Can You Dig It? Howard Shum talks 'Gun Fu'

[Gun Fu #1]Every fan wants a new comic to be something different, something that isn't like what they've read before and explores, at the very least, familiar genres from a new perspective. Most comic book creators would also say that they'd like to be the ones to bring those "different" kind of comics to fans, exciting the loyalists in new ways and creating new followers of sequential art.

But do you think anyone's ever wondered if they could do this by making an Asian man sound like a hip hop star and beat up Nazis, while trying to score with hot women?

If that sounds a bit too far fetched, look no further than the cult-hit "Gun Fu" from Axiom and the brainchild of Howard Shum, a man whose passion for creativity has led the aforementioned series to develop a strong fanbase. While fans have been treated to only one issue of the series, Shum revealed to CBR News that more "Gun Fu" is planned and offered more insight into the series for all comic book fans.

"The story takes place in 1936," Shum told CBR News. "It's about Cheng Bo Sen, a kung fu using and gun shooting Hong Kong cop who gets recruited by England to help fight the Nazis. He also speaks hip-hop, which no one seems to notice.

"The one-shot came out in November 2002. In that issue Cheng was sent on a mission by the Queen of England to stop the Nazis from building giant robot soldiers. The robots were designed by the beautiful yet evil Dr. Witt. Penciller Joey Mason and I are currently working on a follow-up miniseries."

The next question, from most fans, is obvious and Shum can't help but laugh when asked: what the heck inspired this series? "I thought it would be funny to have a Chinese guy in 1936 speaking hip-hop and kicking Nazi ass. It's just a combination of a bunch of stuff that I like (kung fu, Hong Kong action movies, hip-hop, B-movies, England). It was all easy to write since it was stuff I liked and already knew about. I didn't have to do any research for it."

A consistently praised aspect of "Gun Fu" is the entertaining dialogue, which is always witty, and demonstrates Shum's ability to avoid the all too easy trap of making BoSen's hip-hop speak sound more like a caricature of that culture, than a natural part of the character. One of the most popular scenes in the first issue involves an exchange between Bo Sen and a Nazi soldier, in which the hero of the story says, "Cracker, please. You'll be Satan's bitch before the day is over." When asked how he knows how to make the dialogue sound so natural, Shum says it's easy- just approach is naturally. "If the dialogue sounds funny or cool to me, I just go with it. I try not to over think it."

[Gun Fu Preview]That same approach is applied to the entire creative process behind "Gun Fu," as Shum says he doesn't worry about how people will perceive Bo Sen, since he's Asian, or what responsibility Shum has to make Bo Sen a "strong" Asian lead character. "I just want to create an entertaining book."

Shum also says that while he envisions an ending for Bo Sen and the "Gun Fu" mythos, don't expect to see it in print any time soon. "There will be more 'Gun Fu' stories. They will be either miniseries or one-shots. Not too long ago I was driving around and I saw the death of Cheng Bo Sen. Men like Cheng don't die of old age. I saw what he thinking and doing at his death. I saw the reactions of the Queen and Houseman. I almost broke down into tears (but I didn't since I'm a real man). Maybe I'll tell that story one day, maybe I won't. If I do, it won't be for quite a while."

But the success of "Gun Fu" isn't just due to the efforts of Shum, for he has a co-conspirator by the name of Joey Mason, whose work on the pencils of "Gun Fu" has drawn a lot of praise from fans. "Joey recently got out of jail on a work release program for hardened criminals," says Shum of how he found the artist. "He threatened to kill me if I didn't let him draw the book. I don't think he's right at all for the book, but I like living too much to argue.

"Either that or animator and friend Tom Bancroft (who also does a cool comic called 'Opposite Forces') introduced me to Joey a couple of years ago. When I was looking for a penciller, Tom reminded me of Joey. I think Joey has a cool unique style. He is also great with expressions and acting which few comic artists are good at. This works well with my style in that, I like telling stories with just visuals and dialogue. If you can see how someone is reacting there is no need for captions to explain it again. I think comics are too small for Joey. I think he'll be really big one day on a mainstream world level.

"Joey and I are working on a new 'Gun Fu' miniseries. It will come out this summer. Don't be surprised to see Gun Fu in other media as well."

Then there's also the famous Mike Wieringo, penciller of "Fantastic Four," whose been mentioned a lot in connection with "Gun Fu" and Shum jokingly reveals the artist's real plans, besides contributing art pieces to "GF." "Mike is a buddy of mine and did the alternate cover to 'Gun Fu #1' and was a consultant on my Most Beautiful Women article. I would like Mike to do more Gun Fu stuff, but as most of you have heard by now, Mike will soon be leaving comics and devoting all of his time and money on finding and killing Usama bin Laden. I wish him well."

Besides more "Gun Fu," Shum says that he plans some other work in comics too, which he notes can always be found at www.howardshum.com. "I'm inking various 'Simpsons' comics for Bongo. Joey and I will be doing art for an upcoming 'Star Wars Tales' story. I'm also planning on doing a new book with Ed Clayton (Dr. Grave).

"Thanks to the fans for buying 'Gun Fu.' I will be going off to write and direct feature films soon, but I will always keep my foot in the door of comics. I hope to have your continued support while I work with my true love -- film."

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