INTERVIEW: JEEHYUNG LEE REVEALS THE SECRETS OF GUMAA – THE BEGINNING OF HER
GUMAA – The Beginning of Her launched as a creator-owned title in May 2022, with fans from over 30 countries backing the first Kickstarter campaign for Issues 1 through 3 of the 7-part series.
In November 2022, Jeehyung Lee's dark supernatural thriller returns with issues 4 and 5 as the epic saga of the dark priestess Khalida continues, with new enemies, exciting action, and even higher stakes!
Q: What was the inspiration for creating GUMAA?
Jeehyung: In Korean, the word "GUMAA"' means "exorcism" – I chose that word because my story is partly inspired by those people who follow "something" as if they're in some sort of cult. In some ways, I'm exploring how people form obsessions of all kinds. In one way or another, these obsessions tell the story of a deep desire to escape from whatever reality we're in.
We all have our own purpose, our own needs in life, but it's a thin line that keeps us from crossing over into darkness, and sometimes that can lead to people becoming unethical due to greed and blind ambition.
Q: How long did it take you to develop this from idea to script?
Jeehyung: I first got this idea when I was working for a game company as a character designer. I was in that mental space already – seeing characters not just for their visual design and aesthetic, but imagining how they fit into the world of a specific story. I took that same approach – creating GUMAA with a story, characters, and art – so it would feel as immersive as a game.
I took about a month to create the basic story of GUMAA, and then preparation for this project took another year, including the research, consulting, and refining phases.
Q: Growing up in Korea, what kind of exposure did you have to the concepts of "evil" and "exorcisms"?
Jeehyung: The theme of "exorcism" in South Korea is intertwined with a ritual culture. An "exorcism" is a way to expose evil, to somehow remove it from human beings. I’m more interested in the evil and good inside of each of us, and how that combination determines the path in life, or our fate. Can we truly remove evil from humanity, or is that balance ultimately what makes us human after all?
Q: You're known to international comic book fans as a dynamic cover artist for Marvel, DC, Boom! Studios, and several in-demand retailer exclusives. What's your artistic process like, going from concept to a finished piece?
Jeehyung: I usually make strong choices about the design and concept before I start drawing anything. Even before I do my first sketches, I have an image in my mind of how it's going to turn out. Once I've made those decisions and I have a clear vision in my mind, that's when I start the technical process of painting the illustration and focusing on the emotion of the final artwork.
Q: What influences did you pay attention to when you were working on GUMAA?
Jeehyung: It's hard to pinpoint just one thing, but GUMAA always felt cinematic to me, and I was inspired a lot by the Constantine film. Actually, Manuel (one of the main antagonists) is named after a minor character from the film – he's the one who discovers a dagger on the ground. As I began developing the visual look of GUMAA, I though a lot about Batman and The Dark Knight.
Q: The characters of GUMAA are pretty complex – there's no clear "good guy" or "bad guy". How do you want readers to view these characters? Whose side should they be on?
Jeehyung: That's exactly the perspective I have as the creator, and I'm hoping that readers see this the same way. As human beings, we carry the potential for both good and bad within us, no matter where we go. How we behave, how we treat others – we always have a choice about whether we choose the good side or the bad side.
When you're reading GUMAA, I hope you're thinking about the choices these characters make, and whether you might do things the same way or do things totally different. The way these characters navigate their path through these horrific events is what makes them who they are.
Q: There's a "gothic" visual style to this series – it feels like a nightmare. What visual references did you focus on to create the world of GUMAA?
Jeehyung: I've already mentioned Constantine and The Dark Knight, but I'm also a big fan of various genre films, especially crime noir. I tried to capture elements from these films – architecture, mood, lighting, costumes – that matched the world I wanted to create. In each case, I realized it wasn't just something technical that inspired me, but I was looking at the emotion behind it.
Working on the art for GUMAA, the emotion of each panel was the key consideration, just as if I were putting together the shots of a movie. I really want readers to feel like they're watching this story on a big screen. Mise-en-scène is a big element for visual art. I try to implement background and composition to create a visual mood. I'm thinking GUMAA might be made into a film eventually. Maybe a comic book is the first step to getting there.