In July 2009, PW met informally with two former independent film producers just outside the chaotic exhibition floor of the San Diego Comic-Con to hear about a comics project with the provocative title of Kill Shakespeare. Since that meeting, Kill Shakespeare—a 12-issue comics/graphic novel series from IDW that cleverly reshuffles characters from across the fictional universe of the Bard into one big swashbuckling mystery/adventure tale—has found an audience among both Shakespeare fans and newbies. There are now bigger plans for movies and videogames and even plays.
The comics series has been collected into two trade paperback graphic novels—Kill Shakespeare: Vol. 2, The Blast of War is being released in November—and is among six properties invited to be a part of the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab, a weeklong immersive workshop held at the Sundance Resort focused on developing properties that “explore the convergence of film and new media technologies.” The workshop, being held this week, brings together top Hollywood screenwriters, social media experts, and creative advisers “to help us create more stories in different media,” said Anthony Del Col, co-creator, along with fellow Canadian Conor McCreery and artist Andy Belanger, of the Kill Shakespeare series.
From the beginning, Del Col and McCreery envisioned Kill Shakespeare in different formats, from film and a videogame to an educational project that could attract a new generation of readers to the plays of Shakespeare. “It’s truly been a Shakespearean adventure,” Del Col said in a phone interview about launching the comic. But Sundance and movies isn’t everything that’s going on: the co-creators are working with Brian Kelly, a teacher, and Katie Musgrave, an academic, to create an educational guide to be included in future volumes of the Kill Shakespeare books. Del Col said he and his co-creators, also “regularly talk to librarians and visit schools to talk about entrepreneurship, Shakespeare’s plays, and Kill Shakespeare; we talk about how to create an indie comic, how to use film, and how to spread the word about your projects.”
Published in November 2010, the first volume of Kill Shakespeare went through three printings and sold 15,000 copies (the series sold out its periodical issues); volume 2 has pre-pub orders for 10,000 copies. Next year IDW will collect the two trade paperbacks into a giant omnibus edition, and McCreery and Del Col said they plan to keep the series going.
In Kill Shakespeare Hamlet is shipwrecked in a mysterious land where he encounters two factions. One is led by a thuggish Richard III, who recruits him to help find and kill an oppressive wizard. Another faction—a group that includes Othello, Falstaff, Romeo, and Juliet—considers the same wizard to be a kind of benevolent god and legend. The wizard’s name? William Shakespeare. Hamlet is the central figure in what is both a rousing adventure story and an ontological thriller aimed at parsing the meaning of Shakespeare’s work and character.
Kill Shakespeare continues to take on new forms. Del Col said the Soul Pepper Theatre, “the top theater company in Toronto,” is now producing a live stage reading of Kill Shakespeare. The production will project the pages of the comics on a screen, while 12 actors, using music and sound effects, recreate the dialogue and scenes like a radio play. “We did a test in April and the crowds loved it,” said Del Col, “and so did the actors. It was fantastic to see the characters come to life.”
But Del Col was quick to credit comics with bringing Kill Shakespeare to life. “We love the comics medium,” he said, “the fans, the conventions, and the media. It’s been great using comics to get people excited about Shakespeare.”