Exploring Ted McKeever's "Meta 4"

When you come home from work tonight, will you go out back to your porch and grill yourself a delicious dinner - something that might take some time - or would you rather spend that same amount of time eating something quick while spending the bulk of your energy organizing your home office space? If you ask comic book creator Ted McKeever, neither option is necessarily right or wrong: they're just representative of the different roads life takes you down.

For the time being, McKeever has chosen one particular path in the form of "Meta 4," his upcoming five-issue series through Image and Shadowline Comics about an amnesiac astronaut and a woman named Gasolina - two characters walking the paths of life, only to find themselves at an intersection. The first issue is on sale today (June 9), and CBR News spoke with McKeever to learn more.

"'Meta 4' is about actions brought about by circumstances that cause a person to go down a certain path they might not have had that specific situation not occurred," the writer-artist told CBR. "I wanted to explore the use of time and momentum and how they expand and condense based on one's utilization of choices. For example, the amount of time it takes to, say, tenderize and grill a steak can also be used to organize your files. Both use the same amount of time, but one has a physical end result, while the latter brings about results of a more mental nature. Choosing to grill the steak brings one down the path of eventually eating and becoming satiated physically, while the other brings about organizational satisfaction, which is then mentally satisfying. Same amount of time, two different paths with two different outcomes; neither is right nor wrong, just like life.

"That said, 'Meta 4' is more about the characters' equations than some final answer," he continued. "[It's] about how people interact and bond or detract and repel after a period of time based on certain checkpoints we all have in ourselves to guide our decisions."

In the case of "Meta 4," one of the decision makers in question is an amnesiac astronaut. When the story begins, it appears that the astronaut is traveling across a lunar surface - in actuality, he's on a beach. "His awareness is limited to his memory, of which he has none of how he came to be there or who he is," said McKeever. "His recollections are of broader things. Everything from certain items to days of the week are all clear in his mind. But his name, his past, how he came to be an 'astronaut' are all a blank slate - and so he thinks and speaks in broken yet eloquent dialogue that balances between poetry and insanity."

The astronaut eventually comes into contact with Gasolina, a muscular woman who dresses up as Santa Claus all year round. "The two come in 'contact' early on, but it isn't [until] later on in the first issue that they actually interact, albeit amongst a very violent and bloody scene in a public bathroom," McKeever teased. "Gasolina has a unique way of speaking that can be interpreted in slightly different ways, allowing the reader to impose his or her own verbiage to fit the scene as felt."

Gasolina and the astronaut both find themselves dealing with peculiarities: the muscled woman is experiencing "oddly disjointed thoughts" while the amnesiac sports a host of disturbing scars that he can't quite explain due to his memory impairments. As the solicitation copy for "Meta 4" #2 informs readers, these scars and thoughts become "a shared preoccupation of 'patterns'" for Gasolina and the astronaut.

"There's always been a fascination for me over mental stability - or instability, depending on your perspective - as well as the organic texture and capability of the flesh," said McKeever. "What the astronaut's scars represent are twofold. They are both evidence of a mystery that will unfold as the story progresses, as well as a textured map that has meaning to it because of where they are on his body. Gasolina's thoughts are a direct link patterned to the way she speaks. She is totally understandable but only to those who allow themselves to listen and not just 'hear' her. The two of them, for lack of a better word, bond because of similarly having accepted their idiosyncratic quirks, and taken them on as badges rather than disabilities."

The fact that readers can feasibly interpret Gasolina's dialogue in multiple ways speaks to the metaphors at the center of "Meta 4," clearly an aptly named book. "As a culture, we rely on dialogue for so many important foundations," the creator explained. "The entire basis of this country is founded on the written word, interpreted in ways that may or may not have been intended exactly how they were transcribed, and yet the core of all laws stem from those same words. Now, am I speaking about the constitution? Perhaps I'm referring to the bible. Anything we interpret is open for metaphor: religion, politics, our perception of right and wrong, usage of time, health, what is 'sex,' how far is too far - I mean, it goes on and on. Ask any two opinionated people the same question and I doubt you'll get the same answer. So, what this story is basically 'about' are the characters' perceptions on any given situation, and yet left up to the reader to decide whether they agree or disagree with them."

Even the book's "location," or "setting," is up for some debate. While the astronaut and Gasolina find themselves in New York City - a place described as a "giant candy-covered apple" with a "crispy sweet outer shell" and "rotting core filled with brittle gritty spots," according to McKeever's own metaphor - one could argue that the story's landscape focuses more on issues of memory and interpretations.

"It's very much a story beyond the confines of reality in that it deals with time and dimension overlapping and bleeding into the other," described McKeever. "But it's also totally grounded in a tangible place and time. Not unlike a fever-dream, but - and let me make this very clear as it's a subject I despise in storytelling - not a dream. The characters and places are all very real and yet they find themselves in situations and locations that become twisted to their individual skewed perceptions. Take, for example, a crime scene scenario: why is it that witnesses are the weakest basis for fact? Because memory is faulty. But does that make an experience any less real due to how you remember something, even if it differs from the person next to you experiencing the same situation?"

McKeever said that he hopes fans of his earlier books like "Transit," "Eddy Current" and "Metropol" will give "Meta 4" a shot - "Although I'm not the same person I was those twenty-something years ago and my interests and passions have changed and matured, I never lost the drive for off-beat stories and even more disenfranchised characters looking to find strength in a world that gave none," he said - but in addition to those fans, he hopes that "Meta 4" reaches an audience prepared for a challenging read.

"I personally love being presented with something that makes me think and decide for myself, not be given all the answers, but am allowed the compliment to delve into a story and explore its ingredients," he said. "That's what I want to give the readers of this series: the enjoyment of the process, the adventure of the journey."

"Meta 4" #1, written and illustrated by Ted McKeever with a cover by McKeever and Dana Moreshead, is on sale today. The second issue is scheduled to arrive in stores on July 7, 2010.

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