Sometimes all it takes to create a cult-favorite comic is one issue.
A hip hop talking master of the martial arts with a mad on for beautiful women doesn’t hurt either.
Writer Howard Shum and artist Joey Mason’s “Gun Fu” debuted last year from Axiom (and CBR spoke with Shum about it not long ago) and they’ve been gaining fans since, despite releasing only one, albeit self-contained, issue of the series. But that fan base may grow this summer when the duo reunites for “Gun Fu: The Lost City” in August and Shum spoke to CBR News about the series and “Gun Fu” in general.
“‘Gun Fu’ takes place in 1936,” Shum explained to CBR News. “It’s about Cheng Bo Sen, a Hong Kong cop who has amazing kung fu abilities and spectacular gun skills. He gets recruited by England to fight the Nazis. Queen Elizabeth (wife of King George VI) with the help of her aide Alistair Houseman sends Cheng on dangerous missions to stop evil Nazi plans (such as building giant Nazi robots).
“The first issue of the one-shot came out October 2002. The first issue of the new miniseries ‘Gun Fu: The Lost City’ will be in stores August 2003.”
Whereas the first issue focused more on introducing the reader to Cheng Bo Sen’s world and the danger’s he faces while being the hippest Nazi fighter around, the new mini-series raises the stakes, promises Shum, and he explains that the goals for the mini-series are also more ambitious. “In ‘Gun Fu: The Lost City,’ England finds out that the Nazis are in the jungles of South America and that they are searching for a lost city rumored to be filled with treasure. The Nazis would use this treasure to help fund their war plans. The Queen sends Cheng Bo Sen and a female archaeology professor to South America to see if there truly is a lost city filled with treasure and to stop the Nazi’s nefarious plans. In the jungles a beautiful and mysterious Jaguar Girl is on the prowl. There are also many other dangers including cannibals and secret Nazi experiments.
“When I write stories, they always have beginnings, middles, and ends. ‘Gun Fu: The Lost City’ is no different. After finishing the story, it looked to be four issues, so that is why it is four issues. I can’t see myself writing long never-ending soap opera type of stories that seem to be the mainstay of mainstream comics. I like my stories to conclude so that’s why ‘Gun Fu’ will never be an ongoing comic.”
Now while the idea of a grown Asian man being a martial arts master isn’t an innovative idea in popular media by any stretch of the imagination, the combination of hip hop slang and the retro setting have helped to differentiate “Gun Fu” from contemporary comics. However, Shum feels that there’s more to the series and says that it comes from an outright rejection of all things popular in comic books today. “‘Gun Fu’ is unique in the comic book world because many comic companies don’t like taking chances. They
seemed to be mired in the past. ‘Gun Fu’ is just a combination of many things that I like. When I first looked at it, I thought these are all ideals that are un-commercial. If you look at what sells in comics, it is super-heroes and licensed properties. What definitely doesn’t sell well is humor and innovative ideals. I disregarded what was popular. I don’t create
to make money. ‘Gun Fu’ was what I liked and wanted to do. I am glad with the publication of ‘Gun Fu’ many people seem to like it as much as I do.”
Admittedly, “Gun Fu” is a very light comic thus far- there’s been no overt political message other than to perhaps state that Nazis are bad and that martial arts are cool, but even the latter would be a stretch. Shum does say that this new mini-series will bring all the crazy, fun of the last issue to the forefront again but may surprise people will something in the last issue. “I think when people read the entirety of ‘Gun Fu: The
Lost City,’ they will see that this time along with fun, laughs and great action I also have something to say. The ending will be unexpected.”
Shum makes no secret of the fact that comic books are not the medium he feels he’ll create his opus in, but also says that it’s the only medium where “Gun Fu” could truly be realized at the moment. “My true love is and always will be film. Hollywood should brace itself because it has never seen the likes of me.
“There are things I can do in the ‘Gun Fu’ comic that I can’t do anywhere else at this point in time. However, even when I go on to writing and directing feature films, I will always somehow be involved in comics.”
His involvement, however, will not include spandex clad heroes or other company owned projects. “As far as comics goes, I have no desire to do work-for-hire writing,” said Shum. “I will do that for feature films and television, but not for comics. I’ll ink comics work-for-hire, but my writing is too personal to give up to the comic companies. I’d rather work on my own creations anyway.”
On a lighter note, Shum says it’s great to be working with “Gun Fu” collaborator Joey Mason, especially since the incidents of man-on-man violence have been lowered significantly. “Joey and I are working much better now than the previous time,” smiles Shum. “This time he has only tried to kill me twice as opposed to the four times during the one-shot! I would like to attribute this to my mastering of martial arts through my countless hours of watching Billy Blanks’ ‘Tae Bo’ videos, but the truth is that Joey was institutionalized briefly in a psych ward for the criminally insane and I’m sure that had
more to do with the fewer attempts on my life.
“Working with a crazy artist isn’t easy, but I heard that Van Gogh guy was nuts too and he seems to be popular. For that reason I put up with Joey.”
Despite the apparent lack of mental stability, Mason is putting out great work, states the always humorous Shum, and says that a comic book legend has also provided input. “The art is amazing! It is as if the one-shot was a movie that no one expected to be a hit and it was and as a result with the sequel- ‘Gun Fu: The Lost City’- we have a bigger budget. It shows in the art.
“The master of sequential art, Dave Sim, also passed along some wisdom to me, which we are executing in the new miniseries. This is like fine-tuning an engine in an Indy Car that just won the pole position in the Indianapolis 500.”
Regardless of any mental issues plaguing either creator, Shum says their sex appeal is at an all-time high, with deals to join N’Sync in the works, and neither Mason nor he can step out of their house without a pen to sign autographs. “It’s like Beatlemania. Joey and I can’t go out in public without being mobbed by screaming teenage girls. I never thought they were the prime audience for ‘Gun Fu,’ but they can’t seem to get enough of it.”
So what does Shum have planned for the future? “Yes, there will be more ‘Gun Fu’ stories in the future,” he says vaguely. “Some folks that I admire and that are high up on
Hollywood’s food chain like ‘Gun Fu’ a lot and I’ll just leave it at that for the moment.
“Ed Clayton (creator of Dr. Grave) and I are almost finished with a new comic that may very well destroy our burgeoning Hollywood careers. It could also make us the most hated guys by fans of pop culture. We think it’s pretty cool though.”
If you’re still on the fence about purchasing “Gun Fu,” Shum provides readers with a ton of recommendations for the original issue and the new mini-series in August. “If after reading the descriptions, looking at the art, and knowing that I interviewed Fernando Meirelles (director of the critically acclaimed film ‘City of God’) for an article in ‘Gun Fu: The Lost City’ #1, a reader still isn’t sure, he should take a look at what the industry’s top creators have to say about ‘Gun Fu’:
“J. Scott Campbell, artist and creator of ‘Danger Girl,’ says, ”Gun Fu’ is an explosive blend of the best films of John Woo, 007 and Indiana Jones with a wonderful graphic style, similar to some of the very best from the Cartoon Network. A tremendously fun
read. I wish I had thought of this!’
“Penciller of the ‘Fantastic Four’ Mike Wieringo says, ”Gun Fu’ is the best! Howard Shum has a fantastic sense of humor and Joey Mason’s art is unique and fascinating! Do yourself a HUGE favor and buy anything by these guys — ESPECIALLY ‘GUN FU’!’
“”Gun Fu’ is a fun book with a nice blend of Hong Kong action flicks and ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’,’ says Frank Cho, creator of Liberty Meadows.
“The director of Disney’s popular animated show ‘Kim Possible’ Chris Bailey says, ”Gun Fu’ will scratch your fanboy itch for cartooning and action adventure. It’s bold, designee and fun! If you’re bored with the grim and gritty realism of other comics, ‘Gun Fu’ is