“It's Kill Bill meets Shakespeare” -- that's all the description it took for IDW Publishing to greenlight co-writers Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery’s first comic book, Kill Shakespeare. It does for the Bard what Fables did for fairy tales. The story sees Hamlet join Juliet's Prodigal Rebellion forces in search of a deity known as Shakespeare, who, legend has it, will use a magic quill to restore England to her former glory. Unfortunately, England's vindictive king, Richard III, has partnered with the evil Lady Macbeth in hopes of killing this mysterious Shakespeare and harnessing the power of his quill for themselves. The character cameos are numerous, the art is cinematic and the plot is never restrained by iambic pentameter. This isn't your English teacher's Shakespeare and critics worldwide have taken notice.
Since C&G Monthly’s featured discussion with McCreery and Del Col in October 2010, The New York Times, The Colbert Report and a growing list of celebrity fans, have all been gripped by the god they call Shakespeare, and by this quest for the power of his magic quill. With only three issues to go before the curtain call, Del Col met with us again – bringing lead artist Anthony Belanger along – to confirm that the end of the current series will not be Kill Shakespeare's final act.
C&G Monthly: With Kill Shakespeare about to reach its conclusion, can each of you reflect on what kind of a ride it has been for you personally?
Andy Belanger: “This is only the beginning, but so far the ride has been really fun. We did a big tour in November, where we went to New York and Philadelphia. That stuff has been really wild and it has been the peak of the stuff we've done so far. Michael Moore came to the gallery. I think he was just walking by and got pulled in. But, once he walked around, I think he was genuinely interested. There [have] been no heavy critical slams and no real setbacks.”
Anthony Del Col: “We knew we had something that would be quite interesting and provocative. So we had this confidence that the majority of the reviews would give a thumbs up, but we had no idea the book would be this popular.”
CGM: What can fans expect from the last few issues?
ADC: “We can't give away too much. Andy is just finishing up issue ten and it's right up there with his best work. There are huge battle scenes with hundreds and hundreds of warriors. Overall, issue number nine was our first meeting with Will Shakespeare. We get to actually see him as a character, which is great. Other than that, there's not much else I can tell you, except that some people die. Without death, it wouldn't be Kill Shakespeare.”
AB: “The death scenes are awesome.”
CGM: After these 12 issues are there any plans for a sequel?
ADC: “I don't really feel like the book is coming to a close, I feel like it's just beginning. Kill ShakespeareEven though we've been on it for a year and a half it still feels like the baby stage. This is the first act. It's still pretty new and we're just getting started. The current 12 issue arc we have is just the beginning of the adventure for the characters. We'd love to continue the book as an ongoing series. We have a sequel mapped out and we're trying to figure out when that will be released.”
AB: “I'd like to continue this for another three 12-issue arcs, until we have the Kill Shakespeare lunchboxes and the Hamlet action figures.”
ADC: “The goal is to turn this into a brand. It's not just comics, but it will be films, merchandise and video games”
CGM: What has success with this book taught you?
AB: “On every front, we're learning. I'd never been on a full series before, and being on that grind is hard and taxing at times. Sometimes we turn a book over in a month, sometimes it's two months. It depends on the issue.”
ADC: “I've been able to apply what I've learned from my other ventures. Working with Nelly Furtado and her manager, Chris Smith, on the release of her album in 2006 taught me everything about branding and how to build one. It taught me how to identify niche audiences and how to get to them. We've tried to apply those principles. Andy was great at building his own brand and getting out there. A lot of other artists that just hope their art will do the talking…It's not enough to do the art; you have to make sure people see it.”
CGM: What is it about Andy Belanger's work that made him the best choice for this book?
ADC: “We chatted with a number of artists, but Andy stood out from the rest of them for two primary reasons: One, we liked the artwork. We thought it was very sound and it jumped off the page [and we liked] his vision for the project. Immediately, in the first meeting, he talked about the kind of style he wanted…and more importantly, the kind of detail he wanted: He wanted each panel to tell a story by itself; he wanted to not only emphasize the characters, but also the backgrounds and [he] did tons of research. The other reason is, we respected Andy as a businessman and his ability to market himself. He's also just fun to hang out with.”
CGM: What were your goals for the art direction on this book?
AB: “No one does the epics like Hollywood and I sat there thinking, these are the type of comics I want to make. When I go to the movie theatre I go there to see epic films. I can rent comedies on DVD. I wanted Kill Shakespeare to have that epic feel with big landscapes and big castles. I was inspired by things like Roman Polanski's Macbeth. I'm also inspired by European comics from Milo Manara. When it came to the layouts, I wanted to play with the film montage inside a comic book, where the panels are laid over a consistent background over multiple pages like a giant camera pan.”
CGM: How has the overwhelming response to the book affected each of you?
ADC: “One nice perk is the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. invited us to give a talk. But despite the fact that we have had success, it's tough for me to settle for that. There is still more to be done. Sure, orders for the graphic novel have already sold out, but I'm always thinking about how we can sell more. How can we turn this into a series and sell that? I haven't had that moment where I've taken a step back and looked around at what we've done.”
AB: “I really feel like it has all been baby steps and we're still at the bottom of the mountain. Selling one million copies is where we're going. At least that's the mentality, even in this economy. When you start a brand like this, you have to keep going, because the more you do, the more fans are going to get.”
CGM: What was your reaction when Julie Taymor name-dropped the book on The Colbert Report?
ADC: “I was sitting at home and I had just turned on the TV and I saw Colbert sitting with Julie Taymor and with one minute left in the interview, all of the sudden she talked about Kill Shakespeare and it was one of those surreal moments that you dream about.”
AB: “I couldn't believe it. It was definitely one of those moments where I was yelling at my television going, 'Holy Crap!’ That reminds me, I did a painting of Stephen in Shakespearean garb I still have to deliver.”
CGM: I know you guys won the PITCH THIS! Competition at TIFF, so can you tell us how the movie plans for this book have been progressing since then?
ADC: “Even when the first issue came out we had a lot of interest from Hollywood. Conor and I have a background in film, so we decided to work on the screenplay ourselves. Right now, we're spending the next two or three months working on that and then have that ready to go down to Hollywood later this year. A lot of creators will just let an agent or a studio run with it in a cash-upfront deal, but we want to be creatively involved, so that no one can just run away with the property. We want a good seat on the bus, even if we don't drive it.”
CGM: Last time you talked to C&G, you mentioned the Kill Shakespeare Mobile App Game. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
ADC: “We were in development on an app with a company based here in Toronto, but they got really busy with other projects and we got busy with the promotion and marketing of the trade paperback. So, in the last few weeks, we've taken meetings with other companies to launch an app or game later this year or early next year. There are some really cool ideas floating around. I just can't really comment on what they are.”
CGM: Now that Kill Shakespeare is almost done Act One, what's next for each of you?
AB: “Well, there are three more issues to go after number nine and I'm scheduled to be working on those until after June. Bottle of Awesome: Season 2, from DC Comics, is going to come out soon. I have 20 more pages to draw of that. We might have some stuff going on with DC in the future. I needed Kill Shakespeare to be my jumping-off point and [to prove that] I could handle an ongoing limited series. Once you do that, people have faith in you for other things.”
ADC: “Now when we have an idea, we can call up the people at Vertigo or IDW and we have that name recognition. They know us as the Kill Shakespeare guys and it opens a lot of doors.”
*Originally Appeared in The April 2011 Issue of CGMagazine