This Wednesday, April 14 the first issue of a new comic from IDW called Kill Shakespeare launches. The series is written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery with art by Andy Belanger. MONDOcomics has an interview with the writers.
MONDO: For those of us who don’t already know could you tell us a little bit about the concept of Kill Shakespeare?
Anthony: Kill Shakespeare is an upcoming comic book series that comes out from IDW Publishing on April 14th. It is an action-adventure series where we take all of Shakespeare’s greatest heroes and all of his… most menacing villains and put them all together in the same world, the same story. They’re all on a quest to track down the reclusive wizard by the name of William Shakespeare to either kill him or save him.
Conor: To kill or not to kill, that is the question.
MONDO: So where did this come from? Is Shakespeare something that has always been interesting for you guys or is this concept something you stumbled upon?
Conor: Both, actually. Anthony is a huge Shakespeare fan, I was a minor in theatre and did a lot of theatre in high school so I did a lot of Shakespeare and was exposed to it and always enjoyed it, but Anthony’s the one who, he goes to Stratford every year for, (to Anthony) what, fifteen, sixteen years now?
Anthony: Woah, I’m not that old!
Conor: I thought since high school.
Anthony: Yeah, I guess so. I guess I am that old.
Conor: So yeah, the fact that we ended up doing something with Shakespeare is probably not accidental, but how we came up with the concept sort of was. We had been working on film and TV properties and we were brainstorming something for video games and we were chatting about Kill Bill, which had just come out, and we joked that instead of killing David Carradine maybe we should really kill… Billy Shakespeare! And you’d have this game and all of Shakespeare’s villains would be on one side and the heroes would be on the other… and we kind of paused… and we have this joke about how we say “oh, write that down” and we were like “no, we need to write this down, this is actually a very good idea” and then… off and on for about five years between the other jobs we were working… we kind of fleshed out the story worked on a business plan and ended up putting together what’s known now as the Kill Shakespeare… empire? Can we call ourselves an empire yet?
Anthony: Not yet.
Conor: An outpost? An enclave? The Kill Shakespeare enclave?
Anthony: Well, for myself it’s just the depth of characters and story. I mean, the language is beautiful and when it’s taught properly it’s something that does jump off the page but really it’s more the kinetic energy of the story and the characters. Some of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve seen have been bad ones, but I’ll go in and I’ll watch the play and I’ll leave the theatre just going, “you know what? I didn’t understand everything that was going on and it was poorly acted and what-not but it’s just such a great story”. As we started to explore Kill Shakespeare years ago when we got the idea it just kind of reinforced that… these are the greatest characters ever written.
Conor: And while Anthony says that seeing Shakespeare makes such a huge difference, for me when it really came alive was seeing The Tempest with Colm Feore before he was…
Anthony: Before he was “Trudeau”.
Conor: Before he was “Trudeau”. And he was Caliban, and I remember just being mesmerized… To me Caliban was just this Shakespearean Sabretooth and right away I just dug this character. The story of Caliban was very simple in terms of this person who doesn’t really feel that he understands where he fits in this world and he’s very resentful and you’re a teenager and you go and see it and you’re like, “okay, well that’s all of us at about fifteen, sixteen, and we feel this angst about everything”. So I think that’s when I learned how interesting it was, but also how relatable it was.
MONDO: Great. Well, the big question I had, when I heard about your book was about your process of picking the characters you were going to use. How did you whittle down the massive list?
Anthony: Darts. Rock, paper, scissors.
Conor: They picked us, actually. To be honest, they picked us. Hamlet just jumped out at me. It had to be Hamlet, it really couldn’t be anybody else. There was a brief time where we chatted about bringing a foreign character into the Shakespearean world -
Anthony: Which was interesting, but it just changed the tone. Instead of a Lord of the Rings-type of feel it would be more Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Conor: Which could have been a lot of fun, but in the end it wasn’t where we wanted to go. So, yeah, Hamlet kind of picked us and after that they just kind of naturally leapt out. Juliet just kind of started yelling at us, saying, “here’s the role I could have in this story”.
Anthony: I think the most interesting one was Iago. When we first wrote the initial story Iago had a much smaller role, but as we continued to develop the story and exactly what would happen within it… Iago just continued to get bigger and bigger.
Conor: Isn’t that just like Iago, to kind of –
Anthony: It is just like Iago, he just weaseled his way in there.
MONDO: And did you envision the cast as more of a fluid thing, where characters would come in and out or did you have the set cast that you want and then you’re going to sort of stick with it?
Anthony: Well, we don’t want to give away THAT much… I know you’re looking for spoilers, here, so you can crack exclusives online, but unfortunately we’re not giving you that (laughs). We do have the main characters, but what’s also been interesting as we’ve been developing it is that every single character in our book is a Shakespearean character, including the small minor ones. So, it’s kind of interesting as we start to write the small ones, say Lysander and Demetrius or Nerissa, you know, they start off as small and we become more enamoured with them and they become bigger. I mean, yeah, characters come in and they come out but the main characters are there, at least for the first series. I don’t think I’m giving anything away with that.
Conor: Also, with Shakespeare his characters are so temporary. So I think in some sense we almost have to have a rotating cast who maybe don’t make it to the end or their stories, because in a way I think that that’s very Shakespearean.
MONDO: Since you mentioned that, do you have any rules or guidelines about sticking to or deviating from Shakespeare’s continuities?
Anthony: Well, we have deviated a bit with some of the characters. One of the things we decided to do early on was not read and re-read all of the plays over again, because we wanted a bit of a fresh perspective. .. we didn’t want to be locked in, saying “this character would never do this” or “that character would never do that”…
Conor: And the great thing, too, is that when we looked at the plays, Shakespeare leaves so many interesting clues as to what these characters could have done that is different from what they did do, as if what he wrote is not necessarily the truth of the character. For example, I mean, Hamlet’s father, there is some evidence that as a king may have not been a fantastic king. And Rosencrantz and Guildenstern… we have received some comments about a choice we have (them) make in our first issue which is inconsistent with who they were in the play… I think you can argue that what they did and why they did it… they could have done, they could have made a different choice, which is why it’s so great to play that choice in this world because all of these characters are so complex.
Anthony: Certainly, we have Hamlet as our main character… he’s basically washed ashore on this land, and every person that he meets is (one of) Shakespeare’s characters. He’s kind of a reluctant hero. On the “good side” we have Falstaff, who’s the ultimate comedic side-kick. We have Juliet, the leader of the rebellion against the tyranny of Richard and MacBeth, she’s kind of the Princess Leia of our story. We have Othello, who’s the ultimate warrior.
Conor: We also have got Romeo, who’s got his own backstory, which varies from the play. Puck, everybody loves Puck. If we hadn’t been planning on putting Puck in I think fans would have –
MONDO: “Because you demanded it.”
Conor: Exactly, exactly. And then on the bad side, although it’s never that simple, we have King Richard, he’s the one who first meets Hamlet and makes him this deal that if Hamlet kills this mysterious wizard named Shakespeare that he’ll get his father back. And you also have Iago who swears allegiance to Richard but because he’s Iago he has his own plans and there’s Lady MacBeth as well, to start off the story.
MONDO: Great, now are there any characters or stories that you guys would consider off-limits?
Anthony: Probably Julius Caesar, simply because it’s a historical play and it’s a very different history than the contemporary time Shakespeare wrote in. I mean, Richard III, we sort of thought “well that’s kind of a contemporary to Shakespeare to a degree”, it’s obviously a vast gap between when Shakespeare lived and when Richard III lived, but it was such a part of what informed Shakespeare’s theatre and that seemed to make sense.
Conor: We think it would be tough, we’re not saying it couldn’t happen.
MONDO: I just wanted to talk about your artist, Andy Belanger, how did you get together with him. Did you know him or was he recommended to you or…?
Anthony: After Conor and I had put together our story and put together our package to pitch to publishers we wanted to bring the artist on board, so we talked to a number of potential artists and we met Andy through a friend of a friend. It’s interesting, because within five minutes we knew he would be a great fit for the project, he showed the most enthusiasm –
Conor: “Alright, I’m in. I want this, I’ve always wanted to do Lady MacBeth, this is amazing.”
Anthony: And in the span of that first fourty-five minute meeting he talked about some of the creative choices he wanted to make, some very lush backgrounds and sort of the look and feel for it.. we were on board right off the bat.
Conor: It was very clear that he was a guy who had a very strong sense of story, of what should happen and while that causes arguments sometimes (Anthony laughs) I think that in the end we get a better story. That was a really key part, he isn’t just an artist, he is also a storyteller.
MONDO: Now, one of the things that struck me is a lot of these stories do take place in different time periods, sometimes vastly, is the timeline of these stories something that you were concerned with or were you more thinking, “you know, we’re doing this, let’s go all-out”?
Conor: Yeah, we had to make a decision early on… how could Shakespeare potentially exist with his own creations?
Anthony: One of the questions in the story is, does Shakespeare even exist?
Conor: If Shakespeare is God to some, there are some who would argue “there is no God”, so maybe there is no Shakespeare. But we kind of decided that if that conceit existed then everything else had to. So we have our own unique geography and time-space, but every once in a while it comes up.
Anthony: Basically we went all in and said, some people might object to this, some people might object that we brought Juliet ahead seven or eight years of when the end of her story is, but for the most part it’s just compelling stories and characters.
Conor: Somewhere a history professor is cringing.
MONDO: The other thing is that a lot of his plays have very different tone…
Conor: That was the best part, I thought.
Anthony: Yeah, I mean, the great things about Shakespeare is that he wrote the tragedies and he wrote the comedies and he wrote them both so well. With ours, we have one sort of over-arching…arcing?
*extensive debate over whether it’s “over-arching” or “over-arcing”*
Anthony: Okay, I’ll say over-arching. We have one over-arching tone which is sort of a dark tone. Very much like Lord of the Rings has that big, epic, vast dramatic feel to it. But within that we have everything. The perfect example is issue #3 which is almost a comedic issue. Falstaff is kind of the main character of that and, I mean, we’ve got cross-dressing in there, we’ve got witty puns, we’ve got bawdy humour –
Conor: We think they’re witty puns.
Anthony: We laughed.
Conor: The other thing, too, is even in a Shakespearean play, even in a tragedy, Hamlet is actually a very funny character. There’s a lot of actors who really pull out the humour. So even in, arguably, the most tragic of Shakespeare’s plays there’s a lot to laugh about and in the comedies he wrote human moments. I don’t think Shakespeare worried to much beyond whether he was killing everybody at the end or not.
Anthony: So we tried to capture that versatility.
MONDO: But at the end of the day are you going to end your story with a wedding or a funeral?
Anthony: We’re not allowed to say.
MONDO: I tried. How did you end up at IDW?
Conor: An elaborate audition process. Which is actually true. We went to New York and we had a business plan, we had a bunch of money we’d raised, we had sample artwork and pages from Andy Belanger and we basically wanted to audition the publishers rather than vice-versa and IDW got the concept, they’ve been a very impressive company in terms of how they’ve grown –
MONDO: They’re a premium publisher now.
Conor: They’re now a premium publisher which is very exciting, which we had not necessarily something we counted on, but thought it was a direction they were going. They’re great at design work. I mean, IDW books look good.
MONDO: It’s a great-looking book.
Conor: Yeah, they do a great job with design work. And I think a big thing for us was that while we thought the story could attract people regardless we thought that it could help reach people having the IDW name.
Anthony: So, basically they nailed the audition.
Conor: Yes. They might even be playing Hamlet.
MONDO: So, last question. Everyone, or everyone of a certain type, has a pet Shakespeare character who they love. Who are your pet characters that your really want to work into the book?
Anthony: That’s a very good question.
Conor: Anthony hates all secondary characters, he wants to work them all out.
Anthony: (Laughs) One character that, unfortunately, we had to take out was Shylock and one of the reasons I’d love to work him in is because he’s a controversial character but he’s an interesting character. One moment you basically hate they guy, he wants his pound of flesh and you have no sympathy for him and all of a sudden you have people making fun of him because of his religion and you have more sympathy for him. That’s the great thing about Shakespeare is one moment you hate the guy and the next moment you really care for him. So it would be great to play in that world with Shylock. The other character is Iago. You know he’s a bad guy, you know what he’s up to and he’s so humourous and he’s so witty that you almost to empathize with him. He really is one of the greatest characters.
Conor: For me it’s Caliban. I do love Caliban and we do have plans for him. I love that character, I think he’s so interesting. Another one I’d love to have in but I don’t think we can is Desdemona. I really like her, I think of all of Shakeseare’s ladies she is the most true, probably the most naive as well but she’s probably the absolute embodiment of trust and love… she’s such a lovely character and it’s really neat to read Othello and see how completely she loves Othello…
Anthony: I think Prince Hal as well, Henry V. Within the series of three plays you have him as a playboy, a rich spoiled brat, then he becomes a man and more importantly he becomes a great leader and warrior. Yeah, he’s one of my favourite characters. The Crispin’s Day speech is fantastic.
MONDO: Alright, well thank you very much. Good luck with that book!
Anthony: Thank you.
Conor: Thank you.