Writer and artist Ted McKeever made a name for himself by producing creator-owned comics that interest him. From 1987’s “Transit” to last year’s “Meta 4,” the creator has covered many different bases from one-off jobs including the occasional short story for Marvel Comics and pencilling “Doom Patrol” in the mid-’90s for Vertigo, but he always returns to the land of creator-owned comics. “Mondo,” McKeever’s latest brainchild, takes place in a wild world filled with tattooed babies and female roller skaters named Kitten Kaboodle. The story — which begins in January and will be presented in three black and white, golden age format issues from Image Comics — follows Catfish Mandu, who works in chicken processing, as he accidentally transforms from a meek factory worker to an engine of motion and destruction.
CBR News spoke with McKeever about working on creator-owned comics, how rude people helped influence the world of “Mondo” and what exactly caused Catfish’s transformation.
“Catfish Mandu works at a chicken processing plant. Other than uttering the sparsely random ‘B’Gok!’ he never speaks. There’s nothing very special about Catfish. He’s easily pushed around and bullied, choosing to avoid any conflict rather than stand his ground,” McKeever told CBR News. “Then, one day, due to circumstances involving a crazed loose chicken, a radiation chamber and a factory filled with volatile storage, he is transformed — well, more like mutated — into everything he has never been. Physically empowered beyond human standards, he awakens with pure unfiltered rage.”
Chicken processing plants, stray chickens and radiation chambers might not sound too far off from daily life, but “Mondo” promises everything from the aforementioned Kitten Kaboodle to top hatted monkeys. McKeever promises the world will be filled with “everything the comics medium allows.”
“There will be no boundaries — of course, there is a linear story — but as far as what the world of ‘Mondo’ contains will harken back to when I did ‘Metropol,'” McKeever said. “Unleashed craziness, twisted humor, dark foreboding evil, monkeys with top hats, surfer dudes who shoot fire out of their eyes, bikini dames with giant paper-mache heads — well, you get the idea. I want to have a story where anything is possible, but not totally abstract. One of the things I can’t stand in any given story is the lack of reality foundation. That said, it doesn’t mean things can’t go bat-shit crazy off the charts, but only as long as the crazy is anchored to the reality of the world in my story.”
Considering the writer’s desire to connect the story to reality, it should come as no surprise that he based aspects of the world on his own reality, specifically how rude and self-involved the general population seems to have gotten over the years.
“The fact that, of late — and maybe it has to do with me turning 52 in a few months — there has become this kind of acceptance for people to be assholes. I see things happening around me that make me cringe at the way people have just become unaccountable for their behavior,” McKeever said of his inspiration for the series. My sobriety has educated me on the fact that most people behave as they are allowed to. Some are good people, but there are those who try and push a little bit harder each time they get away with rude nasty crap. Those are the ones I am intolerable of. So, when I sat down to write ‘Mondo,’ it started to become more and more realized how the human psyche has a limit, and what if that barrier was erased and we just lost it, and started putting these toilet bugs in their place.”
After getting pretty deep with his previous Image comic “Meta 4,” which followed an amnesiac astronaut who landed in Coney Island and a woman dressed as Santa on a road trip to discover the former’s identity, McKeever wanted to go in the complete opposite direction with “Mondo.”
“‘Meta 4’ was the most intense, exhausting and liberating project I have ever worked on in all my 26 years in this industry,” McKeever said. “Mentally it took so much out of me that it was literally weeks before I even sat down at the board again. A lot of reviews — and that is a-whole-nother can of worms for me to open another time — said I just drew what I wanted and made a story around it, which is crap and they couldn’t be farther from the truth. ‘Meta 4’ was the most specifically and focused story I have ever written. So, when I started on the next project, I had nothing but the icing on the top of the cupcake left in me. Biting into just sprinkles and sugar, blow the introspective seriousness out of the water, and run naked through the mall wearing bunny ears and hiking boots. That is where ‘Mondo’ came from.”
That might be where the idea for “Mondo” came from but the process of bringing the story to the page can be a long and tricky one. However, once McKeever had the pages laid out and storyboarded, the actual completion of the issues only took a month or two.
“Once the idea has solidified and taken ground, and I have paced out the entire issue in storyboards, it takes about four to eight weeks of actual art time based on the given content,” McKeever said. “What takes a huge amount of time though is the cover. It’s what makes the reader want to pick up the book in the first place. I see tons of awesome covers, and an equal amount of horrendous ones as well. Some people get the whole concept of advertising, others just like to throw up on it. The cover, to me, is everything that matters. Working with my good friend Dana Moreshead, who is one hell of a damn outstanding designer, brings to them a look that is as important as the interiors. Dana and I work in a very fantastically odd way. Like two jazz musicians sitting in a room with a bunch of rusted old farm tools and we start banging out melodies that some stick and others fall by the wayside. I’ll tell Dana what I have in mind and the man will produce sometimes up to 18 versions of the idea. Some are completely off from what I asked for and there have been times those are the ones we went with. It’s so overwhelming that we have to sometimes check our brains at the door, because we both can go off on tangents that would make an entirely different series. Yet, when the day is done, I can honestly say that the covers of ‘Meta 4’ and ‘Mondo’ are some of my personal favorites, and that is totally due to Dana’s participation.”
While McKeever gives a lot of credit to Moreshead, he also notes Shadowline head honcho Jim Valentino as a huge influence when it came to the actual presentation of the story to readers.
“That man knows the comics industry better than anyone,” McKeever said of the Image Comics founder. “I thought maybe to do it as a black and white, giant super-sized edition, and when I presented the story idea to Jim he said, ‘You should do it in two — no, three 40-page Golden Age format editions.’ I love that format, I love multiple issues, and to be able to have Jim’s support and trust to do that many pages and issues was like I went back in time to those great days of the ’80s when publishers trusted your call and gave you the room to run. And because Jim knows the audience, and I trust his knowledge. It’s like if Jimi Hendrix showed up and wanted to show you how to play guitar. How stupid would you be not to listen?”
While comics are a collaborative medium by necessity, McKeever called working on his own projects “monumentally important.”
â€¨”It’s home for me,” McKeever said of his own creations. “No matter what else I work on, whomever else’s ideas I am working on, to come back to my own creations is like going out on a long trip somewhere new, then coming back to your own place, and… damn if that shower in your bathroom or sleeping in your bed doesn’t feel like the best thing ever. For me, that same elation and joy applies to doing my stuff, my way.
“That said, working for both DC and Marvel has had its moments. It’s allowed me to, actually, forced me to work within boundaries that I never would have restricted myself to,” McKeever continued. “That’s a very good thing, at least how I feel, because as an artist and writer the best thing one can experience is a challenge. It taught me how to push myself into areas that were way outside my comfort zone, confront characters and rules that I would have never imposed on myself, and yet keep it true to my ideals and inspirations. If you are open to any creative experience, and [don’t] limit your perspective to certain categories, you’d be amazed at how much you can learn, especially about yourself.”
“Mondo” #1 is on sale in January.