Keiiii: The Flowing Creativity Behind Heart of Keol

Keiiii is a star among the webcomic community.

Sole creator of the hit series Heart of Keol, a fantasy comic detailing the journey of Ethan (An American lost in a land resembling beautiful, ancient Korea),  it’s a cultural feast for the senses. At it’s core, Heart of Keol is a story of family, finding what it means to care about others, and sadly, heartbreak.

Keiiii has the unique ability to breathe life into the smallest of detail, and I was given the rare opportunity to sit down with them and as a few questions about their experiences, comic, characters and art.

Thank you for sitting down to this interview! To start off, as a creator and individual, could you tell us a bit about you as a person, your background and how it influences your creativity?

• Hello! I’m keiiii; I grew up in Korea, where the comic scene has been very different from how things are in the US, where a big part of my current audience is located. There, anime and manga started making the rounds way earlier, and of course there’s manhwa. Growing up, I was into fantasy shounen-y action as well as sparkly shoujo-y stuff (both of which have their own corresponding terms in manhwa). It was never difficult to find the sort of stuff I liked. And even though sexism was quite strong at the time in that society, I was never mocked for liking stuff associated with the opposite sex.I think those are very valuable things, especially during your formative years.

The current version, I would say, is a self reflection at the core.

All those make you an amazing person, and the culture shows beautifully in your current work! Where, during your experiences, did the idea for Heart of Keol come from?

• The most prominent source has to be the one I didn’t mention — jRPGs. But that’s for the very first iteration of the story that I came up with in middle school, and there’s not much it shares in common with the story I’m telling today.

The current version, I would say, is a self reflection at the core. I see myself in Ethan, a big white guy thrown into a culture he’s not familiar with. For good or bad, I always stood out back in Korea. I never fit in. I didn’t mind that, but it turns out I still want to say something about it. I also see my own anxiety in the various relationship problems Ethan goes through. Ethan’s journey to recovery (or perhaps just closure?) is going to be different from mine; nevertheless, much of it is my own heart, poured into a comic-shaped container.

Comics end up being a great method of self help. Or even just to get a story out that’s in your heart. I can say we’re all VERY glad you’re doing this one.

Ethan, as a character, is a vastly interesting and complex one. He doesn’t hit the tropes that a lot of protagonists seem to. Were there other inspirations for him as well? Or ideas you intentionally put into formulating him as a person?

No regrets about the reboot. It was absolutely necessary — not to fix the past, but to fix the future.

• There was a version of the story only released in Korean. In that iteration, a lot of things seem very similar to the current one on the surface, but almost every character was a different person compared to who they are now. Ethan was a terrible flirt, and his main issue was feeling inadequate: high school dropout, dead end job, etc etc. I could tell something was off about that. Off as in it wasn’t in line with what I wanted to say with the story.

After 20 completed chapters of “but something’s not right…” I could finally articulate (or rather, begin to articulate) what it was that I wanted to say. I scrapped everything and started from scratch. No regrets about the reboot. It was absolutely necessary — not to fix the past, but to fix the future.

So I wouldn’t say I formulated him as a character. It’s less like sculpting something out of formless clay, and more like finding the right sculpture in the big room of sculptures in my head. I do consciously make micro-additions and modifications to that “sculpture,” but the base was discovered, not crafted.

An amazing discovery! The other characters are just as vibrant and exciting. Did you expect that Lushaka would be as popular as he is?

• Thank you! I had no idea what to expect, to be honest! So it wasn’t really a surprise as in something contrary to my expectations.

It’s good to go in without expectations that way, I think! Well done!

Going back to comic craft, the art itself is gorgeous. Is this your natural style or do you adapt a specific look for the comic?

• I guess it’s a specific way of utilizing my natural style? Inking is usually my least favorite part of the process, but I’d known about my love for charcoals. So, for a long comic that would take years of drawing, drawing and more drawing, I figured out a way of using a tablet stylus like a charcoal instead of a pen. Allowing myself to use thicker, messier lines and partial shading during the “inking” phase has been liberating. I still hold the stylus like a pen though, and not like a charcoal stick.

Honestly ingenious. If you’re going to be doing something a long time, make it something you can stand to do that long: turn the bad parts of the process into something enjoyable.

Last question! Do you have anything you would like to say to our readers and your own fans? Word of encouragement? You’re a star webcomic creator and an inspiration to us all, and it was an absolute pleasure to interview you today– to get this inside look at what goes into Heart of Keol!

• Everyone’s different, so it’s hard to say something that would be beneficial to everyone! I’ll just share some advice meant for myself: there’s self discipline, and there’s self abuse. Work hard, but know that you’re only a human, and that that’s okay. <3

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