Beware the guys of March...
I arrive 10 minutes early at the appointed Washington coffeehouse, hard past the White House, in the long shadow of the Monument. Fittingly, the two gentlemen of Toronto, center table secured, have already arrived.
Fitting because ever since launching their “Kill Shakespeare” (IDW) comic series last year, creative partners Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery — working in the long shadow of the Bard — have rightly behaved as though within the industry, they’ve already arrived.
It’s a rare thing, indeed, to see such brilliant new talent deliver a series that immediately feels so fully formed and realized. Their tale of Shakespearean characters banding together to track down their maker and de-quill this would-be wizard — a conceit the creators dreamt up after musing on alternate ways that Quentin Tarantino could have killed a “Bill” — found a fawning audience and spawned a troupe of scholarly admirers anon. (None other than Sir Tom Stoppard has pledged his fanship.)
Nine issues and 11 months after Hamlet, Othello, Juliet and company first set out to rub out the Bard, the stage-ready Del Col and McCreery — working closely with artist/collaborator Andy Belanger — have further sharpened their craft and their satiric quill. (Issue No.-9 landed recently — get thee to Amazon anon!)
As the plaudits from comic pundits and Globe scholars (including Des McAnuff) have piled up, so have the appearance gigs at comic conventions, libraries and even Washington’s esteemed Folger Shakespeare Library a few weeks back.
Now come the creators’ ideas of March, which include today’s Reader Cover Design contest (details at their Kill Shakespeare site) and tomorrow, they’ll appear in London for a Comic Book Literacy Day.
Comic Riffs recently caught up with the quick-witted Canadian duo to trade thoughts on comics, theater and that zenned-out Venn diagram of creativity where those twain passions overlap:
MICHAEL CAVNA: Productive artistic partnerships can be quite the challenging thing — when and where did you two meet, and how quickly or not did you realize you meshed creatively?
ADC: We both went to the same university for business [in Ontario] but were two years apart, so we didn’t meet until a couple of years after that, when a mutual friend introduced us. I sat down with Conor with the intention of taking out my competition and stabbing him in the back...
CM: Thankfully, I have a rare medical condition in which my spine is fused in a way that it’s pretty much impervious to metal.
MC: You each came to this with experience in other fields of entertainment — can you speak to the transition and any transferrable skills?
CM: I worked in film and TV for awhile and I think that helped me gain an ear for dialogue. Comic dialogue is very different, to me, than dialogue in a book. So that film and TV experience certainly helped there.
ADC: I learned a great deal about marketing and branding during my time in the music industry. I worked closely with Chris Smith, Nelly Furtado’s manager, as he oversaw her launching her album “Loose” in 2006, and guiding everything from how he positioned her to selecting demographics to target, promotions to run, and the reach of her world tour. All of this has helped us figure out the potential audiences for “Kill Shakespeare” and how to successfully reach them.
MC: As rumor and sketchy bios have it, Anthony, you are from a hamlet called Porcupine. Where are each of you actually from — and what were your pre-Bardian paths?
ADC: I am indeed from a small Canadian town named Porcupine, which is a part of Timmins, the hometown of country/pop superstar Shania Twain (I’m almost the second-most famous artist from my hometown...). I attended business school in Waterloo, have produced two indie feature films, spent some time in the music industry as a manager, and have now segued into the most fulfilling tasks yet -- comic creator and producer.
CM: I was born in Montreal but grew up in Thornhill, Ontario. I did my matriculation at Wilfrid Laurier in Waterloo, Ontario, then at Växjö Universtitet in Smålands Sweden, and then I attended film school in New York. I’ve worked for a number of film and television companies and then became a journalist, where I spent a great deal of time in business news in Toronto, but also was a general staff reporter for a newspaper in Accra, Ghana.
MC: I’m curious as to your muse: Were you really watching Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” — either Part 1 or 2 — when you first discussed the various Bills that might be killed?
CM: I don’t think we were. I remember it being a phone conversation when Anthony brought up “Kill Bill” and that provided the spark for the idea that eventually became “Kill Shakespeare.”
ADC:Blame David Carradine indeed. Or Bill Shatner, for not being kill-able enough...
MC: How did you choose IDW to go with -- and did you approach many imprints? And can we still expect the Massive Role Player Game version?
ADC:We had five companies that were interested in publishing “Kill Shakespeare” in total. It was great to get that sort of reaction from the market. We ended up signing with IDW because it was a great fit — we liked the creative people at the company, we liked how aggressive they were in the digital comics space, and they were a company on the move. They’ve been great to us thus far.
CM: I’d like to do something to freshen up the genre. I understand the gold-grinding “thing” but I am convinced that that element, with far more compelling linear and non-linear storytelling, can take that genre somewhere new.
MC: Can you describe your creative process with Andy Belanger? You mentioned he does much research -- how did you find him, and how did you know he would complement your styles so rightly?
CM: We ask Andy to draw something, he laughs in our face and draws something else. Usually that “something else” is much more interesting than we had originally requested.
ADC: So yes, we basically let Andy do whatever he wants. ... Seriously, though, it’s been great working with him — he’s been the best teammate we could have asked for.
MC: With nine issues out, where are you in terms of the series’ writing — how planned out are you?
ADC:We have the remaining scripts for our first 12 issues pretty much locked at this point.
CM: And then we’ve worked out the rough structure of series Nos.-2 and 3, as well as some spinoff stories involving Othello and Iago.
MC: Now the inevitable: What’s your single favorite Shakespeare line — and which Bard character is your favorite?
CM: My favorite character is probably Caliban. As for my favorite line? That changes every day, but I’ve always been a fan of Queen Margaret’s warning of “Fool, fool thou whet’st a knife to kill thyself.”
ADC:I just love the melancholy Jacques’s “All the world’s a stage” line from “As You Like It.” I have most of it memorized and it’s such an incredible piece of art. But what makes it fantastic is that the Bard follows up this sad dissection of life with an incredibly optimistic act by another character the very next moment. That’s the great thing about Shakespeare — so many levels and interpretations.
MC: To whom should we credit for your on-the-money sound effects? They are, if you pardon the punning, dead-on.
ADC: We’ve worked with some great letter and graphic artists at IDW: Chris Mowry, Robbie Robbins, Neil Uyetake and Shawn Lee (who did the lettering on the most recent issue). They’ve done a superb job interpreting our scripts and bringing those noises alive.
CM: That’s probably the part of the job we had the least knowledge of. Doing SFX correctly, and even for us choosing the right sounds, is a lot more challenging than we realized.
MC: Can you speak to some of the highlights in the warm receptions you’ve received so far from schools and universities, libraries, comic cons and Bard scholars,? And did you find the Folger Library and its Washington audience receptive?
ADC: One of the highlights was receiving a personal handwritten note from Sir Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead”), who is a hero of mine! Beyond that, the best reviews are from comic readers who have mentioned that this series makes them want to pick up a Shakespeare play for the first time in years. From the other side, we’ve had a lot of Shakespeare fans who have made this the first comic book they’ve read and now are checking out more series. Amazing.
CM: I really enjoyed our time in Washington. It was nice to help the comic and Shakespeare worlds collide and to watch as they realized the “other” world is filled with lots of “stuff” they’d enjoy. It was almost like being the host of a great party where all the guests get along.