The Four-Who-Are-One Split Up for "KISS Solo"

Celebrating 40 years of rocking out together in 2013, KISS is marking the occasion by returning to comic books this March with the miniseries "KISS Solo" from IDW Publishing. "KISS Solo" spans four issues, each chronicling a different member of the group on an individual adventure. The first installment titled "KISS Solo #1: The Demon" stars Gene Simmons, better known to fans as The Demon.

Writing this first issue of the miniseries is IDW Publishing editor-in-chief Chris Ryall, who has also penned "Zombies vs. Robots" and "Mars Attacks: KISS." Ryall is joined by artist Angel Medina on the issue. Tom Waltz, who co-writes IDW's ongoing "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" title with Kevin Eastman, is writing the second issue of the miniseries, with the subtitle "The Starchild," with Tone Rodriguez on pencils.

Ryall and Waltz spoke with CBR News about what to expect in their respective issues of "KISS Solo," their love of the franchise and Ryall's personal experience of geeking out with Simmons over comics.

CBR News: Chris, what's the gist of "KISS Solo #1: The Demon?"

Chris Ryall: It's a lovely, touching indie movie-like little tale of The Demon versus the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

In the context of this story, do the members of KISS have super-human abilities or are they just a bunch of really good musicians?

Ryall: We never really get into the musician part of their history in the comics. I sort of hate comics with music and lyrics -- it always rings false to me, even if based on a real band. KISS in the comics are cosmic deities who sometimes imbue humans (or Martians, in the "Mars Attacks Kiss" one-shot from earlier this month) with their powers, or sometimes they play at being human themselves, but -- like with the band itself -- they're larger than life.

Tom, what can readers expect in the second issue, "KISS Solo #2: The Starchild?"

Tom Waltz: It's the Starchild's turn to rock a solo riff and the story is based on the song "Goodbye" from Paul Stanley's 1978 solo album. It's an interstellar romp featuring a cosmic bounty hunter who needs to bring in one last bad guy in order to return home to his beloved wife forever. The only problem is, nobody's ever gone after this baddie in his dark domain and survived. But what if there is a star to light the way? (It shouldn't be hard to guess what exactly that "star" is.) The artwork is handled by Tone Rodriguez ("Violent Messiahs") and he's already turned in some killer pages. The issue hits stores April 2013.

I'm also penning "KISS Solo" #4 featuring the "Catman." It's based on the song "I Can't Stop the Rain" from the Peter Criss '78 solo album and it's a KISS take on the "Beauty and the Beast" mythos. It'll be illustrated by Roberto Castro ("New Exiles") and goes on sale June 2013.

Do all four "KISS Solo" stories connect or are they stand-alones?

Ryall: They're all completely separate and solo. Angel and I are doing issue #1 only, and I'm back doing issue #3 ("The Celestial") with artist Alan Robinson. Tom mentioned the two issues he's writing.

When did you both first discover KISS?

Ryall: When I was about five years old, I shared a room with my brother who was four years older. Back then my tastes in music and comics mirrored his (or else!) -- he was a monster Kiss fan, so I've pretty much been listening to them since I can remember listening to any music.

Waltz: I discovered KISS in two phases. My first memory is from my two older sisters, who shared a copy of "KISS Destroyer" and would listen to it quite a bit in our house. They wore headphones for the most part, so I didn't always hear what they were rockin' to (and Lord forbid I touch the album myself) but I would catch snippets of "Detroit Rock City" and "Beth" on occasion -- I always thought they were cool. What really struck me at that age (I was probably 9 or 10 years old at the time) was the album cover, which I would stare at constantly, absolutely enthralled by the larger than life Kabuki superheroes leaping off the page.

Later, my friend down the road had a copy of "KISS Alive II," "Love Gun" and "Double Platinum" -- we'd jam out to them constantly. I was hooked big time (and was mesmerized by the photo cover on "Alive II" as I ever was by the "Destroyer" cover art -- man, that pic of Gene with blood splattered all over his chin still rules). Besides the music, a big part of the fun in those days were all the urban myths surrounding the band. My favorite was that Gene Simmons' tongue was actually a cow's tongue he had surgically implanted. How cool is that?!

Chris, your day job is EIC of IDW Publishing, so why take on "KISS Solo" yourself instead of farming it out to another writer?

Ryall: Tom Waltz, who's also an IDW Editor, and I are big KISS fans and have been working with Gene Simmons for years. So when it came time to make KISS comics, we just couldn't see handing them off to anyone else. One of my favorite comics as a kid was the "Marvel Super Special" magazine featuring KISS, and it's been fun to now be on the other side. Hopefully we produce some equally fun stories with these characters.

Are there any KISS comic book stories or characterizations that stand out to you as particularly awesome over the decades?

Ryall: Definitely the one I just mentioned -- it was so odd, a hallmark of pretty much all of Steve Gerber's writing, but I remember their appearance in early "Howard the Duck" issues (KISS as drawn by Gene Colan was pretty awesome). I dabbled a bit with the "Psycho Circus" comics, because I really like Angel Medina's work, too.

How did artist Angel Medina get brought on?

Ryall: I just asked -- Angel does "big and cosmic" so well. Our earlier KISS series' were a bit more grounded, but when I'm uncorking the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, something like that calls for exactly what Angel does so well. Happily, he signed on. I've been a fan of his work since Peter David's run on "Dreadstar," so it's a thrill to work with him on a KISS comic where so many fans know him from.

How much interaction do you have with KISS representatives when working on the property?

Ryall: There're basically two people we interact with directly on KISS comics -- Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. It's great that there're no "staff" in the way here. We receive unfettered opinions from the band members themselves and involve Tommy and Eric, too, but Gene and Paul are the ones we work with directly on everything KISS-related. Anyone who's heard Gene Simmons speak knows he's a comic fan from way back, so it's fun having discussions about art, other artists, comics from the past and other geek talk. The band has been amazing, too -- they let us run wild with the comics and don't look to slow us down at all. If anything, they're very encouraging of our crazier ideas, like the KISS series we're doing next after the four "Solo" issues. Fans interested to see what that will be can find clues on the back cover of each of the "Solo" issues.

You mentioned above how Gene Simmons has been a comic book fan for years. Are there any particularly interesting conversations or heated debates the two of you have had on the subject?

Ryall: You've never quite experienced Gene Simmons until you've seen him stand on a chair, arms outstretched in the Doctor Strange/devil horns symbol, bellowing "BY THE HOARY HOSTS OF HOGGOTH!" like he did for Tom and I, to further explain where he got the idea for the devil horns gesture. We also got into a heated debate over which issue of "Amazing Spider-Man" was John Romita's first issue. It's fun when a random name like "Dan Adkins" would come up, hearing Gene talk about which books he worked on, who he studied under and so on. Back in the pre-KISS days, Gene even worked on a comics fanzine with Marv Wolfman. He's a superhero guy through and through.

Tom, what has your experience getting feedback from the band been like?

Waltz: These comics are not something the band is slapping their names on for a quick buck. They take every aspect of what we are doing very seriously, and Gene and Paul especially are extremely vocal during each phase of the comic making process -- from plotting, through pencils, inks, colors and onto final product. They always review whatever materials we send their way and they never fail to promptly respond with approvals and/or the occasional change request, etc. They are true pros, genuinely good guys, and I've always enjoyed working with them.

These gents are doing a thousand things every day yet they still find time to keep an eye on the comic books we're making and provide consistently positive, helpful and respectful input -- I find that to be damn cool. Plus, Ryall and I've gotten to hang out them a few times, too, which is the rock 'n roll cherry on top -- especially for diehard KISS fans like us. If you would've told pre-teen Tom Waltz he'd be working directly with KISS someday, his head would've exploded like so much KISS stage pyro! I've been very fortunate to do some awesome things in my creative career and I've met some fascinating people, but collaborating with KISS is definitely one of the highlights. No doubt about it.

Who are your favorite members of KISS? Favorite albums? Favorite songs?

Ryall: Pick a favorite member of the band while we're doing business with all four of them, are you crazy? Besides, the band is one member to me -- the Four-Who-Are-One. They're stronger than the sum of their parts, so they transcend favorite members. I'll say I've loved working with Gene for his comic knowledge -- he and I are constantly trying to one-up each other in that arena. Little-admitted fact: in this one area I will trounce him every time, but he does know a lot. Favorite album is easier -- "Destroyer," like everyone else, from the makeup era. "Revenge" is my favorite non-makeup album. Favorite song? "100,000 Years," maybe. Kind of hard to pick favorite songs since at different times different ones work for me. I'm a true fan -- I dig a lot of what they've done in pretty much every incarnation.

Waltz: I lean toward "Destroyer," "Alive" and "Alive II" as my favorites because you never get over your first loves, right? I love something about each and every album they've made over the years, though. As for favorite song, I grew up in Southeastern Michigan, so "Detroit Rock City" is high on my list always, but, man, again -- I dig so many of their tunes it's hard to nail down an exact favorite. I've always loved "Love Gun" (the guitar rules on that one), "Black Diamond" (especially played live), "God of Thunder (again, live is best), "100,000 Years," "Shock Me (live!), "Lick It Up," "Sonic Boom," "Cold Gin"... cripes, the list goes on and on. Thing is, put on any KISS album and I'm rockin' with a goofy grin on my face no matter what.

Tom, you also write the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" ongoing series for IDW. How does writing a property based on actual living people, like with KISS, compare with basing one on a property like "TMNT?" Do you feel more or less pressure to do them justice?

Waltz: I approach writing KISS very much like I approach "TMNT." There are four heroes part of a tight-knit team with a long history -- if you think about it, KISS is a family much like the TMNT are. As such, you have to be aware of the diverse personalities involved and be sure to give everyone some face time, so to speak. The cool thing with KISS is that, though they are real, living people, the comic book characters based on them are way larger than life, so dropping them into comic book adventures is both fun and easy. They can be cosmic demi-gods, super heroes, rock 'n roll soldiers with strange powers -- we're only limited by our imaginations.

"KISS Solo #1: The Demon" by Chris Ryall and artist Angel Medina is available March 20 from IDW Publishing, with "KISS Solo #2: The Starchild" by Tom Waltz and artist Tone Rodriguez available April 17

Editor's Note: Our original story listed Sergio Fernandez Davila as the artist of "KISS Solo #2: The Starchild." The artist has since been changed to Roberto Castro.

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