With superheroes gracing television screens and movie theaters worldwide, comic books have become relevant again in the cultural landscape. That kind of exposure might be great for well known characters like Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman, but there is a whole world of independent comics that are still being ignored by the masses. Fortunately for fans of the offbeat adventures of the indie landscape, there are writers and artists like Kagan McLeod who still carry the torch of creativity and imagination in a somewhat stagnant medium.
McLeod’s first comic offering, Infinite Kung Fu, is a book for fans of Bruce Lee movies, zombies, ancient Chinese mythology, and any other off-the-wall genre you can think of. Taking place in a world that is ruled by some ruthless kung fu masters, Lei Kung, a soldier in one of the masters' armies, becomes disillusioned by their cruelty and looks for enlightenment elsewhere. He soon discovers that he has been personally chosen to end the tyrannical rule of the masters. What follows is a supernatural tale featuring tons of action, mythology, and the undead!
This a comic for people who look for more than some super powers and useless continuity from their reading material. Put out by Top Shelf Productions, Infinite Kung Fu brings a style that separates it from the rest of the funny books that line book store shelves across the country and lifts comics out of the overly serious rut that the medium has been stuck in for nearly a decade.
Complex recently caught up with Kagan to discuss everything from the state of the comic industry to reading graphic novels about paying for hookers and what rappers he currently listens to.
Interview by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)
Complex: So where did you exactly get the inspiration for Infinite Kung Fu?
Kagan McLeod: Well I started doing kung fu comics as soon as I discovered the Shaw Brothers kung fu movies, basically. That was when I was 17 or 18, and I found Master Killer, which was the first one. I had a few Bruce Lee movies before that, but that one sent me down a whole new path and I started drawing that kind of stuff back then.
The book has a great look. What were the more modern influences for it? Did you look at movies like Kill Bill or Tarantino type movies as well?
Well, I certainly like that stuff, but I started working on Infinite Kung Fu before those movies had come out. I always read Lone Wolf and Cub, the manga. As far as the look, are you talking about movies?
Yeah. What inspired the different armors and costumes, that look?
I think a lot of the ‘80s and ‘90s Chinese movies have that kind of stuff, and when you see the older movies they’re just more simple like robes and Mandarin jackets and things like that.
Yeah, like the Akira Kurosawa movies.
Yeah, I liked The Emperor And The Assassin or Crouching Tiger, too. Those ones had more period costumes.
What comics did you read growing up?
Mainly Marvel for me; Spider-Man mostly. At the same time, around 18 or 19, I branched out into things besides Marvel and DC, and found some more alternative comics like Ghost World by Dan Clowes and comics by Chris Ware. But I always kind of liked something in between, which is not so much superheroes in Spandex, but more action than those kinds of alternative comics where it’s usually something biographical. I still like the genre stuff.
Infinite Kung Fu is a huge hardcover book. How long is it exactly?
And you said you were working on it before Kill Bill came out. When was this idea first planned?
2000. I put out issue number one. It’s the same drawings that are in the collection, but I went over them and inked them again just to kind of match my current drawing style a little bit better because back then I did things a little more digitally. So the old stuff is still there underneath, but I reworked it.
At first I printed 300 copies of it and sold it around town in Toronto, and then after that I went through a distributor and published 3,000 of the same issue. I went through seven issues like that, which is about 250 pages of the book, but after that it started to get to be too hard to do on my own. That’s when Top Shelf came around and we worked on something to finish it up.
You see a lot of creators and artists go to a mainstream publisher, but they always wind up back at a smaller comic company after a while. What are the advantages of working at a smaller place like Top Shelf?
Yeah, I never really had any ambition to work for one of the bigger ones, other than for money, really. For the creator-owned stuff, you want to have complete freedom. And Top Shelf gave me so much freedom, even the freedom to spend five years on the book. Basically it’s totally your own and they edit the copy. They didn’t have many notes on the story or anything like that. So I can say that it’s all me, which is cool. And I like starting from scratch too.
Yeah, you’re not anchored to a pre-existing world that you have to follow.
Yeah, and I think that with Top Shelf we can work together with what happens with the property down the line, whereas I’m sure it’s a lot different with the larger companies in terms of the licensing and things like that.
There are a lot of creators that work in comics now solely to option a comic to become a movie. What do you think about making a comic with the sole purpose to turn it into a blockbuster, as opposed to just creating something that readers would like?
It’s always in the back of your mind like “What if this happens” or “What if this is a way to make big bucks,” or something like that. But the truth is that things get optioned and then they fizzle. It takes a long time in Hollywood for things to actually happen.
I feel it’s better to just focus on making good stuff and definitely not count on anything like that happening. That’s when you probably make bad work, or do things to please other people rather than doing something that you really want. A fan can probably smell that a mile away.
It’s noticeable when they do that.
Especially with this being my first book, a lot of people will ask “What’s next?” So I’ll have to be careful not to shit something out next or it will look like that.
What comics do you read currently? Are there any series out right now that you feel people should be picking up?
Yeah, one of my friends, Sam Hiti, from Minneapolis, does a comic called Death Day. The first volume just came out and he’s currently doing a second one and that’s really cool and it’s worth picking up. It’s only available through him; he hasn’t even gone through a distributor yet, so he’s got a whole new philosophy on selling it. It’s good stuff.
I’m also following illustrator Nathan Fox’s work too. He’s done a comic which was published in Heavy Metal called Fluorescent Black, which is really cool. I also picked up Chester Brown’s comic Paying For It; he's a fellow Toronto artist. It's a comic about his experience paying for hookers for the last 10 years. [Laughs.] That was kind of just for fun. Nathan Fox and Sam are kind of more my type of story, like action based.
Do you think the whole medium now has gotten too hung up on this trend of realistic, gritty superhero stories? Because that’s not at all what Infinite Kung Fu is about, and that’s what is getting it noticed so much.
It’s tricky. I do agree with you that some of those companies might be going about it in a weird way where you see a superhero swear or deal with rape or heavy things like that, whereas that’s not something fluffy like it used to be. And that seems to be catering more towards 40 year olds who are still reading comics, and have been since they were kids and are now more mature.
They do that rather than focus on getting kids into it, but I don’t know, maybe kids are interested in that sort of stuff. But I think there is a place for that kind of stuff, for sure. It’s like anything: The mainstream is one thing, but then there is underground and alternative kind of stuff, which is more charming in ways because they don’t have the full color or glossy pages or anything like that. But it’s got a whole different type of energy.