Killing Shakespeare: an Interview with Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery


Del Col & Connor2By D.P. Bohémier

Lady Macbeth in Kill Shakespeare2

Lady Macbeth as she appears in Kill Shakespeare, brooding husband below…

Kill Shakespeare has been described as a mash-up of Bill Willingham’s Fables series with Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This popular series of graphic adventures was created by a pair of Canadians, Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery.

Del Col has worked in both film and television. Recently, he’s been part of Nelly Furtado’s management team. Conor McCreery has worked in both creative and business positions in film and television. His literary contributions amount to over a thousand articles and stories. Del Col and McCreery’s collaborations now include Kill Shakespeare: Volume 1 (IDW, 2010), Kill Shakespeare: Volume 2 (IDW, 2011), and Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood (IDW 2013), all with illustrations by Andy Belanger. Anthony Del Col is identified below as A, Conor McCreery as C. The interview was conducted by email.

Once upon a time, comics and graphic novels were regarded as lowbrow, a genre that only appealed to children, teenagers and the uneducated. If that’s the case, how does someone create a story that features some of literature’s most classic heroes and villains?

C: The answer to that is, conveniently enough, linked to Shakespeare. Like comics, the Bard suffers from a certain set of stigmas. We think of his work as inaccessible, high-brow, intellectual, not for the common person. But as you get exposed to Shakespeare you realize that his stories are full of crowd-pleasing elements: love, lust, cross-dressing and double crossing, fools, faeries, bears and balconies; all the good stuff that we love is in one of his plays.

In the end Shakey has an image problem, and so do comics. People are told that comics are “for kids” or “unsophisticated” and they just accept that. But the comic medium IS a medium, not a genre, and there is so much out there for any literary taste. Heck, Anthony and I would argue that despite its lofty pedigree, Kill Shakespeare is probably in the middle of the pack as far as “literate” comics go.

A: We designed our story and presentation to appeal to two major audiences – the existing fans of Shakespeare (by providing scores of “what if” moments and Easter eggs) but also those that know nothing about the Bard. To do this we’ve had to walk a fine line and the medium of comics/graphic novels allows us to do this – a combination of the visual and the written word.

Great Britain (and Ireland) has a great literary history. What attracted you to the idea of writing a graphic novel based on William Shakespeare?

A: The number one goal of this project is to shine a new spotlight on Shakespeare and specifically his character with our story and series.  As mentioned above, sometimes people are unable to get into Shakespeare due to the original language, or the presentation style.  With Kill Shakespeare we are bringing the Bard into the new century in a whole new format, which is definitely already making him new fans.

C: Well to me theatre and comics are close cousins. Both are inherently visual media. Theatre and comics are also dependent on the written word in a way a popcorn movie doesn’t have to be. Plus the two of them, at their core, are somewhat surrealistic media. Watching a play you always KNOW you’re watching a play. You’re aware of lighting and the stage – of the artifice of the whole thing, but in a good way. Comics are the same to me – I think you see the tricks that are being used – and that brings you into the magic of the world.  And so I think that makes both media well suited to telling tales that are, in some way, fantastical. And K.S. is DEFINITELY fantastical.

During his life, Shakespeare wrote about 37 plays, depending what you count. How did you decide which of his many characters to introduce in your story?

C: We always like to joke that they choose us. It was a combination of characters that we knew would be accessible to someone with minimal exposure to the Bard – everyone has a sense of what Romeo and Juliet is about – and characters that sort of tapped us on the shoulder and said: “Hey, you need a humorous sidekick who’s mostly interested in wine, women and song? Well, my name is Falstaff.  We should talk.”

A: A problem for us has been the inability to include all of the characters we’d like. Shakespeare has dozens – if not hundreds – of amazing characters that could be leads in any story. Space and time has limited our ability to incorporate them all but we hope to as the series continues on in the future.

Much of Shakespeare’s work has been adapted for cinema, with the same plays often receiving multiple productions. When you were developing the story of ‘Kill Shakespeare’, were there some characters that you wanted to stay away from?

C: Shylock was always a tough one for me. We put him in an early draft, but there is so much debate over the character and Shakespeare’s intentions that we thought it might be best to stay away there. My personal feeling is that I don’t think he was intended to be anti-Semitic, that isn’t consistent with Shakespeare’s worldview as shown in the plays, but I’m not Jewish so I can’t really speak to how he lands.

A: Since our main character is Hamlet, and we’re taking him from his existing story, we’ve stayed away from including anyone from his back story, other than the ghost of his father.  We debated incorporating Ophelia into our tale but we decided that he could only meet and interact with characters from other plays, not his own.  This has been a wise decision, as it doesn’t cause too much confusion for those reading our main character.

What made you decide to write this kind of story? Why not write about a super-hero dressed in tights, or a saucy over-sexed heroine fighting evil in combat boots?

C: I always loved fantasy adventure stories and I was introduced to Shakespeare with The Tempest, which is a story with wizards, magical creatures and beastly monsters – it was kinda like shooting fish in a barrel. So I think I have always associated Shakespeare with the fantasy-adventure genre. I also love palace intrigue and a lot of Shakespeare’s canon goes there too. So for me Shakespeare fit into a type of story I already liked and when it came time to do K.S. I immediately thought “Aha, this could be really fun, really accessible fantasy – but not HIGH fantasy.”

A: First off, a rule that I incorporated from the very beginning was this: “No tights.”  The common (but incorrect) perception of Shakespeare features older British actors in tights so I banned it outright…

When we first conceived the idea we immediately thought of it as a large, epic tale akin to Lord of the Rings – an adventure with a bit of something for everyone.  A journey story like this is as old as storytelling itself – from Jason and the Argonauts to The Wizard of Oz to Tolkien’s work. But by using that known set-up as the foundation and building upon it with fascinating, multi-dimensional characters we have the opportunity to create something that appeals to a wide audience.

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D.P. Bohémier

D.P. Bohémier is a writer, a life-long resident of Winnipeg, and a graduate of the University of Winnipeg, where he studied Ottoman history. He has written on-line for the Winnipeg Public Library's Readers' Salon.