“Justice League of Shakespeare.”
That is how writer Anthony Del Col pitched IDW’s new series “Kill Shakespeare,” which just had issue 2 hit the stands last week. The premise is a simple one: Hamlet, prince of Denmark is tossed out of his kingdom after he kills the king’s (his uncle) top advisor, Polonius, while attempting to avenge his father. He is sent to England, but his ship attacked by pirates and he is set adrift. Hamlet washes ashore a strange land that is ruled by Richard the Third, royalty from another land. Richard sees Hamlet’s potential to fulfill a prophecy and charges him to kill a wizard known only as William Shakespeare.
Okay. Maybe it isn’t simplest premise, but it certain is cut from the same cloth as the twisting, treachery-filled plays Shakespeare penned over 400 years ago. Among Hamlet and Richard the Third, several other Shakespearean heroes and villains will be gracing the pages of this book as they all march towards an eventual confrontation with their creator.
I met Del Col, co-creator Conor McCreery and artist Andy B. at WonderCon last month and I must say they are some nice guys, who are clearly very passionate about this project. As they should be. This is a fun book, capable of appealing to the Shakespeare fan and the comic book fan. It is smart, dark, and violent. Everything you could find in the pages of the Bard’s works. I conducted an interview with the creators over email this weekend, so I’ll let them tell you about their great new book.
What prompted the idea for “Kill Shakespeare”?
DEL COL: We were inspired by David Carradine… We were brainstorming ideas for a video game and thought that it would be cool to have a video game of Tarantino’s Kill Bill films. But then we imagined changing the main character to someone else called Bill… And though of Billy Shakespeare! We immediately knew we were onto something and then realized that the medium of comic books would better serve our story than a video game.
Had you read all of Shakespeare’s works prior to the start of the series?
DEL COL: We were fairly familiar with most of the major stories, having either read them in school or seen film or stage versions of them. We made a conscious decision, though, NOT to re-read the plays line-by-line as we put together our story because we wanted to be able to take a fresh perspective on the characters and not be shackled by the smallest details from each play. We want the average person who does not know all of the details of each character to be able to jump into our tale and enjoy it.
Did you go to see any live performances of Shakespeare’s work in preparation for the book?
DEL COL: We try to catch some shows from time-to-time but we did not go out on a fact-finding mission through the theatres of North America. We’re very fortunate in that we live a couple hours away from the Stratford Festival, which is the largest Shakespeare theatre in North America. Anthony makes a point to catch at least one of their Shakespeare productions every year.
How did you get in with IDW?
DEL COL: We sold IDW on four words… We described our project as a “Justice League of Shakespeare”, and they immediately saw the potential. (Funny footnote to this – Conor immediately turned to Anthony after pitching this term in the meeting, amazed that Anthony knew what he was talking about…) It’s a seemingly comical interpretation of our tale but actually is a bit apt. We then had further discussions with the business and creative team at IDW at realized that they were the best fit for the project.
How many issues are planned?
DEL COL: This is a twelve-issue monthly series. We have firm ideas for what could take place in a second or third series but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves at this point. There are some many great characters that we weren’t able to fit into our original story and would love to explore in future series.
Which group was easier to come up with, the heroes or the villains?
DEL COL: Definitely the villains. First off, they are so much fun to write. Secondly, we immediately thought of Richard, Lady Macbeth and Iago for our story – and whenever we would ask our friends for their favourite villains these names would always be mentioned. What was interesting was how their roles changed and evolved as we wrote the series – especially that of Iago, who is such a juicy character to tap into.
Where is the series going to be taking place?
DEL COL: It’s interesting that a handful of early bloggers and reviewers have immediately guessed that Hamlet has washed ashore on England, though this is never stated. The exact location of our story has not been revealed but is not a major plot point in our tale. The key is that it is a spot in which all of Shakespeare’s characters now co-exist.
The world of Hamlet is clearly altered at the beginning. Did it make sense to change the world so it could fit into the new narrative?
DEL COL: We actually haven’t altered Hamlet’s world to a great degree, as he is the only character that we pluck directly from their original story. We’ve added some interpretations to him and his back story but for the most part have been quite true to his character. What we have done is altered some of the back stories for the other characters, such as Juliet and Othello. We’ve added our own twists to their tales but have grounded these heavily in their character foundations as originally conceived by Billy Shakes.
What characters are readers going to be seeing? Are we going to see actual historical figures from Shakespeare’s time like Queen Elizabeth? Personally, I’d like to see Puck.
MCCREERY: Well, if you want to see Puck…. buy issue #3 (okay, a spoiler, but still….)! As far as the historical figures go, I suppose one can argue that anyone who makes an appearance from the Henry and Richard plays is technically “historical”. But will we bring in figures who may overshadow the Shakespearean angle? Probably not, though who knows where our flights of fancy may take us?
Are there any characters that didn’t make the cut that you wanted to see?
MCCREERY: Quite a few. Shylock was in an early draft, but it didn’t quite work (and that’s a loaded character we wished to treat respectfully). There have been a few others who have hit the “cutting room floor”, so to speak, but often we try to imagine how they could fit into future issues — or, if we’re so lucky, future series.
Did you ever consider doing the dialogue completely in iambic pentameter?
MCCREERY: No. Firstly, since we can’t out-write Shakespeare our iambic would be a VERY pale reflection of what he accomplished. Secondly, our project is really meant to challenge the perceptions some have of Shakespeare (only for the elite, boring, difficult to understand) and writing in Iambic plays into many of those stereotypes for a great deal of people. And finally, for many people the language – as beautiful as it is – serves as a barrier to entry; a velvet rope of words, if you will. We wanted to get rid of the rope and the bouncer and welcome everyone into the Shakespeare club.
The series has been compared to Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinaire Gentlemen.” Did you find any inspiration in Moore’s book?
MCCREERY: Oh for sure. Again, we’re no Alan Moore – the guy is a genius – but I love his work. I love his focus on character and I love his inventive imagination. If we can capture a bit of THAT in Kill Shakespeare then we’ll be very happy.
Will you be addressing the conspiracy theories of Shakespeare’s legitimacy as the writer of all the plays he’s credited as writing?
MCCREERY: Perhaps, but we don’t really have any plans for that right now. Our feeling is that takes us too far into the “real world” and out of the Kill Shakespeare universe.
Do you find that working on an established literary character like Hamlet is similar to say working on an established comic book character?
MCCREERY: Definitely. It’s probably similar to writing Batman. He’s been interpreted thousands of times (often by more talented people than you), his creator was a genius, and he’s VERY well loved and VERY closely examined. So if you screw up Hamlet (or Bats) you get a lot of scorn heaped on you. But, the reward is high, too. The greatest names in the biz are often known for how they made Bruce Wayne their own. If people end up discussing Kill Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a “Hamlet type” we’ll be overjoyed…
Any final thoughts or feelings on the book you’d like to share?
MCCREERY: Just that we want to entertain people, we hope they will really enjoy this story and that this will inspire them to write their own stories, to read Shakespeare, or to read something else new and different. We want to entertain – sure. Educate? A little – yeah, why not? But we really would be excited if people who read Kill Shakespeare were inspired to do something (even if it’s just “throwing up in their own mouths” like Kimberly Cox– GRIN).
Thus far, “Kill Shakespeare” has been an intriguing read. With two of the most famous villains in literature having already appeared, this book promises to keep readers on their toes with medieval betrayal and blood lust. Original and exciting, “Kill Shakespeare” is going to be one of the books to watch this summer and through out the year.
All artwork is copyright of IDW