Pulp Representation

By Bobby Okinaka

There was once a time when in order to qualify as a comic book character you had to have a super power. Not only did you need the strength of ten men or the ability to see through walls, you were probably an all-American male with bulging biceps. Today, a comic book character can be any color, literally.

Beyond Time Comics presents "Black Tiger" Courtesy of Beyond Time Comics

At the recent Comi-con, the largest comic book convention in the United States, the old school super heroes were still in their protective plastic bags tucked away in a corner of the San Diego Convention Center while the real action took place on the main floor. Comic books fans were busy hunting down action figures and collectibles more than seeking autographs from artists and checking out the latest video games based on super heroes rather than debating who would win in a battle between Superman and the Hulk. Even modern day big screen heroine, Angelina Jolie, made an appearance to promote the summer release of the Tomb Raider sequel. The convention represented what is happening in the comic book industry; it's more about selling a commercial franchise than selling ink on pulp paper.

Hong Kong dectective Cheng Bo Sen battles bad guys in "Gun Fu." Courtesy of Howard Shum

In another part of the convention hall, young, independent artists were lined up along long rows of tables displaying their self-published comic books. Howard Shum from Indianapolis, Indiana currently earns his paycheck as an inker for the Simpsons comic book. He traveled all the way west to introduce his own comic titled "Gun Fu" that he started last November. "Gun Fu" stars Cheng Bo Sen, a hard-boiled Hong Kong cop who is enlisted by the British to fight killer Nazi robots and other assorted bad guys in pre-World War II Europe.

"I'm doing what I like, I'm not thinking about how much money I make," said the mild-mannered Howard sharing on why he decided to create his own comic. And what he likes are John Woo movies and hip-hop, two influences that flow throughout his artwork. Howard, who studied film at NYU, hopes that someday "Gun Fu," like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Men in Black," can make it from independent comic book to a Hollywood action movie. Who knows, maybe it will be directed by John Woo?

Howard Shum, the creator of "Gun Fu"
Courtesy of APA

Beyond Time Comics, based in Los Angeles, created a product that started out as a movie idea, then went to pulp. Priscilla Tjio, one of the co-owners of Beyond Time Comics, introduced "Black Tiger," a martial arts crime fighter whose "Clark Kent" is a lawyer named Jennifer Fong. Priscilla explained that Jennifer Fong is a woman who is strong and independent but finds balance in maintaining traditional Asian family values. The Black Tiger is endowed with super butt kicking powers to take on her archenemy, Skullface, a disfigured Mafia boss. Angelina Jolie should watch out, there maybe a new action heroine to challenge her in the box office!

Lark Pien shows off the "Long Tail Kitty" finger puppet at the Comi-con in San Diego. Courtesy of APA

One artist who created her own mini-empire is Lark Pien from San Francisco. The petite Lark paints and draws, but really brings her art to life in the form of "Long Tail Kitty." Long Tail Kitty is a cat that has travel adventures and meets all manner of friendly creatures. In addition to her comic books, neatly laid out on Lark's table were handmade postcards, accessories and plush dolls featuring the curious feline. Lark doesn't need Disney's marketing empire when she has a great imagination. But her trip to Comi-con was worth the long drive down the coast; the artist/entrepreneur was able to get the business card of an entertainment company that could take "Long Tail Kitty" on her next adventure to the land of TV.

 Find out more about the featured
 comic books:
Gun Fu: www.howardshum.com
Black Tiger: www.beyondtimecomics.com
Long Tail Kitty: www.lambiek.net/pien-lark.htm

Independent comic book artists are able to draw their own page, figuratively speaking. While the challenge lies in developing a following and more importantly acquiring distribution, the artists use their talent and resources to create characters that don't fit the traditional mold of the action super hero. A great man once said, "Doh!" and he might hold the most overpowering influence on American pop culture over the past ten years, so don't take comics, or their creators, lightly.

August 11, 2003



© APMN, Tom Plate.