Mean streets: Greg Pak gives City Boy the spotlight this May
After making his debut in last year's WildStorm 30th Anniversary Special #1, City Boy stars in his own comic book, starting May 23 from DC Comics.
Written by Greg Pak and illustrated by Minkyu Jung, the series follows Cameron Kim, a streetwise youth with the innate ability to commune and interact with the latent consciousness of cities as he traverses the DC Universe.
City Boy launches as part of DC’s We Are Legends initiative through May, which celebrates Asian and Asian American culture, with the start of several new titles starring Asian characters operating across the DCU.
Cameron himself comes from a Korean immigrant family to the United States before tragedy leaves him to fend for himself. And though he tries to keep a low profile during his cross-country wandering, Cameron finds himself attracting some major attention as he visits Metropolis and Gotham City.
In an exclusive interview with Newsarama, Greg Pak shares the origins behind the creation of City Boy and his place in the wider DCU, along with an early look at interior art from the first issue.
Newsarama: You’ve been thinking about City Boy in some capacity on-and-off for the better part of a decade. What made the idea finally coalesce for this series and the character's earlier appearances?
Greg Pak: I got an email from [editor] Jessica Chen. We got on the phone, and she was saying that she had this dream project of putting together a number of Asian and/or Asian American characters and introducing them to the DC Universe all at once, kind of inspired by Milestone. It sounded amazing and she was looking for original character ideas.
For years, I had this idea in my head and a name, City Boy. The idea was that it's this kid who can tap into the infrastructure and knowledge and see into the secrets of a city and tap into its power. I hadn’t really figured out anything beyond that.
I had this image of a kid walking down the street and the streets twisting and turning all around him. I bounced that off of Jessica and she said, "That sounds cool!" She had this idea of [incorporating] Korean street fashion and also had the inspired notion of bringing on Minkyu Jung as the artist, who is just amazing.
As I worked on this more, we started to crack the real themes behind it. It's funny, because you can almost figure out a whole story and only know what it's really about at the end. There have been these moments of revelation for me where I'm like, "This is what's really going on here. It's about this."
The part of it that’s interesting to me is that cities are where people come together in mass numbers. It's where you can form communities and bonds, but they're also places where people just fall through the cracks and get lost.
If you're a kid that's tapped into the consciousness of a city, what are your responsibilities? Ultimately, it seemed like the real fun dynamic for this was going to be for the kid in this, our hero, to be hustling and just trying to survive. This is not a rich kid or a person with a lot of resources, this is just somebody trying to survive in the margins of a city. But because he's tapped into it and has access to so much knowledge about what's happening in the city and what's going on with individual people, he ends up acquiring a kind of responsibility that he has no interest in, but he still has it.
That's one of the ongoing internal conflicts here, which is fun and funny, to have somebody who doesn't want to have any moral obligations and grappling with the fact that he actually does have these responsibilities and obligations.
Nrama: The DC Universe is full of great cities like Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City, Coast City, and more. That also strikes me as an opportunity to recalibrate the book's tone with every destination.
Pak: That absolutely is a part of this and, in the first few issues, our character is going to have close encounters in Metropolis and Gotham. The fact that the DC Universe has such strong locations, cities that are almost characters themselves, gives a really great chance to explore from somebody who can tap right into that.
In the DC Universe, there are also multiple realms. There's the Green, the Red, the Gray and all of that. Where do the cities and City Boy fit into all of that? If the cities develop consciousnesses and City Boy is a person tapped into that, what kind of conflicts does that create with the Green, Swamp Thing, and characters like that? It's not only a rich thing to explore from an individual character's point-of-view but, in terms of the wider DC Universe, there are also huge opportunities.
I'll also plug that one of the biggest villains in DC Comics history is going to be revealed as playing a big role. It's interesting because it's not something I conceived of at all in the beginning when we were starting to work on this book but, as it developed, obviously this thing that will be revealed made so much sense. I won't spoil who or what it is just yet, but keep your eyes open.
Nrama: City Boy made his debut in the WildStorm 30th Anniversary special last year. What was it about having him appear alongside these characters that often exist on the fringes of DCU that appealed?
Pak: There was an interesting match there, but Jack Hawksmoor is connected to cities and that's all explained through wild science fiction. I don't want to spoil too much but, as Jack discovers in that story, Cameron's connection to cities is more supernatural and fits into a different realm. That provided an interesting contrast between those two characters, where they definitely share something in common but they're coming at it from different angles. I think that's a rich place to explore and mine.
It was a cool match-up also because these are both characters who appear in superhero comics but both of them pretty much walk around in civilian clothes and are still able to do these incredible things. I've always been a sucker for that kind of imagery and vibe, so it was fun to have the chance to put those two characters together.
Nrama: You mentioned Jessica adding the Korean fashion touch, with Cameron wearing stuff you'd see straight out of Hongdae. With this coming out as part of DC's We Are Legends initiative, how did you want to highlight his cultural identity?
Pak: It makes total sense, given the central theme of cities, which is that Cameron's from an immigrant family. In that first issue, we get a glimpse of the experiences that he went through as a very small child. We see what happened to his mom and, I don't want to spoil what it is, but we're trying to break your heart. This is essentially an immigrant family that is broken apart almost immediately. Cameron is just this second-generation kid trying to survive in the city that he's completely tapped into and belongs to but, at the same time, you can totally belong somewhere but yet not.
We're not hammering this over the head but it's part of the subtext. In that first issue, you'll also see Cameron in a Metropolis suburb that's basically a Metropolis Koreatown. He has an encounter with a Korean American character there, which also shows that just because someone is from the same immigrant group doesn't mean they're your friend. There are certain ways it explores that second-generation immigrant experience.
Nrama: How has it been working with Minkyu on City Boy?
Pak: He's amazing and totally eating it up. He's delivering so much by way of emotion and storytelling. He's got this great ability to do action as well as emotional drama and he gets these characters. He knows how to draw Asian characters, which is a big deal, and he's great with character design. He's designing all these new characters from scratch and doing it beautifully. He knows how to draw people in civilian clothes that look current, modern, real, and cool, which is a challenge.
There's a way in which superhero costumes do a lot of work in selling characters to us, particularly if you’re writing a book in a superhero universe. There's this subconscious expectation of that punch and flash from superhero costumes. If you've got characters who are mostly in civilian costumes, having an artist who can deliver that and make it fun, distinctive, and punchy is critical and Minkyu does all of that.
Nrama: City Boy is coming off the heels of his appearance in Lazarus Planet. How did you want to take advantage of that crossover event to better position Cameron for his own series launch?
Pak: It gave us a chance for him to have a close encounter with Nightwing in Gotham and we'll see more of that. It also gave us a chance to amp him up a bit because, through the events of Lazarus Planet, his powers get amplified. In City Boy #1 we made it accessible so anybody could pick it up without having read anything but those previous two stories gave us the chance to explore the character and do a couple of things and put him in an interesting place.
The events of Lazarus Planet amped his powers up a little bit and pushed him out of his normal comfort zone with his connection to the cities. He's seeing a little more than he's used to seeing and that has consequences. You don't have to have read those stories beforehand, it's totally accessible to anybody picking it up fresh but, if you have read those stories, as time goes on, you'll be able to see how it all links up.
Nrama: Greg, what else can you tease about City Boy ahead of the series launch?
Pak: I can tease Superman! There are interesting ways in which City Boy's powers set him up to have really interesting encounters with key DC characters. The things that he struggles with, in some ways strangely, are some of the things that Superman has to grapple with, particularly in terms of the responsibility he finds himself with based on the knowledge that he has. There are going to be some interesting conflicts and conversations to be had with folks in Gotham for similar reasons but that are also very different. I love the way that the quirks of this particular character make him create relevant relationships with key characters in the DCU. It's going to be a lot of fun exploring that and seeing what fits in.
I'll say that we start off fairly small. This is a kid who's hustling and using these powers to find stuff to pawn on the streets of the city. He's finding lost dollars and bits and pieces of lost treasure, but it's really small-scale as he's just trying to hustle and survive. But it gets bigger. I can tease this story will have lots of really fun tiny details and also big repercussions as it moves along.
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