Ryall Parties Every Day with "Kiss"

The hard rock super team of The Demon, Starchild, Spaceman, and Catman are back in a new ongoing series from IDW Publishing, beginning in June. The latest incarnation of "Kiss" in comics will be written in alternating arcs by IDW Chief Creative Officer and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall and Tom Waltz, with Jamal Igle and Casey Maloney switching off on art. The series will take a superhero approach to the costumed personas adopted by the original Kiss lineup of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, with humans throughout history accepting the power of the Kiss talismans. The band has made multiple comic book appearances since its formation in 1973, first in a series from Marvel Comics and most recently in a four-issue arc in the pages of "Archie." Comic Book Resources caught up with Ryall, who is writing the first arc of the new "Kiss" series, about IDW's plans for the iconic rockers.

Ryall's long history as a Kiss fan helped form an enthusiastic appreciation for the band that would form the foundation for acquiring the comics license. "Kiss was one of the first bands I ever listened to," Ryall told CBR News. "I had an older brother and we had to share a room, so as the younger brother I had no say over the music we listened to or what comics I was allowed to read. In fact, in that regard, I was only allowed to collect things he didn't buy. He called dibs on 'Spider-Man,' so I was given things he didn't care about like 'Fantastic Four.' It was a total monarchy in that bedroom, and every night we'd listen to Kiss, all [through] growing up, all throughout my childhood. So I got into it early on -- the stuff you listen to every day, the stuff your brother likes you somehow want to like, too.

"I was all into it, too, the Kiss magazines he had and the 'Kiss Meets Phantom of the Park' movie that aired on TV, and from there all the action figures, and it all just went on from there."

Though Ryall first considered bringing Kiss to IDW several years ago, circumstances got in the way. "It's funny, we first approached Gene about Kiss comics a few years back, and that was when they had made the deal with Platinum -- it was before it was announced, but it was too late for us to get on board," Ryall said. "That's when we partnered with him to do the Simmons comics line, but we always had it in the back of our heads that the thing we wanted to do was Kiss comics, too. And nobody had ever really collected the old Kiss stuff, so those old Marvel magazines were really hard to find, and when they were collected they were only ever put out in that giant 'Kiss Compendium' book, but they've never been out in trade paperback. So over the years, partnering with Gene, we kept talking with him about that, and when Platinum went... the way they went, we started having that conversation with Kiss again."

This time, however, there was another potential conflict -- Archie Comics, which had also approached Simmons for the Kiss license. "I actually brought up the idea of a joint co-licenseship (there's probably a more official word for that)," Ryall told CBR. "I'm fine with sharing the license with somebody like Archie, I think they hit a good audience on their side and we hit somewhat of a different audience, and the two of us together are just two ways for Gene and the band to reach the widest comic audience possible." Archie recently published the four-part "Archie Meets Kiss" story in its flagship title.

For the IDW version Ryall proposed a return to the roots of Kiss comics. "My whole pitch to him was, I wanted to do Kiss comics the way I remembered them as a kid. I wanted to do them like the old Marvel comics that Stan Lee worked on with John Buscema and then John Romita, Jr. They were just these teenage, young guys who got these talismans that powered them up," Ryall said. "It was like a superhero comic concept, which I always dug. That's my background as a reader. When Kiss did comics in the '90s, hell, it was like everything in the '90s. It was so overblown and big and cosmic, and there was such a strong Todd McFarlane influence on the art. And I could never quite relate to them. Kiss became these cosmic deities that were overseeing... I don't know. They weren't necessarily to my taste. So when we got involved wanting to do them now, we wanted to take it back to a more human level and get more of a superhero-ish feel, but also keeping some of the stuff fans liked in the '90s, too. We're telling stories set in different decades and different centuries, but with the focus being more on human characters who are empowered by Kiss talismans."

Ryall developed IDW's approach to "Kiss" with fellow editor Tom Waltz, with whom he will share writing chores on the series. "Tom's an equally big Kiss fan. We worked together on the Gene Simmons stuff and we both talked about what we'd like to do with 'Kiss.' We had this all plotted out before we'd even ever signed the deal with Gene -- probably a year before, even when Platinum was still doing Kiss comics," Ryall said. "We started putting together a 'here's what we'd do if we ever had the chance.' So when we had the chance, we had this pretty fully-formed idea already. It involves me writing two issues, Tom writing two issues, alternating back and forth. But we have the benefit of working in the same office, so we're often working on each other's scripts together, reading each other's and making notes, making sure it's a cohesive thing.

"We wanted it so every two issues drew a storyline and imagery from a classic Kiss record but also was a good jumping on point for people. So you don't have to know any mythology, you're not going to have to follow all this lore to know what's going on," he continued. "Every other issue is the start of a brand-new story line, that's telling a bigger story all together."

The first arc, "Dressed to Kill," is based loosely on the 1975 album of the same name, and subsequent arcs will follow suit with other classic Kiss albums. "[The cover of 'Dressed to Kill'] is the band just standing there in full suits, but with the makeup on. And I thought, that's kind of a cool image, imagine if they were gangster-era," Ryall said of the album's relationship to the first "Kiss" arc. "So we started thinking maybe we could transport Kiss back to these different times and then use characters and titles and names that have been referred to in a lot of their songs. They've introduced a lot of character names, so we thought, well, why don't we make real characters out of these? Long-time fans will pick up the book and they'll recognize the imagery and they'll recognize the characters and it'll give them all these inside nods, but if you know nothing about Kiss, you're just meeting a lot of different characters. You don't have to know it, but it sort of rewards you on different level, as well."

Though the first arc is set in the 1920s and uses gangster imagery, Ryall said the story won't be heading in the direction some fans might think. "It's funny, when our solicits came out, the message board at one of these other comics sites -- a comic rumors site, if you will -- had somebody saying, 'Kiss fighting Al Capone? That's the stupidest thing ever!' And I'm like, where did it say that?" The writer added that, even though the series will feature several different sets of humans getting the Kiss powers, there is a larger story as well, one that draws on godlike entities called the Elder and the Destroyer. "It's sort of like God and the Devil, in broad terms, and they're both sort of fighting it out for Earth. In this two-parter, you find out why, what's going on, how these people are given the Kiss abilities and what that means," Ryall said. "They're discovering these powers for the first time at the same time the reader is, so it moves along and catches everybody up to speed right away. Like I say, it takes place in the '20s, but it also goes into Hell, and they're not just Kiss with tommy guns fighting gangsters. That was imagery that was the basis for the storyline, but it goes in a very different direction from there."

The second arc, Ryall said, is based on "Music from The Elder," the band's ninth studio album. "It jumps back to the Dark Ages so you get sort of a sword-and-sorcery version of Kiss," Ryall said of the Waltz-penned arc. "Then we go forward and there will be a female version -- we're taking the concept in ways it hasn't been used in comics before, but just having a lot of fun with it and hopefully doing things that people will enjoy."

Like the writers, the artists will also rotate every two issues, with Jamal Igle tackling Ryall's opening arc and Casey Maloney, who also drew Gene Simmons' "Zipper," working with Waltz on the follow-up. "Gene loved his art and wanted him to come back, too," Ryall said of Maloney. "Jamal's been great, he brings a nice superhero aesthetic to the book. He's the guy that's drawn big DC books, he knows how to tell a story, he knows how to move action along, he really knows how to bring this stuff to life," he added of his own artistic collaborator. "He's the perfect person to kick this off, because if we do get this book into the hands of people who like superhero comics, I think they'll really like what they see, and hopefully they'll dig the story as well."

When bands, actors, and other celebrities decide to put their brand on comics, the degree to which they are involved with the project can vary greatly. But Kiss's Gene Simmons is a noted comic book fan, and Ryall said the man behind the "Demon" persona takes a special interest in what IDW is doing. "Gene's a huge comic fan, and any chance he gets, whether he's talking publicly about this stuff or you're talking to him one on one, he'll name-drop every comic creator and comic reference he can just to let you know how much he knows, which is a blast," Ryall said. "It's fun talking about old issues of 'Strange Tales' with him, or which inker he liked best on Neal Adams. He really does know this stuff. So it's fun to be able to talk to him on this level.

"It's really not just Gene putting out another Kiss product. Comics are something he always cared about," the writer continued. "As he likes to tell everyone, Gene used to do fanzines with Marv Wolfman back before he was ever in Kiss. I know there are a lot of Kiss products out there, but there are some that mean a lot more to him, and I know that having good Kiss comics out there means a lot to him. So he's very involved as far as what we're doing, where the stories are going, how the characters look, and so on. And he's been great, he's been a lot of fun to work with on this stuff. It's sort of fun to remember that I'm sitting there talking about comic books and geeky references with the god of thunder that I grew up watching on TV or seeing in concerts. It just amuses me that he's doing this, because he doesn't have to to the degree that he does, but he digs it."

"Kiss" #1 by Ryall and Igle takes the stage in June.

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