrorist attack leads him to a wider conspiracy with implications for a world war.

It starts one day...

The newly erected torii (gate) at Supain Gishi (a beach in Vancouver). This is how it looks when the tide is in. This was the site of the infamous Gas Killer attack during the torii’s inauguration ceremony. (Painted by Selina Akter, based on a pencil drawing by Dave Gutteridge)

Early one morning, on the beautiful Supaingishi beaches, there's a Shinto ceremony to inaugurate the newly built torii gate. Many city notables have gathered on wooden planks, set above the wet sands of low tide. The Shinto priest is in the middle of a purification ritual. All eyes are on him, so no one notices a dark figure in a heavy overcoat approaching.

Just as some notice the man in the overcoat, he takes it off to reveal he is wearing a strange suit with tanks and hoses and spray nozzles attached. The man starts shooting noxious green gas, and within moments, people begin to choke and their skin burns. They panic and flee, but not before the strange attacker kills a few of them, including the priest.

Suddenly the tanks on the man's suit begin to rupture and burst, and the man's suit fills with his own toxic gas, which kills him faster than any of his victims. The 'Gas Killer Attack,' as it came to be known, was over soon after it started.

Who was the Gas Killer, and what was his goal?

Special agent Kitazawa Saburo of the Imperial Investigation Agency is sent to Vancouver to find out. As he digs deeper into the mystery, his investigation leads to many more questions. Who was selling guns to the Free Orleans Front? How is the town's largest drug dealer involved? What are Confederate soldiers doing in town? What is the American secret service's connection to a meth cook for the Triads? Who is British intelligence manipulating into spying for them? What does a banking scandal have to do with the Mexican civil war? Who is "the Californian," and what are his plans? And how far will some go to prevent the princess from ascending to the throne?

All of this is connected to a conspiracy that might bring the whole continent, and maybe the world, into war. Saburo can only stop it if he can uncover the secret society behind it all, Hidden Dawn.

Characters

These are some of the characters of Hidden Dawn. I drew these myself. Please forgive the clumsy proportions.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

Saburo Kitazawa. An agent with the Imperial Investigation Bureau, he's been personally requested by Princess Yayoi to come to Vancouver to investigate a terrorist attack. Saburou is one of the few people the princess trusts, not only because they've been close in the past, but because she knows he can't be deterred from finding the truth. Tadashi Senri. Head of operations for the Imperial Security Agency, Tadashi has a tight control over everything that happens in Shin Nihon. He has an uncompromising moral standard, where the end justifies any means. Maya Cecelia Sakai. Maya works at the St James Social services, helping the underprivileged of Vancouver's East Side. Friendly and energetic, she forged an inner strength from a difficult past. She's in a relationship with Tadashi, and being manipulated by British intelligence to spy on him. Jinwoo Pak. An officer with the Imperial Security Ministry, Jinwoo reports directly to Tadashi, and is partnered with Saburou as part of a joint task force to investigate the Gas Man terror attack. Jinwoo gets along with most people easily, which is why he is the man running the most intelligence assets in Vancouver. Charlotte Barnes. Charlotte is a spy with British Intelligence, and through her cover as a social worker, she has built up a large network of informants among the women who work as dancers, hostesses, and more. No one is quite sure how far Charlotte is willing to go to get the results she wants. Tsuyoshi Otsuka. A member of the Sonpeitai, a military police force acting under unclear jurisdiction within Vancouver. He is fighting an ideological war against what he perceives as radical factions that could undermine the foundations of the empire of Nihon. Saori Ogata. Saori is a popular social activist, author, and orator, fighting for causes such as women's suffrage, unionization, and equality for all. She has broad support from unions, student groups, and political activist groups, so much that if she called for it, she could shut the city down. Aiko Okamoto. A member of an activist student group, Aiko believed in Ogata San's message of non-violent action. But as she's seen some harsh realities, she is becoming more radicalized. Jules Clayton. Head of the porter's union at the Imperial Pacific Rail Station, Jules is also running guns to the Free Orleans Front, who are fighting for independence from the Confederate States of America. Tsakotna. Trained by the Nihonjin military to be an elite fighter, Tsakotna seeks harsh justice for the abuses her people have suffered at the hands of the colonial oppressors. While she has fought for the Nihonjin in foreign wars, her loyalty is only with her people, the displaced tribes that now live in the Ouregon Protectorate. Peng Li. A meth cook for the Triads, Peng is swept up in political machinations that he doesn't fully understand, except that he knows crossing the wrong person could mean his life. Rocio Sendra Casilla. Known as 'Rosalita' at the club she's too young to be working at, she only wants to support her family who are struggling after fleeing the Mexican civil war that created the Republic of California. 'The Californian.' What is he doing in Vancouver, and how is he connected to the mystery that Saburo is trying to solve? Princess Yayoi. In this world, it's possible for a woman to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne, but there are many who do not want that to happen. She has many enemies, especially because she seeks political reform, and ascension to the throne would give her the ability to push her agenda. Zane Williams. Even though he is patriotic to the United States and is in Vancouver to handle operations for the Office of Strategic Services, Zane is frustrated by the new hard right regime back in Washington who are agitating for war, something that Zane wants to prevent any way he can. 'The Gas Killer.' Spraying lethal gas over the attendees of a Shinto ceremony to inaugurate a new monument on the shore of Vancouver, 'The Gas Killer' as he came to be known, set off a sequence of events that connect to a conspiracy that could start a continent-wide war, with implications for all the world.

The alternate history

The Turning Point

North America in the 'Wagen Era,' year 8. This is around 1930 in the western calendar. In this world, Japan has a level of cultural hegemony where Japanese words are imported into English with more frequency, so Japan is referred to by the name the Japanese use, which is 'Nihon.' The Japanese territory in North America is called 'Shin Nihon,' which translates to 'New Japan.' (Map by Dave Gutteridge, with geographic data provided by Rob Harrap.)

The history of this world breaks from our own a little after the year 1600. In the real world, that was when Japan took on an isolationist policy, closing its borders for roughly 250 years. During that time, Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Bakufu, a military dictatorship led by a family named Tokugawa.

In the world of this story, around the year 1630, the Tokugawa Bakufu was overthrown in what came to be known as the Ronin Rebellion, led by a man named Kuroda Toubuzawa. Under Kuroda's rule, Japan became more open to foreign trade, the goal being to catch up in development with the rest of the world. Soon, though, Japan's ambitions grew, and it aspired to become a colonial power on par with the Europeans. It was not an easy route, and there were many challenges and set backs, but by the mid to late 1700s, Japan, known as Nihon in this reality, was on equal footing with the British Empire in reach and territory. The sun never sets on the British Empire, and now the sun is always rising on the Empire of Nihon.

The Nihonjin (Japanese) began colonizing North America a little later than the Europeans, but coming from the north western side of the continent, they found more territory open to them while the Europeans had to cross from the east and south. Of course, there were already natives living there, but the Nihonjin were no more concerned about that than the Europeans ever were.

The Wagen Era

The Komainu Bridge. 'Komainu' is the name for the pair of demons or dogs that are in front of Buddhist temples in Japan. (Colors by Ander Zarate, based on a pencil drawing by Dave Gutteridge.)

This story takes place in the 8th year of the reign of Emperor Masahito, known as the Wagen Jidai (era, or reign), which is around 1930 in the western calendar. The Great European War was fought to a standstill about a decade earlier, and it demonstrated the horrors of modern industrialized warfare. Many fear a similar war will occur in North America. It is a factionalized continent with many countries at odds with each other. Mexico has recently fought a civil war, resulting in splitting into two countries, Mexico and California. The Confederate States, who never had a formal peace with the United States, is currently facing an insurrection that has created the state of Free Orleans, recognized officially by the League of Nations, but still considered a rogue state by the CSA. The USA has fallen to a fascist coup, and is fomenting discord in the Ouregon Protectorate (“Ouregon” is a historical spelling of Oregon) , a bantu state under the umbrella of Nihonjin control. Everyone knows that if the US establishes a pacific port, their long term growth and eventual dominance is a distinct possibility....

It's in this world that this story takes place, starting with a terrorist attack in Vancouver that could be the flash point that leads to war. The reasons behind the attack need to be uncovered before millions die and many more suffer.

Setting

1930s Japan

The imagery of the story draws upon a period from about the 1920s through to the end of the 1930s, which roughly equates to a period in Japan known as the Taisho Era. At that time, in the real world, Japan was a burgeoning democracy, and western influences were mixing with Japanese styles and sensibilities. Unfortunately, in the real world, from around the start of the 1930s, hard right fascist factions began to take the reigns, and we all know how poorly that worked out for everyone. Fascists ruin everything.

In this story, Nihon is a democratic monarchy. They do not have a constitution, but they have a parliament and the royal family is politically limited, though they are the titular head of the military. Extreme political ideologies are ever present, trying to alter the direction of society. For most people, though, there's freedom of speech, of thought, and to try and make the most of their lives.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

This could be a picture of modern-day Japanese hipsters trying to pull off a retro look, but it's actually from the twenties or thirties. There have always been hipsters. At the time, the Japanese term for these guys would have been 'mobos,' short for 'modern boys.' Maybe a 'moga,' or 'modern girl,' though this picture may be closer to the late thirties or forties, and 'moga' were a twenties thing. This is apparently a woman named Komako Sumada, and the picture is from 1927. Women didn't always wear dresses. Art showing the mix of Japanese and western dress you'd see out and about on the street in 1930s Japan. In the real world, Japanese or western fashion was largely an either/or thing, but I hope to try and mix them into something new. Not sure if this picture is actually from the 1930s, or a modern retro design, but note the city in the background has a standard global cityscape, but with distinct Japanese elements seamlessly blended in. (Also note the 卍. It's a Japanese character, not a swastika. Different rotational orientation.) This is from some event called 'The Grand International Exhibition of Japan,' held in Yokohama in 1940. These pavilions had a combination of Japanese and art deco style, similar to what I'm going for, though this does lean a little more art than architecture. Also from 'The Grand International Exhibition of Japan.' I particularly like the gateway at the bottom left of the picture, which is evocative of sequences of torii gates at some traditional shrines. Up to and during World War 2, Japan had a home defense program that taught women fighting skills. One of the characters in the story, Maya, is part of a similar group.

People

These are images of people from the 1920s to 1940s, used to inform the look of the characters.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

A family of Japanese settlers in Canada from around the thirties, somewhere in British Columbia. In the real world, there was an area in Vancouver called Hogan's Alley, which was a black neighborhood that was basically destroyed by bad urban planning (and racism can’t be discounted). In this story, the area is called Hogan's Yokocho, and it's a thriving community. Many people who live there work as porters or other laborers on the railyards of the Taiheiyo Eki (Pacific Terminal Train Staion). This is probably from a movie or something as this guy seems a bit too deliberately dressed as an adventurer of sorts. In any case, this is the kind of look I envision for Zane, a spy from the US, operating in Vancouver. This is a woman dressed for heading to the outdoors. Part of the story takes place outside of Vancouver, in the mountains of Shin Nihon. Criminals dressed sharp back in the day. This plus tattoos and you've got the standard organized crime members of Vancouver in this story. You can't talk about criminals and Japan without talking about the Yakuza. Check out this guy's tattoos. A Pacific northwest native warrior. Natives who live in the Ouregon Protectorate often enlist in the Imperial Nihon Army to escape the problems created by the way tribes were forcibly settled there. As far as I can tell, west coast natives don't have any particular face tattooing traditions. This is a fashion piece by a modern day coastal native artist (whose name I've lost). The idea of a facial tattoo similar to this is just so cool, though, that I'm going with it for the character Tsakotna. This is the kind of thing Princess Yayoi would wear. In this picture, playing against Anna May Wong, is Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese actor who was surprisingly popular in the US, rivalling white actors, during the silent film era. During the course of the story, there are a lot of strikes and labor movements, and this would be the type of guy you'd see in those scenes. These are 'Kenpeitai,' a Japanese gendarmie, which is a military police force that acts within a civilian environment. The Gestapo is a famous example of a gendarmie. In this story, there's a group called the 'Sonpeitai' who are a close equivalent. They don't always dress so obviously, and they disappear people they consider ideological enemies.

Vancouver

Why would a city be called "Vancouver" if it's a Japanese city?

In this story, in the early to mid-1800s, the British tried to secure a port on the West Coast, ahead of Nihonjin settlement. They rushed to build a fort on the coast, naming it “Vancouver”. However, Nihonjin settlers kept coming into the territory faster than the British could match, and for a while the city was a de facto Nihonjin city even though it was administered by the British. At the turn of the 20th century, there was a war between Nihon and Britain in and around Madagascar, known as the "Merina War." As part of the peace treaty, there was a territory swap where Nihon ceded land in India to the British, and Britain ceded Vancouver to the Nihonjin. However, as part of the deal, the British kept a small area of land by the docks, known as the "British Concession," so they could retain a pacific port.

So in this story, Vancouver is a Nihonjin city, but it is culturally very mixed. There are lots of British settlers who remained through the handover, and they make up a sizeable segment of the population. On top of that, the city was a destination of choice for many other communities seeking opportunity or safety. For example, there are many black people who fled during the American civil war, and others who still come to Vancouver as a result of the fighting in Free Orleans, as well as refugees from the Mexican civil war, and many South Asians and Chinese brought over as laborers, just to name some examples.

While the city in the story diverges from the city in reality, a lot of the architecture and layout remains similar, as a base to build on.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

Although it was gutted by the internment policies during World War 2, Vancouver had a small but thriving Japanese community from the end of the 1800s through to the 1930s. This image is from a Japanese festival on or near Powell Street, which was part of 'Japantown.' (Note the cultural mixing on the sign with an image of Mount Fuji, offering 'Chop Suey') A Japanese Torii (a kind of ceremonial gate) was set up temporarily in Vancouver during the visit of someone from the British royal family. Just prior to World War 1, Britain and Japan were developing close ties. Vancouver in 1931. The Lion's Gate Bridge, connecting the city to the northern shorts, wasn't built until 1937. In this story, its equivalent, the 'Komainu Bashi,' is built earlier because Vancouver is a slightly more populous metropolis. The Hotel Vancouver before it moved to its current location. Vancouver in 1933. As you get away from the city core, there is undeveloped land. This picture was taken from a park called 'Little Mountain,' now called 'Queen Elizabeth Park,' looking north toward the city. This is 'Crab Town,' a shanty town on the shore between New Brighton Park and the Second Narrows Bridge, where people first set up homes in 1912. It grew through to the 1930s, developing makeshift but functional infrastructure. In the 1950s, Crab Town was dismantled. In this story, Crab Town is a robust community, called by its Japanese name 'Kani Machi.' This is St. James Church, in the heart of Vancouver's downtown East side. In the real world, it was built in 1937, but in this story it's been there from earlier. It features in the story as a location for some key events. Telephone poles with massive clusters of wires like this were common at the time. This is a street corner in Vancouver in the thirties. This was a somewhat grandiose proposal for how the Vancouver City Hall should look. It didn't end up quite as extravagant, but in the world of the comic, the architecture can be bigger and bolder.

Rain

Rain is a constant in Vancouver. In this story, it's almost always rainy, foggy, or drizzling. The few times it's not raining, the sky is colorful and dramatic. Vancouver has fantastic sunsets.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

This is a street scene from New York, but it matches the aesthetic of the story. Rain slicked streets, generally flat grey tones, with isolated lights that promise a coziness in the distance. A more classical Japanese image of rain. More depiction of rain in a Japanese style. The color scheme does not always have to be grays with amber lights. The palette can vary so long as we always get that sense of contrast between cold exteriors and warm interiors. Vancouver in this story is a little closer in layout to Japanese metropolises, with trains being the primary form of transport. This is an impressionistic piece by artist JPH that really captures the feeling of rainy streets in Vancouver. The rain makes everything indistinct, and turns gritty urban infrastructure into something shimmering and pretty. This is modern day Vancouver, but highlighting some of the more historical buildings. When it's not raining, the sky is often dramatic. Although this is an image of San Francisco, it has the perfect combination of post-rain sunset and clouds, with wet streets, as well as the contrast of warm cozy interiors and a chilly outside.

Artist credit: Impressionistic rainy street painting by JPH.

Noir

As a spy thriller and political drama with elements of a detective mystery, there is a film noir ambience in Hidden Dawn. It's not a distinctly hard-boiledpulp fiction type of narrative, but it draws inspiration from them, and it is gritty and dark in places.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

Vancouver had a lot of neon in the thirties and through the sixties and after. This picture was taken in the seventies or so, but you can still see the wood buildings likely built much earlier in the century. This is close to what the world of this story would look like. The Sun Tower in Vancouver, 1946. These neon lights are gone now, but they shouldn't be, because the design on this building is awesome. I just had to include this picture because the aesthetic is so perfect. The isolated lights from the interiors evoke a sense of mystery. Art by Benjamin Carr. This is from a series of paintings called 'Noir Vancouver' by artist Tom Carter, and it really gets close to the look and feel of the cityscape of the story, although without the Japanese influence. Not sure where this is from, probably San Francisco's Chinatown. It has a nice combination of a rainy, foggy atmosphere, Asian elements, and a noir feel. The Smiling Buddha Cabaret in Vancouver was actually built in 1952. There is an area close to this cabaret called Strathcona, and in this story, it's the place to be for clubs and nightlife, with the most famous club called 'Vie's Nocturne'.

Artist credit: Train station interior by Benjamin Carr.

Artist credit: Vancouver Noir painting by artist Tom Carter.

Technology

Items, interiors, and transportation may have a slightly more fantastical look, but only for visual effect. Technology in the story stays within the bounds of reality, there is no science fiction element. So it's approaching dieselpunk, but stops short of any retrofuturism. However, technology doesn't have to match exactly what was possible in the real world up to 1930. Technology may vary in terms of development, being more advanced in some cases, but still within the realm of technologies we know were possible at least at some point in history.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

Somewhat arbitrary differences in how things are built can help a reader feel like the story is in a different world. For example, this plane design might not be in the story, but it conveys a different fundamental structure of design for planes. A motorcycle, but with doors. Wildly impractical, but a beautiful design. Automobiles can be slightly fantastical, in that they are designed in ways that were feasible in the time period, but pushed towards the extremes of what the design allows. Interior art deco design. This is a Japanese model of gun manufactured around the 1920s. In the story, Nihon (Japan) is one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers, and there is a brand of gun called 'Kunitomo' that is equivalent to brands like Glock or Smith & Wesson. Art Deco radio. This doesn't convey anything too special, I just really like the design. This is an image from a place called 'The Mundaneum,' which was an attempt to be a sort of worldwide web in the early 1900s. The idea was that information would be stored in libraries that could share information using 'electric telescopes.' I thought this idea was amazing and wanted to include something like it in the story, but it ended up not making it to the final draft. I included it here as part of the milleu of how this world would be different from ours.

Art style

Pre-manga Japanese art

Before the outline of the story was even written, inspiration for the look and feel of this story came from seeing Japanese art from the early 1900s, in the middle of the Meiji Era. It was a period after Edo woodblock carvings, but before anime and manga became so dominant. Around the time of the Russo-Japanese War, there was an artist named Kobayashi Kiyochika who has an art style that was a big influence on the look and feel of this story.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

This picture is the first I saw by Kobayashi Kiyochika, and I immediately fell in love with the contrast and palette. Art by Kobayashi Kiyochika. The atmospheric effects effectively convey a story about conditions of the war. Art by Kobayashi Kiyochika. The characters are a little simplistic in that they don't differentiate too much from each other, but the clarity of the action is strong. Art by Kobayashi Kiyochika. You can imagine the characters aren't moving much, but the snow is falling, and it's not just a still picture, but a still moment.

Current comic artists

These are artists who have styles that match the aesthetic of the story in one sense or another. Of course, none of these should be taken as the final word on the style of the story, but just point in a direction without deciding the destination.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

This is an image by artist Mona Finden who I found on Instagram. There aren't that many lines, and yet there's still a feel of detail and texture. This work here is a commission for a book called 'Neon Birds' by Marie Graßhoff. Des Taylor is an artist with a clean style, evocative of the 1940s, with noir elements, but still bright and approachable. Artist: Hergé. The famous Tintin series of books is a big influence on this story, minus the awkward racial issues and nearly complete absence of female characters. The art and ambiance are really great though, and I read them over and over as a kid. Artist: Irene Horrors. Irene Horrors does work that's generally classic Gothic horror in theme, but I love the clean but expressive lines, as well as the subdued colors within a color spectrum. Artist: Enrico Marini. Marini's style has it all. Incredible atmospheric backgrounds, immersive palettes, and distinct characters. Artist: Satoru Noda. This is from a manga series I'm reading right now called 'Golden Kamuy.' The art isn't very different from a lot of manga of the same type, but as far as manga style goes, this would be the closest to the kind of style I'd go with, where the characters aren't as iconographic as a lot of manga.

Artist credit: Mona Finden.

Artist credit: Des Taylor.

Artist credit: Irene Horrors.

Artist credit: Enrico Marini.

Artist credit: Satoru Noda.

Stay Informed!

If you'd like to be informed of when the project is progressing to a stage where you can support it, such as launching a Kickstarter, please sign up for the announcement list!

Note: I'll never send you information about anything other than this comic book project. Your email won't be shared with anyone else.

The Making of Hidden Dawn

About the author

I've worked in various design, production, and creative jobs and projects for most of my career. Originally from Vancouver, I've lived in Tokyo for most of my life. The idea for this story evolved organically over a period of about ten years or more, as I became fascinated with the Meiji and Taisho eras of Japanese history. I've previously written books and short stories, and I've drawn casually, but it's my dream to make a comic book before I die.

Target Market

This comic will appeal to people who like alternate histories, spy thrillers, political intrigues, film noir, police procedurals, mysteries, multiple intersecting characters, Japanese culture, and of course anyone who just likes a good story!

Note that this book is written in English and targeted at English speakers, as that's the largest market for comic books and therefore most likely to find an audience. A Japanese language version is also being considered, though. Crowdfunding campaigns for English and Japanese versions will be handled separately. Perhaps something like having the English version on Kickstarter, and Japanese on Campfire. But anything is possible.

Completed

The script is complete, and it is currently being reviewed by a professional editor.

The script is roughly 200 pages, and it is assumed the final comic book will be something a little longer, perhaps up to 250 pages, depending how much volume the non-dialogue sequences add to the visual narrative.

Current action

Currently seeking pencillers, inkers, colorists, and letterers who will help make this comic book a reality.

I have some artistic skills, but there are gaps in my ability and the time it takes me to complete an image is too slow to realistically finish a comic of this length before I die. I'd like to be involved in helping design the visual layout, but I think it would be ideal to have the help and support of a team of artists who can really take this to the next level.

Going Forward

The next step is to make example pages, rendering scenes from the script as complete comic book pages. In addition, there will be other supporting work, such as character turnarounds, maps, promotional material, and other design work that will help to convey the look and feel of the comic so that supporters will have a sense of what they are buying into.

As examples and promotional material is developed, it will be distributed and marketed in a way to hopefully generate interest. People can sign up for a mailing list (above) and follow social media to be kept informed of developments. When conditions are right, I will launch a Kickstarter or similar crowdfunding campaign.

Alternate paths to completion may be considered, such as working with a publisher, or other possibilities. Everything is always negotiable, and the route with the highest chance of success for everyone involved will be the one taken.

Looking for artists!

If you would like to be involved in helping make this project happen, please contact me ASAP!

Japanese artists are preferred in order to collaborate in-person in Tokyo. Also, because of the Japanese component to the story, it would be ideal to bring on board collaborators with a Japanese viewpoint. However, ultimately artists from anywhere will be considered because the highest priority is to get the right look and feel.

The hope is to create an art style that reflects a mix of Japanese art style from the start of the twentieth century, with elements of noir, art deco, and Bauhaus, as discussed above.

Books I've written

My Instagram

These days I'm using Instagram to post my sketches. Also sometimes if something random and amusing happens.

My Twitter

I put up a tweet whenever I update my blog, and I also cross post my drawings from Instagram.