Cartoonist Kean Soo spoke to us about what he’s reading, how he approaches creating comics and March Grand Prix: The Fast and The Furriest. You can catch Soo in St. Catharines for a free event with fellow comics creator, Michael DeForge!
IFOA: What drew you to writing about March Hare and his pals?
Kean Soo: The story actually started well over a decade ago! Someone I knew had started filming a documentary about illegal street racing in Hong Kong, and I was absolutely fascinated by the idea.
I sat down and wrote an angsty story that was geared more towards a younger audience or older audience, but the story never really came together in a satisfying way for me. So I tucked it away into the far recesses of my hard drive and never gave it a second thought.
Flash forward about 10 years later, and I was in a Sanrio store in Los Angeles with a friend and his son, and watching this three-year old tearing around the store with his toy car in one hand and a plush penguin in the other, just set my brain off in all directions. So I dusted off that old story, dropped in cute anthropomorphic characters, and I was off to the races!
It was great writing this story for younger readers, because I was able to tap into all the things I loved at that age—Richard Scarry, the Incredible Cross-Sections books, racing cars…it was incredibly fun!
IFOA: Did you have to do research on race car driving for the comic?
Soo: I did! Luckily, I’ve been an on-again, off-again racing nut, and while I was writing March Grand Prix, some amazing documentaries (Senna, Truth in 24) had come out right around that time that really informed the stories I was writing.
The race in the first book, The Race at Harewood, is loosely based around the Monaco Grand Prix, and the third book, The Great Desert Rally, was based on the original Paris-Dakar rallies.
IFOA: When you start creating a comic, what comes to you first? The words or the visuals?
Soo: When I’m first starting out, it’s usually a mix of both words and visuals. I always start with the characters, so when I’m working in my sketchbook, I’ll be scribbling long hand notes about the characters and story in the margins while I draw and sketch out the characters and their designs.
But once I have the ideas for the characters and story, I’ll write the whole thing out as a prose piece, like a very detailed short story. Once that’s been refined, then I’ll dive into drawing the thing.
IFOA: What are you working on next?
Soo: I’ve been working on a couple of things, but right now, I’m working on a fantasy. younger audience graphic novel based loosely on Chinese myths, and set in the modern day. Kind of a modern day Chinese Little Mermaid. There will be shapeshifters, kung fu ghosts, and smartphones!
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Soo: I’ve actually been reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy short fiction lately. Short story collections like Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others have been fantastic, but I’ve also been digging through lot of online short fiction, like Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong, Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar, and Auspicium Melioris Aevi by JY Yang. All great stuff!
Kean Soo was born in the United Kingdom, raised in Hong Kong, trained as an electrical engineer in Canada, and currently writes and draws comics in Toronto. A former assistant editor and contributor to the Harvey Award-winning FLIGHT comics anthology, Kean wrote and illustrated the Jellaby series of graphic novels, which was nominated for an Eisner Award and won the Joe Shuster Award for Best Comic for Kids in 2009. Kean’s latest series of graphic novels, March Grand Prix, was published in 2015 by Capstone Books.