Struggles And Journeys: Greg Pak On Building The World Of ‘Kingsway West’ [Interview]
After years of working on characters like Superman and the Hulk, writer Greg Pak is finally launching his first-ever creator-owned series through Dark Horse, alongside Mirko Colak, Wil Quintana, and Simon Bowland. Kingsway West is the story of a gunslinger and a mysterious swordswoman making their way across an Old West dominated by the new discovery of magic. It's an intriguing project, and one that promises a big adventure right from the start, complete with a man riding a gigantic jackalope right there on the page.
To find out more, I spoke to Pak about why he decided to do a Western, his plans to make the book easy for readers to find at their local comic shops, and his influences, both fictional and historical.
ComicsAlliance: Unless I've missed something, Kingsway West is your first Western. What was it that attracted you to the genre?
Greg Pak: I grew up in Texas and always loved Westerns --- along with all kinds of other outdoor adventure stories, like Lord of the Rings-y fantasy. I was a Boy Scout and spent a ton of time outdoors, in the woods as a kid, so those kinds of stories always felt vital and real to me. I also love Westerns in particular because of the way they grapple with America's conception of itself in such a big way.
CA: How so?
GP: A lot of Westerns are about individuals trying to make their way through a lawless, violent world. There's a huge romanticization of that individualism, which is enormously attractive... but the stories themselves also tend to critique it. That individual hero in a Western so often sacrifices for a community that the hero then isn't able to participate in at the end of the story. There's a lot going on there.
CA: Did I just get you to accidentally spoil the end of Kingsway for us?
GP: Wait, what?! I said nothing! Actually, I just spoiled Shane and High Noon. Wait, spoiler alert!
CA: Beyond those, are there any particular Westerns you looked to for inspiration on this project? I imagine there aren't a whole lot that throw in magic, but was there anything that had the feel you were going for?
GP: There's no one Western or other story that serves as a direct inspiration for the story, but there are countless Westerns that have made a big impression on me over the years. I'm a huge fan of the westerns Anthony Mann made with Jimmy Stewart, like Naked Spur and Bend in the River. Those pictures are pretty compact, small scale stories, but they deal with huge emotional arcs for the heroes and heroines. They're really, intensely personal, which I love.
Kingsway West is definitely in that tradition --- a Western with enormous heart and emotional drive. I also love, love, love outdoor fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Princess Mononoke. That kind of expansive world-building is enormously attractive to me --- it's the kind of thing I absolutely loved doing in Planet Hulk back in the day, and Kingsway West definitely involves that kind of huge world-building.
CA: On the subject of world-building, how did you approach the idea of magic in the Old West? We've seen a few stories that involve that recently, like Sixth Gun, but you've said before that you've been kicking this idea around for a while.
GP: I love the way the magic elements are working to support the emotional throughline and the history and politics of the world of Kingsway West. It's a very concrete way of imagining the magic --- the discovery of magic in this world has shifted the country's economic and political centers, destabilized the entire society.
Our story takes place in the middle of all that disruption, when demagogues are scapegoating the Chinese in the Americas for the spread of magic. In the real history of the Old West, certain demagogues demonized Chinese immigrants. Anti-Chinese laws were passed and there were multiple atrocities and massacres against Chinese miners and workers. Telling this story in an alternate Old West overrun with magic gives us the chance to reimagine America... and maybe dream up a better past and future.
CA: Something that I've noticed in your work, especially recently in books like Action Comics, is that you seem like you're pushing to include more ideas of real-world injustices, particularly racism, into fantastic settings. That seems like it's a hard line to walk, making a story that's fun and entertaining that still deals with that very serious stuff without trivializing it. Is that something that comes naturally? Do you worry about it at all when you think about how it's going to be perceived by readers?
GP: I always think the key is a great diversity of storytelling --- even within diversity. I came up through independent film and made a ton of short films and a feature film, many of which featured Asian American protagonists. And I made a special effort to tell some stories that were very specifically not about traditionally defined Asian American issues. Like my short film Mouse, which was about a man trying to avoid a conversation about pregnancy with his girlfriend by chasing a mouse around the apartment. That was actually kind of remarkable at the time for being a film that starred Asian Americans but didn't mention race.
But Kingsway West is about a Chinese gunslinger in the Old West, and given that historical inspiration, race was always going to play out in the story. It all really depends on the story, on where that story wants and needs to go. To be even more specific, it all depends on the characters. The story only works because we care about our heroes and their struggles and journeys. That's the focus --- how these specific heroes succeed or fail in grappling with the specific challenges their world throws at them.
CA: You mentioned the idea that magic is a relatively new discovery in the world of Kingsway West, which gives me the idea that it could function as a metaphor for industrialization. Am I on the right track there?
GP: Yep, there's something like that percolating here. It'll play out in pretty surprising ways, though. Magic in this world is also magic. And there's always certain dangers in dealing with magic.
CA: Let's get into some plot specifics. Obviously, our main character is Kingsway Law, a gunslinger who just did a 13-year stint in prison.
GP: Yep. A wild man who came of age on a lawless frontier... but who's determined as hell to stay out of trouble now and find his wife.
CA: How wild are we talking here?
GP: Dangerous, unpredictable, legend-in-his-own-time wild?
CA: And there's also a "mysterious Chinese swordswoman" that we've heard about in earlier interviews.
GP: Yep. She's on the cover. Her name is Ah Toy. She's got a mission for Kingsway that might put everything he's dreamed about for 13 years into jeopardy.
CA: So there's magic, swords, guns, and what appears to be a Jackalope with a saddle. What else can we look forward to in terms of the story?
GP: Huge love story. Big action. Complex protagonists and antagonists, including a woman Buffalo Soldier turned scout named Strode. And an epic reimagining of America's past and future. And of course gorgeous, gorgeous art from Mirko Colak and colorist Wil Quintana.
CA: Beyond the story, one of the things that really grabbed my attention about Kingsway is that you set up a pre-order page that looks like it goes directly to retailers.
GP: Yeah, we're trying something new here. As you know, monthly comics live or die based on the number of pre-orders comic shops get from readers. This means that the very best thing you can do to support a book you like is to pre-order it. That way the comic shop knows there's interest and will order more copies, the publisher will print more copies, and the book has a better chance of sticking around.
But pre-ordering requires readers to take an additional step of reaching out to a comic book shop and actually requesting the book. That's not that hard to do, but in the internet age, if you can't do something in a few clicks, you're probably not going to do it. So I set up the pre-order site to try to make that pre-ordering process as easy as possible.
All you have to do is go to KingswayWest.com, indicate how many copies of the book you want, pick a nearby store where you'll pick it up, input your contact info, and click SUBMIT. There's no money up front --- you're just telling us that you'll buy the book from the store when it comes out. So we send that pre-order info to the store. And we contact you when the book comes out to remind you to go buy it.
CA: I checked and there aren't any comic shops near me that are options, so if there's a reader out there in that same situation, what would you recommend they do? Or has that ship sailed?
Kingsway West #1 comes out on November 11. Final orders are due from comic book shops on October 19, so be sure to pre-order it with your local shop before then! If you do mail order, you can pre-order it directly from places like TFAW.com and Midtown Comics.