Cinematic Intrigue 

Howard Shum masterminds "Gun Fu"

Howard Shum masterminds "Gun Fu"
In the beginning, it was almost an afterthought. Indianapolis’ Howard Shum was spending a summer in an intensive film course at New York University in the early 1990s when he dropped off samples of his inking at the major comics companies, including Marvel and DC. “I always wanted to work in film, and to me comic books were the closest I could get without the huge amount of money film needs,” Shum said. It was a natural enough fit. Shum read a wide variety of comics early in life: Legion of Super-Heroes, Superboy, Cerebus and Usagi Yojimbo on the book side, and daily humor strips like Pogo, Li’l Abner and Bloom County, which he said taught him humor, timing and pacing. He also picked up his interest in film from directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Woo, James Cameron and the Coen Brothers. He went to school at Purdue for computer science, worked on editorial cartoons and a daily strip for the school paper and spent time as an assistant animator at Indianapolis’ Perennial Pictures. His samples caught attention from the major players in comics. Soon thereafter Marvel offered him a freelance job inking issue 81 of Silver Surfer. It was the beginning of a long series of professional freelance inking jobs Shum would complete: two and a half years on Aquaman and numerous Star Wars mini-series being the most prominent. Before long he was able to turn to comics work as his full-time profession. In the course of this work, though, he never found creative fulfillment in work-for-hire on characters owned by other people and corporations. “It’s just a gig to get money,” he said. “Inking is so easy, I don’t even think about it. While I’m proud of the stuff I do, the writing is more fulfilling.” He doesn’t expect he’ll ever do work-for-hire writing; he prefers to utilize that talent on his own creations. “It’s something I’ll never do. If I ever do work-for-hire it’ll be for a feature film.” Shum still reads Usagi Yojimbo and Cerebus, and greatly admires Kyle Baker and Cerebus’ Dave Sim. “Those two guys are the tops for me. They’re among the greatest artists in sequential art, not just now, but in its entire history.” He remains quite proud of his first published work, a single page pinup in an issue of Cerebus. After a few years as a journeyman inker, he ventured into creator-owned work in 1998 at Image Comics with the one-shot Gazillion, a sci-fi spy adventure of Mars, Earth and aliens at war, illustrated by Keron Grant. “It was primarily to see how I could do a book on my own,” Shum said. “It let me know how the whole process worked.” While continuing with freelance inking, he moved on with more creator-owned work in 1999 with Intrigue, a murder mystery with political overtones and drawn by Kaare Andrews. “It’s sort of like a Hitchcock movie, except most of the main players have superpowers.” The series remains unfinished, though he plans to complete it soon with Disney animator Tony Bancroft on pencils. Shum’s most prominent creator-owned work is Gun Fu, the adventures of hip-hop speaking, high-kicking cop Cheng Bo Sen in the days before World War II. “I always had in mind a Chinese character speaking hip-hop. It always seemed funny. I thought, ‘I’ll just combine anything I like into one story,’” Shum said. “Anything he liked” turned out to include gunplay, explosives, kung fu, rickshaws, the Queen of England, Nazi scientists, giant robots and a distinctly cinematic look. “I think to myself, ‘How would I do this as a film?’ A lot of stuff in my books is told visually, and the key to that is a good penciller who can get that across,” Shum said. Bancroft introduced Shum to the work of Joey Mason and his sharp-edged, cartoony style, which fit Gun Fu perfectly. The Gun Fu one-shot was published by Shum’s own company, Axiom Comics, in October 2002 to great success and critical raves. Shum and Mason will be following it up this summer with Gun Fu: The Lost City, a four-issue mini-series of Indiana Jones-style adventures. Shum said that after a few issues of Aquaman, the thrill of seeing his own name on work-for-hire books quickly began to fade. “But I still get that feeling every time one of my own [creator-owned] books comes out.” He still looks to Hollywood one day, and will have several scripts in hand, not to mention the lessons of comics, once he makes the leap. “[Comics art] helps me in a sense of flowing, editing and composition of shots. It also helps me in terms of the collaborative process of working with other people, which is important in film,” Shum said. If he becomes a film director, he expects that visual outlet will be enough for him. “But I’ll probably always do comics. I can’t imagine the kind of creative freedom in film that comes along with comics.” For more information:

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