Ted McKeever is a comics veteran of great standing. He was a part of the early creator-owned movement in the mid-eighties, and translated that success into works for more alternative-friendly publishers like DC Comics' Vertigo imprint and Marvel's Epic. From there, McKeever put his distinctive and dark stamp on such iconic figures as Batman, Superman and Spider-Man. Most recently, his work as appeared in "The Nightmare Factory" form Fox Atomic and the Tori Amos-inspired "Comic Book Tattoo" anthology from Image Comics.
For years, McKeever has been working on work-for-hire projects rather than his own material, despite the fact that one of the stories he made his name with has lain unfinished for two decades. His signature creations, "Metropol," "Eddy Current," and the incomplete "Transit" are now being collected in definitive editions by Image and Shadowline in the form The Ted McKeever Library. And in so doing, the unfinished "Transit" will finally see its sixth a final chapter released.
McKeever spoke with CBR News about that long-awaited "Transit" chapter, the collection of his creator-owned works, and the possibility of more such work in the future.
The Ted McKeever Library editions came about when Shadowline's publisher, Jim Valentino, asked McKeever about the status of his creator-owned works. McKeever affirmed the rights for all three, "Transit," "Eddy Current," and "Metropol," remained with him. "We then talked more about possibly collecting each series individually, as Jim thought it was time they were put out in complete single hardcover volumes," McKeever told CBR News. "When I told him how I have been wanting to do the sixth and final chapter for 'Transit' new for a collected edition whenever and whoever put it out, the deal was signed right then and there."
"We had a starting point," McKeever continued. "From that moment on, with Jim and [editor] Kris Simon having such passion for doing them as I, there was no doubt in my mind committing to doing 'Transit,' 'Eddy Current 'as well as 'Metropol' with Shadowline."
"Transit" tells the tale of an urban rebel named Spud who gets caught up in what McKeever calls a "political hell," a "nightmare joining of church and state, amidst a city dense with seedy hotels, porno theaters and cults. Populated by blind accordion players, pimps, ex-wrestlers and an ex-con bent on getting his life together."
"Eddy Current" is about an asylum inmate who, obsessed with becoming a superhero and saving the world, escapes to accomplish his quest. "Along his journey, he meets an array of intensely individual characters that will either support his bent view of the world, or try and destroy him," McKeever xplained.
"'Metropol" includes characters from the other two books, and is a story about a dying, devastated city wracked with a plague that is killing its populace and causing them to come back as either angels or demons. "The problem is, there are only a handful of angels, and thousands of demons," the author said. "What sets it (somewhat) balanced, is the angels have skin of metal, and are heavily armed with assault weapons."
These new editions of McKeever's words are definitive in that they are being presented precisely according to his vision. "Even though both 'Eddy Current' and 'Metropol' have been in single hardcover versions years ago, both were extremely limited," he said. 'Eddy Current' was produced in such a way that left me doubting the integrity of the persons involved, as well as their reasons for printing actually less than what was ordered. And 'Metropol,' which was released through a British publisher who never followed through with re-orders, while also releasing an extremely limited, oddly beautiful brass-metal-bound edition (complete with piano hinged covers) never reached a wide audience. Both the regular and 'metal' editions of 'Metropol' were produced with all black borders and gutters, which I hated from the start. All printed in the standard 'hardcover comic' size I personally was unable to change, or accept. 'Transit,' on the other hand, was never collected, and as said before, unfinished."
Ted McKeever will be adding numerous extras to make the new editions of his work more than simply complete. "All three of these new versions will have unused ads, character art I did for my own solidifications, some dropped covers, and a few extra bits of stuff I still had lying around, as well as being bound in a tight 5 3/4 x 8 3/4 hardcover format that I have always wanted," McKeever confirmed.
McKeever compared the experience of reviewing these works for the new collections as being like going "yourÂ high-schoolÂ yearbook, and seeing old friends as well as enemies, thinking about what it was like, andÂ what it took, to be around them for so long. And then trying not to get caught up in it all again, while remaining indifferent to having grown creatively and personally since then."
"I never read my stories after they are published," he continued. "I personally find it too self-conscious and a bitÂ incestuousÂ to read my words on the printed page. Going back over them for me was, well, a bit odd."
Unlike many archival editions of this sort, McKeever came across only a few instances that required additional work or retouching. "The only new coloring needed was for the covers, which I had asked Chris Chuckry to do, since he has been brilliantly coloring my work for the past seven years, capturing my painted technique and then taking it to levels that blew me away," McKeever explained. "I considered doing the covers with new art, but then decided to keep them with art I had done back in the day, so it represented the interior style better. The technical changes were slight alterations on the original comic versions' logos and cover layouts, as well as make the spines all go together visually when all three are lined on a shelf. My good friend Dana Moreshead pulled that off so damn nicely."
The care taken with the Ted McKeever Library editions has already yielded impressive results. "The reactions have been overwhelmingly positive." said McKeever. "The response to 'Transit' alone has been both gratifying as well as inspiring. The fans that have been following my work, have over the years been asking when 'Transit' would be collected, let alone completed with the sixth issue. So with both being done, that question has now been answered."
As for new readers, McKeever's hoping the size, format and content will cause notice, demonstrating that "there are comics out there with passion and heart behind them, void of product-placement intentions," he said. However, the unusual size has generated some discussion. "A few people [have asked] Jim Valentino how Shadowline could present my work in such a 'questionable' format.' To clear that up, I chose the size. I hate those giant oversized books. They are cumbersome and downright unreadable in any comfortable situation. Comic-sized collections are fine. But for me, personally, the size of these books alone makes me want to hold them in my hands. Simple as that. Plus the art is in no way sacrificed being reduced slightly more than what was originally presented in the past."
As mentioned, the collected "Transit" is notable for completing the previously unfinished tale. "At its core," McKeever said, "It's the ending I had outlined 22 years ago. In fact, I still had the two-page treatment I had typed out for it back in '86. Yeah, 'typed out.' The good ol' days of metal keys and black ribbon (and I'm not joking about preferring that). 'Transit' was published by Vortex, who in '86 went under right when issue #5 came out. During that collapse, I was balancing my time working on 'Eddy Current.' Doing the writing, art and lettering for both books was exhausting. So with 'Transit' no longer on the board, I put all my time and focus into doing 'Eddy.' It was a few years later that the impact of not finishing 'Transit' hit me. As the years passed by, the void of that one single issue grew wider and deeper in me, causing it to become my creative holy grail. Never to be found. Never to be completed . . . until now, that is."
The three volumes of The Ted McKeever Library also bring a sense of closure to the writer-artist. "Presenting them in matching individual volumes, all in black and white, is like a dream finally come true," he said. "But it's with 'Transit' that I have the most sense of closure over. [It's] closure mixed with a massive amount of melancholy. I mean, there was a point I actually started using 'Transit' as a gaping open wound to fuel my 'next' projects. I'd sit there with such a sense of incompleteness thinking, 'Well, I can't do 'Transit,' so I'll do this, or that.' And that would push me to create the next story idea.
"So when Jim and I were talking, and I said how I'd wanted to one day actually do the last chapter, and he was already talking about collecting 'Transit,' it was like this giant bottle of peroxide dumped on the sixth issue wound. Damn, did it foam up. I couldn't work on it fast enough. A creative healing, for sure. And then halfway into the layouts, it hit me. Hard. I was overwhelmed with a sadness that stemmed from the realization that this was a huge gash being sewn up, closed for good. That I was saying farewell to something I had grown used to being around in the back of my head for so many years. Now having finished it, seeing it bound and completed, I find myself actually feeling creatively... forward. 'Transit' is no longer tapping me on the shoulder saying 'don't forget about me, I'm still missing a limb."
While Ted McKeever has spent much of the last few years working in collaboration with other writers or working on corporate-owned characters, he does have plans to work on a project that might one day comprise a fourth volume of The Ted McKeever Library. "I have spent the last seven years doing collaborations, some inspiring, some not so much, and even the short stories I have written for Marvel of late, was still playing with their toys. What started a spark in me was working on 'Transit.' It brought me back to how my creative mind was years ago. I'd kind of lost my way with all the years of doing other people's ideas, even though it was needed for me to travel down those roads to see what I had inside me to explore. But working on the final 'Transit' chapters made me finally face the fact of what had been missing. My own ideas, my own voices.
"That said, I spent many years developing stories that I felt would be a return to those days. And yet none where more than just words on paper. For me, there was no spark. So, I sat here one day, a few weeks ago, and literally shredded, tore up and trashed years of plots and sketches, art and stories, 8 straight hours of destroying seven years of unused ideas.
"Afterwards, I was literally empty. Grounded in nothing but inspiration. To go all out and let myself simply write and draw just for the hell of it. Riding by the seat of my pants, with no set point of destination. And then, there it was . . . an idea. So, if all goes well with these three collections, Jim, Kris and myself have been talking about doing exactly that, a fouth (and even possibly a fifth) volume. It all comes down to possibility. And that's a seat I find very comfortable these days."
The Ted McKeever Library editions of "Transit" and "Eddy Current" are on sale now. The third volume, "Metropol" will be released in February 2009 from Shadowline and Image Comics.