Bard Attitude: Why Kill Shakespeare Is Both Fun and Literary
Don’t let the title fool you. Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, creators of the excellent Kill Shakespeare series, have the utmost respect for the Bard. Alas, there’s nothing rotten with the state of these comics. And the pair are convincing readers young and old to come onboard the Shakespeare bandwagon with their bestselling books. We got the story behind it straight from the guys themselves.
Given the title, people might think you’re not too serious about Shakespeare, but you guys actually have an interesting and informed view of him. Are people surprised to find out what this book is really about?
Anthony: We get a LOT of reaction and interest from the title alone. Not only is it provocative and catchy (and also something that a lot of high-school students have probably dreamed of over the years…), but it’s also our story’s plotline and also our goal: to change people’s general perception of Shakespeare and something high-brow and inaccessible. What we’ve found as we’ve moved forward is that a lot of people are silent fans of the Bard and this project is something that they can easily jump into.
Conor: A little, yes. It shocked us that this really hadn’t been done before, but for some reason, it hasn’t. And for some reason, people are always thrown a bit for a loop when they find out what we’re actually up to.
Where did the idea for Kill Shakespeare originate?
Conor: Blame David Carradine!
Anthony: We were sitting around one day brainstorming ideas about video games and then the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill was mentioned. We thought it would be a great game but that the central character should be replaced—instead of David Carradine, it could be Bill…Shakespeare! And would include all of his characters inhabiting the same world attempting to kill him. Eureka!
How did you guys get artist Andy B. involved?
Conor: Toronto has a very rich and deep comic talent pool, something we hope Kill Shakespeare helps expose to the world. Really, we just asked around. Ty Templeton was a great help and had suggested a number of people to meet, which eventually led to Andy.
Anthony: We knew within five minutes that Andy was the right person for the project. He slammed his hand down on the table and said, “I’m in! I’ve always wanted to draw Lady Macbeth.” He then talked about how he envisioned the comic—the amount of detail in every panel, etc. He’s been great to work with—and his version of Lady Macbeth ain’t too bad….
How did you guys go about getting it published? What did it take to make it a reality?
Anthony: Before we even started to pitch the project, we had put together a full series bible with character sketches and designs, synopses for each of the 12 issues, sample pages, and a full business plan. We sold IDW Publishing with four words: “Justice League of Shakespeare.” They were immediately in. Of course, it helped that we had the business approach to the project….
Conor: We looked at this a little bit like an indie film. We followed that model of making a business case for our story, raising funding and then finding the publishing partner. So for us, cash in hand, it was much easier to go to publishers. But it is a very difficult industry to get into in some ways—though it is really friendly.
Tell us a little bit about the characters you use—how did you go about choosing them?
Conor: I always say they chose us…. The villains were easy: Richard, Lady Macbeth, Iago—they cried out to be used. The heroes, aside from Juliet, were a bit tougher, but this group of characters pretty much jumped out at us. It’s not like we had a draft where the role of Othello was played by Prince Hal or something.
Anthony: The only one that actually changed along the way was Hamlet himself. Our original story had an average guy from today’s world find a portal into this Shakespeare universe, Matrix-style. We jettisoned it when we were afraid that it felt too much like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. And then we realized that Hamlet was a far better fit, not only because he’s probably the Bard’s best-known character, but also he provided us a great character arc to play with.
Which ones are your favorites? And are there any particular Shakespearean characters you’re hoping to incorporate in the future?
Anthony: I still think that Hamlet is my favorite character in our story because (I think) we’ve been able to create a character that has so many different aspects to him. He’s an underdog, a stranger thrown into this extraordinary world, Joseph Campbell-style. As for characters I’d like to incorporate, I can’t wait to put Beatrice and Benedict (from Much Ado About Nothing) into a future series! The fun we would have with those two characters bickering while battling!
Conor: For me? Definitely Caliban from The Tempest.
Any characters we definitely won’t see?
Conor: Never say never—but we’re not quite sure how to work in some of the characters from the ancient histories….
Anthony: I refuse to put in Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Francis Bacon. I refuse to acknowledge them!
I would imagine you have some fans in English-literature classrooms. What have you heard from teachers about the series?
Anthony: Two words: gateway drug. One of our biggest goals has always been to have this project serve as a way to get people excited about Shakespeare. We hope to be Bard pushers….
Conor: They like Kill Shakespeare. They love the fresh take on the Bard and for the most part see how we are being respectful in the way we approach this. I think they see K.S. as a way to get some kids into Shakespeare for the first time or as a great way for students to prove they understand the contextualization and depth of the stories by using K.S. as an analytical tool.
How have you seen the comic used in classrooms and libraries so far?
Conor: We were invited out to a high school near Toronto where we held an afternoon symposium on comics and Kill Shakespeare. That was a lot of fun.
Anthony: We’ve had a number of teachers snap up copies of our first few issues, but it’ll be the first trade (released in November) that people are really looking to incorporate into their classrooms.
You do a lot of outreach to schools and libraries. What has the reaction been? Are people getting more receptive to the idea of comics as “real” reading and as tools in the educational process?
Conor: I think there are some people who have definitely become converts and there are some real firebrands out there trying to push the comic medium forward. I think it is just a matter of time—it’s partially a generational issue to me. But then I read things on the library list-serve about how someone is protesting that Kick-Ass is in the library, in the ADULT section, mind you, and I just roll my eyes. The problem there was a little kid grabbed it. Now you would never ask the library to ban Tropic of Cancer because your 8-year-old happened to wander into the ADULT section and pick it up, but somehow because “all comics are for kids,” you get that knee-jerk reaction.… Still, though, I think that IS changing.
Anthony: We’ve had a number of people—teachers included—that have told us this is the first comic book they’ve ever read. And they then ask us for further suggestions. That is such a cool feeling and we hope that Kill Shakespeare can be one of those titles that will get more people into the medium.
What age range are you aiming for in the series?
Anthony: Shakespeare themes and characters are so universal that we think that anyone from teenagers to seniors can get into our tale of adventure, comedy, romance, betrayal, and drama. Shakespeare wrote for a very wide audience (the original “four-quadrant” producer) and incorporated elements that would appeal to different sections of the audience, and we’re trying to follow that exact line of storytelling.
Conor: We wanted to write something we’d want to pick up, and we’re in our 30s. We make sure we’re interested and amused and just trust that anyone younger than us can “read up” if they need to.
You guys have a great website that is very interactive and allows people to get into the comic right away. How did it come together? Do you have any advice you’d offer fellow creators that you learned while getting your site out there?
Anthony: We are huge advocates of spreading the word through whatever channels possible—website, social media, email, telephones, etc. We wanted to create a simple website that people could use as the home base when they are curious about why these two Canadian guys are out to kill Shakespeare….
Conor: The biggest piece of advice is to allocate money to pay a web designer who can do it right, or know one who you can blackmail. (GRIN.) A website doesn’t have to be super complex—the most valuable part of our site is a simple WordPress blog our designer skinned for us. All of our new content gets pushed through that. I’d say that’s more important—keep creating content and your fans will pay attention.
There seems to be some Hollywood interest in Kill Shakespeare. What's going on with that?
Conor: We can’t say too much, but there is definitely a lot of interest. That fact is great, but we’re focusing on finishing the comic series first. Obviously, we’d like to spread our story to as many people as possible and film is more of a mass-market art form, but we can tackle that once the 12 issues are done.
Anthony: I’m still trying to convince Conor that we should cast Robert Pattinson as Hamlet so that we can bring in the teenage girl audiences, but thus far Conor’s not responsive. But seriously, we want to be patient on any future deals because it’s important to find the right partners that will help bring more fans to Kill Shakespeare, and thus the Bard himself.
What do you have coming up in the immediate future in Kill Shakespeare?
Conor: Six more issues (the first six are done), hopefully an RPG and also a mobile game. Oh, and some merch….
Anthony: We’re also gearing up for the release of our first trade in November of this year. In addition to spending time on creative, we spend an even greater amount of time on the marketing of our series (something we actually enjoy quite a bit) and we want to really use the trade to get people excited about the series.
What are your long-term plans for the series?
Conor: We have mapped out three story arcs that take Hamlet through a number of journeys. And then we’d like to use video games to tell some of the other character’s stories, like say Othello. After that? Well, the sky’s the limit. Whatever the fans demand, I guess?
Anthony: I know it’s a buzz term, but we do see this as a transmedia property, where different stories of our world and characters can be told in different formats and platforms. Our goal is to get as many people as possible to be entertained by our tales and thus get excited about Shakespeare so we’ll tell them in whatever medium is best for each person. I wonder if Shakey ever imagined that his characters would be in comics, iPads and video games?-- John Hogan