Can’t get enough kung fu action? This July, Top Shelf won’t just bring you kung fu…it’ll bring you Infinite Kung Fu. The fan-favorite indy series by writer-artist Kagan McLeod is collected and completed in a 464-page volume where the honorable Lei Kung must wander a post-apocalyptic Earth battling the ruthless forces of zombies, with friends and foes blurring as the action escalates.
To repeat: 464 pages of battling post-apocalyptic zombies with kung fu. We’re just going to let that sink in.
If you want to get a taste of this hot kung fu action, there’s some previews on Top Shelf’s website – and we talked to McLeod himself, whose work you’ve probably seen in Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly and countless other “mainstream” magazines. But for this creator, nothing beats beating zombies with kung fu. Get a taste of the infinite kung fu action awaiting you in our interview below.
Newsarama: Kagan, I remember when you started this story around 2002-2003 or so. How's it feel to have it done, with nearly 500 pages of kung fu action?
Kagan McLeod: It’s like when a kung fu teacher puts really heavy weights on your legs and arms, and makes you climb the stairs of a temple all day. Now that the weights are off, it’s like I have superhuman jumping power.
There was a lot of time during those years where I wasn’t even working on the project; I was either busy with illustration work or sucked into a sad spree of Call of Duty. But to have the looming cloud over my head disappear feels great.
Nrama: What was the biggest challenge in putting this story together? I'm particularly curious about the difficulties inherent in depicting the motion and action of martial arts in the inherently static medium of comics.
McLeod: I think the biggest challenge was the scope of it all. There are lots of characters and to get to know any of them, you’ve got to give them each some “screen time.”
Whittling down the story to something coherent and actually doable within a few years was the hard part. Part of the reason it takes so long too, is that I try to slow down to show a few panels that follow through with a key movement, especially for the kung fu.A BIFF-BANG-POW fight scene with a bunch of unrelated panels with punches and kicks probably wouldn't work for a story like this. I think, particularly at the end, I did an okay job showing enough moves that you could feel like you’re watching the whole sequence.
Nrama: Top Shelf is best known for highfalutin' books about relationships and adorable owls and stuff. How'd they let your zombie-killin' martial artists through the door?
McLeod: Ha! I had given Brett from Top Shelf a few of the original issues at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival and eventually won him over. They make some great-lookin' books, I’ll be happy to finally see mine amongst them (even if I turn out to have the highest quotient of blood and guts).
Nrama: Now, you've got a pretty sweet essay on kung fu flicks in the back, which our readers won't get to see until they pick up the book. Fans of martial arts movies are a discriminating bunch. Prove your mad cred by sharing your kung fu...um, fu.
McLeod: Some people may be disappointed I didn’t include any movie reviews in this collection like I did in the independent run. I thought it would be too incomplete to just review a handful of films in the back of the complete edition of the story. So yeah, I opted for a 6-page kung fu history lesson going back to Bodidharma, the founder of it all.
What’s so interesting is the history of kung fu itself is largely the subject matter for my favorite kung fu movies. Because the historical events are so shoddily documented, oral traditions are all that are available for much of the good stuff.The movies then are basically extensions of those traditions, with plots based on the burning of the Shaolin Temple, Manchu oppression, folk heroes Wong Fei Hong and Fong Sai Yuk, or the rift between Shaolin and Wu Tang. So, without the fictionalized, half-legendary movie versions of these stories, lots of people like me would have never learned them.
I still plan to post movie reviews on the Infinite Kung Fu website, to steer anyone interested in the right direction!
Nrama: For that matter, what are some of your all-time favoritest kung fu comics? Singing the praises of the deadly hands of Shang Chi will win you points aplenty.
McLeod: I never really read any Shang Chi, Iron Fist or Richard Dragon comics (whoops)! I don’t know, I’m really picky about comics. I loved Buddha by Osamu Tezuka, if that counts. Lone Wolf & Cub gets my all-time top honors for everything. Way of the Rat definitely had the right flavor.One thing I’ll mention here is the only wuxia novel I’ve read so far — The Deer & the Cauldron by Louis Cha. I can’t recommend it enough if you like martial arts stories. Most people I’ve lent my copies to have trouble getting past the long intro, but it really picks up after that, I swear! I’d love to illustrate it some day.
Nrama: Tell us a little about your process for writing and drawing this story.
McLeod: I used a technique I learned in grade 11 English for writing — putting all my plot points on index cards and shuffling them into the order that worked best. Once the order is set, it’s a matter of making each plot point come out in the most interesting mini-story I can think of. Then I write a script based on all of that, and break that down into individual pages once it’s done.
For drawing, I just do quick thumbnail sketches for each page, then tighter pencils for each panel. I compose it all in Photoshop and print the pencils out, to trace with a lightbox in ink.
Nrama: Do you have a favorite character to write/draw? Come on, you can tell us.
McLeod: Hmm, I don’t know. I did a Star Wars story for Dark Horse once and that was pretty fun. I think the real fun is in doing your own stuff, though. If there are characters I’d like to draw they’re probably historical, and are involved in stories with lots of action.
Nrama: What's the most interesting reaction you've had to this material so far?
McLeod: Definitely from the folks at Danger Room Comics in Olympia, Washington. They flew me out for a festival they put on, with Joe Sacco and Shannon Wheeler as their other special guests. They did a musical number on stage at the local theatre, acting out scenes from Infinite Kung Fu. Doesn't get much more flattering than that!
The comic also gave me a reason to meet with Gordon Liu, Carter Wong, Sammo Hung and David Carradine (on separate occasions).
Nrama: What is, in your opinion, the most badassedest of martial arts movies?
McLeod: Master of the Flying Guillotine might be my favorite. Shaolin Executioner and Shaolin Intruders are up there too!
Nrama: Okay, you wanna sell this thing? Time for the full-on retail assault. Sell the crap out of this to our readers.
McLeod: Okay, hmmm. I'm going to list off some elements of the story and if they are at all intriguing to you, then you should enjoy the book!
Secret kung fu manuals?
EVIL kung fu manuals?
A chamber of brutal beasts?
Mechanical Shaolin Bronzemen?
Corpse control, by way of chi?
The Way of the Regenerating Limb?
Nrama: What's next for you?
McLeod: I want to do a graphic novel of the Conquest of Mexico! So many great characters and epic battles, there's just no pictures to go with the story... yet!
Get some Infinite Kung Fu fighting from Top Shelf this July.