Kill Shakespeare came onto the scene in 2010 from IDW Publishing, and co-creators Anthony Del Col and Connor McCreery have not let up since. “Kill Shakespeare” is an epic fantasy literary mashup, bringing together characters from vast body Shakespeare’s plays. The plot follows Hamlet after banished from Denmark, on his quest to find and possibly kill the mysterious wizard known as Bill Shakespeare. The 12-issue series came to an end in 2011, however the series has since been adapted into a multifaceted stage play, with plans for a video game, and a feature film in the works.
The creative team relentlessly tours North American comic conventions, and recently, at Montreal Comiccon, Anthony Del Col took the time to talk about his experience writing “Kill Shakespeare” over the past few years. We chatted about everything from a potential new series, to the stage play, to “Before Watchmen” and creator rights. Check it below.
BD: A lot of people know what Kill Shakespeare is by this point and I’m sure you’ve given the speech to many people. But what has Kill Shakespeare come to mean to you over the past few years?
Del Col: Wow. Wow, man, this is like Barbara Walters, you’re about to make me cry. You’ve stumped me already! It means a lot of things. It’s the most creatively fulfilling project I’ve ever worked on and it’s so cool to be able to have an idea and put it into action, onto a page, into a reality, and then have that reality excite people. I’ve produced films before and I worked in the music industry, but with Kill Shakespeare I really get to interact with the audience. That makes it so much more fulfilling for me as a creator. Just five minutes ago a girl came up to me my table and was just blushing, telling me how much she loved the series as an Enlgish lit major. To be able to touch people like that and see these reactions is something special.
On the flip side, what it means is that we’ve been able to create something that gets people excited about new mediums. You have these diehard Shakespeare fans who never read comic books before, but they’re really intrigued by the art after reading our book, and they tell us that that our book made them want to read more comics. Then you get the comic fans who read it and they tell us they’re going see Shakespeare in the Park, or read Hamlet. All of that has been extremely enriching for me.
BD: Were you big fans of Shakespeare before you started writing or did you come up with the idea and go read all his work?
Del Col: We’ve both been fans of Shakespeare for a long time. I was a fan since I was 14-years-old, when I was forced to read Merchant of Venice for English class. I remember distinctly, I had to get the Coles Notes because my teacher sucked and that actually is what made the play come to life for me.
BD: Did you have to watch the Al Pacino movie?
Del Col: No, actually, I haven’t seen that one yet. But, I’ve been a fan for a long time; I catch one or two productions every year in Toronto. When we started I was the Shakespeare geek and Connor was the comic geek and now we’ve blended our interests and we’ve crossed into each other.
BD: You said it started off as an idea as a video game?
Del Col: Yeah Connor and I were sitting around one day just hanging out and we just thought of how cool it would be to create create a video game. Somewhere in the conversation the title Kill Bill came up, and that transformed from the Tarantino movies to Kill Bill Shakespeare. Our working title was actually Kill Will, but it got pushed around.
BD: It started as an idea for a video game, then it became a comic, now you’ve adapted it to a stage reading, and you have a screenplay in the works. What has your experience been like watching this project progress from medium to medium?
Del Col: It’s cool because not everyone wants to read comics, but they may see a stage production. Or vice versa. So working across mediums allows us to connect with different users, consumers, and readers.
Most artists will tell you this, that once you finish a project, you always want to go back and change things. Being able to adapt it for the stage and the like has allowed us to build on the piece, to build on Hamlet’s quest to kill or not to kill. We’re able to find out what works on these different levels. We sort of figured it out through the comic, and now with the play we’re working it into the film script, so it’s just making the story that much stronger, and I think it’s rare to be able to do that in the arts.
BD: There’s such a vast cast of characters to pull from with Shakespeare, you guys pick and choose across all of the plays, how did you limit yourselves to pick the cast when drawing from such a big pool?
Del Col: I’m glad you asked how to “limit” because it really is a huge limitation. There are characters that we really love like King Leer, or Prospero, or Caliban, and we would have loved to include them, but there just wasn’t space for them in the end. In some sense we follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in terms of the number of characters, but it all just kind of came together. It didn’t take us that long or lead to too many arguments. We knew right away Richard and Lady Macbeth would be the villains, and that Othello and Juliet were natural protagonists. Falstaff is the best fool, so we had to include him.
The hardest fit was actually Hamlet. The original incarnation of the story was set in today’s world, where a guy finds a portal into Shakespeare land and he interacts with all the characters. But then we thought that might be read as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and we wanted more Lord of the Rings, a serious tone. So that character, who was suffering from loss, and we thought, why not just go back to the original guy who dwells on loss, Hamlet.
BD: You have a new arc in the works. Anything you can tell us?
Del Col: I can’t comment unfortunately. There may be more issues in the future, so stay tuned and check out our website in October!
BD: I really love the inclusion of both tragic an comic elements of Shakespeare’s work throughout the comic. Do you see the ending of the book to falling into either of those genres?
Del Col: We wanted our own ending. We really wanted a hybrid of the two. With a lot of his productions, everything is packed up so neat and tidy in the end so I feel a bit disappointed when I read some of his plays. Not that people have to die, but everyone pairs up, everyone is happy-go-lucky, but I like endings where there is both happiness and sadness, bittersweetness. A character who made sacrifices to get something else.
BD: The comic con premiere of the Kill Shakespeare stage play is tonight, can you tell us how that came together?
Del Col: It just kind of happened [laughs]. About 18 months ago, a theatre in Toronto contacted us, they were fans of the series, and they were putting together a festival that was in November of last year as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first production of The Tempest. They were looking for unique and quirky takes on Shakespeare and that’s where we came in. They said we’d love to work with you, and we threw some ideas out there, and the stage reading came up. The stage reading involves reading the actual dialogue by actors with a projection of the panels from the book. We scripted it then did a small teaser of the first issue, then debuted it last November. This fall five other theater companies will be putting it into production. It’s been a nice different experience for us. It’s not a play or a musical fully, it’s a comic book come to life with some theatre in there.
BD: How much of the series does it cover?
Del Col: All 12 issues, but we obviously had to cut out some stuff. If we did all of the panels, it would be like a 3 hour show, so we combined some scenes, and tossed a bunch. The key journey of Hamlet and his quest to kill or not to kill Shakespeare is still there.
BD: With the controversy surrounding Before Watchmen, and the use of other creator properties, did you guys run into any issues. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?
Del Col: Yeah, on our website I posted a cease and desist letter on the site on April 1st from the William Shakespeare Estate as an April Fool’s Day joke and so many people believed it [laughs]. I wish I had planned it more, we could have put out press releases and stuff, really had some fun with it. It was crazy how many people on our Facebook page just lost it like, “oh my god we need to fight this.” I threw a bunch of hints in the letter, so if someone really read it they got that it was a joke.
BD: Wow, that’s a pretty great prank to pull. Do you have an opinions on the controversy and how it works with Kill Shakespeare?
Del Col: DC Comics just decided that they had more stories in mind for these really fascinating characters from Alan Moore. People must have been asking for more stories to some capacity so they put it out. I haven’t read it, so I cant comment on quality but the fact that Darwyn Cooke is on it, it seems like more than just a cash grab. He’s one of th eguys with the most integrity in the industry, so there must be something really interesting there.
But literary mashups, I really love. That’s why we’re doing this. It’s new takes on characters that already exist, and doing so allows new audiences to experience them. For me, the best reviews are those that read kill Shakespeare and then go and read a play or see a production.
BD: You’ve gotten some really negative reviews from Shakespeare scholars, correct?
Del Col: Yeah, we got one or two, but the scholars like us for the most part. We were written about by 3 or 4 academics, including one who thinks we’re pornographic, but she liked that I think. There were a few bad ones, but they mostly like what we’ve done. There have been so many Shakespeare adaptations and reworkings of the plays by this point. You’ve got a Hamlet movie set in modern day New York starring Ethan Hawke, so the scholars are intrigued by us more than anything. Some don’t like us, the most vitriolic was Kimblerly Cox who said she wanted to bitch slap us! We put that quote right on our table at all our shows [laughs].
BD: That’s such a good quote!
Del Col: She just didn’t get what we were doing. We wanted to expose new audiences to Shakespeare, and to do that we had to cut out things like iambic pentameter and old English.
BD: So, Kill Shakespeare is what you’ve been doing for the past four years, what else is in the works for you?
Del Col: I’ve been developing some other things recently. In two weeks I take part in a one-week television pitch workshop run by the National Screen Institute. Myself and another creator have a comedy sitcom we are developing so we’re going to be paired up with top story editors and execs and such. We’ve also had some companies express interest in working with us, so a couple of projects on the go right now. I have a superhero story I’m working on, and I never thought I would write superhero stories, but I can’t say much more about it now.
BD: Any last things you want people to know about your work?
Del Col: Kill Shakespeare is the coolest thing ever. In the entire world [laughs]. No, just check it out, don’t be scared by the name Shakespeare!