Arts Desk

A Chat With Kill Shakespeare Writers Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery

Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, the Canadian creators and writers of the comic book Kill Shakespeare, are speaking tomorrow at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The two answered some occasionally tongue-in-cheek questions before their local appearance.

Washington City Paper: Can you sum up your comic book for us in a short paragraph?

Anthony Del Col: Kill Shakespeare is an adventure series that pits the Bard’s greatest heroes (including Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Falstaff, Puck) against his most menacing villains (including Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Iago) in a quest to track down and kill—or save—a reclusive wizard by the name of William Shakespeare.

CM: It’s like Fables, but with more cross-dressing.

WCP: Can I ask the standard "How did you come up with this idea?" question, if you don't mind answering it again...

CM: It was a product of brainstorming. We were just batting ideas around, for a MMPOG actually, and Anthony made a joke about how Kill Bill shouldn’t be about hunting down David Carradine, it should be about going to rub-out “Billy” Shakespeare—we started riffing on that idea and all of a sudden we had our story.

WCP: And you've obviously taken a definitive position on the authorship question... unless you're springing a surprise on readers later?

ADC: So now you’re trying to get spoilers out of us? Let’s just say that the Francis Bacon/Christopher Marlowe Societies pay well… But we’re also open to further bids…

CM: I always found it a bit insulting that the authorship questions really didn’t gain momentum until well after Shakespeare was dead. I subscribe to the theory that a lot of it was a product of classism in the U.K., the British intelligentsia didn’t want their greatest writer to have been, gasp, a member of one of the lower classes. So I say, “suck it blue bloods, suck it.”

WCP: How do you divide the work? Is it full scripts? Is the artwork pen and ink, digital or a mixture?

CM: Generally one of us writes a script and the other guy serves as a story editor. We go back and forth a few times (17 for issue No. 1) and then we have a final script (which we then revise for lettering, sigh).

ADC: And then we hand everything over to Andy Belanger, who take the scripts and brings them to life with further suggestions and story details. Andy, unlike some artists today, draws everything by hand, which is fantastic. He then passes everything to our colorist Ian Herring, who works exclusively in Photoshop for our great colors.

WCP: How much research have you had to do? Is it largely reading Shakespeare's plays, or is there any attempt to include other aspects of Elizabethan life?

ADC: We decided at the beginning of the project that we didn’t want to do too much research into Shakey’s plays. No, not because we’re lazy, but we didn’t want to get too bogged down in the minute details of every aspect of every character. We wanted to have a fresh perspective that a lot of our audience would have when reading our story.

CM: So while we do some homework it was never our intent that this be a project that claims to be accurate Shakespeare. I mean, look at our main storyline? The Stratford Festival here in Canada was also great, they made us comfortable with some of the historical anachronisms in our world. If the No. 1 Shakespeare festival on the continent has our back that’s a nice vote of confidence.

WCP: Shakespeare's known for his villains—who have you used so far?

CM: Well I hesitate a bit at calling them villains. Shakey is really much more nuanced than that, but we have Richard III, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Don John, Parolles, and of course Iago—that snakey-snake.

ADC: The great thing about Shakespeare is that he is able to make you empathize with his villains. Yes, they’re bad, but you (as an audience or reader) begin to understand why they are how they are, and sympathize with them to a certain extent.

WCP: He's less well known for his heroes—are you using any of them?

ADC: The major "heroes" that we incorporate are Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Falstaff, Puck, and number of others.

CM: And like his villains Shakespeare does a great job of making his heroes fallible. Hamlet for example, in some ways you could really consider him a coward. He seems to have no interest in being around to help shepherd Denmark out of the chaos that he helped thrust it into, he’s just going to leave his countrymen to Fortinbras’ tender mercies…

WCP: Do either of you have a favorite character?

CM: Caliban is a big one for me.

ADC: I still like Hamlet, even after focusing on him in every single issue. He’s our main character and it’s great to be able to put together a great arc for him that sees him expand beyond the indecisive character in the original play

WCP: Are you concerned with trying to stay as close to Shakespeare's use of characters (or to Shakespeare himself)?

ADC: I think that we’ve done a good job of keeping the characters grounded in their original incarnations and then expanding upon them in a very cool and thought-out manner.

CM: I worry somewhat. We try to have a reason for everything we’ve done. We’ve caught some flak for how we used Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as well as Juliet, but I think we have a good rationale for why they exist the way they do in our world.

WCP: You'll be appearing at the Folger Shakespeare Library—possibly the best library in the world on Shakespeare—with an unconventional comic book. Any thoughts on that?

CM:I think the nice thing is the vast majority of Bardolater’s love the idea of Shakespeare’s work being taken in interesting directions. So many productions modernize or somehow alter the plays that our work, while a step further than that is not really seen as heretical.

ADC: Yeah, we wonder if we’ll rustle any feathers with our take on the Bard?

WCP: Who approached whom, and how did your appearance come about?

ADC: They approached us, I believe.

CM: I spoke with Garland Scott over a year ago. We wanted to let her know what we were up to, and she really loved some of the ideas we had for the future series and saw the first chapter of Kill Shakespeare as an opening to what could be a fantastic project. So we kept in touch and here we are.

WCP: Is there anything you want to see when you're at the Folger?

CM: Everything. I’ve never been so I want to soak it all up.

ADC: I’m actually not too familiar with the Folger so I don’t know the full extent of what they have there. I always love seeing any material on the Bard so I think I’ll be in heaven while there!

WCP: Have they added your comics to the Library?

ADC: If they haven’t, I suggest that we walk out immediately!

CM: I know they’ve been passed around their offices….

WCP: Taking a leap of imagination, how do you think Shakespeare would feel about your comic book?

CM: I think he’d like it. He was one of the great aggregator’s himself so I think he’d appreciate what we were doing. He’d take us out for a beer and pick our brains. And then we’d get a call from his legal team.

ADC: But, remember that Shakespeare said to ‘kill all the lawyers’, so I think we’re safe…

WCP: You've got an nontraditional book for the venue your speaking in—people should buy your comic because?

ADC: We’ve put together an adventure that will appeal to both Shakespeare fans as well as those that know nothing about the Bard. For the former, they will love the "what if" scenarios (“what if Juliet survived and met Hamlet?”) and small little references; for the latter, they will enjoy a great adventure tale with great characters that they meet and get to know during the journey.

CM: I have cats to feed and I need the money.

WCP: Is there anything you're looking forward to doing in Washington?

ADC: I’ve never been to Washington before, and am a huge fan of Frank Capra’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington, so I hope to go on the tours that Jimmy Stewart did in the film!

CM: I wouldn’t mind catching a Caps game.

WCP: Finally, is it possible to get any more post-modern with Shakespeare than your comic book is?

ADC: Well, if Charlie Kauffman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) adapted the comic into a screenplay, who knows what could happen…?

CM: Oh for sure. In many ways I think we’re very main-stream compared to some of the work being done on the Bard’s canon. If people actually read the comics I think they’ll see we’re not actually taking them that far down the rabbit hole.

See McCreery and Del Col at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m., $15.

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