INTERVIEW: ‘Immortal Iron Fists’ offers starting point for new readers

Immortal Iron Fists is an original series from ComiXology and Marvel. Art courtesy of ComiXology.

The news out of San Diego Comic Con was nonstop, and one of the brightest gems from the weeklong mega-fest came thanks to Marvel and ComiXology.

The two companies recently launched Immortal Iron Fists, written by Kaare Andrews with art by Afu Chan. The six-issue series will tell the story of Pei, a female monk who is the youngest person to ever bear the mark of the Iron Fist. While Pei is in high school — no doubt taking on some villainous bullies in the hallways — the Immortal Iron Fist is fending off the bad guys and offering some training to the young apprentice.

The first two issues of the series are now available, and issue #3 releases Wednesday, Aug. 23. Immortal Iron Fists serves as the perfect starting point for new fans to the classic title.

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Andrews and Chan about the new series. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

From Kaare Andrews:

Was it important for you to have this series be an entry point for new readers?

I believe you should create any comic book as if it’s someone’s first. This is always on my mind. For a new series, you have to assume the same. The Iron Fist mythology is dense and deep, and my job was to create a book that both a lifelong fan of the character could enjoy but something that worked for a new reader. It’s a balance, but whenever you have a ‘fish out of water’ character, you’re ahead of the game, as you are explaining the world to the reader through a new character’s eyes.

How much of the Iron Fist mythology and backstory did you need to brush up on?

Hopefully, none! But there have been some great Iron Fist stories. My favorites include the very first Iron Fist stories in Marvel Premiere from the ’70s, as well as the Immortal Iron Fist run by Bruebaker, Fraction and Aja. Pei was first created in my own run on Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, so pick that up, too. And the current series by Ed Brisson and Mike Perkins is pretty awesome. It’s a good time to be an Iron Fist fan. There is so much great work out there.

Could you explain Pei? How do you see this character?

In the original story, a young boy from New York City was taken to a mystical Asian monastery and went through a series of trials to earn the title of Iron Fist. I always thought it would be fun to explore the exact opposite situation, to take one of these mystical K’un Lun children monks and raise them on the streets of New York!

Pei is someone who has always trained in combat and must learn to interact with a new world in ways beyond her fists. She’s courageous, and curious and trying as best she can to find her own path. In a series of events, she’s already been branded with the mark of the Iron Fist, but she hasn’t quite earned it. This series will make her do that … or at least try! We’ll see if she survives the experience.

Wold you say that Pei’s presence opens up this Iron Fist story to even younger readers?

I’ve been reading comics since before I could read words and am a lifelong fan. The past few books I’ve created were for an older audience, and I really felt compelled to create a story that both a younger version of myself could enjoy, as well as the older version of myself. I wanted to create a story I could read with my own kids — one full of courage and action, choices and consequence.

It’s important to have central female roles in comic books. Do you believe this series speaks to that growing trend of diversity and multiple view points represented in comics?

This world of ours is bigger than any one sex or any one color or nationality. This has always been the lesson behind Marvel Comics. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created this universe, they did it to include our own. I learned how to be a better person by reading comics and the difference between fighting for all and fighting for only yourself. There isn’t any kind of agenda behind the book, but Marvel Comics is a world for everyone. In the words of Stan Lee: ‘If my books and stories can make people realize that everybody should be equal, and treated that way, then I think it would be a better world.’

Were six issues always the original idea for the series?

Five or six! You never really know if you might need an extra issue to wrap things up. I always seem to want to keep going once I start. My hope is that the stories of Pei and Danny will continue beyond the walls of any single series or storyline. I’m adding to the pantheon of Marvel Comics, and these characters will outlast all of us!

From Afu Chan:

How did you come to your unique artistic look for Immortal Iron Fists?

Some of my inspirations came from animations, and the ones that stood out the most artistically were the MIB animated series, Animatrix: World Record, Cybersix, Demon City Shinjuku, Aeon Flux and anything from Taiyo Matsumoto. It’s very apparent when I do action sequences because I would elongate and stretch the limbs and bodies to exaggerate a specific attack or movement. My flat style is inspired by Japanese woodblock paintings by the amazing artist Hasui Kawase.

Do you go through a lot of sketches and artistic renderings before settling on the final look of each character? When do you know you’ve got a look that will work?

Yes, all of the above, but I also look at a lot of outside references, especially when I wanted to design monsters that would look like they belong in K’un-Lun or ancient China. Luckily, when I was working on Iron Fists, I was in Shanghai, and I had a book on Chinese mythical creatures that help[ed] me a lot in giving my designs more depth.

For example, the sea serpent in issue #3 is based on Xiangliu, a nine-headed snake deity who causes flood. In China, number ‘nine’ relates to the number of heavens, so many of the
Chinese creatures had nine heads, legs, arms or tails.

Were you a fan of the Iron Fist series before signing up for this project?

I’m an Iron Fist fan now, and I really like Kaare Andrews’ take on the series. When I signed up for this project, I didn’t know much about the history, so I had to dig up the old comics and did countless research. Then I found out how much Pei and Danny are similar to me because, as a Chinese American born in Mexico, I know what it’s like being ‘fish out of water.’

What is it about comic books that inspire you artistically?

I like to view comic books like watching a movie but cut down into a few shots. I remember watching Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels and the beautiful cinematography by Christopher Doyle, and I always wanted to accomplish a similar effect with comics. That is why I break my page in four to five panels evenly like a storyboard template for a movie, so I really like the visual narrative part of comic books.

Did you have a favorite panel or character to draw for Immortal Iron Fists? Why?

My favorite character is, of course, Pei because she kickass. It’s fun drawing her in action, and her dragon tattoo on her back is a nice design touch.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Immortal Iron Fists is now available from ComiXology and Marvel. Issue #3 releases Wednesday, Aug. 23. Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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