By Gene Ching
Tiger’s Tale began at Kung Fu Tai Chi prior to my watch. By 1999, when I went full-time there, Patrick’s comic had already been going for three years. Subsequently, I had the unique opportunity to watch it grow over the years, watching over Patrick’s shoulder from that backseat position that every graphic artist loves.
Patrick and I had met prior to when I joined the magazine. The first time was over dinner in 1996, back when I was working as a freelance writer. That was the same year when Patrick had first begun as a graphic designer at Kung Fu Tai Chi. He had just come from the June+July cover shoot with Shi Yanming, the Shaolin Monk Sifu of RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan. I was deeply invested in the U.S. Shaolin diaspora and was working with Yanming to promote Shaolin dharma by helping him to do some local seminars. We all met for dinner at a vegetarian restaurant in San Jose. I didn’t participate in the shoot or the coverage, but it was the first time that a Shaolin monk made the cover of a newsstand magazine, one of the many achievements that made us at Kung Fu Tai Chi proud over the years. Patrick regaled me of stories of that shoot many years later. Who knew back then that we were destined to share a workspace for two decades?
Being the creators of a newsstand martial arts magazine was a singular and unique enterprise. It exposed both of us to so many extraordinary experiences. Patrick and I have been through so much together – so many crazy adventures and escapades, so many bizarre collaborations – that when he asked me to write something for A Tiger’s Tale, I was more than happy to contribute.
Our Kung Fu Tai Chi production team was small, limited to four of us full-time employees for most of those years, supported by a few part-timers and a dedicated stable of freelancers. Our core four was like a musical quartet and harmonizing became reflex. At our height, we were the epitome of efficiency. I profoundly miss working with that crew.
However, Patrick and I connected on a deeper level than with the others through our mutual regard for – for lack of a better term – counterculture. We often chatted about art and events in double entendre, almost to the level of code talking. Meanwhile most of our fellow employees had no idea what we were talking about. We developed this unique dialog, using keywords like ‘baby chopping,’ ‘ninjas in action,’ and ‘iron horse productions’ to reference perspectives that only we shared. Each was a reference to some obtuse experience, and the mere mention of one when properly timed might send the other into covert snickers over how it related to the present moment.
The Birth of Tiger’s Tale
Patrick’s official first issue with Kung Fu Tai Chi was the February+March 1996 issue (back then, the magazine was titled Kungfu Wushu Qigong, but that’s a whole other story). Patrick wasted no time in launching Tiger’s Tale, which was included in the following April+May issue. It ran until October 2000.
Having a comic in a martial arts magazine might seem incongruous, but there were many others. The martial arts economy is driven largely by kids, so every martial arts magazine attempted to add comics to their pages at some point. All the major newsstand martial arts mags tried. Black Belt and Inside Kung-Fu both ran comics for a short stint. There were even magazines specifically designed to target kids that contained comics. They all failed, usually within a few issues. Tiger’s Tale remains the longest running comic strip ever published in a newsstand martial arts magazine. That’s another point of pride for Kung Fu Tai Chi.
We had a lot of fun with Tiger’s Tale. I remember once when Patrick and I had finagled a table at a small indie comic con gathering, using Tiger’s Tale as the excuse to do so. It was totally the wrong market but we both love cons, so it got us in. However, there wasn’t enough Tiger’s Tale in a single issue for comics fans to get into it and comics fans weren’t that interested in Kung Fu magazines, not when there was an entire event devoted to comics. But we had a great time saying our spiel and checking out other tables.
In retrospect, I think Tiger’s Tale survived because Patrick had no motive beyond expressing his art. He wasn’t trying to sell something (despite me nagging him to do so from that over-the-shoulder backseat position), nor did he have an agenda. The comics within the other martial arts magazines felt contrived, designed to fill a perceived market. Patrick drew from the heart. He wasn’t trying to talk down to kids or sling glitter nunchucks. He was just telling a story that infused details and observations from his unique position at Kung Fu Tai Chi into Tiger’s Tale. Sometimes, I felt his work frustrations peek through as he struggled to craft each installment while being bombarded with constant last-minute complications to our ever-present deadlines. But such is magazine publishing. It was all about deadlines and getting it right for the final copy. Unlike the web, once it was set in print, there’s no way to update it. Mistakes, and there were many, were set in stone, or at least in paper.
The Vitality of Tiger’s Tale
Tiger’s Tale was a dynamic work. While it had an overall guiding story arc, it flowed with each installment, integrating experiences that Patrick encountered on the job, in his life, and within his visionary imagination. Any artist does this. It’s how we infuse vitality in our work.
Just like with our countercultural code talking, there were occasional in-jokes and Easter eggs in Tiger’s Tale (a secret code) that only I could see. I imagine there were additional references that only others could see too. I only saw Patrick for 40+ hours a week, and that was a lot of time, it was enough time to understand only a smattering of his artistic underpinnings. I would never claim to see all of it. Patrick has a densely layered artistic style. Sometimes things weren’t obvious at first glance. I remember several occasions where I’d look at some work he had done, something I’d seen countless times before, and discover some new detail that opened it up on a completely higher level.
Tiger’s Tale ended rather unceremoniously in Kung Fu Tai Chi in its October 2000 issue. The magazine, then titled Kungfu Qigong, went monthly in 2000. It began as a quarterly, and then became bimonthly, then monthly for 2000. But it could not sustain itself at that rate, either on the newsstands or with enough quality content to fill its pages. In a desperate attempt at redemption, several cuts were made, and Tiger’s Tale was one of the casualties. There was a half-page acknowledgement at the very end of the issue that sent the Tiger Princes hurtling to the web in www.Tiger’sTale.com, which ultimately became atigerstale.com, which you are reading right now.
I always wondered what might become of Tiger’s Tale. What was the ultimate fate of the Tiger Princes? Support Patrick’s work and one day soon, we’ll all find out.
Gene Ching is the author of Shaolin Trips, the publisher of KungFuMagazine.com, a Staff Writer for YMAA Publication Center, and he is a 32nd generation layman disciple of the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China, a certified Provost at Arms in Fencing, and served as a weapons expert for the TV show Man at Arms: Art of War. He also writes for the pop culture website Den of Geek. Gene worked alongside Patrick Lugo for over twenty years until the pandemic folded the print magazine. Whether he survived that experience with his sanity intact is questionable.