by Jarrod Jones. When you think of a typical cyberpunk saga you picture the Asian-infused aesthetics that give the story life and culture. But when you think of the names that loom over the subgenre, it’s generally populated by the likes of Gibson, Morgan, or Scott. With the upcoming release of Fox and Hare, the new cyberpunk series from Vault Comics, you can throw Jon Tsuei and Stacey Lee into the mix.
The quick pitch: black market coder Aurora Yi stumbles across delicate information concerning megacorporation Synastry Designs, which flings Aurora into the high-octane world of the two most feared mercenaries of Mazu Bay, the Fox and the Hare. At first blush, it may seem as though Fox and Hare is checking its cyberpunk boxes, but as the writer who mightily wielded his mythological inspirations with Sera and the Royal Stars, Jon Tsuei has all sorts of wild tricks in his bag. Teamed with Lee, as well as colorist Raul Angulo and letterer Jim Campbell, Fox and Hare just might surprise you.
“The theme of rebellion has always been the most interesting aspect of the genre to me [and identifying] the systems of control and watching the people rebel against it is what makes cyberpunk exciting to me,” Jon says. “In Fox and Hare, [we’re] trying to introduce something new to the genre with Asian spiritualism. If you look at the direction that science is headed, especially in the field of theoretical physics, we see some parallels with Buddhist and Hindu teachings. So, expect things to get a little weird.”
Vault Comics isn’t holding back with Fox and Hare. With six variant covers of its debut issue by artists Yoshi Yoshitani, Dike Ruan & Dee Cunniffe, Nen Chang, Irene Koh, Audrey Mok, and Jen Bartel, the independent comics publisher is leaving AAPI Heritage Month on a strong note. On the cusp of the release of Fox and Hare #1 Jon Tsuei spoke with DoomRocket about Fox and Hare, collaborating with artist Stacey Lee, and how it feels to be telling the kind of cyberpunk story he’s always wanted to read.
1. ‘Fox and Hare’ is a project that feels personal to me. You’ve wondered aloud in press releases what would happen if Asian creators reclaimed cyberpunk, a genre that is often enmeshed in Asian aesthetics yet largely features characters who are decidedly not Asian. When did you decide ‘Fox and Hare’ would be your first step to seeing this reclamation happen?
Jon Tsuei: A few years ago, before the pandemic hit, I was critiquing the cyberpunk genre as an exercise. I was wondering if the genre was still a viable vehicle to tell stories in our current version of reality. I didn’t come up with an answer, but it did lead me to the question, “What if Asian people reclaimed the aesthetics of cyberpunk and centered ourselves in the narrative?” Sometimes you ask yourself a question and that question doesn’t leave you alone. That’s typically what happens to me when a story wants to be told, an idea or phrase just keeps nagging my brain. I don’t know what it’s like for others, but I only have so much room in my head for stories. I got to get them out in some fashion, or I’ll lose them. So, I started gathering pieces of art that I found inspiring and went from there.
Was there a conspicuous cyberpunk offender that made you decide, “all right, fine, I’ll do it myself”?
I don’t know that there was a single offender. As Fox and Hare got closer to becoming a reality there was more cyberpunk media being released and most of it seemed to continue with the same old tropes that I found disappointing. I just took that as a sign that I was on the right track.
2. Vault Editor-in-Chief Adrian Wassel describes ‘Fox and Hare’ as “a cyberpunk story wrapped inside a superhero story,” which caught my eye. Is that how you would describe it? To my mind, cyberpunk is often about rebellion, while superheroism is more often about doing the right thing amid the status quo.
I wouldn’t describe it the same way, but my perspective is very different from Adrian’s. He sees things in my writing that I often miss. I think I’m just too close to it. Fox and Hare is very much a rebellion story, but the rebellion is sparked by doing what’s right. So, in that sense, Adrian is right on the money. I set out to write a story about rebellion, but I guess superheroics crept their way in.
3. Quite a few cyberpunk stories have some monolithic corporate entity looming over the proceedings, and ‘Fox and Hare’, not missing a trick, has Synastry Designs. What was the thinking behind Synastry and how will it flex its corporate muscles in the story? That Prime Minister Moorhouse gives off post-Crisis Lex Luthor vibes.
Synastry Designs is a nod to the typical corporate entities found in cyberpunk stories, but it also represents European colonialism. I didn’t want to center Asian characters in a fictional Asian city and ignore the history of colonialism throughout the region. Synastry isn’t there to exploit material goods, Moorhouse wants Eastern thought and spirituality.
I’ve been trying to work out the portmanteau: Synergy/Artistry? Synergy/Ministry?
Synastry is a form of relationship astrology. You’ll learn why Marius Moorhouse uses this name later in the series.
4. I’m always interested in learning how creators wind up working together. Tell me about how you and Stacey Lee came to work together on this book.
Stacey and I met through a mutual friend at Rose City Comic Con several years ago. We got the chance to hang out and talk shop throughout the weekend. When it came time to think about the artist for Fox and Hare, Stacey was someone who was always top of mind. I love her style and she’s an amazing storyteller. Fortunately for all of us, she loved the pitch and really wanted to be a part of the book.
5. You’ve said that the Fox and Hare characters are “reclaiming something that was taken from them just as we are reclaiming something taken from us,” and that “[Stacey] and I are mirroring the path that the Fox and the Hare are walking, we’re just doing it in different worlds.” How does it feel to work with someone who shares your vision as clearly and as passionately as Stacey? How has this collaborative energy affected your storytelling?
To me, the beauty of comics is the collaboration between a very small group of creatives. It takes a little time to find that pocket, but once all the pieces click together, you’re like Voltron. In all seriousness though, it’s always important to find someone who resonates with the story. People bring their best when they’re passionate about and connected to the material. It’s no different here. I know that Stacey loves this story just as much as I do, and that elevates my game. When I’m writing a pitch, I’m just trying to convey the story that wants to be told. When I’m writing scripts, it’s something different. The story is always top of mind, but I’m trying to lean into the strengths of the entire team. When you know your collaborators are of the same mindset, everything is more enjoyable. It’s easier to find that zone.
6. I remember hearing about ‘Fox and Hare’ #1 dropping back in November 2021, then again in February. I imagine the COVID outbreak and the subsequent supply chain fiascos were a part of the delay, but were there any creative reasons behind it? I mean, how has it been for you making a cyberpunk comic book during a paradigm-shifting pandemic?
This pandemic has affected all of us in different ways and that was one of the reasons why we had to push the book back. I’m sorry for the delays and thank everyone for their patience!
To be honest, my paradigm hasn’t shifted all that much. There definitely were times when it was difficult and frustrating, but I don’t feel like my world was flipped upside down. Maybe I channeled all my frustrations into Fox and Hare and I’m just too close to see it.
7. Tell me about Aurora Yi, the spritely hacker who runs afoul of Synastry and winds up running the streets with Fox and Hare. What’s Aurora’s function in the story going forward?
Aurora is a free-spirited troublemaker. She isn’t one for rules and lives life by the beat of her own drum. Though she can be a bit naïve to the dangers of Mazu Bay. As a character, she brings out the humanity in Keza (Fox) and Kita (Hare) with her annoying, yet loveable, ways. But she’s not just there to give the reader perspective. She plays a very big role in the overall story.
8. And the eponymous Fox and Hare. Who are these two mercenaries, and where are they emotionally, professionally, at the beginning of ‘Fox and Hare’?
When the reader first meets Keza and Kita, they’re hardened from years of fending for themselves. They’re the two most notorious and feared mercenaries in Mazu Bay. At their core, they’re good people who have lived through unfortunate circumstances. I think their actions are a constant balance of doing what’s right and trying to survive in a cruel world.
9. That motif intrigues me: both are swift, as two cyber-mercenaries would have to be swift, but one’s a predator and the other is unquestionably its prey. What’s the significance here?
I wanted to use imagery that was important in Asian mythology. The fox and the hare are both important animals in stories found throughout Asia. In Japan, the fox is the kitsune, a Shinto spirit that serves as a messenger. Throughout East Asia, there’s a story about a rabbit who sacrificed itself when Śakra, the ruler of heaven in Buddhist cosmology, was disguised as a hungry old man. Because of the rabbit’s selflessness, Śakra drew the rabbit’s likeness onto the moon.
10. Let’s say you’re a character in a dystopian cyberpunk RPG. Who are you in this world, what does your character do, and how do they survive?
I would love to be the badass mercenary, but I’d probably be terrible at that. I’m pretty good at observation and talking to people. So, I’d probably be an information broker of some sort. Oh no, I think I’m that trope of a bartender you pay for the latest gossip.
Fox and Hare #1 is in stores May 25. Issue #2 hits stores June 29. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: JAN221733)
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing: