Launched at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con by two indie filmmakers and IDW Publishing, Kill Shakespeare is a clever reshuffling of the Bard’s epic plays to create a fictional universe populated by characters from across his separate works all featured in one big mystery, romance and adventure narrative. Created and written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery with art by Andy Belanger, Kill Shakespeare is on issue four of a six-issue mini-series and the creators are preparing for the release of the trade paperback collection in November.
In Kill Shakespeare, Hamlet is banished to a mysterious land populated by characters from Shakespeare’s plays, a land where the Bard is at once both a despot and a God. Hamlet is recruited by Richard III to find and kill a powerful and oppressive wizard, who turns out to be named William Shakespeare. He soon learns of another faction—including among others, Falstaff, Juliette and Othello—that sees Shakespeare as God and legend, a savior to be defended. It’s full of great swashbuckling fun as Hamlet seeks to solve the mystery of just who or what Shakespeare really is. (The Kill Shakespeare team also includes colorist Ian Herring and cover artist Kagan McLeod. )
The first two issues of Kill Shakespeare have sold out and issues three and four are “well on their way,” Del Col said, who added that they are working with IDW to make the out of print issues available digitally at some point. Both creators returned to Comic-con this year to promote the series and, what else, talk to Hollywood producers. A trip to L.A. for meetings right after Comic-con, “went extremely well—we have a lot of interest from Hollywood but aren't rushing anything on that front. Our major emphasis at the moment is the comic book series,” he said.
The two were also working to connect with retailers (in particular independent book stores) as they prepare for the trade paperback. There have been signings at shows in Toronto and San Francisco; they attended BookExpo America in New York and have been in talks with book chains, B&N and Hastings, in advance of the trade paperback. The series has attracted both the attention of ‘tween girl readers, they say, as well as Des McAnuff, artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada, the biggest Shakespeare Festival in North America. McAnuff (“a comic book fan himself,” Del Col said) is writing a pull-quote for the paperback edition and helping put together a teaching supplement for a future book collection.
The two are relieved to see that girls seem to be picking up the series. “We were surprised,” said McCreery, “We thought we’d have males but Juliette hasn‘t shown up in the series yet and we were worried it didn’t have girls early in the story.”
Along with a team of interns, the two creators have been contacting retailers around the country (more than 700 stores received emails and snail mail about the series), cross promoting the series with direct market and general bookstores. “We think it’s important to cross-list with comics and book stores in order to bring in the noncomics fan,” said McCreery. “And It’s been an easy pitch,” Del Col said, “retailers really appreciate hearing from creators.”
The two have hired independent publicists (Lonnie McCullough from Smith Publicity; and Sarah Stevens, MDG & Associates) for the U.S. and Canada respectively and are preparing to debut the series in the U.K. And while the two creators have received support from academia for their “remix” of Shakespearean content (and they are particularly interested in the library and school market), they were candid enough to point out that not all Shakespeare experts have been kind to their re-invention of the Bard. Kimberley Cox, Shakespearean academic and partner of Sin City creator and comics great Frank Miller, wrote in the comics news blog, Bleeding Cool, that after reading it, “I just threw up in my mouth,” and declared the comic, “ a giant stinking turd of a comic book.” Whew.
Undeterred McCreery and Del Col pointed out that they have received pointed criticism as well as support from other Shakespeare experts and said they expect and welcome debate about the series. “When dealing with someone as revered as Shakespeare, we were aware that we wouldn't please everyone,” Del Col said, noting that “other academics are reaching out to us. We love the fact that people are talking and debating about the Bard, who has been dead for almost 400 years! This has always been one of our goals—to make Shakespeare relevant to today’s readers.”
Del Col said they were at Comic-con, “to talk to retailers and fans and spread the word. We’re trying to find brand ambassadors. That’s what Comic-con is all about.” To that end, Del Col said to look for Kill Shakespeare T-shirts by the fall and, perhaps, even action figures sometime next year.