SDCC EXCLUSIVE: Pak Merges Magic with the Old West in "Kingsway West"

Writer Greg Pak, artist Mirko Colak and colorist Wil Quintana head out to the Wild West this November for a new, ongoing Dark Horse Comics series. "Kingsway West" tells the story of Chinese gunslinger Kingsway Law who, upon release from prison, tries to track down his missing wife. But this is no ordinary Wild West, and he's faced not only with the grit and racism of the era, but with the threat of magic as well. It's an explosive mix of guns, magic and fantasy, as genres clash and Kingsway deals out justice the only way he can: hard.

As part of the launch later this year, Pak will also be debuting a new system for pre-ordering comics which he hopes becomes a true game-changer for the pre-order system as a whole. CBR News spoke exclusively with the writer to learn more about his plans to change the pre-order system, and to get an even more firm idea of just what kind of a series this will be.

CBR News: Who is Kingsway Law?

Greg Pak: Kingsway Law is a Chinese gunslinger fresh out of prison, searching for his wife in an Old West overrun by magic. This is a story I've been dreaming about for literally two decades in one form or another, and artist Mirko Colak and colorist Wil Quintana are breathing such life into the characters and story I can barely contain myself. Please do pre-order the book today at www.KingswayWest.com -- it's gonna be a blast!

There's an idealized version of the West from film, but the reality was a lot dirtier, harder, and with continual social upheaval. What kind of a Wild West does he live in?

I grew up as a half-Korean kid in Texas who spent a ton of time in the woods as a Boy Scout, and I've always loved Westerns. That fantasy of an individual making his or her way through a vast frontier just took hold of me from a very young age -- it's probably also behind my early love of "Dungeons and Dragons" and "Lord of the Rings."

But when it comes to Westerns, I think all the lights really came on when I learned about the diversity of the West -- the Chinese miners and railroad workers, the Buffalo Soldiers, the Native Americans, the vaqueros and Californios. America has always been astoundingly diverse. Much of the actual history of the West is driven by terrible conflicts among those groups, of course. And yet the American Dream I grew up with says we all belong. So the idea of telling diverse stories exploring those kinds of characters and themes in the Old West has been under my skin since childhood.

So the Old West of "Kingsway West" reflects all of the social, economic and racial conflicts and tensions of the actual Old West -- but it's also a world in which magic rather than technology drives much of the upheaval. The whole scenario gives us a chance to think about the actual West in a new way -- and maybe imagine entirely new ways for America to be born.

And, of course, it's about heroes following their hearts as they make their way through a vast and dangerous frontier.

How does fantasy and magic fit into your vision of the West? Does it lean hard into the gunslinger genre?

I think there are some big similarities between Westerns and epic fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings. Maybe that partly comes from the high-stakes feeling of outdoor living. This may sound overblown, but when you're cut loose in the natural world without electricity and electronics, you're vulnerable in a way that can bring out all kinds of primal, even mythic feelings and emotions. Magic somehow becomes a great fit under those circumstances. It just makes emotional sense. It's been a total blast figuring out how magic works in the world and how it ties into our themes and emotional story -- can't wait for y'all to see it!

Western times usually mean Western standards, for better or poorer. As a Chinese-American, how does the West react to Kingsway -- and how does that affect the way he treats the Wild West?

I don't want to spoil too much, but in real life, Chinese immigrants in the Old West were subjected to a series of persecutions culminating in massacres in places like Hells Canyon, Rock Springs and Los Angeles. When Kingsway leaves prison, he discovers that the Chinese have been scapegoated, blamed for the changes sweeping over the frontier. A prison guard named Strode recommends Kingsway head East, where Chinese are tolerated a little better. But his wife's in the West...

What's his attitude towards this world of magic, gunslinging and fantasy?

Kingsway is a wild man who's spent 13 years in prison trying to be better. He just wants to be reunited with his wife. And he knows from hard experience that if you mess with magic, you get into big trouble. His one big rule for himself as he leaves prison is to stay out of trouble. But the temptations of this world of magic -- and the arrival of folks in need -- may pull him in exactly the wrong direction.

When did you first start on the series? Was it something you've always had in mind -- and was it something you always had Mirko Colak in mind for as collaborator?

I've wanted to tell a story with a Chinese gunslinger in the Old West since 1993 or so -- the year I started film school at NYU. I wrote three different screenplays featuring Chinese gunslingers in the Old West and even won an IFP screenwriting competition for one of them, "Rio Chino." After I became a comics writer, the story and character wouldn't let me go. I did a couple of "Rio Chino" stories for the "Outlaw Territory" comics anthologies with the great artists Ian Kim and Sean Chen, and one of my long-term dreams was always to launch a series featuring the character.

In the meantime, I worked with Mirko on "Red Skull Incarnate" and fell in love with his art. He was hungry to try a creator-owned series and loved the idea of a Western. So we started talking, and eventually took the project to Dark Horse. Everything finally came together when Jim Gibbons, our Dark Horse editor, looked at the pitch and basically said this is awesome -- but it seems like there's another level it could go to. And he was totally right. I'd basically pitched a comic book version of the independent movie screenplay I'd written years ago. And that's a beautiful, small story. But this is a comic book. We could literally do anything.

And after mulling it over, I came up with the idea of an Old West overrun with magic. Opening up the story to allow for that kind of wild genre fun let all of the deep emotional themes in the story take on more visual drama and resonance. And it's let me cut loose with the kind of world-building I love, with each new detail in this wild world helping bring out the emotional storyline.

You've had a long working relationship with Mirko, artist here as well as on "Red Skull: Incarnate" and "Turok." What is it about working with him which has clicked so well for you both?

Sometimes you realize a certain kind of project just resonates with an artist in just the right way. Mirko and I bonded over "Red Skull Incarnate" -- he brought such a feeling of subtle dread to those pages. And in "Turok," he showed how he could cut loose with an outdoor storyline. When we brought this idea of magic to "Kingsway West," he just exploded. I've always loved his art, but these pages are just above and beyond. He's feeling this whole thing on such a deep level, making every character moment entirely real and every magic moment completely mind-bending. I couldn't be happier.

We hear you're going to be giving a new pre-order system a trial run for the series -- what exactly have you planned, here?

I've set up a website where readers can pre-order the book for pickup at a nearby comic shop! Please do check it out -- www.KingswayWest.com -- and pre-order today! All you have to do is indicate how many books you want, pick a nearby comics shop from the drop-down list, put in your contact info, and click the SUBMIT button! We'll send your order to the shop and email you a reminder when the book actually arrives. And then you'll pick up the book at the shop and pay them directly.

So why pre-order? Because monthly comic books live or die based on how many books retailers order from the publisher. So if you want to support a comic book, the very best thing you can do is pre-order it with your local shop and encourage your friends to do the same. When a retailer gets pre-orders, he or she knows there's a real demand for the book and can order accordingly. And folks like me get to keep making the books and folks like you get to keep reading them!

When you pre-order at www.KingswayWest.com, you also have the option to join a mailing list where you'll get exclusive sneak peeks of art and other goodies.

And if you're a retailer who'd like to be added to that pre-order page, please do ping us at twitter.com/kingswaywest and we'll hook you up!

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