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Constructing the New “King City”

by  in Comic News Comment
Constructing the New “King City”

Catmasters abound in “King City”

In the introduction for “King City” #7, writer and artist Brandon Graham recounts a time when he was standing over the edge of a rooftop wondering what it would be like to throw his own feces at a convertible on the streets below. “I think if you discovered something like that in your car, you would have to reassess your life – who you have wronged, and why anyone would want to do that to you,” he reasoned.

“On a basic caveman level, there’s a joy in a thing coming from you, going somewhere far outside of you,” Graham elaborated in his introduction. “I wonder if that sort of urge is connected to the want to get your creative work out into the world. Look, I made this. Throwing my shit out there.”

Graham is giving the world a creative work considerably less foul than car-bound feces with “King City,” his surreal series about a city filled with catmasters, brain thievery, alien slave girls and many other bizarre happenings. As part of a partnership with Image Comics, TOKYOPOP has rereleased the original six issues of “King City” to the public in single-issue format, with the first entirely brand new wave of issues kicking off last month in “King City” #7. The series is currently planned to end with the twelfth issue.

CBR News spoke with Graham and TOKYOPOP editor Troy Lewter about the new era of “King City,” how the book and characters have evolved since the original run of issues and Graham’s plans for the future of the series.

CBR News: The introduction for “King City” #7 featured a thoughtful anecdote about, well, shit. It’s a hilarious story, but also has some meaningful ties with where you’re at in “King City,” in the sense that you are back at the edge of the proverbial building on the cusp of throwing your creative work out into the world. With that in mind, how do you feel about the new wave of “King City” comics we’re in store for – did the shit stick the landing?

Brandon Graham: With the new, new stuff in “King City” #7 out, I really feel like I’ve thrown it and haven’t stopped running to see what it hit yet. This week, I’ve been deep in a side job to fund my comic book lifestyle, so I’ve barely been home to check my email. But yeah, I am thrilled to have the new issues starting to come out. I’m really happy with the work. And from what I’ve seen, there’s been a nice response to it. I’ve been drawing comics longer than I can remember and it’s crazy that people are reading and reacting to them now. Not that it’s blown up huge or anything, but just doing my own work and having it connect to other people has been really awesome.

What has changed about the way you work on “King City” now as opposed to back in 2007? How has the time affected your approach?

Graham: I definitely draw a little differently now. I think I try to put down less lines in the art that don’t mean anything, but at the same time, with my writing, I’m all about putting nonsense into a comic just for shits and giggles.

It’s been important to me to give each page as long as it takes and just enjoy the drawing of it. I usually draw on 11″ x 17″ paper, but sometimes lately I’ll draw on larger paper if there’s something I really want to give space and detail. I really want to push myself and see how much fun I can have with each scene, but at the same time, I think it’s important to forgive yourself if something isn’t perfect.

Similarly, as you began to rerelease the first six issues of “King City” through Image, did looking back at the old material help you with pushing forward? What was the value in going over the initial issues of “King City” in terms of propelling you forward with new material?

Graham: It was cool to be able to do the covers and extras for the early issues. I always have to reread whatever I’m working on anyway to keep the thing going in the right direction, but it was really ideal to get it out in the issue format. That’s how I want my stuff to be read.

Troy, what’s your take on how “King City” has evolved from where Brandon left off in 2007 to the new material he’s currently putting out? How do you think his approach has changed in that time?

Troy Lewter: First off, let me say something that may sound like canned editor speak, but I really mean it – I am a fan of “King City” first, editor second. It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege working with Brandon on the manga series and the TOKYOPOP/Image comic.

As far as evolution from the volume one manga content to the brand new pages debuting in the comic, one goal we both shared was to try and give the characters in the story tangible story arcs. That’s not to say arcs weren’t present in issues #1 – 6 in volume one of the original manga, but I felt Brandon had set up some potentially cool pay-offs for each of the characters in those issues, so I wanted to make sure we took advantage of story opportunities already there. But that in itself is tricky, because one of the big charms of “King City” to me is the fact that it feels so organic and free flowing and isn’t hindered by the “typical” trappings of storytelling. The story sneaks up on you all ninja-like between scenes of flaming cat ass and weird autopsies. Okay, the fire didn’t actually come from the cat’s ass, but it totally should have.

I’m really happy with the choices Brandon made, and I think if anything, people may be surprised at the quite touching emotional story arcs for the characters – you know, between flaming feline ass! I think Brandon’s writing and his art have evolved since the start. All great creators never stop learning; Brandon is a keen world observer, so his new life experiences no doubt are reflected in the new content.

On the tenth page of “King City” #7 – the first brand new issue – we see that this is officially kicking off “King City 2.” What drove you to the decision to delineate between the older “King City” issues and the new round in such a distinct, categorical way?

Lewter: Brandon had his own artistic reasons for delineating in terms of chapter numbering and art design, but from the editorial perspective, it made sense that all the content that was already in production for volume two when the comic deal with Image was made would be treated thusly – in that chapters started at one, etcetera – as they would have if published as a manga, and not as a comic first.

I also thought that it was important that fans old and new know exactly where the older content ends and the new content begins. In terms of the story, there’s a bit of a jump forward in time, and the characters are in a different place in their lives, so I consider issues #7 – 12 almost a brand new storyline.

Graham: Like Troy said, a lot of it was just that - when the stuff that went into “King City” #7 was drawn, it was still planned as 180-page books. Plus, I like the idea of it being a new thing. In my head, it’s bigger than just the same old “King City.”

Like the first issue of “King City,” issue #7 saw Joe on a Cat Master mission, and while the book’s trademark bizarreness certainly ensues, this mission felt a bit darker and more serious than the one seen in the very first issue of the series. Is that the mood you were going for in this sequence, almost a mirror of the first issue?

Graham: Yeah, it is going off the first issue. I wanted to show how the same kind of events that Joe was doing look now that he’s been back for a while. Set a different scene and show the passage of time and also see how I would go about the same basic set up now that I had drawn a fair chunk of “King City” and knew it better.

Lewter: Brandon and I had many discussions about where the plot could go for the new material, and I thought it was important that the characters evolve from where they were in the first six issues. In real life, bad things happen to us and it forever changes who we are. In the case of “King City,” I thought it was important to show the characters reacting to the ramifications of the decisions made in issues #1 – 6. To keep the characters interesting and fresh, you have to take them down dangerous alleys.

This may be an overused analogy, but you can maybe think of the first six issues as “Star Wars,” and issues #7 – 12 as the “King City” version of “The Empire Strikes Back,” but with some flaming cat ass on the side.

How do you both feel that the characters of “King City” have evolved since the earlier issues, from folks like Pete and Beebay to Joe himself?

Lewter: Pete is interesting, as he made a decision regarding the alien slave girl in issues #1 – 6 that he’s still trying to come to terms with. Even though Joe and Pete are friends, Joe is much more a man of action, where Pete is less sure of himself. This difference really becomes apparent later on in the story.

Beebay is a great character, as she represents the sexy, dangerous vixen you’d find in a good crime noir mystery. In Joe’s case, she uses her sexuality to control him. But I also think she may be the smartest character in the story, as she’s always thinking three steps ahead of everyone else – which is why she’s the Owl Gang boss, I would assume. She’s Joe’s drug of choice, and seeing how their relationship plays out is really interesting.

Graham: I guess, in a way, both Pete and Beebay want to make things better but are going about it in completely different ways. Pete feels bad after he had to turn over the alien girl to the Raquet Club - he really wants to fix that. He’s a good dude going through a rough time.

Beebay is cold and will do whatever it takes to save King City from the Demon King monster – “Never trust a big butt and a smile.” It’s been really fun to play off the idea that even if someone’s goals are good, you still might not like them or want to help them.

Lewter: With Joe, he’s at a real low point in his life in “King City” #1. In the first issue, he seemed more confident, and though he was still stinging over his break-up with Anna, at least he was playing by his own rules. But in issue #7, you see he’s fallen in a “relationship” of sorts with Beebay, who is very controlling and flat-out using Joe. But he’s going with the flow, even if the relationship is poisonous. I think we’ve all been in similar relationships while we figure out what the next step is - though I doubt any of us were ordered by our booty call buddy to steal the brains out of a girl’s head!

Not to give anything away, but to me, Joe’s arc is really about not just him dealing with his feelings for Anna, but him growing up as well. All the characters – from Joe to Pete to Max to Anna – are all forced to make really tough decisions in the new issues. And as you know, you can learn the most about characters when they face the darkest times.

Graham: Joe is a little more settled in by issue #7 – or at least I think he thinks he is. He’s a fun character to make comics about. Some of this stuff gets so autobiographical; it can be hard to look at objectively.

One of the fun elements of “King City” beyond the story is the interactivity of the comic book itself, such as cutout covers for readers to mess around with. Can we expect to see more of that kind of thing going forward?

Graham: There’s a lot of that sort of thing! There’s a board game in one issue and a connect-the-dots that shows the aura of a statue. I grew up with a lot of cool, experimental comics around. I was always really excited by that kind of stuff. I remember an old Matt Howarth time travel short story that was made so you could fold it into a Moebius loop so that it would read in one never-ending loop. There’s just so much that can be done with words and pictures - it’s wide open.

Lewter: Brandon never ceases to amaze me with his creativity in this regard, and he’s really making the most of the comic installment format. I often joke that one of the main reasons I wanted to do the comics was that it gives Brandon an excuse to draw the kick-ass covers and bonus content, but what it really does is make the comics fun. You read so many comics and magazines in your lifetime that you can sometimes forget how fun they used to be as a kid. I loved “MAD Magazine” because it was loaded with coolness even in the page margins. I think Brandon is totally harnessing the spirit of that with the “King City” comics.

Brandon, how far ahead are you on “King City” right now, and what can you tease about some of the plans you have in store for readers?

Graham: I’m so close to done with issue #12 that I can taste it. That will be the book’s last issue.

I’m not really one to withhold what I’m planning on a comic - I think with my stuff, it’s less about what I’m planning to show and more about how I show it. Plus, I’m the kind of asshole who asks about the ends of movies that I haven’t seen. Some of the most exciting parts of the series for me are an extraterrestrial brothel ran by a glass pimp named Mr. Pimpossible and a bunch of new catmasters come into the story. I had three friends of mine design the new catmasters so they would hopefully feel like they came from outside what I normally do.

I hope there can be more “King City” after these 12 issues, but with the rights tied up, it’s a little up in the air. Past “King City,” I’m excited about how many kinds of stories there are to tell. Next, I’m doing a full-color Russian werewolf fantasy science fiction epic called “Multiple Warheads” about a girl who smuggles magical organs, her boyfriend with a wolf’s penis and their car that is slowly transformed from a machine into a living thing. Lots of big comic plans!

From the end of the old releases to the beginning of the new issues and everything else in between, do you guys have anything more to add about “King City?”

Lewter: There really is nothing like it on shelves. Every page begs you to look deeper and discover all the cool details and funny asides Brandon has packed on every page. At its heart, “King City” has always been a series that is more for the comic book reading crowd, so now that it’s in a format more natural to it, it’s almost like a brand new property – and it’s definitely a brand new reading experience!

Graham: Man, I can type year round about “King City” and how much it’s changed my outlook and my life. Now that I’ve gotten some readers’ attention, I’m excited to see how far I can push myself in comics. It’s an amazing medium and small enough that you can ideally just make fun books for the sake of them being fun. I mean, why waste your time with anything else? I’m feeling good about the future. It’s wide open, and we seem to be getting even more diverse creators and work showing up.

“King City” is written and illustrated by Brandon Graham and released through a partnership between TOKYOPOP and Image Comics. “King City” #8 is in comic book stores now and the next issue hits on June 9, 2010.

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