Joe Keatinge is living the dream. The long time comic fan and one-time master of Image Comics public relations took a risk, left behind his steady job and now has several comic book projects in the works including rejuvenating “Glory” in the relaunch of Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Comics imprint, creating his own superhero world in “Hell Yeah” and teaming up with artist Frank Cho in the pages of “Brutal.” With so much going on in the writer’s life — including a trip to France and Angouleme, which he took a break from just to talk to CBR News — we had to catch up with the writer about everything that was going on.
The conversation went over a lot of the basics and plot points when it comes to “Glory” and “Hell Yeah,” but Keatinge also spoke about creating a strong female influence in “Glory,” how the women in his life influenced that process, exploring how the existence of superheroes would really change day to day life and his excitement in exploring the potential of the comic book form. Before getting to the meat of the present and future, the writer discussed his past at Image Comics as an employee, returning as a creator and how all that led to bring “Glory” back from the back issue bin.
CBR News: Joe, you’re bringing back Rob Liefeld’s “Glory” in February. How did you land that writing gig?
Joe Keatinge: I parted ways with Image Comics in May 2010 as a guy who wrote press releases with the intent of coming back as a guy who wrote comic books. Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson was always very supportive of the idea. Around November 2010 he wrote to me about this idea he and Rob Liefeld had about reviving the Extreme books, the general take they wanted to have — continuing from the original numbering, new approaches without negating past history, think about Frank Miller on “Daredevil” or Walt Simonson on “Thor,” etc. — and asked if I would be interested in pitching on “Glory” with Frank Cho, who I had worked with on “50 Girls 50.” Frank and I ended up conceiving “Brutal” instead, but I still had a lot of my own ideas for “Glory.” I pitched them anyway and Eric really dug those, so I wrote a longer pitch, which he sent to Rob, who really dug that. Then I was hired.
What was it about the character that made you want to further explore her in new adventures?
We saw an opportunity to do something really different with a super-powered character. The core concepts of “Glory” were intriguing on their own: a woman raised to be the judge, jury and executioner to two warring nations. At its core it’s not something I’ve seen before.
I’ve long been convinced the term “superhero genre” is a bit of a misnomer and that the concepts normally associated with them could go in all sorts of different directions. I really love Batman, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to go about it. I like the idea of super-powered people going into all sorts of different genres or approaches. Between “Glory” and “Hell Yeah” I’m concurrently writing two “super-hero” books while I have three others currently in different forms of development. No two of them are remotely the same. None of them have much in common with any other books from Image, Marvel, DC or whoever.
There’s so much you can do. If there is a “super-hero genre,” its potential is infinite in a medium that also has the same level of possibility — or, impossibility, as it were.
Anyway, I like the idea of “Glory” a lot, but it didn’t fully come together until Ross Campbell came on board. He wanted to visually do a lot of the things I wanted to do thematically and turned out to be the absolute perfect collaborator.
Did you have a hand in getting Ross Campbell to draw the book? On paper, he seems like an unusual choice.
After I was on board for a while, Eric Stephenson and I talked to Brandon Graham about writing “Prophet.” He was in, so then we became each others’ sounding boards for what we were doing on our respective books. “Glory” had gone through a few different artists that were great, but just weren’t what Eric or Rob wanted. Brandon suggested Ross, who I thought was an odd choice at first. However, Brandon encouraged me to check out Ross’ DeviantArt page and I was really impressed. The guy’s known for titles like “Wet Moon” and “Water Baby,” but he is capable of just about anything. He had great pieces of various Image characters, X-Men and a good chunk of others you would never associate him with. So, Brandon hooked us up, Ross turned out some amazing concept pieces and he was instantly approved for the book.
How has your working relationship been with Ross Campbell since he came onto “Glory?”
Ross is very much the ideal collaborator. He has his own ideas to bring to the table, yet ours often tend to jibe together anyway. Like Brandon, he’s become a great sounding board. The series is what it is because he’s such a great partner with it. At this point, beyond some guest issues we’re lining up, I can’t really imagine anyone else being the ongoing “Glory” artist at this point.
Campbell’s art and your take on the character seem to take her pretty far away from Glory’s bad girl roots — was that on purpose?
Yes, very much so. I don’t like repeating the past. Like I said before, the potential for comics is without limit. Why keep repeating the same types of stories? The Glory conceived in the ’90s wouldn’t be as relevant in the present, just like the Superman of 1938. Things get reinvented for the time.
Plus, we saw a great opportunity to bring in the kinds of characters we wanted to see in comics in general. I’m pretty disturbed by the term “strong women” as a compliment to characters — it suggests most women are weak. It’s bullshit. The women in my life are all “strong.” I have a mother, a stepmother, a couple of grandmothers and a bunch of aunts who kick a lot of ass. My maternal grandmother alone is in her late 80s and could probably outrun most people I know.
They are also all completely different from one another. No two act or look exactly alike. They all have their own personalities, their own dreams, desires and passions. They look at the world differently. I don’t think having characters like that should be such a radical idea in superhero comics, but both of us feel there’s a lack of starring female characters along these lines and wanted to fill that void.
I also didn’t want them to fall into any immediate cliches or pastiches. The Wonder Woman comparison keeps coming up and it’s my goal is that it gets dropped by the time my run on this series ends. Yes, she’s a woman. Yes, she kicks a lot of ass. The end. I don’t constantly read about people comparing male heroes who have just as little in common.
My biggest reason for undergoing such a radical reinvention was to have a run on a book I could hand to my future daughter and not be ashamed of what she sees, feel it’s not kitschy to have a female lead and hopefully be inspired to create in whatever medium she so chooses. She is my target audience. Probably not until she’s 13-15. This book’s pretty violent.
How does the series carry over from the last published issue of “Glory,” issue #22, if at all?
I’ll admit it’s pretty loose, but at the same time I absolutely hate it when a new creator comes on a book and tells me everything I loved about a series doesn’t count, no longer exists or whatever. So, everything that happened before, happened. I’ve said this a lot, but I look at continuity like Rashomon. What happened happened, but how we interpret it may be a lot different from how, say, Jo Duffy or Alan Moore did. I think that should be pretty obvious from how different our Glory looks.
I think continuity is important, but I also think not alienating new readers is equally important. My goal with “Glory” #23 was to make it something absolutely anyone could pick up. Did you read “Glory?” Cool. Have you never read “Glory?” Excellent. Have you never read a comic? Awesome. There’s not a bazillion references without context or pastiches to other work. You should be able to jump right in. That was really important to me.
Has Rob Liefeld had much input on the series as you’ve been developing your take on the character?
Rob is involved every single step of the way, but at the same time he’s giving us a huge amount of freedom. He approved the pitch, he sees all the scripts, he sees all the designs, he sees all the pages. So, yeah, he’s very involved. Yet he’s never censored us. He’s never told us to hold back. He’s very, very encouraging of pushing limits and trying new things. Rob really does act as the book’s biggest cheerleader with an infectious enthusiasm. Very grateful to have him with us.
You mentioned your upcoming ongoing series “Hell Yeah” earlier, which looks at the second generation of a world of superheroes. How have those heroes changed the world in the book?
They’ve completely warped it. The world of the day before they appeared twenty years ago to the one of the modern day are complete opposites. Yeah, a lot of the day to day stuff is the same — the average person’s day still consists of waking up in the morning, eating breakfast, going to work, hating their jobs, eating lunch, going home, worrying about their bills, watching TV then going to bed. Yet the culture they consume, the technology they consume it with, the medicine they take, the literature they read, etc. are all wildly different. There’s a bit in a future issue where I reveal all comic books are basically the way they were in the 1950s — where you had comics about regular people romance, doctors, cowboys without superpowers and so on. The every day is so filled with the fantastic that people’s escapism is in the mundane. Sports industries are pretty much wiped out as no one can compare with someone who can run across the globe. Movies have become a niche market that mostly focuses on low budget slices of life.
You can buy a magic ring on the black market. 5th dimension imps are a regular pain in the ass. A talking tiger in a suit isn’t too surprising. They probably wouldn’t blink at a mouse throwing a brick at a cat.
I always felt “Watchmen” filtered superheroes through the real world and I have a big desire to do the opposite. How would the educational system alter if genius students built death rays? How would the world economies shift if seven people could fly around and permanently alter ecosystems? I find those questions pretty fascinating. There’s a lot I want to explore and it’s my goal for the book to go on for a long time and check it all out.
Of course, you gotta focus. That’s what Ben Day is for.
Can you elaborate on who Ben Day is and what purpose the character fills for series? Who else will be populating the book?
Ben Day is a college student pretty regularly on the verge of getting ousted. He doesn’t want to be there. He feels like he’s being forced to do what his parents want him to. He just wants to go see bands and he’s being trained to defend humanity. He’s also kind of a dick.
By the end of the first issue he’s confronted with something that forces him to have to really take a good look at the world, how it operates and what his role is. It’s through this we get to explore all sorts of different aspects of the world. From the get-go we also introduce Sara B., the smartest person on Earth, whose social anxiety keeps her from doing much with it.
When building an entire superhero universe, is it difficult to avoid bogging the story down with too much of its own history or continuity?
You just have to think about how the information’s being presented. I’m trying not to load down the reader with too much exposition. My aim is for them to feel like they’re visiting this world, not being told about it. Comics are an amazing way to convey huge ideas and lots of information in a concise form.
How did you wind up working with Andre Szymanowicz? What made him the perfect artist for this book?
Well, he wasn’t the original artist. I’ve had the idea of “Hell Yeah” since high school, yet never had the artistic style to pull it off. I draw like I should be making comics in the 1930s. That being said, I found an artist I thought was perfect, but it turned out to be a horrible combination and that attempt died a fiery death. Nothing much came out of it besides my original script.
So, I gave up on it.
At some later point I was talking to “PopGun” co-editor Mark Andrew Smith about our projects and I suggested he use James Stokoe for what I think ended up being “Sullivan’s Sluggers,” while he suggested I work with Andre. Andre and I got to know each other pretty well through conventions. I found he had a lot of the same passions I did for comics. We liked a lot of the same creators. We held a lot of the same inspirations. He ended up being the collaborator “Hell Yeah” needed to work. And it has. In spades.
“Hell Yeah” and “Glory” aren’t your only projects — in fact, you have quite a few in the works. How do you keep them all straight?
I have a massive color-coded spreadsheet that details everything I’m working on, which I update every day. I’ve also been working on launching this year for about the last year and a half, so a lot of the things people are seeing now were done a while ago. I’m working ahead and am actually looking for new projects in addition to the ones I have coming up.
The thing is — there’s nothing else I want to do other than create comics. Sure, writing a movie, novel or video game would be awesome. I’d be down. But man, nothing gets me more stoked for comics. I spent the last week working on comics in Paris, then spent a six hour car ride down to Angouleme talking about comics, then spent all Angouleme talking about comics, then spent the other six hour car ride talking about comics, then spent all day yesterday and today – yep, working on comics.
They are capable of conveying so much. I believe a lot more than we’ve explored thus far and even more well after I’m dead. There are so many genres to play with. So many sub-genres to check out. So many artists to collaborate with. Heck, I’m even planning to do something I draw on my own.
Creating them are what I want to do with my time on Earth.
That’s it, man. All comics, all the time.
“Glory” #23 hits stands on February 15th with “Hell Yeah” landing on March 7th, both from Image Comics.