Generations of students have hated William Shakespeare. But who would want him dead? Heck, there must be thousands of suspects with hundreds of grudges, but who among them would really have the mettle to kill The Bard?
Co-created by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, Kill Shakespeare is an epic re-imagining of Shakespeare’s most notable heroes and villains. Billed as Fables meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this series unites the unlikely likes of Hamlet, Falstaff, Juliet, Othello and Puck in a quest to find a long-lost wizard who may help to defeat the evil forces of Richard III, Lady Macbeth and Iago. Oh yes, and who is that enigmatic magic man? Why, it’s William Shakespeare of course.
C&G Monthly: How did you decide on this title? And really, what’s in a name? Would a comic with any other name sell as well?
Conor McCreery: Well there was a certain amount of cheekiness involved. Originally we had planned to call it Kill Will but we thought that a) may seem like a rip-off of Kill Bill (which did indirectly help to inspire the story but I’ll let Anthony tell you about that) and b) people might not know who “Will” was. But Kill Shakespeare? Well it is a fun juxtaposition—we don’t usually consider those two words as kissin’ cousins. And it also gets at both the plot and one of our hopes—to kill the general perception that Shakespeare is somehow boring or “high culture” and therefore not for everybody.
Anthony Del Col: We love the fact that the title makes people stop and sometimes do a double-take. It’s a very unusual and provocative title. The title has helped us out quite a bit that way—a very marketable one that makes people take notice. It originally came from a brainstorming exercise that Conor and I were doing years ago. Trying to come up with ideas for video games, we thought about a Kill Bill-esque revenge video game, but then thought that rather than trying to chase down David Carradine it could be another Bill… Bill Shakespeare.
CGM: True or false, is Kill Shakespeare just an elaborate plot to make us read a bunch of nerdy old books?
CM: We’re not trying to teach anybody anything. We’re not trying to replace text in the classroom. But you know, we have had people say to us “Hey, Kill Shakespeare made me want to go back and read a play,” or “I never knew what Othello was about and now I kind of want to check it out.” I think any writer would like to make people read—not just their stuff—but just read more in general.
CGM: So with interest in classics so low, does Kill Shakespeare have a chance to crack into the school system?
Anthony Del Col: Oh, definitely. It is something that we have talked to librarians, scholars, academics and teachers about this. Comics are a medium that schools are just starting to embrace. It seems that each year more and more teachers are starting to teach graphic novels. Librarians are actively plugging in comics and graphic novels onto their shelves. We had a conversation last week with the Stratford Festival…
CGM: The annual Shakespeare festival in southern Ontario?
ADC: Yes. They have a big drive with their artistic director, Des Mcanuff to try to get every single Ontario high school student to Stratford at least once. They think by doing that, they will capture the excitement of Shakespeare. So they think Kill Shakespeare might be something they can work with.
CGM: So Kill Shakespeare will help The Bard to live on?
ADC: Yeah. A lot of teachers think that this could be the perfect gateway drug into Shakespeare.
CGM: Shakespeare spawned some epic villains that would do King Pin, Magneto and The Joker proud. How did you pare down the massive list of potential bad guys for this story?
ADC: It came pretty naturally. One of the reasons we selected our characters (Iago, Lady Macbeth, Richard III) was because they were the most well-known. So we wanted that kind of recognition factor that then when audiences started to read about it…For the most part it was quite easy.
CM: There wasn’t a lot of discussion really. The villains were easy.
ADC: The only difficult one was the hero—Hamlet. I guess that’s because we started out with someone else instead of Hamlet.
CGM: Really? Who was the original good guy?
ADC: The original version of Kill Shakespeare had a slightly different story where we took a character from today who finds a portal into the Elizabethan world. So very much like say, The Matrix or something…We toyed around with that for a while, but then it started to feel more like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, instead of something a little more serious. So we began to think about what other character could be the main one, and Hamlet was just the natural fit.
CM: The character we came up with was Josh Chance. This character was a cop with a girlfriend who was killed in another area of the city when he was on duty, and he had this sense of I-am-a-cop-but-I-have-failed-her even though there was nothing he could have done. But then it became obvious—why create a facsimile of duty and familial loss when you already have, you know, Hamlet?
CGM: The idea of a shared universe has helped a lot of comic books get away with some truly foolish crossovers. But somehow, Kill Shakespeare reads smarter than that. How did you avoid the Bill & Ted type scenarios?
CM: When you start with Shakespeare, a certain level of intelligence has already been imbued to you. Whether our device is any more intelligent than the Marvel and DC mega-crossovers, I don’t know. But because we are dealing with Shakespearean characters, we have worked very hard to keep them accurate to how they were portrayed in the plays. But that we have done interesting things with them has given us a leg-up.
ADC: Yeah, this kind of crosses over from the previous question. But I think the way we moved Hamlet right in the middle of his play and put him into this universe was interesting. I also think the way we play with [the loveable buffoon] Falstaff what we have done to his character is worthwhile…That’s the great think about Shakespeare, whether it was a character from a comedy or a tragedy, there are just so many levels to them. So being able to put together this cast and play with new dimensions felt very natural.
CGM: On the topic of dimensions, Richard III seemed like a no-brainer bad guy. He’s like a ready-made Bond villain, right?
ADC: Yes, Bond villain. I like that.
CGM: Well, are you planning to humanize him at all? Add some dimension to the monster?
ADC: I’d say out of all the characters, the ones we add the least to would be Richard—but having said that, we have some really nice scenes that we’ve added in there. He has always been just a monstrous villain with a hump or disability.
CGM: Deformed, therefore, bad?
ADC: Yeah. In our interpretation, Richard has a shrivelled hand. And there is a scene Conor wrote in issue two where Hamlet and Richard are sitting around the fire, and Hamlet looks down at the hand. He wonders why if Richard has the magic to bring people back to life through his three witches, why doesn’t he fix his hand?
CGM: That’s where Richard says it helps to remind him of his humanity, right?
ADC: Yes. But in other ways Richard can become humanized in his interactions with Lady Macbeth. In her, he kind of meets his match—maybe not on an evil-level, but in terms of their goals and emotions and motives.
CM: In the plays, I think Richard was very much about acquisition. He wanted Lady Anne. He wants the throne…He wants. He is a clever greedy character…I think Richard is humanized in his greediness. I think that is very honest…He is flawed though in the belief in his own supremacy. That was his ultimate downfall in the play, that he goes into this battle not believing any of his enemies could be ready for him. That flaw we at least keep consistent.
ADC: Although, we did add in a sled named Rosebud at the end of it.
CGM: Speaking of cryptic topics—who are the Prodigals?
ADC: Aren’t we all prodigals at heart? The Prodigals are like the Fenians. No I am just kidding.
CM: They kill D’Arcy Mcgee. That will be the name of the sequel. Kill D’Arcy McGee. Actually, the Prodigals are people who have a different world view than Richard. They see through Richard as what we have just described him as—a leader preoccupied with wants.
ADC: They are the believers in William Shakespeare.
CM: They believe that there must be something better. Like a lot of revolutionaries, and if we ever did a Prodigals spin-off, we’d probably find zealots for Shakespeare, moderates for Shakespeare, and those who just think it’s a comfortable banner to unite under for something that they want.
ADC: They believe that Shakespeare will one day rise again to help them in the battle to defeat the tyranny of Richard. They are all underground, and readers may have an idea of who their leader is, but soon we will find out. That’s cool though, no one has ever asked us about the Prodigals before.
CGM: We love the obscure questions. Speaking of which, here is another—Were-you-temp-ted-to-work-in-I-am-bic?
CM: No. We are all about blank verse.
ADC: Have you been talking to Kimberly Cox? She hates us.
CGM: So perhaps not going Iambic has made Kill Shakespeare more accessible. With that in mind, do you think you have helped to make Shakespeare more accessible, or have you helped make comics less accessible?
ADC: Yes, we have made comics less accessible. Just kidding…There is a high school teacher in Belleville who teaches graphic novels. It is the only credited course of its kind in Ontario. He’s already introduced students to issue #1. And hey, a lot of students know next to nothing of Shakespeare, but as they read the issues, they begin to get it. Now it becomes accessible. So yes, we are already making Shakespeare more accessible. But moving forward to our trade paperback coming out this November, we think that is really going to capture a lot of students as well as adults who didn’t think they knew or cared that much about Shakespeare.
CGM: But are you making comics less accessible?
CM: I think if you look at the scale between smart and dumb comics, we are probably pretty much in the middle. I mean, there are so many indie-film type comics that really go to introspective places…There’s a lot more stuff out there that I would say it more intellectual, than Kill Shakespeare. I do think we will make comics more accessible because there are people who love their Marvel superheroes like I do, but who always look to the other half of the comics world as something not for them. Now maybe they will pick up Kill Shakespeare and think it is not so bad. It may get them to dip their toes into other indie comic books that they previous would have discarded as “intellectual wankery”. Then we will all sing Kumbaya and buy the world a Coke.
ADC: [singing] If I could teach the world to sing…
CM: No singing. Just capitalism. Buy a Coke. Go, Coke.
CGM: In a world full of bad Shakespeare adaptations, do you ever fear that this one might be discriminated against by Elizabethan purists?
CM: I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about getting it all wrong, because we are going to get it wrong. There is no perfect Shakespeare, there is no way we can tell this story and use all of the characters “correctly”. The criticism we have received has made it very clear that some people are just going to look at this comic as a flawed exercise, and regardless of our execution, think this is just a bad idea. So, it is kind of freeing, actually. It is weird, but nice.
CGM: To kill, or not to kill. Is that the question?
CM: You will have to read a few more issues to find out. And how many will there be?
ADC: It will be a twelve-issue series, by the way. Issue #3 is coming in July. The first trade paperback, which collects one through six, will come out in November. We have roughly mapped out what will happen in our second and third series if we are so lucky as to make them. The first twelve will complete the story, and it has a very satisfying ending. But that does not necessarily mean it will be happy.
CM: Plus, your gamer fans should keep their eyes peeled for a fun, little Kill Shakespeare mobile app game. We will have some exclusive reveals to your fine guys when we are a little further along with that.