MightyVille's Joe Kach and fellow Fresnan Keu Cha sat down and chatted about the artist's long career, covering the world of comics, Hollywood, and more. Keu opened up about his experiences, the ups and downs of the industry, and the long-term gratification that comes with hard work. Breaking up your journey is a collection of "eye candy" artwork, showcasing Keu's hyper-detailed style.
MightyVille: Top Cow's Rising Stars was defining achievement for both [creator] J. Michael Straczynski’s career and the comic industry as a whole. Did you realize that would happen at the time when you were working on it?
Keu Cha: You know what, I was just happy to be somewhere, honestly. It was great to meet professionals. Randy Queen's Dark Chylde was my first professional work. He gave me my first work work and actual paycheck. The paycheck was straight from Todd McFarlane and had his signature on it, I didn't wanna cash it because I was such a fanboy, but I needed the money because I was a starving kid in college. Luckily, through word of mouth, you know? I found out Michael Turner needed an assistant for backgrounds, I thought that would be a great opportunity.
Now was that before or after Rising Stars?
This was all before. I moved from Fresno to Los Angeles, got a job at Ralph's, didn't have a car, took the bus. I kept submitting my work to Top Cow, went to school, and applied at the Pasadena Art Center. It’s kinda weird, I got accepted at PAC with a little bit of a scholarship- that was a pretty big deal for that school- but then Michael Turner called me up to draw backgrounds for Top Cow. That was the reason I moved to L.A., to work for Top Cow. That was my way in, I jumped on the Top Cow wagon. So, I went to Top Cow to draw backgrounds for Michael Turner. I drew a bunch of issues for him. He wanted to keep me on as a background artist, but I had to move on. Top Cow noticed my work and liked it, so the editors gave me Rising Stars.
That’s a pretty great first job...
It was my first job and with J. Michael Straczynski, who I hadn't heard of before, but I‘d heard of Babylon 5. So, that was nerve-wracking, it was very nerve-wracking. I was a rookie. I mean, imagine being a rookie paired up with Straczynski! So, I started that, did that for a while. Unfortunately, Straczynski wanted a different style...
Oh, so that’s when the art shift happened. I noticed that…
Yeah, Top Cow wanted to keep me on board, which lead to a creative struggle between the two. It kind of really landed on my plate to see whether I wanted to do it or not. They gave me the option to draw any other Top Cow project, so I said Witchblade...
So … they gave me Witchblade! I jumped on Withcblade for a while, drew about seven issues, and then … you know, I think Top Cow sort of changed. A lot of artists moved away. I think we kind of all grew up at that point. I mean, that was a good five years there...
The "Rock Star" days of comic books?
Well ... the college days, for all of us. It was a lot of fun, we all grew up together, but everybody changed, you know? And then I had a kid, and I needed a regular "9 to 5". And then the movie industry picked me up.
That’s a good segue: you started doing move poster design, right?
I got picked up as a sketch artist, because I could draw. So I would draw ideas for clients, presentations. Art directors would give you their ideas, that’s how it worked. They would give me the ideas, then I would draw those ideas and present them to the client before they moved to the next stage of either computer or Photoshop or whatever. That’s how the stages went. And then I wanted to learn Photoshop. On my free time I would ask the art directors questions about Photoshop. So, I learned Photoshop, and then I did the first Hulk movie poster!
Oh, you did?
Yeah, I created that first Hulk movie poster. Because of my illustration skills, I just learned Photoshop, and I did that.
OK, so that’s the angle you wanted to take.
Yep, and that’s what segued into me wanting to be an art director. So, I worked for some of the big movie poster shops in L.A.
Any films you worked on that might stand out?
I guess, Daybreakers, I can remember. I did American Gangster, the Russel Crowe teaser sheet. Repo Man, I did that one. And with these movie posters, there’s always multiple movie posters, too, you know?
Any interesting Hollywood stories there?
It’s Actually kinda cool: One day I was all bummed, all stressed out, I was walking. I looked up, this guy walks by and he’s all cheery, he says "Hi" to me, and it was Mahoney from Police Academy!
Guttenberg, yeah! He made my day … The Gutt!
I love that movie.
Yeah dude, I was so, like, bummed out, you know? It’s very stressful, you work long hours. I was, like, bummed out, trying to get things done, walking around, looked up, and there’s Steve Guttenberg, he’s all cheery. "Hi," "Hi," he made my day.
What got you back into comics and what were the inspirations behind Hex: The Lost Tribe?
Well, you know what? I've been doing art long enough now, I feel like I'd better have confidence to do my own stuff. I mean, I got into comics, and obviously, as a kid, I wanted to do creator-owned, that was my ultimate goal, right? But, you know, you don’t wanna do one that sucks, you don’t wanna do one that’s not good. I wasn't ready, way back then, and I left comics for a long time. I stopped drawing for a good five to seven years, just did a lot of art direction. I learned a lot about creativity, I learned things conceptually, I worked on a lot of movies. Solving a movie poster and its ideas- the essence of an idea- and put it into a one-sheet. I read a lot of scripts. I figured, I’m at a point in my life where I have to make a decision: Do I stay and work in advertising for the next 10 to 15 years? Or do I try to make my own I.P., my own creator-owned. I've done enough things, I feel I've built enough experience that I’m confident enough to try to promote my own self, to self-publish, to learn it, even though I have many nights of sleepless anxiety and frustration. I start pulling my hair, you know?
As the industry I'm sure tends to cause...
But it’s all worth it. It’s all worth it in the end, you know? That’s why I’m creating this project in hopes that it grows, that it gets fan base, and that people like it, I want to aim to be a publisher, merchandising, start my own business. And if this takes off the ground, I would love to pick up other projects. This is just the early stages of my big dream.
And Guerilla House is your studio?
Guerilla House is my imprint, yeah. It’s great, meeting all the different artists, finding different resources to help out so I'm not doing everything.
Why the fantasy twist to your story, rather than, like, a superhero?
Well, I walked into a comic book store the day I wanted to do creator-owned. Superheroes were everywhere, how am I gonna compete with superheroes? Sci-Fi is everywhere, you know? And I do not like to draw mechanical things, I don’t like to draw buildings, it’s not my thing. There wasn't that many fantasy books. I thought of Conan. Conan was the first comic book I saw. I felt kinda like, yeah, there’s Red Sonja, there’s Conan, I’m gonna go that route. I’m gonna take that Conan concept, that feel, that Lord of The Rings feel, everything fantasy, but not make it fantasy! There’s no wizards in there, there’s no elves in there. This is like my own twist on everything I’ve loved about fantasy, without Tolkien. But it is like Lord of The Rings meets King Kong meets Beauty and The Beast, and there’s a deeper relationship to the characters that I’m trying to find. It’s putting myself and everything I believe into every character, and relationships to me are very important. I’m trying to create something new that I’m hoping people will gravitate towards, something that I just have my own passion for, for what I’m doing.
It looks like it’s starting out on the web and eventually will be collected on the shelves? Or are you going straight to self-publishing?
We’re just self-publishing. We did a Kickstarter that was successful, so we have a fan-base. We’re just taking all that money and just publishing that book. We’ll keep going that route. We plan to do another Kickstarter for the 2nd issue, so we can have that done and printed.
(Pointing at comic) This is your full first issue here?
This is the full first issue, yes, but our Con Exclusive, black and white for all the people that like the pencils. The actual book is already colored, it’s printing right now.
When can people expect to see that.
You know, once it’s in my hands I will tell and set a date. I’m realizing about publishing that people don’t like you if you lie about your dates.
This is true.
So don’t tell them the dates until you know you have it. I've talked to a lot of retailers you know, and that’s their biggest gripe: When a creator says they’re gonna put something out and then they don’t put it out. So I said, “What if I told you I was gonna put out the book in half a year, are you cool with that?” And they say, "Yeah, as long as you do it." And it’s true, as long as you’re being honest to your fan-base.
Don’t give false expectations.
Yeah, and don’t do that to yourself. I've learned from years and years of not doing that to myself, because that's just extra stress. And then I don’t enjoy what I do.
I gotcha. [Editor's Note: The first issue is available now!]
And social media is amazing! It’s a great way for updates. It’s a great way for people to keep their eyes on you. So all the people that bought my book two years ago, still know that I’m still here, I’m still working hard on it, even though I have so many other things to deal with and this is like my really expensive hobby! Hopefully one day it pays off, you know, it builds enough steam.
I really think it will, man. This stuff looks great. I look forward to seeing the color version, too.
Thank you! It is you coming here and saying all that that makes this dream of mine alive.
Well, allow me to gush a little more then: One of my favorite comic book memories was back in college when Rising Stars first came out. At the time, I started to fall off the comics wagon in the late '90s. I remember the comic store owner recommending Rising Stars, saying, "You need to check this out." I remember reading the first few issues, thinking, "Wow, this is fantastic!" Great story, stellar art. I even gave it to my roommate; I left a Post-It note on there saying "You have to read this." And, really, it kinda drew me back into comics. So I wanted to thank you for being part of what brought me back in when I was almost on my way out.
You know, that’s the stuff I love to hear the most. People that don’t read comics ... trying to get those people into comics. That’s what we need, we need more people in comics, reading comics.
That’s what keeps all this going.
And if I could bring in one person that doesn't read comics into comics, that’s great! It’s not about my book, it’s about comics! They will see all the great artists and titles out there.
It was definitely one of the books that brought my roommate in; he wasn't reading at the time. He’s still reading till this day, and that was 15 years ago!
So, job well done!
Then check back on MightyVille soon for our upcoming Wolverine Holiday Giveaway, featuring this copy of Wolverine and The X-Men #1 with a fantastic custom cover by Keu Cha!
What comic book run by Keu Cha is your favorite? Share the issues and images below!
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