The story/genre mashup is king these days: one need only look at a list of upcoming summer movies and television shows - not to mention books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - to see that. The idea caught on a bit earlier in comics, however, with series like Fables, where fairy tale characters mingle amongst the denizens of the mundane world, and Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which tells the story of a team of adventurers made up of Victorian literature's best minds and toughest constitutions; the work of Neil Gaiman liberally borrows from fairy tales, mythologies, and literature to create intricately detailed worlds.
The latest in this experiment is Kill Shakespeare, a twelve-part miniseries from IDW publishing that tells the story of a land ruled by kings named Lear, Macbeth, and Richard, where witches offer prophecy and fairies offer guidance, and where the inhabitants worship their creator, the mythical William Shakespeare. I had a chance to interview creators Conor McReery and Anthony Del Col about their adventure as the series draws toward its conclusion.
1) What were your first experiences with Shakespeare?
Conor: For me it was in Grade 8 English when we did As You Like It. The play never ended up being one of my favourites but I remember being more interested than I thought I would be in the Bard. And then in Grade 10 I was totally hooked by The Tempest – as a nerdy little comic-kid I LOVED Caliban. To me, he was Wolverine but with far more humanity. So tragic.
Anthony: I’ve liked Shakespeare since first reading The Merchant of Venice in Grade 9 English class. I was enthralled by how Shakespeare was able to make such interesting, multi-dimensional characters. As I gained more experience (through great teachers and seeing productions at the Stratford Festival) the stories really started to touch me, and led us to creating this new series of ours.
2) Tell us how the idea for Kill Shakespeare came about, and how the project developed.
A: Conor and I were brainstorming ideas for video games almost nine years ago and the title Kill Bill came up. We figured that there was already a game version of the Tarantino films but then had the idea of making the Bill in the story Billy Shakespeare. Voila! The story immediately came to us… and no looking back!
C: So pretty much you have to blame David Carradine.
3) One of the things that impressed me was how well the characters fit together - Lady Macbeth scheming with Richard III, for example, and Iago sinking his hooks into Hamlet. How did you decide which characters to include, and how they fit into your world?
C: The characters sort of chose us. We came up with the concept and the characters naturally slipped into place. Iago was obvious; he was going to be someone that nobody could trust. Lady Macbeth… well if she could get over the murder of Duncan, well then, anything is possible from her…
A: A very early incarnation of our story had our lead character being someone from today’s world that finds a portal into this Shakespearean land. It was an interesting concept but we were afraid that it would make the tone of our story more light-hearted, like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. And we figured that since Hamlet is sometimes determined to be the greatest character of all-time, why not include him as our protagonist?
4) A number of the characters go on very different journeys in Kill Shakespeare than in their plays. For example, Romeo and Juliet are still alive and well, and have become warriors. Without spoiling too much, how did you find these characters evolving in your hands? What was it like to explore different aspects of and paths for established characters, and how were those decisions based on the source material?
A: Romeo’s alive? Are you trying to spoil our story for everyone…? Seriously, we’re very protective of the foundation of these characters. If we tried to recreate them from scratch and make them different from the original incarnations, we would be killed by the millions that love them. Having said that, they are such great characters to start with that we had no need to re-create them.
C: It all comes from the text in some way – at least as a base for us. Juliet was born of a “what if” question: “What if Juliet survived but Romeo didn’t? Who would she become?” Our answer: a woman with a cause and a drive to make up for her past mistakes. Hamlet was a similar type of question: “If Claudius killed his brother, but isn’t universally loathed as a bad King, is it possible that Hamlet’s Father was the ‘bad King’? And if so, what does this mean about Hamlet’s desire to get revenge for his Father’s death?”
5) The comic contains many of the hallmarks of Shakespearean tragedy: betrayal, magic, murder, prophecy, love. How much did Shakespeare inspire the crafting of this original story arc?
C: Oh, all of it. There are a few things we stole from other writers (Poe notably and the Bible), but really it’s all Shakey. Love, lust, betrayal, murder, comedy… it’s all his domain.
A: Shakespeare was not only the greatest writer of all-time but the greatest entertainer. He made stories that had elements that would appeal to everyone – not only royalty but those commoners paying a couple of ducats to stand in the mud. We’re trying to replicate this exact storytelling style – telling a story that will appeal to all. But hopefully we won’t be forcing people to stand in the mud to read the book…
6) What do you think of comic book adaptations, modern English translations, the MMORPG attempt Arden, and other versions of Shakespeare's plays aimed at attracting young, modern audiences? How would you say Kill Shakespeare is different?
A: Any adaptation that is successful in getting people excited about the Bard’s characters and plays is a great one in my books. Having said that, though, there have been a lot of dull and uninspired attempts over the years. We think that ours is unique because we’ve never seen a version that mashes up the characters into the same world like we do. In doing so, we shine a spotlight on each character in a whole new way.
C: The biggest difference to me is the fact that we’re really creating a Kill Shakespeare Universe, an entire fictionalized space where the characters can come together in all sorts of ways they never did originally. I think, hopefully, we will really open the lid on any number of fantastic Shakespearean mash-up stories. And hopefully those storytellers will want to work with us.
7) I hear there's a movie adaptation in the works. Can you tell us more about that? Do you plan on expanding Kill Shakespeare into other media as well? (I recall reading the original concept was for a video game.) Who would be your dream cast and crew?
C: Oh gosh… Anthony and I fight over the dream cast and crew all the time. I like people like Ryan Gosling, Ben Foster, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, Allison Pill, Mads Mikkelsen, really too many to count…
A: Unfortunately, not everyone reads comic books. We’re trying to convince them to but some simply won’t. But they may go see a film version of our tale, or play a video game, or check out a mobile app. We’re adapting our story to allow the most number of people to experience it. Conor and I are currently writing the screenplay for the film and have a lot of interest in Hollywood. We will most likely have a deal in place later this year…
8) Characters that never appear are mentioned in the comic - Toby Belch can't abide Bottom's acting, Richard mentions a rivalry with Lear's distant kingdom, and I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting. Is there any chance we'll see this world expanded in future projects? Any plans for a sequel/prequel/interquel/side story?
A: Interquel? I love that term! We definitely have some ideas on how to expand our world with additional stories. The ability to play in this “Kill Shakespeare Universe” and implement as many great characters as possible is really exciting for us.
C: That would be the dream for us – to create an ongoing universe where stories were told through comics, film, video games, books, you name it. It would be great to have the sort of canon that you can pull a Star Wars and create this whole new world that has its own continuity and history - a total alt-Shakespeare universe where lovers of the Bard new and old can get lost in all sorts of amazing adventures.
And here are a few treats for you: we’ve come up with a back story for Yorick that involves him being much more than a Jester in his youth. We’d love to tell the tale of the “First Richard Wars” – how did Richard gain power to begin with? We’ve roughly scripted out a console game called the “Othello Chronicles” and we have plans for Prospero, Kat, Beatrice and Benedict, Titus, Aaron and many, many more in future comic series.
9) Issue #10 leaves us at a low point for our heroes. What can we expect from the final two issues?
A: It’s a Shakespearean tale so we couldn’t avoid some death. But does it end as a comedy or a tragedy? You’ll have to keep reading…
C: We can’t tell you that. That’d be cheating.
10) What's next for you two?
A: Kill Marlowe or Kill De Vere …? I’ve heard that the Weinsteins want to do a sequel to Shakespeare in Love. I was initially disgusted by the announcement but since then have been thinking of some ideas on how it could be done. I wonder how I could get a meeting with the Weinsteins to pitch them…?
You hear that, Weinstein brothers? Get on it.
Kill Shakespeare #11 will be released Wednesday, May 25th 2011. Look for it in your local comic shop!