Alright, I can finally say this out loud.

The Nian is a real mythological figure from Chinese folklore.  It was a monstrous cat that lived up in the mountains or under the sea (we obviously went with the mountain option).  At the end of every year, it would come down/up from its resting place to feed on villagers, mostly children.  Eventually, the villagers learned that the beast feared fire, loud noises and the color red, so they used firecrackers and red decorations to scare it off.  The word “nian” actually means “year” in Chinese and, if you haven’t guessed it yet, this legend is the basis of why the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival involves so many red lanterns and firecrackers.

While Chynna made this design for the Nian herself, its mountainous home, tendency to attack Kwong Zan and its eventual defeat by red decorations and firecrackers were all based on the old legends.  When Chynna and I started this comic, we didn’t know anything about Chinese mythology and were thusly at a loss of what kind of villain or creature to use as an antagonist.  I knew that dragons were more revered than feared in China, so that one didn’t seem fitting; I almost used a Shishi, but they seem more heroic and protective than villainous.  We really lucked out when we found out about the Nian being purely villainous and having a traditional means of defeat that could be written around Ai’s personal journey in this issue and just writing a mystery in general.

The one little snafu we have is that Chinese folklore seems to treat the Nian as a one-of-a-kind creature.  While Intercardinal is based on real-world mythology and takes its creatures and characters into its own world, I only wanted to use the historical names for species of animals and give any one-of-a-kind entities our own names, so as to avoid putting words in their mouths and give us more creative room to work with them (ex: using “vampire” to describe a type of undead creature is fine, but the character “Dracula” would need a new name so that he’s our own version rather than a potentially-inaccurate depiction of Bram Stoker’s character).  Since we called our big kitty here “Nian” with a capital “N,” it seems we broke our rule on the very first adventure…So, I guess we’ll just have to say that there are more of this cat lurking around somewhere and that Nian is a species rather than a singular character…Hopefully the good people of Kwong Zan tell their neighbors and countrymen how to send these felines packing…

For more information on the Nian, check out Wikipedia, Nations Online or, really, just type it into a search and see what you find.