Interview:Chuck Kim

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On January 4, 2008, Ryan Gibson Stewart conducted a phone interview with writer Chuck Kim. Chuck is responsible for writing the episode .07%, the documentary Sword Saint, and several graphic novels including Trial By Fire, Bully, The Trial of the Black Bear, Elle's First Assignment, Normal Lives, and The Ten Brides of Takezo Kensei.


Ryan Stewart: So how's the writer's strike going?

Chuck Kim: It's very boring. [laughs]


I'm sure it is!

Yeah. It's extremely boring. I mean, it's really awful. This is the first show that I've ever worked on. One of the very cool things about it is that the crew is on set basically Monday through Friday, sometimes Saturday and Sunday, working on the show. They're there on the set for twelve to fourteen hours a day, and they're still just so enthusiastic about the show. The camera people, the lighting people, the grips--everybody--they're just so "into" the show. The fact that they can keep up that energy keeps us very excited too. We all feel really awful for those people, too, because not only are we not working, but they're not working as well. Overall, it's just a really depressing situation.


It's hard because I'm sure they all support the cause, yet it's not their fight, though they have to suffer for it. It's not anybody's fault, it's just a really unfortunate situation.

Indirectly, it's their fight, too. While we're fighting for residuals and whatnot, the crew members' health coverage is basically paid for by the studio the same way our residuals are paid for by the studio. If we don't get the same residuals from the internet and downloads, etc., then they wouldn't get that percentage that they would normally earn from the internet for their health coverage either.


It's really affecting more than just the writers.

It is! We're kind of the first group that is facing this. The actors are going to face this and the directors are going to face this. Basically, any other guild that has money tied into the studio that's paid that way (whether it's health coverage or anything like that), it will affect them as well.


Well, I certainly hope the strike finds a resolution quickly. I'm sure you want to get back to work soon.

...Yeah. [laughs] You know, this is just a really great group of people to work with and it's so much fun. Planning out what happens to these characters is a dream come true. I've been trying to get into television writing for years, and it still surpasses any of my expectations.


Petercuthealing.jpg

That's great. And you wrote a really terrific episode with .07%--what a fantastic episode! It was a great comeback from the break, it had a nice tribute to Isaac in the beginning with showing all his artwork, it had that terrific fight between Sylar and Peter--

Oh yeah, that was amazing! That scene started with Chris Zatta's episode, which was eighteen, and went into my episode, which was nineteen. Shooting that scene where we show Mohinder on the ceiling and we show Peter being choked against the wall and his head being cut open--just that was a day's worth of shooting. I mean, what was on screen for maybe a minute, oh my God! Normally, we can't take that kind of luxury in shooting it. And we had two directors, and two writers on set because it was a crossover scene. It was a lot of work. [laughs]


I'm sure it was technically difficult too, with all the special effects, and keeping Mohinder up on the ceiling and Peter on the wall, and then there's a great clash of powers.

I wish you could see it. It's very interesting, actually, even just getting Mohinder on the ceiling. There's sort of a tray that he lies on top of. Then that's pulled up to the ceiling, sort of like the platform that Frankenstein's monster gets raised up on to with the lightning. It's sort of like that. He's raised up to the ceiling. Then when he's there, they put on something like doll's clothing with snaps on the back, so they actually put that around the tray (which is molded to his body), and then snap the clothes on that way when he's on the ceiling. It's really quite cool. So much work goes into this, I never realized.


Now, you wrote that episode after you had written quite a few graphic novels. How did that feel to write an episode after writing some graphic novels?

It was pretty amazing. I mean, I basically have been in comic books since I was 22 or 23, so this really was the perfect fit. Honestly, I never thought I'd be able to get involved with something so closely related to comic book as this, and actually writing comic books again. I think as far as this season's graphic novels have gone, since I'm kind of used to the medium, I've actually tried to go a little more experimental with the ones this season. I read the posts on these pretty religiously, and some of the comments, I'm like, "Oh, ouch!"


What do you read, 9th Wonders?

Yeah, 9th Wonders, and I'll go to the NBC site.


Yeah, people can be pretty brutal in chat forums.

They're pretty brutal; I think it's funny because I did a Takezo Kensei story--


The Trial of the Black Bear. That was a really neat one.

Oh thanks!


I liked it, but I know a lot of people didn't.

Well, I think it was a little misunderstood because I tried to make it clear that it wasn't a Heroes webcomic, but it was a 9th Wonders! manga comic.


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Right, and you said that at the beginning of the graphic novel, too.

Yeah, but I think some people just missed it because I remember reading some of the posts and people were like, "Wait, why is Hiro a little bear, or cat, or whatever?" I was thinking, "Oh no! I didn't make it clear enough!" But that was supposed to be basically a comic that Micah might read.


Is that why the manga style was chosen for that one?

Well, we wanted to make Takezo Kensei the equivalent of Paul Bunyan or Davy Crockett in our world.


A legend.

Yeah. He was a person who actually existed in the Heroes universe, but obviously his legend grew larger than he was. That 9th Wonders! comic was supposed to be sort of an example of what little kids in Japan might read.


Personally, I took it as a great tribute to something Hiro would have read as a kid. And I liked that he was a little creature--how fitting for Hiro! But the novel certainly stood out from the others, whether for better or for worse.

Yeah. Before, these were all comics that directly involved characters from the show, and this was a bit of a departure from that. I'm glad that some people liked it anyway. [laughs]


It's probably the most beloved and hated novel. [laughs]

True. You know, I talked with Joe Pokaski about it, and he said he got a very similar reaction to his episode, number twenty, Five Years Gone. A lot of people really loved it, but some people didn't quite get it.


I think people who didn't love that episode are in the minority.

It's fun, it's different. You get nineteen episodes evolving in a certain way, so changing it up a little can be a lot of fun.


Well, even a poorer episode of Heroes is still better than what's on most of TV.

[laughs]


So let's talk about some of your other graphic novels. The most recent one you wrote is The Ten Brides of Takezo Kensei.

Yeah, that was a lot of fun to write. It was a lot of research, too, because I had to figure out all sorts of different ways for these women to die. [laughs] It was a lot of research, like the French woman dying from the lead-based makeup.


Interesting. Did that happen a lot?

I guess that was really common in those days. People didn't realize that lead poisoning existed back then. I remember when I reading some of the comments, some of the people were a little iffy on the whole blood transfusion thing, but I made sure that was actually done in that era. I think it actually started at least twenty years before he had tried it.


You're talking about Diane, the wife who died of tuberculosis, and Adam gave her a blood transfusion in 1901.

Right. Work was already being done on blood transfusions in the late 1800s. Honestly, I tried my very best to do accurate research. Except for the math, I think I got everything down pretty well.


Was there something wrong with your math?

I think it's a little off. I don't think he's quite four centuries old.


TakezoKenseiDisplay.jpg

Well let's see. The date listed in the graphic novel is 1692, and it says "After turning 42, I realized I did not age. After 20 years as my wife, Helene saw it too." Some people have interpreted this as Adam turning 42 in 1692--

Right.


--and some interpret it that he turned 42 twenty years prior to 1692.

I think someone mentioned that if he was actually born in the 1600s, then it would actually have to be much later for him to be four centuries old.


Well, he'd be around 350 years old, but that's still living during four centuries. At least, that's how I read it.

Yes. I like that way. [laughs]


I don't see any problem with the math! [both laugh] Actually, I did have a question about Adam's age, though. In the episode Godsend, Hiro goes to the Museum of Natural History, and there's a sign under Kensei's display which lists his birth year as 1584. Now that would have made him 87 years old when he met Hiro. So I'm wondering if there's a definite birthdate for Adam Monroe?

I'm going to say that it was very hard to keep accurate historical records back then. [laughs] Ultimately, he didn't realize what his powers were until after he met Hiro. So I would say that there is some historical inaccuracy there.


That makes sense. So the point at which he realized he didn't age, that happened after he met Hiro.

Yes. I mean, he realizes that he heals during the show, but the whole aging thing doesn't really happen until after episode seven. He doesn't really realize that. It's sort of in that unseen period of time.


That makes sense. Another fun thing you brought up in the comic was that Adam used the alias "Richard Sanders".

Uh-huh! [laughs]


And then you never said anything more about it! A lot of people are now saying, as I'm sure you've seen on the boards, that he might have some connection to Niki.

Mm-hmm.


Can you talk about that?

[silence]


Or is that something you're going to keep quiet?

Well, it's just something that, you know, is just a little name that we dropped. It's something to keep people thinking about until Season Three begins, or hopefully the rest of Season Two. [laughs]


Well, I like that! Will that name come back up?

Um... uh...


Or are you being coy?

Yes, I'm being coy. It's hard to be coy over the phone. [both laugh]


That's okay!...I really enjoyed that there were so many different characters in the graphic novel. It's obvious you did a lot of research on four hundred years' worth of information. But you also brought up a very tantalizing teaser of this "new bride".

[laughs]


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Can you talk about that?

Uh...you know...


I guess I should say, what can you say about that?

I think we've revealed as much as we can about that for now...and it's something just to think about and speculate about until the next few episodes of Heroes come up.


All right. Fans will be excited that new story lines are being thought of, of course.

I think people who follow the websites will hopefully know about the Season Three trailer, if you go on YouTube and other sites where it's released.


Yes! That was shown at the Jules Verne Film Festival. It was really exciting!

Yeah, it's pretty cool! We had time to film just a little footage for the next batch of stories, and we wanted to make sure that everyone got to see it, and hopefully keep that momentum going.


Did you write an episode for the new batch?

Well, if there was no strike, Aron Coleite and I would be teaming up in episode thirteen.


Number thirteen when counting from eleven, or when counting from number one?

Counting from eleven. But because of the strike, we really don't know what's going to happen. I'd love for us to come back immediately, but it's going to take some time to film and edit and all that kind of stuff. The quicker the strike ends, the quicker we can come back.


That's what we're all hoping. Now, in that trailer, there was a lot of Angela Petrelli shown. I speak for a lot of people when I say that I'm glad to see that she'll be featured so much more in upcoming episodes.

It's very funny because I think maybe Angela and maybe Claude from Season One are the fans' most beloved characters.


I would say you know the fans pretty well.

We love writing those characters, too, because they're just great. They have so much potential. We're just dying to use them--we love using them, and they're such terrific actors!


Both of them seem like a writer's dream. The actors just nail their parts and really embody their characters, and the writers are giving them fantastic dialogue. It seems like a very synergistic relationship and like you're really feeding off each other.

Totally. It's amazing. For example, Sylar was a character who was originally conceived to not go past the first season, but Zach is just such an amazing actor that we had to keep him. He's a character who practically writes himself.


That's great to have a good actor who can create a character who becomes such a fan favorite. Like Claude...who might be coming back, then?

We hope so. We would love for him to come back. I think it's mostly an issue of timing and scheduling more than anything else. But yes, we're dying to write more about Claude.


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And maybe find out where he's been this whole time.

Maybe.


Well, I guess he might have been there in the background the whole time, invisible to the audience.

Exactly. [laughs] I actually didn't start watching Dr. Who until after he came on the show, and it's now one of my favorite shows. Wow. It's just so impressive. But my background is comic books, and there are a lot of things that I've learned way before they came out. For example--and I'm totally geeking out now--I learned that Colossus was going to be switching from the X-Men to Magneto's Acolytes a year before it happened. I actually knew who the killer was in Identity Crisis beforehand.


How?

I saw the script. It's not fun keeping a secret like that--it kind of ruins it. But I'm afraid to reveal anything about Season Three because it really ruins it for the fans if they know too much. At least, I know it ruins it for me.


I think that graphic novels like Ten Brides that you just wrote--

I actually wrote it literally two days before we went on strike. It was a story in which I just saw so much potential. I mean, he's been around for four centuries. What was that life like? I just thought it would be something sort of fun to write. We just wanted to do as many webcomics as possible for the viewers to be able to follow and be entertained.


So you have not written anything since the strike, then?

Oh, no, absolutely not!


Because a lot of people are wondering whether or not the graphic novels are going to continue during the strike, and you've had quite a few come out, so it's been quite nice.

As far as I know, there's one more that Joe Pokaski wrote that's going to be an HRG story. That will be Monday or Tuesday. After that I don't know what happens. Maybe they're doing more, maybe they aren't. But they're not ones that any writers from the show have written or that we know anything about.


Well, whatever comes out is great. I think fans pretty much stand in solidarity in favor of the writers, and just quietly grumble that there is no more Heroes.

[laughs]


So in The Ten Brides of Takezo Kensei, Peter Steigerwald did the art. That's the first Heroes graphic novel he's done the pencils for.

I have to say, normally I have a hand in most of the Season Two graphic novels.


How so?

I was basically the one who was checking the art, working with the studios producing the art.


You work with Aspen then.

I work with Aspen and Invisible College, which also produces. It usually goes four by Aspen, and four by Invisible College. Normally, I see every stage of it. I see the lettering, I see the pencils, I see the inks, I see the coloring. This whole batch after the strike, basically, were the ones I didn't get to see pretty much anything of.


But you wrote most of them.

Yeah. I think I co-wrote Normal Lives with Christopher Zatta, and then Joe Pokaski's doing the next one. But I just had a chunk of ideas; I wanted to do Elle meeting Claire for the first time, and I wanted to do this Ten Brides story.


Well I'm glad you did.

Thanks, thanks.


Powers coffin adam regenerates.jpg

And as you said earlier, it's not fun knowing a spoiler when it's just a spoiler. It's more fun to learn things when they're properly revealed, especially in tantalizing ways. Like that eleventh bride--that's a very fun reveal! "And I'm certain she'll find me."

Like I said, other than the script, I didn't know what the art was going to look like or anything. It just blew me away. I love the art and I loved the coloring and the very moody blues they used for when he was in the coffin.


Peter did the coloring, too.

Yes. It was amazing. My hat's off to him. It turned out better than I could have possibly imagined.


I've always been a fan of Peter's art, but up until this point, he had only done coloring for Heroes. So I was glad to see that he had done the art for this novel, too.

Yeah.


I'm also a fan of Jason Badower's, and he said something on his blog that originally he was going to do the art, but ended up not doing it.

Yeah, he's done some terrific stuff so far.


He has a very different style, though.

Yeah, it's a very different style. But I love his The Death of Hana Gitelman, which is just terrific. But it's pretty satisfying. I think this is the first one where so far, the positive outweighs the negative as far as the comments go. [laughs] I just remember reading the last few, and it's like four good and four bad, and it just goes back and forth. So I'm glad this one got a good response.


Well, you can't please them all. But I think everybody will be anxiously awaiting some of the new ideas you introduced to us in Ten Brides.

You know, I'm thinking it will take some time to edit and shoot and actually write the upcoming scripts. But I'm hoping--fingers crossed--that maybe we'll be able to get out some webcomics quicker when the strike's over. Maybe we'll at least have that for the fans to read.


That'd be very nice.

Well, it's a lot quicker to produce just five pages. [laughs]


So, you also wrote Sword Saint. Tell me about that experience.

Sword Saint was a lot of fun to write. It was a five part documentary, and it was supposed to be a bit of a teaser for Season Two. We had worked out a lot of the history of Takezo Kensei.


When you say "we"--

The writers. All the writers together, and Mark Warshaw. He's basically in charge of producing the Evolutions and I think all of the online material. For example, there was some footage of corpses being found...


...Yes, that was on Hana's blog. They were victims of Maya's ability.

Yeah, the aftermath of Maya. [laughs] So he also produced that. There's that sort of stuff that's come out.


And for Sword Saint, the writers got together after you had worked out the history?

Yeah, we worked out the history in the writers' room. And we didn't want to reveal too much. For example, at that point nobody knew that Takezo Kensei was white.


When it came out, there were already reports and announcements that David Anders would be portraying Kensei, but nobody knew exactly how that was going to work.

Right.


In the documentary, Kensei was wearing a mask most of the time.

We didn't want to reveal too much--like we didn't want to reveal too much about the swordsmith's daughter. We wanted to show that this is a legendary figure. Like in a lot of documentaries, there's a little bit of truth mixed in with fiction. Sort of like with the Labors of Hercules, there are so many different versions of the same story. Sometimes it's a seven-headed hydra, sometimes it's a hundred-headed hydra. That's the sort of thing we wanted to get across.


Kensei tapestry.jpg

Like the ninety angry ronin are sometimes reported as being a group of 900. There was a lot of that kind of ambiguous language: "It could be this or that, but we don't really know." It reminded me a lot of the Ken Burns documentaries or The History Channel.

Oh thanks! I was actually watching quite a few documentaries just before. But it was a lot of fun to do. I think you get to see a lot more of the tapestry in the documentary than appeared in the show.


That's a beautiful piece. Do you know who did the art for it?

Offhand, I don't. But it's amazing! I wish they would mass produce it and sell it. I think there was only one which was actually made, and then it basically had to be torn up for footage. It's such a shame because it was such a gorgeous piece of art. But if you watch the documentary, you actually get to see it in more detail. They actually take that artwork and then they animate it so you get to see some of the animated moves. It's just incredibly impressive.


I agree. I don't think it revealed anything per se. It's sort of the same as with this eleventh bride: it tantalizes.

[laughs]


Nothing much was given away, and I think the feudal Japan story in Season Two still had plenty of surprises. Personally, I also enjoyed how many of the trials were dealt with. For instance, the Battle of Twelve Swords was presented one way in Sword Saint, but "actually" occurred in a completely different way in Lizards. It was very clever. And then, of course, The Trial of the Black Bear which you wrote tackled another trial altogether. It was like a prophecy realized.

[laughs] It's a lot of fun. There are so many ideas that we come up with for the show. Because there are so many different characters we have to cover, we can't really put it all into the show, so that's one of the great things about the webcomics and this web documentary. We get to give some of those ideas to the viewers in a different form, but we still get to share them.


And we thank you. One idea you introduced was the trial of the Snake Women. I think it's the only major trial that wasn't mentioned in the show or the graphic novels.

Especially in the Asian mythology, there's a lot of transformation, especially with women who turn into foxes. In Chinese mythology, there are actually women who turn into snakes, sort of like spirits, and change from animal to human. Often they were seductresses. I think it's quite common in a lot of different mythologies. It was just something I thought would be fun to stick in there.


Fun--definitely! I know I'd be pretty terrified if I met two female assassins who turned into snakes.

[laughs] I'm a huge mythology fan. It was probably the equivalent of comic books back then, I think.


That's a very good analogy. And I suppose Sword Saint was probably a perfect pick for you since you're a fan of mythology and it presented the myth of Kensei instead of the actual man. What a fun take on the subject.

Thanks.


Are you involved at all in the new Richard Drucker content?

No. I actually think that's Mark Warshaw and Yule Caise, who actually directed Sword Saint. I think he wrote a few of those [Global News Interactive] videos. But those two also stopped working on that stuff with the strike and they went on strike with the writers. I don't know who is responsible for it now. But they did share a few ideas with me before the strike. But that's not something I can...you know.


Of course not. Again, that's part of the fun of the Heroes Evolutions content, that it's being revealed a little bit at a time.

I think Sword Saint ended up coming out to six parts. It was a lot of fun to work on.


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Did you have a lot of input with Yule Caise in directing it?

He was great. Actually, after I got him the script, we got together and he gave me a lot of ideas which I think made the documentary quite a bit better. Michael Green also helped me quite a bit on that. He had written the second episode of Season Two. He was kind of like the Takezo Kensei specialist. So those two had added quite a bit to the documentary. I did go down while they were shooting it, and Yule was awesome. He was very cool with sharing ideas. Overall it was just an amazing experience.


It sounds like it. I don't want to keep you too much longer, but I have one last burning questions for you.

Sure. Absolutely.


You worked on the Powerpuff Girls comic. So which one is your favorite. Don't worry, I won't tell the other two.

[laughs] Huh...Buttercup is pretty awesome.


She's got spunk, doesn't she?

[laughs]


Chuck, I do appreciate your time, and I don't want to keep you from playing World of Warcraft any longer.

What a horrible addiction that is! [laughs] Thank you, Ryan.



Interviews edit
Cast

Sally ChamplinAlex FernandezMike FoyJames Kyson LeeNtare Guma Mbaho MwineJoshua RushJames RyenRoberto SanchezDiana Terranova

Crew

Adam Armus and Kay FosterYule CaiseZach CraleyNate GoodmanChuck KimTim KringJason La PaduraDebra McGuireJoe TolericoKevin Tostado

Graphic Novel Crew

Robert AtkinsMicah GunnellR.D. HallJoe KellyChuck KimKotzebue brothersRyan OdagawaJG RoshellMark Sable

Specific Works

BlackoutDark Mattersdirectors / writerDestinyEvs DropperGolden HandshakeInto the WildiStory (follow up) • Nowhere Mandirectors / writersThe RecruitRoot and BranchSlow Burn

See Also: LinksInterviews