I'll be the first to admit I am covering Kagan McLeod's Infinite Kung Fu a tad bit later than most, considering it was released in the middle of last year, and already included in numerous best of lists for 2011 (including our anniversary edition of What Are You Reading). But considering that the 464-page action/adventure romp took 10 years to complete, I think McLeod demands some coverage longer than the average book release. To get an idea of the scale and ambition of the story, his publisher, Top Shelf, was kind enough to offer sample pages of the book over at Top Shelf 2.0. McLeod is a unique creator, and his work is worth considering from several different angles. So once you're done with this interview, please be sure to check out his own website, as well as Alex Deuben's June 2011 CBR interview with McLeod. Back to this interview, though, his final answer requests audience participation, so please be sure to contribute in the comments section.
Tim O'Shea: The Toronto launch party for your book was a mixture of book discussion and music. Did you listen to music while you work, or is that too distracting for you?
Kagan McLeod: No, I always listen to music or audiobooks while working. Not during planning stages, but after I know what I have to do, I can just sail through it while listening to something. It's the constant urge to check emails which is distracting.
O'Shea: How much revision/trial & error did it take for you to choreograph the fight scenes in the book?
McLeod: I did a few pages of thumbnails for the climax early on, and by the time I got to that part of the book I basically couldn't understand them anymore because they were so rough. So I picked out the few bits that looked interesting and legible, and just went at it again. The fighting wasn't really hard, it was fun to choreograph. The hard part was keeping track of the 3 or 4 things that were happening at the same time in the story.
O'Shea: Which compliment shocked, flummoxed or otherwise left you speechless the most, the one from Warren Ellis or the one from Geof Darrow?
McLeod: Warren Ellis linked to the Top Shelf preview on his website, so that generated a lot of interest just before the book was going to come out. So we sheepishly asked him for a quote (I was happy to hear he called the book glorious and deranged). Geof just sent me an email saying he was a fan — and I had to email him back asking “are you THE Geof Darrow?” He’s way into kung fu and had lots of stuff to recommend to me.
O'Shea: This is a project that's been 10 years in the making. You are also a husband and a father (to two daughters). Was there ever a time when you almost walked away from this project. And who would you say was more relieved to see the book done and published, you or your wife?
McLeod: The project didn't cause any real stress at home because it was always on the back burner, which is why it took the 10 years. I was always putting money-making work first. There’s a good chance now for the book to make some decent money, but there was always a chance it could flop too, and I don't like to gamble too much. There were lots of times when I figured I was 'over it', interested in other things — but it only took a few minutes to get back into the project when I was working on it. It was a fun one. But having the weight of something seemingly endless and unfinished off my shoulders is great.
O'Shea: Given that it was a project you started so long ago and then set aside for a number of years, how much revision did the more seasoned veteran want to do on your younger self's pages?
McLeod: I could have done a lot more than I did, which was basically re-ink 150 pages. There were a few drawings that I felt were too bad and had to be redrawn and a lots that I thought were bad, but at least a pass. I definitely learned not to be too precious with my work, otherwise no one would ever see it. I didn't touch the story, having self-published the first part. For some reason I felt that made it set in stone. And of course it was easier to just roll with it.
O'Shea: How many kung fu movies have you seen over the years, and can you name your three favorite films of that genre?
McLeod: That’s a good question, I don't know. So many of the bad ones just blend together. Probably not as many as you’d think. About 100?
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a good entry point for someone new to old school stuff. I also love Shaolin Intruders and Master of the Flying Guillotine are some of my favourites too. Boxer’s Omen isn't really a kung fu film, but is great for really wacky and bizarre not-for-the-squeamish horror.
O'Shea: When CBR reviewed the book, Chad Nevett praised the breadth of characters (). How challenging was it to realize the characters so fully in your story?
McLeod: The number of characters was the main difficulty. Originally I had planned on each of the 8 Immortals giving a kung fu lesson, but realized there were 5 villains to deal with too, so ended up focusing on just a few of each. Some people have criticized the meandering subplots but I see them as little bonus stories strengthening the main one.
Sticking with the Chinese names for the 8 Immortals definitely added to the difficulty. If they all had nicknames like Iron Crutch Li (traditionally Lǐ Tiěguǎi) it would be a little easier to remember who's who.
O'Shea: Your next project (as detailed in this CBR interview) is " about the Spanish conquest of Mexico"? Are you going to try to give yourself a hard deadline on this project, or do you expect you will need to do other projects, while still working on it--making a deadline quite challenging to set?
McLeod: Good question. I've already blown my deadline for starting the book, so that's a bad sign. But I'm keeping my eye on digital possibilities, which might really help with meeting deadlines since readers will demand it. I'll have to get a good chunk of pages finished before anything. I'm fearful of the sophomore jinx, but also excited with the amount of praise for Infinite Kung Fu because I know I can do better.
O'Shea: Anything you would like to ask Robot 6 readers?
McLeod: Oh man, I have so many questions regarding that last answer. Mainly whether to put the new project online for free, for sale, or wait and publish a book. It's a doozy, so it might be too long a wait without going online first. Things like Kickstarter are encouraging (not that I would use it) but that fans are still willing to pay for stuff they like. It’s also encouraging that people are still buying books which collect material already online. That’s the argument for making it free, but who knows where we'll be in a few years when the project I'm thinking of is ready for print. I would love to hear your thoughts.