Veteran comic writer Greg Pak is no stranger to world-building; just take a look at what he did with Planet Hulk or even his indie series Code Monkey Save World. Perhaps this is why, when it came time to craft his tale of a Chinese gunslinger, he didn’t settle for merely introducing a new, diverse character, but instead establishing a brand new mythology.
After fighting for the Chinese Queen in the 13-year-war with the Mexican-controlled República de los Californios over the magical red gold, Kingsway Law wants nothing more than to live a life of peace with his wife Sonia. But, when a new reserve of red gold is discovered, Kingsway is dragged back into the fold by a mysterious sword-wielding stranger and his search to find his kidnapped wife.
With Kingsway West set to launch with the release of the first issue on August 24, Greg joined us for an interview to discuss the genesis of the series, how his collaborators helped build the aesthetics of this world, and what to expect for the future of this grand epic.
BROKEN FRONTIER: The story of a Chinese gunslinger in the Old West seems like such a nice corrective to the under-representation of the enormous Chinese presence and influence on the western frontier in U.S. history. Were you ever tempted to write this story as a true-to-life historical fiction rather than historical revisionism?
GREG PAK: Yes! As a matter of fact, back in the 1990s, I wrote three different feature-length screenplays featuring Chinese gunslingers in the Old West that were totally historically accurate and totally straight Westerns. I loved those stories — in particular the screenplay called Rio Chino that won a couple of awards in 2002. But as I worked on thinking about how the story could work in comics, I realized I had the chance to go a bit bigger and wilder.
Some of the most fun I’d ever had in comics was building entire worlds like we did in Planet Hulk back in the day. So when my editor Jim Gibbons at Dark Horse asked if there was some other element I might be able to bring to this Chinese gunslinger story I’d brought him, I found myself thinking about shifting this world a few ticks into fantasy.
At some point I just found myself thinking about all the different kinds of outdoor adventure stories I loved as a kid — which included both Westerns and big fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings. And I realized how similar these genres were and how fantastical elements could let me bring out the deeper themes of Kingsway West in really great, evocative, and visually fun ways.
The first issue is set after a 13-year-war between the Chinese Empire and the República de los Californios. What made this the right point in time to start the story place rather than during the war?
There’s definitely a story (or a dozen stories!) that could be told during that war. But I always thought of this story being about a man who’s given up on violence and who’s dedicated himself to creating a life of peace with his wife. That scenario depends on the character having fought through that terrible war and struggled to put it in his past. So starting the story after the war made the most sense. It’s also the really interesting place where the different empires and communities in this world are poised for anything — it’s a high stakes moment where anything could happen, which is great for the story.
In the first issue we meet characters who are Chinese, Mexican (Kingsway’s wife Sonia), and even some Yankees, but there’s still one group noticeably missing from this tale of the old west; Native Americans. Will they eventually make their presence felt in this story?
Yep! I don’t want to reveal too much for fear of spoilers, but one of the glories and challenges of doing a story like this is exploring all the different communities in the Old West in surprising and non-stereotypical ways. We’ll reveal more in issue #2 about what’s going on with certain Native American communities in this world and have some big payoffs in issues #3 and #4. And if we’re able to do a second and third volume, I have a big story in mind that will build on what we’re setting up here.
Your collaborator, artist Mirko Colak, seems like a perfect fit for this series. His ability to capture Kingsway’s expressions (whether he’s speaking or silent) adds so much to his character development. How did you end up working with Mirko on this project and how involved has he been in the design of this world and its characters?
Mirko and I worked together on the Red Skull Incarnate book for Marvel and the Turok book for Dynamite. I’ve loved his art and knew he’d nail the gritty, real-world feel of the book. And then when the story shifted and we ended up including the fantasy elements, he hit the ball out of the park with tremendous designs and ideas. We’ve worked hand and hand every step of the way — he’s just amazing and brings so much to making these characters and this world feel so real. And we should tip our hats here to colorist Wil Quintana as well, who’s doing an amazing job making everything feel so real and atmospheric — and making the fantastical elements really sing. And my old collaborator Simon Bowland as always is bringing just the right touch with the lettering.
Recently you’ve been involved with Marvel’s attempt to add diversity to their lineup by writing The Totally Awesome Hulk starring Amadeus Cho. Why was it important to you to continue bringing this level of diversity to independent projects as well as at a major publisher?
It’s just the way I’ve always seen these stories. The diversity of the world I live in becomes part of the worlds I create. It’s just good, honest storytelling. And in a time when Asian Americans are still routinely excluded from so much mainstream storytelling, it’s always been a mission for me to get this particular story out there the way I’ve always seen it in my head. For all those reasons, I’m so happy this book is finally getting out there and hugely grateful to everyone who’s supported it.
Kingsway West marks the first time you’ve had a creator-owned project published by someone else. What was it about this project or the timing that made it a good fit at Dark Horse Comics?
Editor Jim Gibbons was the critical reason this book ended up at Dark Horse. Jim just totally “got” the project — and asked all the right questions to push me to the next level. I’m always going to be grateful for that. Now Spencer Cushing’s taken over as editor, and he’s been phenomenal, taking the time to talk through some big story changes with me as the book developed and always helping us hit that next stage in making the book as good as it can be. Creatively, I’ve hugely benefitted from these smart, insightful editors. Thank you, guys!
The overarching story of Kingsway West seems to be so epic, it’s hard to picture it fitting into a four issue series. Are there plans to do more with this concept beyond the four issues?
I would absolutely love that. It’ll depend on sales. So if you like what you see, please do pre-order and spread the word — KingswayWest.com has a handy pre-order form, or just ask your local shop to order the books for you! Thank you so much for the consideration!