Greg Pak will soon help Amadeus Cho take over the world as the new Totally Awesome Hulk, but before the world meets the first Asian-American hulk, Pak will be debuting another project just as intriguing: his first creator-owned comic, Kingsway West, out this November from Dark Horse Comics.
Written by Pak with art by Mirko Colak, Kingsway West follows the story of a Chinese gunslinger on a quest to find his wife, in an Old West world filled with magic. In addition to writing and creating the book, Pak has also enlisted a trio of Asian-American musicans to create songs pertaining to the story: indie rapper Adam Warrock, Youtube senstation Jane Lui, and award-winning singer, actor and songwriter Goh Nakamura.
In addition to premiering Lui’s song “The Keeping Project,” which you can find below, EW spoke with Pak and Lui about putting Kingsway West together, and bringing a creator-owned comic to life.
EW: What was the concept behind using a soundtrack for this particular book? Did you reach out to artists that you already knew or that you were familiar with?
GREG PAK: Kingsway West tells the story of a Chinese gunslinger searching for his wife in an Old West overrun with magic It’s a big, thrilling, romantic adventure story, and I just thought it could really lend itself to a soundtrack treatment. So I reached out to some amazing Asian American musicians I’ve admired for a long time. And they all said yes! It’s been an incredible experience. Working with Jane Lui on her song has been hugely inspiring. I sent her the first script and the cover art and she just immediately got it. And then we got on the phone and she asked all kinds of great questions in order to get into the hearts and minds of the characters. And then she came up with the idea of singing the song from the perspective of the locket our hero carries — the locket that holds the image of the wife for whom he’s searching. Just brilliant. And the song’s so eerie and evocative and romantic…but enough of me — maybe Jane can chime in about how she came on board and what inspired her?
JANE LUI: I remember reading the first script and basically went scuba-diving into Greg’s brain without having met him yet. His story-telling is fast-paced and ridiculously prolific, I felt wonderfully thrown into the story and collaboration format, heard so much music and couldn’t wait for the gunslinger’s past to come together. The characters’ psyches were so intact from the beginning that it was really easy to answer my own questions as I chose perspective and lyrics. This locket kept pulling my songwriting arm, it’s such a romantic notion that this locket dutifully protects the photo of Kingway’s wife while helplessly seeing the whole thing unfold! I was super inspired and the song pretty much fell into my lap. Greg is awesome at what he does, stays totally open to ideas, making this by far one of the best collaboration experiences. Makes me wonder why these mediums don’t mix more!
Greg, I’d love to know a little bit about the process of putting Kingsway West together, and how the book came to fruition.
I grew up as an Asian American Boy Scout in Texas who loved Westerns and outdoor adventure stories of all kinds — including Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings. So when I learned about the actual history of Chinese in the Old West, my imagination just ran wild. I’ve been working on various versions of this story for over two decades now. When I was in film school at NYU, I wrote three separate screenplays starring Chinese outlaws in the Old West and tried for years to get one of them made as a feature. And over the years, I did a couple of short comic book stories with a Chinese gunslinger hero with great artists Sean Chen and Ian Kim.
But the story really came together just in the last year when I started working with Dark Horse editor Jim Gibbons. Jim loved the story I pitched about this wild man of the frontier trying to stay out of trouble in an incredible dangerous world long enough to find his wife. But he wondered if there was one more element, one more bit of something that would put it over the top. That question really resonated with me. I realized I’d been holding back with the story for years, as if I were still writing a low-budget indie feature film. But I was writing this as a comic book now, which meant I could cut loose and make the story as big as its emotional story wanted. And that led me to magic. I found myself thinking about the similarities between traditional Westerns and outdoor fantasy like Lord of the Rings. I thought about how magic in stories can help make the huge emotional storyline come to life in visceral, thrilling, emotionally honest ways. And I thought about the thrill of reimagining the American West in a new way — embracing this alternate world overrun with magic to explore a whole new way of thinking about America’s past and possible future.
I pitched these big ideas to Jim, and to my brilliant artist Mirko Colak, and they both lit up. Mirko’s been a total revelation on the book. I knew he was fantastic — I loved the gritty realism and tremendous character work he brought to the Red Skull Incarnate and Turok books we worked on together. But with Kingsway West, he’s hitting a whole new level as he creates this entirely believable but breathtaking world of magic.
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You seemed to go above and beyond in the creation of this book. What was it about the project that made you want to have such a huge creative hand in it?
Well, after 11 years in comics, it’s my first creator-owned series, and it’s a story I’ve been dreaming about for over two decades, so it’s pretty darn special to me. We’ve got a kind of dream team here with Mirko, colorist Wil Quintana, letterer Simon Bowland, and everyone at Dark Horse. I’m just thrilled and grateful and working as hard as I can to make the book as great as it can be. Incidentally, we’ve set up a pre-order website, so if we’ve intrigued you, please do pre-order the book with your local shop at KingswayWest.com!
The songs that are debuting seem radically different, but I feel like together they all represent the book really well. Was it hard to bring all the music parts of this together?
PAK: Actually, from my side of the table, it was pretty easy! I just reached out to amazing musicians, talked with them about the project, answered their awesome questions, and then sat back and waited for their incredible songs to hit my email. Jane, maybe you could talk about the process from your point of view?
LUI: It was clear that once we brainstormed song perspective, I was let loose to play and do what I do, my way. This type of confidence and space are highly valuable, always brings trust to the table. It also happens to coincide with the current writing of my fourth album, so heading toward the tactile-electronic sound was natural. This was a fantastic playground, I’m sure it was awesome for the other writers too.
This is a really ingenious concept…I’d love to see more books taking a creative approach like this, and the comic landscape is ever changing and growing. Do you think this could be a new hook for people in the future, if applied to the right projects?
I’m all for anything that gets folks excited about comics. And music feels like a pretty natural fit for a lot of comic book projects. I’ve seen a number of writers release playlists of songs that inspired them as they wrote their comics. And I’ve worked on projects with an even more direct relationship to music, like the Code Monkey Save World graphic novel and The Princess Who Saved Herself children’s book, both based on the songs of Jonathan Coulton. A lot of songwriters are incredible storytellers, so comics can be one way to expand on those stories in really satisfying ways. And things can work in the other direction, as with Kingsway West, with the story and characters inspiring music that can enhance readers’ experiences and enjoyment of the whole thing. So yeah, if it’s organic and it fits, I think it’s a tremendous thing. I’m also biased because I trained as a filmmaker and absolutely love sound design. So when I’m writing comics, I tend to have a subliminal, imaginary soundtrack rolling in my head. One of the coolest things about this whole undertaking is that Jane and the other musicians have given me an actual soundtrack that can give me that emotional inspiration as I write.