Kingsway West, writer Greg Pak's upcoming Dark Horse comic book series with artist Mirko Colak, is about a Chinese gunslinger searching for his wife in an Old West overrun by magic.
As part of the book's launch, Greg has enlisted the help of a few of my favorite Asian American musicians, Goh Nakamura, Jane Lui and Adam Warrock, to create songs based on the characters and story. Greg, who says he always has an imaginary soundtrack running through his head as he writes comics, thought Kingsway West would lend itself particularly well to the soundtrack treatment.
"Music is almost completely emotional, and Westerns tend to be stories with big emotions," says Greg. "So there are grand traditions of soaring anthems, heroic themes, and deeply romantic ballads associated with movie Westerns. I love the way Goh, Adam, and Jane have tapped into those traditions but totally made them their own."
We're pleased to present the debut of "Sonia" by our old pal award-winning singer/songwriter Goh Nakamura. The song is inspired our hero, Kingsway Law, and the epic search across the west for his lost love Sonia.
Take a listen:
If you like the song, it's available as a free download on Bandcamp.
I briefly interviewed Greg about Kingsway West and what he thought of Goh's contribution to the soundtrack:
I know you've had the idea for a Chinese gunslinger in the Old West for a really long time. What makes this setup so ripe for storytelling?
Kingsway West tells the story of a Chinese outlaw searching for his wife in an Old West overrun with magic. As an Asian American who grew up in Texas loving Westerns, just that idea of a story about a Chinese hero in the Old West has excited me for decades. There's maybe no other genre as classically Americana as the Western -- and so the act of telling a Western in which the hero is Asian is a way to claim that history as our own, which it absolutely is. The American Old West was wildly diverse and all Americans of all backgrounds can and should claim its glories and horrors as our history and heritage.
But the real heart and soul of the story are the characters' emotional journeys and struggles. And this desperate fight of our hero to control his own wild heart and resist the temptations of this world of magic in order to reunite with his wife is really what makes the story sing. What happens when love and responsibility come head to head? How far will we go and what terrible risks will we take for love? These are big, huge, universal emotional experiences that are just a blast to write.
What inspired you to enlist musicians for this project, and what qualities about Kingsway West that lend itself to a comic book soundtrack?
I'm ridiculously excited about this book and I want to do everything I possibly can to share that excitement and get the word out. So I've been thinking about all kinds of ways to reach readers. And getting great musicians to create a soundtrack just felt like a hugely fun way to do that. I came up through film and I absolutely love sound design, so I always have a kind of imaginary soundtrack running in my head as I write comics. And now to have tremendous Asian American musicians like Goh Nakamura, Adam Warrock, and Jane Lui actually create real songs for this Chinese American Western I've been dreaming about for so many years? Just incredible.
I think Kingsway West might lend itself particularly well to a soundtrack treatment partly because of the long tradition of amazing Western movie soundtrack music. Music is almost completely emotional, and Westerns tend to be stories with big emotions. So there are grand traditions of soaring anthems, heroic themes, and deeply romantic ballads associated with movie Westerns. I love the way Goh, Adam, and Jane have tapped into those traditions but totally made them their own.
What's your relationship to Goh Nakamura's previous work, and why he was a good fit to capture the "sound" of Kingsway West?
I met Goh years ago and I loved the way his music has such an intimate, hand-crafted feel. Our story is set in a world of magic -- but it's also a frontier, analogue, tactile, and visceral world. Goh's music has that kind of immediacy and intimacy that I thought would be a great match. And of course, Goh's great with romantic longing, so I knew he'd be able to tap into that aspect of the story like nobody's business. I sent him the outline of the whole series and the script for the first issue for inspiration, and he immediately got the vibe and the emotional core of the story. And then he surprised me with instrumentation and effects that just soar and swirl, tapping into the magic of the story in ways I never expected. I'm over the moon!
I also interviewed Goh Nakamura on coming up with a "sound" for Kingsway West:
What was your first reaction to Kingsway West? Were you familiar with Greg's work? How did he approach you about creating a song for this project?
My first reaction was excitement, I became a little kid again. Kingsway West is exactly the kind of comic book I'd be dying to read when I was a kid buying comic books with my lawn mowing money (before I started spending it on music and guitar stuff).
I know Greg as a filmmaker. I saw and loved his movie Robot Stories about a decade ago, but never read any of his comic book work. The way I got involved with this project was that I was messaging him on Twitter in April because I was doing social media for the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Asian American Showcase. It should really be called the GREG PAK FILM FEST because he's played ten or so films in it.
He asked me out of the blue during one of our Twitter DM's if I'd be interested in writing a song for a secret comic book project. After I picked my jaw off the floor, I said (or rather, typed) "uh... HELL YEAH!"
What was the starting point for the inspiration to write "Sonia"?
In the story, the main character Kingsway Law is searching for his wife Sonia. I guess I'm sort of known for writing lost love songs, so I figured the natural thing was to write one sung from his perspective. I drafted up a structure pretty quickly on an acoustic guitar and hummed it into my phone. I actually wrote two pieces. The other was a hard rock meets Ennio Morricone horse chase scene, if you can imagine that. The script definitely made me see and hear things.
You've done movie scores/soundtracks before. What's your approach to creating music inspired by a comic book?
Since I was primarily feeding off of Greg's words and dialogue, I was able to create my own little movie in my mind's eye. I didn't have any visual references, other than a character design sketch, but that actually gave my imagination permission to run wilder than if I had to score something to a movie. It was definitely refreshing.
Kingsway West will be available in comic book stores in November. Pre-order it now. If you're in the Bay Area, catch a special conversation with Greg this Sunday, September at CAAMFest San Jose.