Comics: Keu Cha on Hex: The Lost Tribe

Building a better Beauty and Beast...

By , Columnist

I first met Keu Cha about a decade ago, just after he accepted his first major assignment, penciling Witchblade for Top Cow. I still remember being blown away by his highly detailed, stylish approach to that character and her world. As is typical, he moved on from there, taking on one plum assignment after another, including J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars. He always turned out work of the highest caliber even while expanding his reach, eventually working on Marvel ComicsHulk monthly during one of that title’s more important runs of recent vintage. And then…

He basically disappeared, having decided to take a break from making comics to pursue other opportunities, which he discusses briefly below.

Still, creating comics is a hard habit to break, especially if—like Keu—you’re a storyteller at heart. So it came as no real surprise when I ran across him at the 2011 edition of the New York Comic Con. Nor was it much of a shock to discover that he’d continued developing as an artist. But what did come as a very pleasant surprise was that, even while working full time elsewhere, he’d been quietly creating his own series.

Now, after several more years spent carefully building the foundations of both his own fictional world and imprint, and launching a Kickstarter campaign, he’s ready to share his remarkable vision with the rest of us. And I’ve got to say that, regardless of whether you were a hard core fan of Keu’s past work, or you are someone who’s about to encounter his work for the first time, you’re in for a real treat.

And one hell of a ride.

What’s your elevator pitch for Hex: The Lost Tribe?

If you like Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, you'll love Hex.

Here's the synopsis: A dying kingdom on the brink of destruction by an army of deathless warriors. Their fate lies in the hands of a princess who seeks the aid of a mysterious warrior tribe. Can they save her people or will they be her undoing?

So who are the main characters, and what’s their world like?

Lana, princess of the last kingdom of men, has lived a pampered, sheltered life but she has visions of the impending doom and believes she can make a difference. Ruyn is the savage beast with a sad story of his own who she will encounter on her journey to save her people—is he the beast in her dreams and is he friend or foe?

There is a lot more to it that I can’t reveal. 

I know that this series has a rich backstory, and it’s obvious that a lot of thought has gone into not only the characters, but also the various cultures and factions that comprise this universe. All of which leads me to wonder when this idea first presented itself to you, how you developed that initial concept into this complex world, and who else might have been involved in that process?

I don't know how to answer this without giving away too much of the story or confusing you with details. Yes, I've put a lot of thought behind it and I’ve had help from friends and family, with special thanks to Jeremy Shepherd whom I’ve bounced many ideas off on, and to my writers for their input and stringing my ideas together.

Were there any moments of real surprise as you developed the book? And how much, really, has it veered from what you originally envisioned?

I never felt like it has veered, but it has grown bigger.

What’s been the most difficult aspect of making Hex a reality? What kind of major hurdles did you have to overcome, or might be still dealing with, to make this all happen?

Putting Hex together has been difficult to say the least. Both my brother Harry and I have learned a lot from managing this project—from going to the shows all the way down to the daily grind of keeping in contact with people and making sure Hex stays on people’s minds. What's going to make Hex a reality is, first and foremost, just getting the books done. A lot of that is on my plate and there have been many times where I just wanted to quit. But this is my baby and I have to make sure what gets put out is something I will be proud of. We've learned a lot, and I feel confident with the support we have from fans and our friends in the industry that we are in a good place to get this series going and the story told.

Well, you’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to support publishing Hex. Why go that route, rather than take it to a major imprint?

I wanted to start with Kickstarter as a means to self-publishing. Any business requires seed money and self-publishing is no different. Kickstarter is great way to get that capital and to also test the viability of the book In essence, I have been pre-selling the books and the interest from people has been very motivating so far.

There are a lot of reasons to stay independent. One of the main reasons is that not only will I learn how to create a property, I'll learn the business end of it, too. For me, I enjoy these types of challenges even though they can drive me crazy.

Now, is this an ongoing series, something that’s open-ended and you could see yourself working on for the rest of your life, or is it a story that has a definite beginning, middle and an end already laid down?

There is a beginning, middle, and ending, but I hope that it'll go for a long time. If I can work on Hex for the rest of my life, I'd be happy. It's my passion and nothing short of it.

What’s your approach to creating the books? Do you start off with a full script, then thumbnail everything out before creating the finished the pages, or is it all a bit looser than that? And who else has been helping you make this all a reality on the creative side?

As of now, I'm plotting out the story and drawing out the pages, and my writer helps me put the right words to the pages. She is an amazing talent who likes to remain anonymous. I really dig her writing style and sensibility, and we seem to work well together in this fashion.

Finding the right creative team is a challenge. I will admit going through many different talented people—writers, inkers, colorists, and in production—and I appreciate each and every one one of them who have had a hand this project. Finding the talent is not the problem—it’s finding people you can work with, and right now I have a team in place that I’m very comfortable with the direction we’re going.

I know that, despite achieving some real success in the industry, you eventually stepped away from comics for a few years. So, what were you doing during that time and what drew you back to comics?

I left comics to work in the exciting commercial design/advertising world, creating art for movie posters, video games and packaging, but there is nothing like creating art for yourself. A creator-owned comic book is my calling.

Did you learn any important lessons while working on those projects, and how are those lessons reflected in your new work?

I got the chance to get away from drawing and on to Photoshop and 3D modeling. That certainly expanded my skill set, but what I really took away from that experience is the daily grind of working with different, artistic-minded people, see their creative process under pressure, and learning to communicate my ideas, both verbally and visually. It was a tough experience—artistry takes a backseat to marketability in that field—but I think I walked away a more well-rounded person and artist for it.

What does making comics do for you that you can’t get elsewhere?

It may sound weird coming from someone who spends a lot of time holed up in his studio, but I really enjoy the people aspect of comics. As much as artists won’t admit to having egos, we all do. When we create we put a piece of our soul into it, and people’s responses do matter, whether we intended to stir a negative or positive response from them. I love comics for the freedom it allows me in creating a fantastic world that can engage readers of all backgrounds, and the connection I can have with these readers, whether through the Internet or in person when I meet them at shows.

How about working on Hex? What does working on your own creation provide that you don’t necessarily get from working on other properties?

Hex is my baby, these are my characters. I get to create the story and journey for them instead of following someone else’s journey.

What do you hope that your readers get from your work, generally, and from Hex, specifically?

I want readers to be entertained, and I want to wow them with my art. I hope the readers will be both.

Anything else you’d like to add before I let you get back to work?

Thank you, Bill. I count you as one of the nicest, most genuine folks I’ve met these past two years. Again, meeting people I otherwise would not have if I stayed in a cubicle drawing, creating for other people.  

To everyone else, if you haven’t already pledged, please get the Kickstarter exclusive first issue before the campaign’s over. We really want to get to our stretch goals and be able to give away our second issue to our Kickstarter pledgers.

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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