The zombie phenomenon is so deeply embedded in film, television, and literature, that even local authorities have issued guidance on how to survive a zombie apocalypse!! Graphic comic writer Ricky-Marcel Pitcher has combined this zombie craze with martial arts action in his latest graphic novel “Zombies Hate Kung Fu.”
Following a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, Ricky has been working with principle artist David Velásquez, from Bogotá, Colombia to bring the story to life but with the added twist of authentic Kung-Fu fighting content.
“Zombies Hate Kung Fu” (ZHKF) tells the story of two mismatched individuals Mann and Ziggy who fight to survive in a Zombie apocalypse, with Mann keeping the hungry horde at bay with his devastating kung fu skills.
In bringing this vivid buddy story to life and to feature some exciting and authentic martial arts fighting, Ricky has been working with Sifu Leo Au Yeung, a master of Wing Chun and Hung Gar styles, to choreograph the comic’s action sequences. Sifu Yeung has worked with some of martial arts films’ leading names such Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung and the late Darren Shahlavi as fight instructor and stunt co-ordinator for the film “Ip man” and its sequels. A form of motion capture was used for ZHKF to record all of Sifu Yeung’s movements to ensure authentic and consistent martial arts fighting were featured in the finished comic.
As ZHKF is just weeks away from release Ricky has been touring the film and comic con events, the most recent being Showmasters’ London Film and Comic Con 2015 where he met Ramon Youseph, to promote the graphic novel. After a brief meeting Ricky took some time to tell Kung-fu Kingdom all about his latest exciting project.
RAMON: Up until we met at the London Comic Con you hadn’t heard of Kung-fu Kingdom but now you have; what do you think of the site?
RMP: Yes I’m new to your site, the first thing I read was the “Daredevil” Season 1 review, it seemed well researched, and it was a big plus for me that you compare it to other martial arts media. It’s all well and good saying whether or not you like something in a review, but by giving comparisons to something the reader already knows, you give context to the review and let them make up their own mind.
Who or what influences your writing?
My favourite comic writers are Alan Moore [“V for Vendetta”], Neil Gaiman [“The Books of Magic”] and Brian K. Vaughan [“Ex Machina”]. I like stories that are original and have as few tropes as possible. That’s not to say that stories can’t visit traditional themes, for example, I’m a huge fan of the “Adult Swim” cartoon “Rick and Morty” (which just started a new series), that has an episode which riffs on the first “Jurassic Park” film (something a lot of people have already parodied/stolen from). But the writers of “Rick and Morty” take some story ideas from the film and set it inside a theme park inside a dead elderly tramp at Christmas.
The point I’m trying to make is that I like original storytelling, but it doesn’t have to be “Birdman”, you can take the concept of tried and tested American family comedy and make something original and amazing like “Arrested Development”, by taking a standard situation to new places. So I wanted to be original, and “Zombies Hate Kung Fu” has, what I hope is, an original story, but to amplify this I wanted to do something that people haven’t seen before, fully choreographed, authentic martial arts in comics. For this I was able to get the help of Hong Kong movie fight instructor, Sifu Leo Au Yeung.
Would you consider yourself a fan of martial arts in movies and other popular culture? If so what are your favourite publications, films, and performers?
I’m a big fan of martial arts films but I don’t claim to be hugely knowledgeable about the genre, I’m only familiar with the big names really. I’m sure that your readers don’t need me to tell them that “Enter the Dragon” is fantastic. One time I was lucky enough to briefly meet Jackie Chan after a TV recording when he was promoting his (then) new film “Chinese Zodiac” on BBC TV, I presented him with a cake from Sifu Leo’s school as a ‘welcome to the UK’ gift, it could have been really awkward because I knew NOTHING about the film. Luckily, he wasn’t that interested in talking to me and just spoke to Sifu Leo in Cantonese for a bit while I stood there. It might sound rubbish but was really cool, I didn’t understand what they were saying, but I could pick out the odd film and actor name in their conversation.
OK, so with that in mind, what is your comic book, “Zombies Hate Kung Fu”, like?
What I wanted to do with the comic was try to add new things to the well trodden zombie genre and wrap it up in a cool adventure story with original characters – it’s like “The Walking Dead”, but the zombies aren’t really a problem for the protagonists because one of them is a kung fu expert. Or perhaps it’s like a laid back road movie, maybe “Easy Rider” with zombies.
How exactly did you get to work with Sifu Leo Au Yeung?
I’ve always liked martial arts movies, and since I’ve been writing comics I’d often had ideas for martial arts based stories. Then one day I watched 2008’s “Ip Man” on DVD and I really enjoyed it. I searched the film on Google and found that a local Kung Fu school was taught by someone who had worked on the film (which by this point had won lots of awards and was bound for a sequel). I went along to the class for a trial lesson and afterwards talked to the teacher (Sifu Leo) about the film and steered the conversation to an idea I had for a comic book; ‘Zombies Hate Kung Fu’.
Sifu Leo patiently listened to my pitch, and then explained that ‘Kung Fu has an important place in his life and in Chinese culture, and should be treated with the highest reverence, while it can be adapted to popular media forms this should not be rushed or entered into in an unconsidered manner, as creating monetised products from Kung Fu risks cheapening and devaluing it’, although he didn’t say it like that, his exact words were “Kung Fu is not the Star Wars”, but from his tone it was clear what he was getting at.
I went on to explain my idea for motion capturing the fight scenes and generally treating the Kung Fu extremely seriously, he ended the conversation by saying that he would think about it and get back to me. I continued attending his classes and after a few more weeks I brought the subject up again, asking if he had made a decision, he firmly reminded me that he would think about it, and get back to me. I continued to attend Sifu Leo’s class, patiently waiting and really enjoying the Kung Fu (Wing Chun) tuition. Over the months and YEARS that passed, I often brought comics to show him that featured totally made up fight techniques presented as Kung Fu, or randomly motion captured scenes (probably stolen from Bruce Lee movies) with an uncoordinated, non-choreographed series of Kung Fu moves.
Eventually Sifu Leo came to me after class one day and said that we should make the comic. I had been working on a variety of other projects over this period, with limited success, but had used the time to also fully write up my ideas for the ZHKF story, elaborating on the characters and thinking of scenarios for them to find themselves in, so hopefully the comic is much better now than it would have been if I’d had my way from the beginning.
Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How did you find the crowdfunding experience?
Crowdfunding is an emotional rollercoaster. You pitch for the lowest amount of money you could possibly produce the project for, then hope to get in many times that amount. Also every time someone backs your project you get a rush of excitement, then you get the inverse of that feeling when there is a lull in new backers signing up. I’ve kept an eye on how people have been doing with comics on Kickstarter since I got ZHKF backed and there seems to be fewer and fewer non-established celebrity projects getting big amounts. And also several big celebrities using it to fund their new projects.
There is some controversy that they are using Kickstarter ‘inappropriately’ as they already could do the project with their own money, to which the defence is that they bring a new audience to crowdfunding and those people might stick around and back more projects. Personally I have no problem with celebrities using crowdfunding, but I think that it would be a nice gesture if more of them backed independent projects and then made a big deal about it on their social media etc, more actively endorsing the platforms, rather than just ‘cashing in’ and moving on.
Can you tell us more about the form of motion capture used for the comic?
I don’t claim to have invented the idea, but the motion capture is central to the fight scenes in the comic and provides a unique feel. As already discussed, there aren’t any comics out there with this level of rigorous authenticity to the fighting scenes. The actual technique used was simple, I rented out some studio space and set up multiple video cameras. Then Sifu Leo, with the help of some zombie assistants, choreographed and acted out all the fight scenes while I walked around with another camera, finding the best possible angles to shoot them from. The advantages of this were that we didn’t need fancy locations, particularly high quality recording equipment, multiple actors/makeup or anything like that as the final action would all be drawn out; we were just capturing the basic positions. After the recording was done, there was then a massive job to be done, watching the multiple camera angles and storyboarding all the fights for the artists, selecting the best shot of each piece of action.
When Chapter One was released, what was the initial reaction?
Generally very positive. I’ve already taken the early chapters to a few comic conventions and the people who’ve seen it have been excited. From the start I tried to pitch the comic in a way that has something for everyone, martial arts purists obviously have plenty of Kung Fu action to love, but there is also a lot of stoner comedy, graphic zombie violence and general plot stuff that people can also ‘get their teeth into’.
What does the future hold for Ricky?
I’ve spent so long finalising ZHKF that I can’t imagine a world where some aspect of its production isn’t dominating my to-do list. Hopefully that will continue to be the case and we’ll start work on book two at some point in the future…
For more information and to pre-order your copy of “Zombies Hate Kung-Fu (with exclusive pre-order bonuses) visit www.ZHKF.tv