In IDW’s Kill Shakespeare graphic novel, several of the Bard’s heroes are recast as rebels fighting familiar villains Richard III, Iago, and Lady Macbeth, while both sides search for the mysterious and god-like wizard Shakespeare. Though the series provokes a number of questions, one thing I really wanted to know was: ‘Why does Juliet get to be in charge of the rebellion?’
So when I found the creators of the Canadian comic on Twitter (@killshakespeare), I decided to ask. Writers Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery were nice enough to answer that and a few other questions I thought up for them about their comic with a literary slant.
Hollywood Jane: How did you come up with the idea for Kill Shakespeare? Was a graphic novel based on the Bard’s characters considered a big risk, or were you confident it would find an audience?
Anthony: We were brainstorming ideas for video games and the Tarantino film Kill Bill surfaced. We thought it would make a good game but wanted to replace David Carradine with another character…
Conor: So after rejecting the fictional murder of Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton we turned our sights to the Bard of Avon.
And we definitely thought a big audience was possible. EVERYONE has some familiarity with these characters and we were betting that most people actually love Shakespeare – they just don’t love the way it was taught or the elitist trappings that sometimes surround his work.
HJ: Who’s the bigger Shakespeare fan?
C: Probably Anthony, he’s been to far more stagings of Shakespeare’s work than I have.
A: When we started the project we would refer to Conor as the “comic geek” and myself as the “Shakespeare geek.” We’ve both really started to blend those two elements as we’ve gone on. I’ve really enjoying delving into the worlds of comics and understand that there are so many fascinating stories being told in the medium.
HJ: Neither of you have an extensive comics background – how did you pitch the series?
A: We put together an elaborate “pitch package” that not only had character designs, sample pages and outlines of episodes, but we also focused heavily on the business and marketing aspects of our idea – target markets, promo ideas, etc. We both have business backgrounds so that really helped differentiate us from other new creators entering the industry.
C: I briefly managed the largest comic store in Canada so I had exposure to the business side. I knew who the players were and what they tended to publish – so that helped as well.
HJ: Some classic literature has been reimagined in graphic novel form while sticking to the plot of the original novel. What made you decide to take the characters from Hamlet, Romeo &Juliet, Othello, and the rest, and put them into the same story?
C: I think that is just how our minds work. Doing an interpretation is fun, but doing something new with the familiar is much more interesting. For me I was really inspired by the notion that in Hamlet there isn’t that much stage time devoted to answering the question of why the commoners seem to be taking the new King in stride. I mean shouldn’t Claudius be an awful tyrant…? If he isn’t, then what does that say about Hamlet’s father’s reign? And what might THAT say about Hamlet’s desire for revenge? Once you start going down those paths alternate possibilities unfold before you pretty quickly.
A: We love playing with the “what if” scenarios involved in our story. What if Juliet had survived and met someone else? What if Othello and Iago had a chance to square off against each other again? What if they all met their creator? This is taking ‘fan fiction’, normally reserved for sci-fi and cult properties, and extending it into the classics genre.
HJ: Which comes first, the art or the script?
A: Everything in the project begins with the concept and the script; however, as we’ve gone on we’ve started to write specifically for our fantastic artist Andy B. We really like to play to his strengths.
C: Andy is a brilliant artist, and he has a very cinematic way of thinking. He’s really taken our written words and brought them to places we never would have conceived of.
HJ: When writing the script, how far are you willing to take the language? For example,you use ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’ but not ‘thy.’
C: We wanted the script to have its own sense of poetry and to feel “Shakespearean-esque” without using the vocabulary of the Bard’s day which is now confusing for many of us. It was important to us that this was an accessible comic and concept. The Bard was a mass-entertainer – I think he’d be a bit perturbed by how many people see his work as for intellectuals.
A: One of the justifiable criticisms of the series is that sometimes the “thees” and “thous” are off. We’ve started to work with some consultants to hone this and ensure that we get it just right.
HJ: I’ve read that this will be a 12-issue series, and the first Trade Paperback incorporates the first 6 issues, so is there only one more TPB to look forward to? Or will you wrap up this particular storyline at the end of 12 issues, and start a new one?
A: Our initial story is twelve issues so we’re currently slated for one more TPB. The first nine issues have been released with three left to go. The last three have some really great moments.
C: Then after the second trade is collected our plan is to release a “complete edition” which will see some prominent Shakespearean scholars provide a fun tongue-in-cheek glossary or exegesis. We also plotted out three adventures that centre on this cast of characters (well, those who live anyways). After that we’ve already started kicking around prequels and parallel adventures – ie. how did Tamora come to be in Richard’s employ?
HJ: Out of all of the characters to choose from, what made Hamlet, Othello, Falstaff, Juliet, Lady MacBeth, Richard III, and Iago the right characters for this comic?
C: They somewhat chose us. Hamlet was the last one in the pool actually. We originally had conceived the idea as someone from OUR world ‘falling into’ this Shakespearean land, but the tone was off. For the most part, though, the characters suggested themselves and that informed how the story would work. It was pretty organic.
A: As we’ve spoken to readers it’s fantastic to find out that everyone has favourite characters– some well-known ones, some obscure ones. The great thing about our concept moving forward is that we’d like to eventually be able to incorporate as many of the Bard’s characters as possible.
HJ: Why did you pick Juliet to be the leader of the rebellion, rather than, say, Beatrice or Kat? Juliet’s not exactly known for her depth of character.
A: Juliet is the most well-known of Shakespeare’s characters so we automatically had to think about including her. As we thought about her play, we realized that she actually drives a lot of the action in it. So we thought it was only natural that if she survived she would use her headstrong drive to lead the rebels.
C: She’s unfairly kicked around I think. I mean she was a YOUNG teenager, in love… yeah she was a bit narrow-minded (re: crazy), but she also got things done (sure those things were a double-suicide, but she GOT IT DONE, PEOPLE!). We think that element of her character would only grow as she matured. So now she’s this young woman who wants to atone for her past. Still she IS fairly narrow-minded in our story; she’s probably the most stereotypical “action hero” character we have – Julie-baby is definitely a “shoot first and ask questions later” kinda gal.
HJ: Do you plan to incorporate other Shakespearean villains in the remaining issues, or are you going to stick with the main axis of evil?
C: Well, as Shakespeare tended to do, we’re going to whack a few of our characters. So we can’t promise that the “axis” is gonna survive. But those that do, well they aren’t going to let a little defeat keep them from getting what they want.
A: If we do subsequent series, we’d love to be able to introduce characters like King Lear, Prospero and others. People are asking for them and we love them ourselves.
HJ: Anthony, on your bio, you describe Kill Shakespeare as a “transmedia franchise” -does that mean KS is on its way to the audience in different formats?
A: We designed this at the project’s inception to be a universe that could tell its stories through a number of mediums such as comics, film, video games, and others. We want to be able to target as many people as possible; not everyone reads comics and graphic novels, but they may see a film, or play a game, or see a stage show.
HJ: Do you think you’ll be at San Diego Comic-Con this year?
C: Hopefully. The ideal situation is that we’ll be unveiling issue #12 in San Diego. Assuming Andy’s wrist holds up (he’s experienced some fatigue problems over the last few months) we’ll hit that deadline and be down at the Con again.
A: The one thing about the past two years is that we’ve been so busy both years promoting our comic that we haven’t had a good chance to check out the city. If we do end up going this year, I need to check out the zoo, at the very least!