Revenge of Kung Fool: The Long-Awaited HyungSun Interview
HyungSun Kim caught up with himself recently, and sat himself down for an intimate chat with HyungSun Kim. Now, for the first time, Comixpedia is proud to present to you the surprising findings that came from this no-holds barred interview. Who is HyungSun Kim? Well, as HyungSun Kim found out, HyungSun Kim is not at all what HyungSun Kim would have expected.
Disclaimer: Due to editorial discretion, this interview uses the Smurf It™ brand software to filter out all naughty words.
Comixpedia: Nice hat.
Kim: Thank you. Isn't it fab? I got it at pimphats.com. I do a lot of shopping there.
Comixpedia: Hmm... So, who are you and what are you doing here?
Kim: I'm H.S.Kim, I draw the webcomic, "Kung Fool!" and I'm being interviewed for Comixpedia.
Kim: I'm interviewing myself.
Comixpedia: Don't you think that's kind of sad?
Kim: A bit. But if I had to wait until I deserved to be interviewed... who the smurf knows how long that would take!
Comixpedia: What does H.S. stand for?
Kim: Harold Sinclair.
Comixpedia: No smurf, I thought you were Asian.. Korean, right?
Kim: Nah, the real real name's Kimberly Harold Sinclair. I'm a grad student in Berkeley with a lot time to kill.
Comixpedia:: Wow, quite the revelation! Why the pseudonym?
Kim: It's just an identity, you create them for the story, you create one for yourself; I don't think it's such a big deal.
Comixpedia: So who's the guy in all the pictures?
Kim: I don't know, I pick up the photos off the street.
Comixpedia: ...but... you don't think you're presenting a false impression of yourself?
Kim: Maybe, who cares? I draw a comic, I'm not running for Congress.
Comixpedia: Congress.. good one. Okay, then, back to the comic. What, when, and why?
Kim: It's a webcomic, that is a comic strip published on the Internet, as opposed to print. Kung Fool's been up since September 2001, and because... it's a comic...? What do you mean? Why the web or why the comic?
Kim: The web, because I don't have the money nor the will for effort for the horrible comic book market, let alone the newspapers. The comic... why not? I don't think it's necessary for there to be anything in particular, it's a comic and it exists, there should not-
Comixpedia: Yeah, yeah, gotcha. So what is the comic about and how did it get here?
Kim: Oh, the spiel. I had a deal to publish "Kung Fool" as a print comic. Not the current one, but the original action-comedy set in ancient China. Somewhere during the process I smurfed off the editor and the project was canceled. The publisher went bust a little later. The webcomic was first conceived as a weekly gag comic featuring the KF characters primarily to promote the print comic. With nothing left to lose, and experimenting with the then relatively new Macromedia Flash software, I went with the current "behind the scenes" story straight to the web
Comixpedia: And the story?
Kim: It's "about the behind the scenes look at the making of the cheesy TV show 'Kung Fool!' Featuring a fangirl, an HK stuntman, a pansy, and an... an angry kung fu chick." It's a sitcom, really. That is, the humor is derived from the situations and plot, rather then being gag-based. The Hong Kong stuntman is based on an scholar/ghostbuster from an Chinese folk tale, the kung fu chick is an old Martial Arts comic/movie stereotype transposed to a less hospitable modern setting, the fangirl is for all the crazy rabid merciless fangirls out there and the pansy is the bishonen boy toy every fangirl would want. You can see the CAST page for their info. That page also has HUGE pictures that are thousand+ pixels long, but are just ~25 KBs each. Flash is great for still pictures that way.
Since the comic is basically formatted for punchlines, Chen doesn't really have the room to do anything complicated and is mostly shunted off in the background. May has the inborn need to kick everyone's ass, but she has been sadly forced to live in the real world of monthly bills and traffic jams. The first two have the master/student thing along with possible romantic interest dynamic, while the latter has the symbiotic parasite/host or master/slave relationship along with the recently popular fag-hag thing going on. The two girls are roommates, friends more by the circumstance then willingness. May has been somewhat dependent on the more well-off Mi Sung for the rent, so it's not really an equal friendship, either. The two guys have their owns spheres of interest; Chen has his stunt crew, and Cavin lives a somewhat transient lifestyle… they don't interact much with each other.
Comixpedia: Cavin? Is that the correct spelling?
Kim: Yeah, it's really Kevin, but he spells it that way.
Comixpedia: He's the gay one, right? The one with the dude sex.
Comixpedia: What's up with that?
Kim: Well, he's suppose to be out of those Yaoi (along with Shonen Ai, a genre focusing on male homosexual love written by and for girls) comics that fangirls are so rabid about. It's considered pretty normal in Asia, but I like the political implications such a character has in the West. The gay thing is not an issue in the comic, per se. His role could be played by anybody, really. A few vocal people really like him, so he keeps on getting his "own" strips. It also freaks a lot of the boys who just want to stare at pretty Anime chicks all day. That in itself would be worth showing full anal intercourse.
Comixpedia: Is that why he's the only one to get laid in the comic?
Kim: No, he's the only one who doesn't directly affect the direction of the storyline. The main structure, the backbone, of the plot is this TV show they're making. The stunt guy and the Kung Fu chick's relationship is the tension keeping the vertebra taut, while the fangirl's shenanigans are the dollops of "Wacky™" activities that drive the punchlines through each strip. Cavin's the only free agent among them, the one who is able to do as he pleases, which pretty much defines the character as well. There're also fifteen or so supporting characters that come and go as needed.
Comixpedia: Just from those descriptions, you'd think this would make for a great comic, or at least a competent one. What happened?
Comixpedia: What went wrong?
Kim: Eh... Well I had this idea to use Macromedia Flash for its vector graphics as opposed to regular JPG, GIF, or PNG output format used by others. A lot of people are put off by it for one reason or another, but just for still images alone, a vector pic weighs in at only a small fraction of a bitmap image with none of the degradations of the compression process. And the story was written to be your traditional four-panel chop shop fare with art kept just above average. What I should have done, from a business sense, was one-a-day, everyday, and keep a consistent schedule, like Sluggy or PVP. But I got bored with the format and wanted a story that wasn't just a gag everyday, so I got ambitious, wanting to experiment with Flash's animation features and whatnot. So I did some "neat" strips in the beginning that not only had a lot of detail art-wise and really put in a lot of extra junk here and there.
Comixpedia: That sounds great. So?
Kim: Well the strips were taking 16-20 hours a piece! A lot of it was just trial and error, just learning to use the program, and I'm much more fluent in it now… but a lot of that time went in to setting up the animation effects. As anybody who's done it knows, all animations just suck up time like crazy. After about a month of this, I needed to get a job. I don't get paid for all this, after all. So the comic went off and on, I settled to doing sketches for a long while. Whenever I don't have time for the strip, there are gaps of weeks or months. I've only started back on the treadmill a month ago.
Comixpedia: And how is the comic doing now?
Kim: Well after the initial growth in the first five months, it's reached a plateau of around 3,000 unique visitors a day or around 9,000 hits, I think.
Comixpedia: You "think?" Don't you check?
Kim: I used to, a lot. In the beginning, it was great fun checking all those numbers coming back and forth. But after a while you don't care so much, especially since the numbers haven't changed much for nearly a year. Frankly, I can't get rid of my people – they come when there is a comic, they come when there isn't one. It's hilarious, really. It's the Internet. One click is good as any other; one click is the same distance to anywhere, everywhere… so why not check?
Comixpedia: You don't sound so happy, those seem like pretty good numbers.
Kim: Oh, they are. I suppose I would be in the top 10% out of all the thousands of webcomics out there, but I just need a lot more of them if I'm ever going to make a living out of webcomics. I'm stuck in the same plateau mentioned by Scott Kurtz in the "controversial" webcomic fallout rant.
Comixpedia: You think that's possible, making a living with the comic? Is that your aim?
Kim: Well it's definitely possible if you've got the fan base. I mean, it's just numbers. Only about 4% of the readers seem to donate or buy junk. All you have to do is increase that 4% either through incentives or increase it in the base readership. The question is can I make it, right? As for aim... well obviously, like any artist, I'd want to make a living out of my work... Maybe I've invested too much of my life into comics... into art. But time is running out. Rather, we're all up against a clock, a fixed time limit of our own making. I mean, I can't be doing this all my life, drawing comics all night, living off of part-time and freelance jobs, mooching off friends and family. It's sort of fun in your twenties, but just sad and pathetic in your thirties.. or even *shudder* forties!
Comixpedia: But aren't you seeking legitimization through other people's eyes?
Kim: No, just through my own. Well, yes. Well, not all of them. I just need to justify myself to some people, then I'll be fine.
Comixpedia: Hmm... some people?
Kim: Eh, change the subject.
Comixpedia: Why? Do you feel uncomfortable?
Kim: ...No, I just don't care to talk about my personal life.
Comixpedia: But a lot of webcomics make a show of integrating their personal lives, be it through blog-esque news posts or outright insertion into their own comics.
Kim: Well, I do show up couple of times in my comic, but in circumstances mostly unrelated to the characters or the plot itself. In many ways the comic is you. It is a product of your imagination, of your hands, so there aren't that many ways to get away from that fact. I do enjoy diary comics like American Elf (the online version of James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries), The Journal Comic, and even the more typical fare like Real Life, but I've never much cared for making myself a central figure, beside the odd commentary as the "Artist."
There is this style of of webcomics where you have a 600 pixels comic on top of the page followed by 3000 pixel length entry on whatever the hell the writer had for lunch and other such daily minutia. It's a weblog format that weds the particular strip to a particular posting and welds the identity of the comic with the creator in an entirely new way. And in many cases the characters are based on the creators, so you get to see what these guys did in the comic, then find out what they did in real life.
Comixpedia: You don't like it?
Kim: I don't use it.
Comixpedia: You don't "approve" of it?
Kim: Depends on the comic. Gag formats without continuity will probably do best with it, but the one who actually started that style and is also responsible for an entire wave of webcomics is, of course, Megatokyo. It's the...
Comixpedia: I thought you'd say Penny Arcade?
Kim: Well, they're more like an editorial cartoon for video games... yes, I guess, but what I'm talking about is...
Comixpedia: So are you involved with the webcomics community?
Kim: Look, I was going to talk about...
Comixpedia: SO ARE YOU INVOVLED WITH THE WEBCOMICS COMMUNITY?
Kim: Fine, fine… sure I guess. Well, not really. I don't know, does posting on the occasional message board count? I mean, which community?
Comixpedia: There's more then one?
Kim: Eh... far as I can see… off hand… let's see… there the newspaper comic strip folk, the anime/manga crowd, the video game people, the indy/alternative guys… the… Sprite comics, no… they would be part of the video game section… I guess that would encompass most of them one way or the other. Essentially everybody who doesn't draw muscle bound eunuchs in bright spandex punching each other has some rep in the webcomics world. Or you can divide it by genre. Fantasy, Sci Fi, Comedy, biographical, slice of life, or what ever subdivision you want to create, I guess. And then there are the online communities created for said purpose, like Keenspot, ModernTales, the various forums, or even Comixpedia. Oh, and then there's the fact that it is essentially made up of rejects/refugees from the print world and amateur hobbyists.
Comixpedia: But then what's the difference between professionals and amateurs?
Kim: Well before, there was this editor who decided whether you were good enough to get printed, whether they could make a profit off your work, whether it deserved to be seen. If you passed they gave you some money and you could call yourself a pro. I guess the web bypasses them and goes straight to your adoring public. But you're also off the company tit. Of course, not that comics ever paid. I mean, they NEVER paid.
Comixpedia: So what's the difference between professionals and amateurs now?
Kim: I don't know... usually there's some base level of quality, be it writing or drawing ability, to separate the wheat from the chaff… but then there're some great webcomics that would never make the cut in the print world and God knows there are some plenty of printed comics that are absolute smurf.
One big difference would be money, right? I mean, can you feed yourself with your art? If you can and call yourself a pro, I couldn't refute the claim. But then most cartoonists are working as graphic designers or illustrators… I don't know… call yourself a pro if you don't smurfing suck?
Comixpedia: Speaking of absolute smurf, what's up with this Anime thing? Aren't you tired of being such a poser or do you like being compared to Pokemon?
Kim: Yes, I enjoy being compared to Pokemon. Smurf off.
Comixpedia: Touchy. You will not deny your comic is usually categorized in to the Anime/manga section, do you?
Kim: No. It is what it is.
Comixpedia: Well then how do you reply to those who see you people as mindlessly licking Japan's smurfhole?
Kim: Well in my case it would be licking Korea's smurfhole. But since I'm already Korean, I guess I would be licking my own smurfhole.
Comixpedia: Do you enjoy it?
Kim: I wouldn't recommend it, you'll probably get E-coli poisoning from your own fecal matter. I did.
Comixpedia: Lovely, and the art style?
Kim: Who gives a smurf. I can draw people in two ways, naturalistic portraiture or in cartoons, just in my case I grew up with Korean/Japanese stuff, so that's what cartoons are to me. I think that developing your own style is a good thing to do and essential if you want to be recognized as an original artist, but really, who cares? If the Manga thing turns you on, by all means use it. God knows no one reads comics in the states, besides superhero geeks and about a fifty guys passing their xeroxed minis to each other. You really, REALLY cannot get any more marginal then comics. The real strength, the real difference comes in the story, the layout, and the content – not the superficial stylistic devices like the big eyes, small nose bullsmurf. Use it when it serves you and discard it when it doesn't.
Of course, you should also be prepared for some bashing. And let's face it, all lot of those deserve the bashing they get. Manga is comics for the people, Anime is merchandising for the geeks. I want to see comics created by you from you, not some half regurgitated bullsmurf ripped from a ten year old cartoon show aimed at little girls. You can start from there, of course, but make sure you don't end there ten years from now.
Comixpedia: And those who don't like the Asian invasion?
Kim: Smurf them. For fifty years, American culture's been shoved down the world's throat; now we can all shove trash down each other's gullets. Isn't progress amazing?
Comixpedia: If you could have a pet gorilla, what color would it be? Why?
Kim: That's dumb smurfing question, why the hell would you ask me that?
Comixpedia: Just trying something, OK?
Kim: Well, don't. Just ask the smurfing questions, OK, moron?
Comixpedia: Hey, no need to get personal.
Kim: Are we done? We sound like we're done.
Comixpedia: Ok, ok, any words of advice to aspiring webcomic authors?
Kim: Yeah, here some things a webcomic will not do for you:
One, it's not going to make you money, EVER. Two, it's not going to get you laid. Three, it's not going to make you famous, unless you count fame as getting random e-mails in l33t telling you to draw some more ("OMG, LOL!!!") at three in the morning Four, it's NEVER gonna make you money!!! If you're down with that, start drawing.
Unless you actually want to draw comics for the rest of your life, keep it light, keep it simple. And quit when it gets boring, 'cause it will. Quit when it gets to be a drudging chore, 'cause it will.
And finally, quit your whining, OK? No one cares.
Comixpedia: Well that was nice, you got any friends left?
Kim: Smurf you.
Comixpedia: You get a lot of mail?
Kim: Not particularly, here and there, about one every two days, a lot when there's some brew-ha-ha. Something eventful on the strip, of something I said somewhere.
Comixpedia: So you answer it?
Kim: Most of the time, but sometimes I get backed up and a lot goes unanswered, though I do read all of them
Comixpedia: I hear you're bit of a smurfhole. In your writing, I mean.
Kim: Well, usually I'm cordial, but occasionally I go ranting on an issue or somebody.
Comixpedia: I mean, you get personal, insults and such.
Kim: Ok, I've not particularly proud of some of it, but yeah, I do. I find it funny, from a spectator point of view. You know, razzle, dazzle.
Comixpedia: Even though such actions would automatically lessen your argument, to the point you come off as a bully?
Kim: Eh... Look, most arguments usually come down to fundamental differences in thinking based on long seated principles welded to your ego a long time ago. I'm not saying people can't change, nor that working compromise is not possible in the REAL world. I'm just saying that "debates" on the internet almost always end up, thread after thread, board after board, with the two parties agreeing to disagree or a boring flame war. It becomes an ego thing sooner or later. I try to cut the BS, go straight to the flames and make it at least entertaining for the readers.
Comixpedia: And if they don't find it entertaining, but just childish?
Kim: ...I don't know... they can just smurf off, I guess... You know the saying, "Arguing on the Internet is like competing in the Special Olympics, even if you win, you're still a retard." Something like that.
Comixpedia: But haven't you considered that you might be alienating a large chuck of the audience, those who have come for the decidedly non-political comic, with such behavior?
Kim: You're right, if I wanted the biggest audience possible, I SHOULD do that. But I can't stand to think like that. I despise the hesitation that comes with thinking you're beholden to your audience, that you should edit yourself for fear of offending some people. That's main reason I've failed so much as a commercial artist. I don't care and I don't think I SHOULD care.
Like the current war on Iraq, most people probably don't have any particular feelings about it. They don't like war, but since it's begun, they just wish it to end and go away. But if you do feel strongly about it one way another, I think you should say so, regardless of what anyone might say. And you'd be a spineless coward for keeping quiet, or a good businessman, same difference, I guess.
Comixpedia: And those who don't mind your view, even shared them, who get offended by your personal antics?
Kim: I don't know... And frankly I don't care. What am I going to do, chase down IP numbers and ask them to come back? It's free, it's out there, they'll come if they want, they won't if they don't. That's about it.
Comixpedia: You could be nicer, more cordial.
Kim: I am, not all the time!
Comixpedia: You know, simple manners..
Kim: Smurf off.
Comixpedia: Well, isn't that just smurfy. We're coming down the line, do you actually know Kung Fu?
Kim: Instead of taking Tae Kwan Do like every other Korean, my brother and I took "Shao-lin Kung Fu." We got up to brown belt, then moved away to the other side of town. I can DRAW me kicking ANYBODY'S ass.
Comixpedia: Really, does the belt mean anything?
Kim: No, the belt doesn't mean squat. You stay there long enough and if you're not a total slob, you'll make whatever belt you want to. Me, only way I could win a fight would be to sit on 'em repeatedly.
Comixpedia: Final question, are you really a girl?
Kim: As I am an honest and true, God fearing Christian, I'd never lie.