YAO, baby! Andy Kuhn on the challenges of the 'Young Ancient One'

The journey of the "Young Ancient One" has not always been easy, but what adventure is worth anything without challenge?

Back in May of this year CBR News told you about a new project coming from the minds of former CBR contributor Rob Worley and artist Andy Kuhn. It was "Young Ancient One" from Marvel's new Epic imprint, a line envisioned to be a place where Marvel could publish creator-owned work as well as publish work from those individuals new to the comics publishing game. Originally "Young Ancient One" was to be a three-issue mini-series, but a lot has changed since May.

As has been widely reported, the Epic line has been shuttered and the three remaining series that were set to be published are now being offered in "Epic Anthology," a 72 page anthology book that will collect not only "Young Ancient One," but also "Strange Magic" by Jason Henderson and Greg Scott as well as "Sleepwalker" by Robert Kirkman and Khary Randolph. This volume will be available in February of 2004 and is being offered at a cover price of $5.99 (not $7.99 as had been initially reported by Diamond) and there's no guarantee of a second issue, yet. More on that later.

So while there've been some major changes to publication, the first issue is set to hit comic stands in just a few short months and CBR News caught up with "Young Ancient One" artist Andy Kuhn to get his perspective on the series and the events that have occurred since he signed on.

"It's basically the story of the Ancient One from Doctor Strange," Kuhn said when describing the series for CBR News, "set in 15th century China when he was just a little 20 year old Kung Fu ass kicker and the story that sets him on the path to magic and becoming the wise ancient one that he is now."

Kuhn and Worley were hooked up together by veteran writer Keith Giffen. Giffen and Kuhn had worked together previously on DC's "Lobo Unbound." At the time Kuhn was looking for work and jumped at the chance to work with Worley. "[Keith] sent me the script and I thought it was really good! So, I called up Rob, talked with him, he talked to Stephanie Moore, our editor, and she said it was okay. I really didn't have to go through any approval process like some other people did. He had already sold the idea to them and I just kinda came in the back door."

Kuhn's been drawing comics for 10 years now, but as he admits has "never really been on a hit book." His work has included "Marvel Adventures" for Marvel, "Digimon" for Dark Horse, a "Young Justice" one-shot for DC Comics, written by Chuck Dixon, and of course "Firebreather" with Phil Hester for Image Comics. While his name may not be a household one, some with Kuhn's experience may not choose to work with a first time writer, but the decision to join the cast of "Young Ancient One" was both to lend his artistic talents to a story he was impressed by and pragmatic.

"At the time I was having trouble getting work so I was really happy to have the job," said Kuhn. "On top of that, I thought it was a really good script. I thought, 'Man, this is a cool story!' When [Phil Hester and I] did 'Firebreather' we didn't really take the world by storm. We sort of made about jack-squat on that. Got a ton of good response on it and Image is going to put out a trade in the summer of next year, but it sort of got me into a financial hole. It was a situation where I needed the work and on top of that it was a good script."

Kuhn joined "Young Ancient One" after the full three issues had been written by Worley and approved by Marvel, so there was not much concern about working with a first-time writer since he'd seen the finished product already. "There were some things he did that first time writers tend to do, in so far as too much dialogue in some spots where you tend to crowd the image. When you're doing a comic book it's not like writing a movie script. You really have to consider that every word you write is going to be a space on the page that if you put too much on there will really crowd the pictures. We had some discussions about things he could do better in the future, but I really think he's a great writer. I'm very impressed with the script."

When Kuhn was working on the first issue he had some suggestions for changes that resulted in his doing a bit of extra work. "That was totally me just being anal," admitted Kuhn. "[Rob] had written it as a 22 page comic and there were a couple of spots where I felt that if you were to let it breathe a little more, it's going to read better, so I basically just did two extra pages on my own dime just to make it a better comic."

While the working relationship between Worley and Kuhn has been positive, the changes in format have been a disappointment for Kuhn. "Well, I don't think anyone is very happy about it. That's [Marvel's] perogative. The word we've gotten is don't start on issue #2 until we get sales figures back for issue #1 to see whether there's going to even be an issue #2. I really hope people are interested in it enough to pick it up. In all honesty, I don't know anything about the other two stories, they sound pretty interesting, but I can vouch for our book. I think it's really good and I think if people pick it up they'll be interested enough to buy the second and third issue.

"[Marvel] said they felt that none of the books were really 'hooky' enough to sell on their own, so they felt like they'd sell it on the Epic name. I don't know. I question that decision, but I'm not running a comic company, they are, so I don't know."

So while Kuhn isn't working on future chapters of the "Young Ancient One" story yet, he is finding multiple ways of keeping himself busy.

"Right now I'm doing a five-issue thing for IDW Publishing called 'Common Foe' which is written by Keith [Giffen]. It's kind of a World War II horror story. The first issue of that is not coming out until October of next year, so if we do have an issue #2 and 3 [of 'Young Ancient One'] I'll be able to do them, but until further notice I'm just in limbo as far as what's going to happen with this book.

"Plus, I'm going to be starting a 'Firebreather' one-shot that will be coming out from Image around the same time as the [aforementioned] trade."

Outside of comics, Kuhn's other love is music. He plays bass in the band The Fuglees, based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. Recently Kuhn moved from Indianapolis to Albuquerque, New Mexico to live with his fiancée, but couldn't quit the band. "Because I love playing too much!" He's a frequent flyer commuter now with the band, where every six or eight weeks he'll book a pack of shows, go to Indianapolis and play, then come back home. The grind is tough, but it's not without its rewards. "It can be, but it's awful fun playing the rock for the kids."

"We just released our second CD which is called 'Indiana.' We've actually gotten some national air play on a show called 'Bob and Tom' which is a kind of morning zoo type show that's nationally syndicated. Gotten a ton of good responses and have been selling a bunch of records. We're trying to make the leap to the next level and get a major label to sign us. We've had a little interest and we're getting airplay in Indianapolis on shows outside of 'Bob and Tom.'"

For those interested in seeing Kuhn play live, The Fuglees will be playing at the Patio in Indianapolis on New Years Eve and there's a series of gigs to follow in the weeks thereafter. More information about the band, as well as samples of their music, can be found on their Web site, www.thefuglees.com. For the kids out there, Kuhn warns "We tend to drop the F Bomb a little bit!"

Getting back to "Young Ancient One," well, sort of, we finished our chat by asking who would win in a Kung Fu match-up between Worley and Kuhn. Kuhn was quite certain of the outcome. "Clearly I would win! Because, I would el-kabong him with my bass! That's all I'd need!"

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