When it comes to literary icons, Shakespeare’s Juliet is certainly at the top of the list. In their comics series Kill Shakespeare, published by IDW, writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col and artists Corin Howell, Andy Belanger, Ian Herring, and Kagan McLeod have reimagined the classic heroine’s story, transforming her into the bold leader of a rebellion. The story, which brings along plenty of other familiar, Shakespearean characters, as well, pits Juliet and her crew against a team of villains, in a search to find and kill the wizard Shakespeare. I had the chance to chat with McCreery about the new story arc starting with Juliet #1, set to hit shelves on April 5.
The premise of Kill Shakespeare is great. It’s like creating a shared universe with Shakespearean characters. What made you think of it?
It’s funny, Anthony Del Col, the co-creator of the series, and I were brainstorming ideas and Kill Bill was out at the time. We were joking around, saying, “What if we tried to kill a different Bill…like Bill Shakespeare?” And we were talking about it, saying we could have Hamlet and Juliet on one side and Lear and Richard on the other and the idea grew from there.
Both Anthony and I had enjoyed Shakespeare in high school. I had a minor in theater, and Anthony was always very interested in film and is a huge Shakespeare fan. And we were both lucky because when we were younger, we both had the chance to go with school to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, which is fantastic, arguably the best one in North America (sorry, Oregon!). So we both had the experience of actually seeing Shakespeare performed, as opposed to just reading it, which I think makes a huge difference. I understand why we read it in school, but it’s am imperfect way to try to get someone excited about Shakespeare. It’s kind of like saying, “Hey, The Wire is an awesome TV show. Here are a bunch of the scripts for you to read.” And no one would say, “The Sandman is the most genius comic series of all time,” and then hand you 100 issues of it in script form.
But it’s not like either of is an English major, or has worked in theater for a long time, and I think that informed a lot of our approach to putting Kill Shakespeare together. If you’re a Shakespeare nerd, we think you’ll like it, but if you’re not, that’s fine. You don’t need to know any Shakespeare to pick up Juliet #1 and get into it.
With Juliet #1, we see a new story arc starting. And we see Juliet moving away from being a victim of her relationship with Romeo, toward being a strong leader. Can you talk a little more about that?
In some ways, people who have been following the series will have an idea of where Juliet is going. In the first volume of Kill Shakespeare where you meet Juliet, she’s the leader of this rebellion. And one of the reasons we ended up doing Juliet is that a lot of our fans are female readers who resonate with Juliet. She’s originally kind of a problematic character because you look at her according to today’s standards and you think, wait a minute, this very intelligent, passionate young woman falls in love at the drop of a hat, to the extent that she kills herself! It seems so melodramatic and over the top by current standards that it’s almost impossible to take her seriously as a character.
But we wanted her to be the leader of the rebellion because, at the same time, when you read Romeo and Juliet, she’s the boss of that play. She’s much more the active one than Romeo is. And it occurred to us that if she had survived her encounter with Romeo, she’d never let herself be all about l love again. And so when you meet her early on in Kill Shakespeare, that’s who she is. And we thought it would be interesting now to go back and look at where she is right after Romeo dies — when she’s still torn up about his death and feeling guilty for having survived, feeling like Romeo’s death is her fault — and explore she how she gets from there to the point where she’s leading a rebellion. What would it take for her to move past that and become this person who could build a better world?
We give Lady Macbeth similar treatment. She’s such a great character and it’s so unsatisfying that, in the original play, she just kills herself off-stage and you don’t really get to see what led to it.
You’ve done live stage performances of Kill Shakespeare, and you’re working on a television adaptation?
A few years ago, the Soulpepper Theatre here in Toronto wanted to celebrate the publication of the King James Bible and I believe it was the first edition of The Tempest, which happened in the same year, because they’re both so hugely influential. So they put out a call for weird, Shakespeare or biblically-themed performances. We’d been wanting to do some sort of stage play, so we put together what we called a living graphic novel. We took the imagery from the comic and used it as a backdrop, the re-wrote the story to make it work as a one-hour play. And the actors almost did it like it’s a radio show, so you’d see the images projected on a screen, and you’d see the actors in front of you performing. We’ve done it different ways at different venues. We’ve had a lot of partners, and for anyone who works with schools or independent, small theaters, it’s still something that we will put on for free.
And we were also working on a screenplay, then realized television was a better place for it, for a lot of reasons. And so we’re now we’re working with NBC Universal and Amazon Studios on a pilot. And if everything goes well (knock on wood!) then hopefully by the end of the year or early next year, we might actually be shooting a pilot.
You’ve also worked on comics like Assassin’s Creed. How does the creative process differ when you’re working on something like that, as opposed to something like Kill Shakespeare, which is your own creation?
We also worked on Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini for Dynamite, and in both cases, we were really lucky in that we were given so much freedom to come up with the characters and stories that we wanted to. And Ubisoft, which owns Assassin’s Creed, they want to make sure you’re getting the world right, but we were allowed to do what we wanted for the most part. Their notes were very gentle and unobtrusive. It was such a positive experience that I just got asked to do a licensed property for someone else and I don’t know that I would have said yes had I not had that experience with Ubisoft. And another great thing with Assassin’s Creed was that there was already a fan base, but there weren’t a lot of comics, so they were really excited to see what the comics were going to be. I remember being in a room with hundreds of fans at New York Comic Con and they were all so jazzed to find out what was going to happen in the comics.
And there are actually some similarities because, even though Kill Shakespeare is our own thing, in a lot of ways, every English teacher you’ve ever had is the license holder of the original plays!
Do you have any other new projects coming up?
A couple of things. I’m going to be doing a licensed property book with BOOM! but I can’t say what it is yet. And I’m going to be doing YA adventure series with Papercutz. I’m also working on a magical realism, comic biography of the Nigerian singer Fela Kuti, and I’m working with Jibola Fagbamiye, who’s a huge Fela fan.