ECCC Dark Horse covers
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

If Friday was “Fight Night” at Emerald City Comic Con, Dark Horse Comics came out swinging with news of a return: the return of Comics' Greatest World kung-fu star, King Tiger. Fans attending the “Dark Horse Builds Characters” panel heard from one of the leading independent comic publishers about life off the mainstream, creator-owned rights, and more. This included some surprise announcements regarding new titles coming out later in 2015 including Randy Stradley and Doug Wheatley’s King Tiger #1.

Randy Stradley took some time to talk with Newsarama about his upcoming comic with artist and collaborator, Doug Wheatley, whom he worked with extensive on Dark Horse's Star Wars titles.

Newsarama: Randy, for readers unfamiliar with yourself and the rest of the team on King Tiger #1, where might we know you and Doug Wheatley?

Randy Stradley: After working together on a couple of issues of Star Wars: Republic, Doug and I, discovering we enjoyed working together, collaborated on the majority of the run of Star Wars: Dark Times (2006–2013). Moving from the Star Wars galaxy to a story set in present-day America has been an adjustment, but mostly a positive one. For one thing, visual reference is easy to come by, and it’s freeing to be able to use real human characters and modern terms and references in telling the story.

We have a great colorist in Rain Beredo. He really knows how to bring out the best in Doug’s highly detailed work without burying it in color rendering, and he’s brilliant at contrasting the real world with the magical events in the story.

Michael Heisler has become my personal go-to guy for lettering. He and I share the same set of aesthetics when it comes to lettering, and the same dour, dry sense of humor.

Last, but not least, I have to give credit to editor Chris Warner. I’ve known Chris forever, but I think this is the first time he has edited anything I’ve written—and it may be the first time in my career where I really feel like somebody was holding my feet to the fire to get it right. And I know Doug has really appreciated the artistic and storytelling insights given by Chris (who is a great writer and an amazing artist in his own right).

Nrama: Can you give us a little background as to who this King Tiger is? The art depicts a mystic warrior, dark magic, and a dragon, so I assume we’re moving into a fantasy genre, but some of the same art also suggests it will be set somewhere around the present day. What else can you tell us?

Stradley: Tiger is an Asian sorcerer and martial artist who lives somewhere in the mountains of Nevada, and who protects our world from bad things magical and demonic with the help of his girlfriend Rikki Neal, and his assistant Milo Sturges (I say “assistant,” but Milo is really more of a caddy for Tiger’s wide assortment of arcane weapons).

In Tiger’s world, magic must always be performed in conjunction with some physical component—the writing of a mystical symbol, connecting with a punch or a kick, or the shedding of blood—so it takes us out of the realm of “gesturing hypnotically” or shouting spells. Sorcery is more visceral, up close, and usually more painful. The martial arts go hand in hand with the magic.

Tiger’s background was always something of a mystery, and in his first incarnation years ago, we didn’t have an opportunity to delve into it. But this new series will reveal much about Tiger’s origins, the man he was raised to be—and the man he has since become. New readers needn’t be concerned that they’ve missed anything from those early appearances as this is a kind of reboot of the character.

Nrama: In the world of indie publishing, we’re living in a Golden Age for readers in terms of the embarrassment of riches when it comes to choice of reading material. On the other hand, this poses a real challenge for creators to command readers’ attention. How does King Tiger stand out from the pack?

Stradley: Well, first and foremost, I’d say Doug’s art makes the biggest difference if you’re comparing King Tiger to other books on the stands. There are only a handful of artists today whose work includes the amount of detail and draftsmanship that Doug routinely puts into his. But Doug doesn’t just include detail for detail’s sake. Everything he chooses to include in a panel says something about the characters; how you should think of them, how you should feel about them. I’m so proud to be working with Doug, I could really go on for pages about him.

But the other thing about King Tiger that sets it apart from most of the action-adventure fare in comics is that we have something to say about life, people, and the human condition. Sure, there’s lots of action in the story—kung fu, swordplay, and that sort of thing. And there’s magic, and there are demons, and there’s wholesale death and destruction. But at its heart, this is a love story—about how love can change you and save you, even from yourself.

Working on this has been enlightening for me. Most of the guys who have seen it have the same reactions: “Cool scene, and that monster is great.” But every time I’ve mentioned the theme of the story to a woman, whether they’re comics readers or not, their eyes light up and their interest piques. When I tell them that the character is a “kung fu sorcerer,” they’re like “Uh-huh, that’s nice.” But when I get beyond the genre trappings to what the story is really about, all of the sudden they’re interested. We’re talking about some marketing events that will push the love story angle, which I hope will get potential readers to look at the series as more than just another actioner. It’s not exactly the story I set out to write, but after struggling with the outline for a month, that’s the story it became—and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Nrama: When can readers get copies of this first issue? Are we looking at a mini-series or will this be a new ongoing with Dark Horse?

Stradley: The first issue goes on sale August 12. Right now it is scheduled only as a four-issue story, but I know Doug and I would love to do more. And, because I can’t stop myself from thinking of them, I already have ideas for a couple of other stories . . .

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