Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bard?

Hailed as an epic adventure that pits Shakespeare's greatest heroes against his most frightening villains, what's not to love about IDW's upcoming new series "Kill Shakespeare?"

Making "Kill Shakespeare" even more intriguing is the fact that Canadian creators Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery have dropped the Great Bard himself smack dab in the middle of their new meta-universe.

Del Col, an established entertainment executive, and McCreery, a veteran writer and producer, have both enjoyed long careers in Canada, but they've now teamed up for a project that is more than 400 years in the making. In "Kill Shakespeare," William Shakespeare - arguably the greatest writer in the history of the English language - takes on a far more active role in the lives of Hamlet, Juliet, Richard III and Lady MacBeth. He's the book's Big Bad...or is he?

In this exclusive interview, the real-life Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the "Kill Shakespeare" Universe share their thoughts on the upcoming 12-issue series, including the genesis of the project and developing Hamlet as an action star and also tease a few of the Shakespearean heroes and villains that will be featured in the months and issues ahead.

CBR News: Let's start with the big picture. Where did the idea for "Kill Shakespeare" originate? You've said there are nods to works like "Fables" and "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," and the title alone, I believe, is a tip of the hat to "Kill Bill," but how did you come to bring the bard's greatest heroes and villains into one massive epic?

Del Col: Like a lot of creative ideas, "Kill Shakespeare" came from just goofing around and being silly. We were joking about doing a "Kill Bill" video game but instead of trying to track down David Carradine, players would hunt "Bill" Shakespeare with a version of his own characters as their avatar. We paused for a moment and then realized that a story that contained all of Shakespeare's characters interacting with one another would be very interesting and could lead to all sorts of fascinating stories.

McCreery: For me, the project really took off in my brain because I read "Hamlet" a while back and suddenly thought: "Why is nobody upset that Claudius is King?" It made me wonder about my assumption that Hamlet's father was a good king. If that isn't true, how does that affect Hamlet's motives for revenge? That question really served as a springboard for us to play "What If" with a host of Shakespearean canon - such as "What If Juliet lived?" And away we went.

Were either of you English majors in university? Or did you spend too many summers in Stratford? Because you obviously have a great appreciation for the source material.

Del Col: We both attended business school but minored in arts - I was in film and Conor in theatre - and we were also heavily involved in various theatre and film productions. I had the fortune of having good teachers in high school that really brought the Bard's stories to life. More importantly, I've been able to take in numerous theatrical Shakespeare productions - from professional to amateur, from good to bad - but every single time I leave the theatre amazed by the depth of Shakespeare's characters and stories. These characters are timeless and so profound and we hope that we can make wide audiences aware of this with "Kill Shakespeare."

McCreery: I didn't have as tight a connection with Shakespeare as early as Anthony did, but I did enjoy seeing the plays live and eventually learned to appreciate reading them. And of course, as a theatre student, you get a lot of Shakey in your diet. As Anthony said, what is really great about Shakespeare is that you don't need to be an English major to get the core of his characters. Every great story, from "Star Wars" to "Lord of the Rings," uses his archetypes. It's weird, we see Shakespeare as high culture now but he's the ultimate James Cameron or Steven Spielberg. I think it's because we tend to get a bit lost in the "beautiful" language.

Hamlet, I assume, plays a central role in "Kill Shakespeare" based on his introduction in the first issue. He is one of Shakespeare's most revered characters, but what makes him worthy of carrying this series as its primary protagonist?

Del Col: Yes, Hamlet is our main character - the reluctant hero thrown into this extraordinary adventure. He's often described as one of the great characters of all-time for a reason - he is so multi-dimensional. He's daring but indecisive, heroic yet haunted by his past, smart but capable of making bad choices. When you think about it, the great comic book heroes - ones like Spider Man, Batman and Wolverine - exhibit these same traits. Hamlet is given the quest to track down the wizard William Shakespeare, and all of these traits will affect the journey and the outcome of the tale.

McCreery: We also wanted a character whose Shakespearean story hinted at something greater, and Hamlet - with his father's ghost, his aborted trip to England, the sense of a potential ally just off stage - really fit the bill. As I mentioned earlier, the question of Hamlet's father being a good king or not really pushed us forward and gave us a key thread to follow as we started to create the story.

A tragic figure in the Shakespearean play, how does Hamlet differ in "Kill Shakespeare" from how he is depicted in "Hamlet?"

Del Col: We've been very careful to be true and respectful to not only Hamlet's character but also each of the Shakespeare characters that we incorporate into our story. This is the foundation that we use to grow each character. What we have done differently is altered the direct path that led them to this moment. For instance, in our story Juliet survived her ordeal with Romeo - he died - and has been living the last half-dozen years with the anguish from that moment and has grown into a stronger young woman and leader.

McCreery: We looked at Juliet and said, "Okay, she's arguably the strongest female character in Shakespeare's world," you can at least make a case for that, "so if that is true, who would she be if she had lived?" And then we thought she'd be heroic like Joan of Arc. We also wanted to have some fun with Hamlet. He's very Holden Caufield in many portrayals, and we wanted to maybe tone down the whiny aspect he sometimes has and play up the notion of a young man trying to honor his father - except Dad's dead, so it's tough to get that pat on the head at the end of the day, you know?

Early on in the first issue, we learn that Richard III has been cast as Hamlet's Lex Luthor in "Kill Shakespeare." How did you land on the Machiavellian King as your main antagonist?  

Del Col: It was quite obvious to us that Richard III would be the main antagonist - he's one of the great villains in literary history. As you point out, he is pure Machiavelli, doing whatever it takes to gain power and get his way. But what's great about him are the methods he uses to gain this power - he can charm someone into doing what he asks of them one moment, and the next physically frighten someone else to get the same result. On top of that, he can also be poetic and funny - but mainly uses those as weapons to again net the right result.

McCreery: But he isn't the only great villain. We won't spoil anything, but we have some devious plans for many of Shakespeare's obvious villains and even a pretty dark turn for some characters you might think of as "heroes."

One another villain I'd like to touch on is Lady Macbeth, who is standing strongly by Richard's side. What dimension does she bring to the story?

Del Col: Sometimes the people most dangerous to you are those in your midst - and that's what Lady Macbeth is to Richard. Richard has met his match with Lady Macbeth - someone who is probably even more cunning and manipulative than he is. She brings sexuality, magic and calculated deception to our story. Although all of the characters are fantastic, Lady Macbeth has been one of the most enjoyable to write and design into the story.

McCreery: Okay, you pulled that one out of us. Lady M is so much fun to write, and we're only really scratching the surface of her strength. We looked at the play "Macbeth" and decided that for us Lady Macbeth was really the active character - at least after the first act or so. And we wanted to have a great female villain. Hopefully she'll be a staple of comic-themed Halloween parties for years.

From the solicitations, we see that Romeo, Juliet, Othello and Iago will also be featured in "Kill Shakespeare." How and when will they be introduced?

McCreery: As we mentioned, Juliet has a very heroic cast to her. She's a key piece in presenting Hamlet a counterpoint to the tale Richard is telling. Othello is a tortured presence; he's alive, but Desdemona - his great love - is still dead. In some ways, he might not mind if he didn't survive this adventure. Romeo - well, I don't want to give anything away there. Suffice it to say he may also be around. But does that bode well for Juliet? And Iago? Again, we don't want to tip our hands, but from some of the people who helped read the scripts as we worked on them, they said Iago was the character that kept them guessing the most.

Del Col: We've made a point to introduce each of the characters slowly and allow the reader to get to know them before we introduce another one. Each character - like Shakespeare would have done - has a great entrance. Each issue is full of story, but we've allocated a great deal to exploring the characters - how they got there and where they're going.

Will other Shakespearean characters, like Puck and Brutus, be added to the cast later? Maybe in a second volume?

McCreery: Well, you will see Puck. I'll give that one away for free. But he's not necessarily a "good fellow." Sorry, I couldn't resist. As for introducing other characters, well, everyone in the comic has a Shakespearean origin, so you'll see a lot of names you might recognize.

Del Col: What has been fantastic is that every person we speak to about "Kill Shakespeare" asks about specific characters and whether they'll appear in our story. Sometimes they're obscure persons like Hotspur or Feste and sometimes major ones like Puck or King Lear. It's a testament to Shakespeare that people gravitate towards certain characters while reading, and we hope that we'll be able to get people even more interested in some with our story.

I can't let you get away without asking about the real plot twist in all of this and that's the fact that the big bad, at least according to Richard, is the great bard himself, William Shakespeare. Not sure if you can get into the why's and how's just yet but was the plan to always go meta and bring the creator of these literary classics into the fold, or did the story evolve that way organically, once you started plotting it out?

McCreery: It always involved Shakespeare in one sense or another. Having a 'Creator' character, and a flawed one at that, gives you so much to work with that as writers we couldn't pass up that chance. We think how Shakespeare fits into this world is ultimately going to be one of the most interesting parts of the "Kill Shakespeare" Universe and is probably the most allegorical part of the story.

Del Col: Or does he even make an appearance? The biggest mystery that our characters have to deal with is whether this William Shakespeare character even exists. They are on a quest to find him - yet nobody has ever seen him.

Is "Kill Shakespeare" an ongoing series or a limited series, and how far ahead do you have it plotted out?

McCreery: "Kill Shakespeare" is a 12-issue series. The good people at IDW have given us enough space to tell the story we want. Not all ends will wrap up, but you'll get a complete tale. We do have a bigger arc sketched out - in our minds there are two more major chapters in these characters' stories. But whether we'll end up telling them or not is, ultimately, up to the fans. But we do have tons of ideas for your favourite characters. In fact, we'd love it if you'd swing by our website and let us know who your faves are.

Del Col: We've got some really dramatic ideas of what could happen in future installments, if they ever come to fruition. But even more interesting for us is that we'd really like to include the fans and readers in the storytelling process. We'd like to get feedback from people as what and who they'd like to see - perhaps turn it into a cool interactive storytelling initiative.

You mentioned you first thought about "Kill Shakespeare" as a video game. Do you have anything lined up yet in terms of film, TV or video game projects for the "Kill Bill" franchise?

McCreery: We have backgrounds in film, television and music production here in Canada, so we definitely have thought about expanding our idea into other media. However, our major focus is making a good comic book. Comics is the perfect medium for us because it lets us tell an epic story and gives us lots of room to develop characters. We don't want to make the mistake of seeing the comic as a means to an end. For us, the comic is the end. If we choose to tell the story again, fine, cool, but it needs to work as a comic first and foremost.

Del Col: As mentioned, we first conceived "Kill Shakespeare" as a video game - a massive multi-player game. But as we started to think about the story and the characters, we realized that it would be best as a comic book series. Having said that, we are exploring the notion of adapting our concept into a game/app for mobile or online that would allow audiences to interact with the story and characters and really get immersed in the world that we've created.

Finally, what does the title's artist, Andy B., bring to the series in terms of his style and storytelling?

McCreery: Andy B. is a great artist. He is going to use this to springboard himself into the stratosphere. He has a great sense of kinetic energy, and his layouts are always interesting. He's obviously a great visual storyteller, but he really gets character as well, which for me, as a writer, is so key. And his attention to detail...as a comic fan, I sometimes shake my head and just marvel at all the little details he manages to put into the book. Also, Ian Herring, our colourist, has done a great job helping to make the "Kill Shakespeare" universe a real place with his nuanced work.

Del Col: It was quite funny - within a few minutes of meeting Andy, we were blown away by his excitement for the project. He was already brainstorming ideas for the visual look of the characters and the settings. As a newcomer to the world, I've learned a great deal about the business and the craft from working with him. Most importantly, as a natural storyteller, Andy is one of those guys you just enjoy hanging out with and that makes it such an enjoyable experience - at the end of the day that's one of the most important things.

"Kill Shakespeare" #1, featuring a full 32-page story, is scheduled to arrive in comic book stores in April.

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