Taran Killam has a lot going for him — in addition to being a “Saturday Night Live” cast member, his movie career has also begun to take off, with appearances in “12 Years a Slave” and “The Heat.” Plus, he’s got his comics debut coming up in December with new IDW miniseries “The Illegitimates.”
Killam and longtime comic book writer Marc Andreyko have teamed up with artist Kevin Sharpe to create a story that — surprisingly — hasn’t been done before: after the death of a James Bond-like character named Jack Steele, his kids are brought in to take his place — but these are no normal kids. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve been groomed from a very early age by the international spy organization Olympus to eventually fill this kind of role. “Daddy issues galore,” Killam said of the characters during a special New York Comic Con panel.
The panel started off with Killam discussing his love of comics. Jim Lee’s “X-Men” #1 got him into comics, but he proved his street cred by running down a short list of the different variants he also picked up for that same issue. From there, talk turned to “The Illegitimates,” where Jack Steele’s illegitimate children from different parts of the world with different backgrounds come together to work for a common goal — although readers should expect the same kind of sibling rivalry or in-fighting that comes with family reunions.
Killam said he used financial resources thanks to his day job and put them to use to make this dream come true by partnering with Andreyko, who put him in touch with Sharpe and then IDW.
IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall compared the idea to Steve Niles’ initial pitch for “30 Days of Night” — while the content and tone were completely different, Ryall was just floored that this great idea that had never been done before. With that and a nearly complete first issue in hand, a deal between the creators and the company was struck and now they have four issues ready to go before the series begins in December.
Bond films are an obvious influence on the project, but both Killam and Andreyko clarified that the famous British spy is more of a jumping off point than a recurring theme. Also, since they’re dealing with a team instead of one person, there will be dynamics akin to groups like the Dirty Dozen or the X-Men. “I like a team because you can say, ‘That’s my guy,'” Killam said.
Even so, Killam listed positive things about almost every James Bond actor, though he did wryly pass over Timothy Dalton. He and Andreyko both agree that “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is an under-valued gem. The Nintendo 64 game “Goldeneye” was also a big part of Killam’s college experience.
The tone of “The Illegitimates” takes cues from all aspects of the huge Bond franchise. Killam later noted that they don’t want it to turn into “Austin Powers” territory. Andreyko compared it to “Galaxy Quest” and how that film started off as a riff, but then become it’s own thing. Andreyko also explained the writing process between them, saying that Killam actually has solid comic writing chops and that he was there to just smooth out the rough edges.
A question from the audience got the creators talking a bit more about the book’s main threat, a Blofeld-esque villain who has been the bane of Jack Steele’s existence for his entire career. “We’ll have to be creative,” Killam said of the villains if the series does go beyond the initial six issue run, “but this concept, to me, opens up so many opportunities and doors.” He went on to say there would have to be more than five kids and some of them might be villains themselves.
“He’s very much like Johnny Appleseed,” Andreyko said at one point of Steele, implying there could be an orchard full of his kids out there.
“My hope is that it’s ongoing,” Killam later said before explaining that each of the kids could have their own solo adventures. He also mentioned the possibility of bringing the mothers in on that action at some point, especially since one of them is part of the Yakuza. “I’m interested in exploring what’s left behind in the wake,” he said of Jack Steele. Andreyko added that the characters have already reached the stage where they take on a life of their own and have started to write themselves, saying that they could keep up their adventures for a long time to come.
When it came to questions of favorites throughout the panel, Killam said that “Goldfinger” is his favorite Bond film, Eddie Murphy is his favorite “SNL” cast member, Adele’s “Skyfall” is his favorite Bond theme, Arcade Fire is his favorite musical guest and that he has a number of favorite moments working his day job — including participating in Kristen Wiig’s going-away number last season.
Killam said it would be “awesome” if the comic ever got adapted for the big screen. “It’s important to me that this series is taken care of,” he said, going on to express his desire for the film version to be their version, not somebody else’s bastardization. Andreyko backed him up, saying that Killam’s whole focus is on this being a solid comic instead of a film pitch. Ryall chimed in to say that comic fans are savvy enough to realize when they’re being sold a converted film pitch instead of a fully realized comic book.
Killam later said that the first thing he though of when he heard that IDW was interested in publishing the book was the publisher’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comics. He even took a copy of a hardcover the IDW gang gave him to the set of the “Ninja Turtles” film and got people like Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Whoopi Goldberg and director Jonathan Liebesman to sign it while shooting a cameo in the movie. “I’m a huge Ninja Turtles guy, huge,” he said (noting he’s a Raphael). “I begged my way into four lines in the new movie. It very could be, at best, a DVD extra.”
From there Killam talked a bit about the cast of characters, noting that only one of them has any actual espionage experience. She’s been doing this for a while and acts as the leader of the team. There’s also a Texan who sounds very macho and jingoistic; the gearhead and drunk from Japan whose mom is Yakuza; and the Cowardly Lion-esque MMA fighter, underwear model and also socially awkward half brother. Andreyko suggested they keep the fifth one under wraps until the book ships. They did later note that the age range of the five main characters is between 18 and 30.
Killam also took a few moments to talk about the origins of the “J-Pop America Fun Time Now” sketches on “SNL,” which feature college aged fans of Japanese culture getting nearly every aspect of the original completely wrong. He said that he’s not sure if there will be more now that Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis have left the cast. He also said that much of his childhood had roots in or borrowed from Japanese culture like “Voltron” and “Thundercats.” He added that he found it funny how Japan would borrow from American culture and then we would borrow that new element right back and wanted to satirize that on the show.
As far as geeks go, it sounds like “SNL” is full of them. In addition to Killam, Bobby Moynihan is a big “Ninja Turtles” fan, Seth Meyers loves “Locke & Key” — so much that IDW gave him some of the replica keys they licensed out. (Meyers and “SNL” alum Bill Hader also did a Spider-Man one-shot back in 2009 called “The Short Halloween.) Andreyko added that Moynihan invited Dave Johnson, J. Scott Campbell and Amanda Conner to the same “SNL” after-party that Killam invited him and the IDW crew to, so it turned into kind of a mini-comic con.
When asked by Ryall about what character he’d most like to write, Killam said Deadpool, saying that the character is in his wheelhouse. He said there would be way too much pressure doing a larger character like Superman, Spider-Man or Batman — though Andreyko said he would love to add Spidey to his list of written characters. When talking about writing off-the-radar character, Andreyko briefly and coyly said to stay tuned for news about Manhunter, though it would ‘t be announced any time soon.
Just as the panel wound down, the last questioner asked what it was like working with Miley Cyrus who hosted the October 5 episode of “SNL.” Killam was on the show both times Cyrus hosted, and said she was incredibly confident on her first show. For her return, the writers and performers didn’t know what to expect. “She’s freaking sharp, you guys,” he said. “This is a safe room and I will be honest, she’s funny and she gets it. She’s very much in control. She’s very much aware of what she’s doing.” He added, “She won a lot of people over. There’s no more cynical place than the writing floor of ‘SNL.’ it’s our job to be so and she won everybody over across the board.”
“The Illegitimates” #1 hits on December 18th from Taran Killam, Marc Andreyko, Kevin Sharpe and IDW.