At the moment, Joe Kelly is writing the adventures of Spider-Man as a member of Marvel’s “Amazing Spider-Man” brain trust. Kelly is also part of the Man of Action development team that brought the animated series “Ben 10” to life, and who are also releasing a wave of new titles though Image Comics, including Kelly’s own ongoing series “Four Eyes” and the miniseries “I Kill Giants.” Now, the writer adds an original graphic novel to that hefty workload with “Douglas Fredericks and the House of They.” Kelly spoke with CBR News about the book, his collaborator Ben Roman, and what he’s got planned down the line.
“Douglas Fredericks and the House of They” follows its eponymous main character, a clever young inventor. “[He’s] is trying to come up with a really cool present for his parents on their 15th anniversary,” Kelly told CBR. “But every time he lets his imagination go and builds a cool present, his friends and neighbors tell him that he's not allowed to go through with his plan because of something ‘They’ say. ‘You can't teach an old dog new tricks!’ that's what ‘They’ say! He gets so frustrated that he wants to know who They are and why They have so many stupid rules, so he goes in search of The House of They to confront them.”
Douglas is an ingenious kid with a great heart who wants to get his parents a special gift, but is unwilling to go along with the rules imposed on him by They. “He wants understanding, and fairness,” Kelly said.
The book may sound like a simple tale, but it’s infused with the sort of strangeness comics fans thrive on. Said Kelly, “It's a fantastic story - singing Dino-Corgis, Cake City, a Flying Camel... and They... whoa. Creepy dudes indeed!”
As to the inspiration for the book, Kelly said, “I'd wanted to write a children's book for a while. Even though I’m not a heavily political guy, I'm influenced by what's going on around us. It struck me that even though we're a nation who embrace the First Amendment and are known for carving our own way, we're also a nation who have forgotten how to question authority. Yeah, we protest and make a stink when things get really bad, but how many times do we do as we're told when it makes no sense? So I thought it would be cool to give kids a model to question authority - respectful, but direct and persistent and backed by facts.”
It’s that politically influenced take that shapes Kelly’s target audience for “House of They.” “[It’s for] older kids and adults who want to share something a little meatier than the usual kids' fare,” Kelly said.
“Ben is a genius. Plain and simple,” Kelly said of his collaborator on the graphic novel, artist Ben Roman, whose previous work includes “I Luv Halloween” with Keith Giffen and “The Cryptics” with Steve Niles. “He gets the ‘Tim Burton’ of it all - creating a world with recognizable elements while at the same time infusing it with a look so unique that you're transported somewhere no one's seen before. I'm lucky to have gotten to work with him before he's the lead art director at a massive studio. Seriously, he’s a damn wÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¼nderkind. The instant I saw his work I knew I wanted to do something with him. It took a while for us to nail down the right project, but once we came across Douglas, it was a no-brainer.”
With “House of They” coming on the heels of “Four Eyes,” and “I Kill Giants,” it seems as though Kelly is carving out a niche. “Ha, I don't see it that way,” the writer remarked, “because they're so different to me. ‘I Kill Giants’ is a coming of age story packed with magical realism, ‘Four Eyes’ is a gritty adventure, and ‘Douglas’ is a kids book with teeth.”
However, the writer added, ‘Yes, they’re all young protagonists, so maybe there's something to that.”
Even with the many projects he’s already released this year, Kelly is showing no signs of slowing down in 2009. “It's been a pretty busy year and there's a lot to come! The launch of my Man of Action/Image books has been great and will continue into 2009 with ‘Bad Dog,’ which is a very, very nasty book about a werewolf bounty hunter who's having an existential crisis. I have a Vertigo miniseries coming out next year, a crime book called ‘Bang! Tango.’ Also, Man of Action has been working on a lot of animated stuff, a feature and a pilot that hopefully we'll be able to announce soon. And ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ of course! There's more, but I'm giving myself an anxiety headache.”
Part of that “more” may even be more adventures of Douglas the young inventor. “I'm hoping to do a series of Douglas books,” Kelly confirmed. “I love his world and the character, so if we can pull it off, more will follow.”
"Douglas Fredericks and the House of They" goes on sale October 17 from Image Comics.