A Boy & His Dragon: Kelly talks "Four Eyes"

Joe Kelly, fresh off a run as writer of DC Comics' "Supergirl," preparing to launch his own "I Kill Giants" in July and ready to join the team of "Amazing Spider-Man," is back for more with "Four Eyes," the tale of a boy and his dragon illustrated by Max Fiumara. The writer sat down with CBR news to talk about his new ongoing series from Image Comics, which is just one of an apparent new wave of titles from Man of Action, the "Ben 10" development team of which Kelly and Joe Casey ("Charlatan Ball," "Krash Bastards") are parts.

"Four Eyes" follows a young boy named Enrico on the trail of vengeance. His father was killed stealing a baby dragon for a gangster who runs an illegal dragon fighting enterprise. Did we mention the story is set in 1930s Brooklyn?

"Yup. Dragons in Brooklyn in the Great Depression!" Joe Kelly told CBR News. "Our boy Enrico decides that the best way to get back at the gangster who essentially caused his father's death is to train a beast of his own and take him down that way. He manages to get a dragon, a neglected deformed runt that should have died -- Four Eyes."

A naive but resourceful boy who wants to take care of his mother, as well as see his father avenged, Kelly said of Enrico, "Despite his mother's warnings, Enrico gets involved in the seedy and dangerous world of dragon fighting to win wealth and his revenge against Boccioni, the gangster who his father worked for. Along the way, Enrico has to learn the ropes of dragon fighting, train a dangerous animal, and try to navigate a seedy underground world without getting too dirty himself."

Clearly, "Four Eyes" will be exploring some dark themes. "Revenge, for sure," Kelly said. "Also the question of how far someone can go down a dark path before becoming a monster themselves. Enrico is a sweet, wide-eyed kid, but the dark seed of revenge is planted in his head. He learns quickly that he's got to be tough to run with the dragon-fighting crowd, and starts making some questionable choices. So how far will he go for revenge?

"Also, since it's set in the Depression," Kelly added, "I'm looking at strength as a theme. What did it take for people to get by? Ordinary folks who faced a world that crumbled around them. There are millions of amazing stories of sacrifice, strength, and love that took place during those hard years. Set against this darker fantasy tale, they'll shine like diamonds.

"Lastly, Fathers and Sons. I lost my own father this year, and for all of the ups and downs in our relationship, I'm continually shocked at his influence on my work. So there's a lot of that in 'Four Eyes' as well."

Kelly has designed "Four Eyes" as an epic story to be told in a series of arcs. In the first year, Kelly said, readers will learn "what happens to Enrico's dad and how a little boy learns about the dark underbelly of his father's other life. We'll see his first dragon hunt and how he ultimately gets Four Eyes. Then, the long road to training his dragon - what a kid has to do to hide this very illegal animal, work with it, and turn it into a killer. Then, of course Four Eyes' first battle."

The concept for "Four Eyes" first came to Kelly several years ago, and began with a simple image in his head. "A boy with a dragon on a chain in front of an old car," said the writer, "like a Studebaker or old Ford - and the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. He didn't have any shoes on, and I thought it was the Great Depression. I didn't know what it meant, really, but all of the sudden, the idea of a revenge story kicked in, the struggles of the Depression and how people needed things to keep their minds off of their troubles; illegal gambling; and that dragon? Dragon fighting? That's sort of it, an image blossoming."

What made it into a series, though, instead of just a graphic novel, was Max Fiumara. Kelly said of his artistic collaborator, "As soon as I saw his ideas for dragons, I wanted to see Four Eyes fight them all! Like an old-school boxing story, or 'Gladiator' - I want to see those battles! So we started talking about a bigger arc, and here we are."

Kelly first met Fiumara on a trip to Argentina. "At the time he was very busy," said Kelly. "I was booked up, too, but I always remember good art. Then at the end of last year he dropped me a line and I was just getting my head around the Man of Action books we're doing through Image, and I had an urge to do 'Four Eyes.' I asked him if he'd take a stab at it, and not only did he give it a shot, but he blew it out of the damn park."

Kelly praises Fiumara's ability to marry exaggerated with realistic rendering and inking to create the world he envisioned. "A lot of his stuff is more photo realistic," said Kelly, "and I pointed him towards 'Blacksad' (a comic book series created by Spanish authors Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido featuring anthropomorphic animals in a realistic noir setting) as a reference point. That was it. He got it. He can do weeping epic shots; he can do real subtle acting. He's a storyteller and a fine craftsman, and I thank the great and terrible forces of nature that brought us together, because Max is going to make this book sing."

The Depression Era setting requires research on the part of both writer and artist, but Kelly credits the process with sparking some story ideas as well as providing a historical spine for the book. Not everything can be researched, however. Said Kelly, "It's an alternate history where dragons are real. They lived past the Dark Ages, but were sterile, slowly hunted and killed by human expansion. Then at the turn of the century they started breeding again, which gave birth to a new crop of people who wanted to capture them. We have the whole dragon history worked out."

Joe Kelly expects "Four Eyes" will appeal to "readers of fine, ass kicking comics. People who like cool unexpected stories that take you somewhere wild. People who like underdog stories. People who like lush art and being transported to a time in history that's been amped up a bit. People who want to see a ten -- year-old boy train a dragon to beat the living hell out of an even bigger dragon!"

With Man of Action active as a development house for more than just comic books, with a successful track record in animation, fans may wonder why did Kelly looked to the four-color format to tell his story of gangsters and dragons. "I think that comics allow for a certain suspension of disbelief that's harder to come by in other medium," Kelly explained. "So when you see a dragon flying past the Queensborough Bridge, you want to know more. You don't go 'That's cheesy CG' or whatever. Plus, the epic nature of the story and the texture of the world really get a chance to breathe in a comic book."

Man of Action is putting out a group of comics through Image, of which "Four Eyes" is just one. Said Kelly, "[Image has] been incredibly supportive of the types of stories we want to tell. Joe Casey got the ball rolling with 'Gødland' and now 'Krash Bastards' and 'Charlatan Ball' and I'm picking it up with 'Four Eyes' and 'I Kill Giants.' It's been a great relationship so far, and I can't wait for these books to roll out."

"Four Eyes" hits the stands on September 24 form Image Comics.

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