Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
In this exclusive interview, the creators behind IDW Publishing’s new series talk about how they’ve taken the Bard’s world and turned it into a new comic-book universe.
What if Hamlet were Batman?
Those are the kinds of questions that the brainy creators behind IDW Publishing’s new limited comic series Kill Shakespeare like to ask. More to the point, both Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery enjoy posing questions that lead to dream match-ups and meet-ups among the most famous characters from Shakespeare’s venerable pantheon, all of which unfold in a fantastical Elizabethan dreamworld that’s equal parts Sunnydale High and the Globe Theater.
The basic pitch for the first volume is simple: Hamlet has to kill the mysterious wizard William Shakespeare. At odds with his mission are no less than Richard III and the Weird Sisters that vexed Macbeth. Also roaming the scene are a tough-as-nails Juliet and an Othello who’s on a mission to avenge himself against Iago.
Wait — Hamlet, Othello, Richard III and Juliet are all still alive? What’s happening here?
As Touchstone might say, there’s much virtue in “if.” Along with their other flights of fancy, Del Col and McCreery asked a lot of “what if?” questions to kick-start their series, including several that resurrected some of the Bard’s best-known tragic heroes.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What if, say, Juliet lived?’ She’d be a Joan of Arc,” Del Col told CC2K. “What if the voice that instructed Hamlet to kill Claudius was the louder voice?”
But where did the impulse to kill Shakespeare come from? Easy: David Carradine, by way of Quentin Tarantino. Del Col and McCreery said that Tarantino’s epic Kill Bill directly inspired their title, but once they got that idea, the rest of this new world started to coalesce.
As a reader, all of this comes together in a grim, dark adventure that delivers the same satisfying jolt I get from seeing a DC/Marvel crossover. There’s a cosmic rightness to seeing Richard III team up with the three witches, and in addition, Del Col and McCreery get to take many of Shakespeare’s other toys out for a spin — and by “toys,” I’m referring to set pieces that the immortal writer didn’t have the resources to deploy onstage.
“Comics allow us the freedom to do all of the set-pieces and action sequences that Shakespeare never could,” Del Col said. “Shakespeare is kinetic.”
Pursuant to that “kinetic” idea, Del Col and McCreery pointed out that some of the advantages of building a world based on Shakespeare’s characters are the inherent levels of action, brutality and surprise that the master writer built into his stories — even if they can’t portray every inch of it on the page.
“We just don’t do stories that way anymore,” McCreery said. “We sanitize them. We can’t go as dark as Shakespeare did. You can’t draw everything Shakespeare did.”
But you can certainly draw some of it. Look no further than the opening pages of book one to find a famous scene that Shakespeare alluded to but could never show onstage: Hamlet’s encounter with pirates. But here’s the twist: this time around, Claudius is already dead and Hamlet is on another quest, the aforementioned journey to kill Shakespeare.
Del Col and McCreery mix and match elements from the canon all across their story, including fun stuff like Hamlet and the pirates, as well as classic acts of violence that include Gloucester’s blinding from King Lear, Lavinia’s tongue-ectomy from Titus Andronicus, as well as Titus’ own hand-loss from the same play. For Shakespeare novices, Titus was an early tragedy for the Bard that included characters who heralded the future glory of Lear and Lady Macbeth. The play enjoys a cult following that includes eminent director Julie Taymor, who made the mad general’s odyssey the subject of her first feature film, Titus, and for their part, Del Col and McCreery have pressed one of the play’s villains, Tamora, into duty among their rogues gallery. They also promised that they have “big plans” for Titus himself. Maybe he’ll have time to proclaim that he is the sea.
But Shakespeare’s canon includes stories from several different time periods, some of which span decades, even centuries. How far and wide does this world reach?
Del Col and McCreery said that for now, they’re confining themselves to a pseudo-Elizabethan time period that can logically accommodate such sword-wielding and doublet-wearing characters as Hamlet and Richard III.
That said, the two didn’t rule out the possibility that other favorite characters could join the fray. In fact, they didn’t rule anyone out, including Benedick and Beatrice and Marc Antony. They also plan to bring Caliban (of The Tempest fame) into the fold — Caliban, a character they likened to a current comic-book celebrity, Wolverine. In addition, they compared Hamlet to Batman, and Juliet to Joan of Arc, and in the case of the Moor of Venice, they compared their take on Othello to the Incredible Hulk.
“Othello’s driven by years for revenge,” McCreery said. “And we asked ourselves, ‘When you finally find someone who’s wronged you like Iago has Othello, what do you do?’ We felt like it would tell you a lot about the kind of person you are.”
In any event, Del Col and McCreery plan to ask a lot more mind-benders as they make their way through Shakespeare’s works and into (hopefully) more and more series. Right now they’re slated for 12 issues, and they’re content with that. They have no movie deals in place — yet — and they plan to write as much as they can before they cut any deals with tinseltown, but rest assured that they plan to expand Kill Shakespeare into as many media as will have them.
Shakespeare would be proud, McCreery said.
“If he were alive today, he’d be writing comics and video games,” he said. “He’d like what we’re doing. He was always making spectacle, but in all of his plays, he always found time to slow things down and talk about what makes us human.”
For more information, visit the official website, KillShakespeare.com.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.