INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
I’ve been friendly with Joe Keatinge dating back to his days managing PR & marketing for Image Comics. When it was revealed back in October that Extreme Studios was relaunching the line–with Keatinge writing Glory (with Ross Campbell on art), I started generating questions for an interview. In addition to discussing Glory (which relaunches with Glory #23 on February 15, 2012), Keatinge opens up about Hell Yeah (Image), his creator-owned collaboration with artist/co-creator Andre Szymanowicz that premieres on March 7, 2012, as well as another upcoming 2012 project, Brutal, in collaboration with artist Frank Cho. My thanks to Keatinge for this email interview. After reading this piece, be sure to check out CBR’s Joe Keatinge coverage for more insight into the busy writer’s upcoming work.
Tim O’Shea: Did Rob Liefeld approach you to work on the Glory relaunch? Was Ross Campbell already committed to the project when you joined?
Joe Keatinge: While Rob was certainly involved with the process, I was actually approached by Image Comics Publisher and Extreme Editor, Eric Stephenson, almost a year ago now. At the time they had nailed down the idea of the line and I believe a couple of the other books may have had writers, but it was still in the very early stages. After that was the process of giving a quick pitch, which was virtually instantaneous to Eric asking if I wanted to do it, to developing a longer pitch, to Eric and I bringing Brandon Graham on board for Prophet, to discussing Glory with Brandon, to Brandon suggesting Ross Campbell, to seeing Ross’ amazing work and me asking him if he wanted to come on board. He did a few samples which blew away both Eric and Rob. We’ve been working on it ever since.
O’Shea: When writing do you try to play to Campbell’s strengths in his art, and if so, what would you say are some of his strengths?
Keatinge: As a general rule, I prefer to specifically write with the artist in mind. Meaning, I wouldn’t write the same Glory script I do for Ross for anyone else. I think it’s a fault of the writer not to take the artist’s strengths and interests into account. We’re a team, you know? It’s important we’re both having a good time. While I had an outline before Ross came on board, I certainly adjusted it to suit his strengths and interests. As far as what his strengths are – they’re pretty numerous. I’m extremely impressed with how versatile he is an artist. I highly admire how much enthusiasm he puts into a page. His design work alone amazes me. However, I think my favorite aspect are the power he brings to the characters. Look at Glory. She looks like she could legitimately break you in half. A lot of superheroes – both male and female – look like super models. You don’t buy they could devastate a tank. He really makes you believe it with Glory.
I don’t know if this necessarily counts as a general strength, but I do love the ease there is in working with Ross. While we have very different backgrounds in comics on a professional level, we gel together very well. He’s an ideal collaborator in every way. I’m extremely thankful for when that happens and have been lucky enough to have it happen on three concurrent books between him, Andre Szymanowicz on Hell Yeah and Frank Cho on Brutal.
O’Shea: Speaking of Campbell, the opening to the Glory preview has a cinematic vibe to it, in terms of framing. Was that something you detailed in the script, or was that an angle he brought to the mix?
Keatinge: I actually try to stay away from anything ‘cinematic’ in any comics I work on. While I think a lot of the early experimentation such as in Miller’s Daredevil or later on with ‘widescreen’ comics like Ellis & Hitch’s Authority and Millar & Hitch’s Ultimates was incredible, I also believe comics have gone too far down that rabbit hole more often than not. Frank Miller himself has even said he got into comics to make them more cinematic, yet has stayed in to make them less so. I’m with the latter. I think comics are a much stronger medium than film in many ways. I think there’s also much more potential left as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge movie fan. I go to the theater pretty much at least once a week. That said, comics are way better in general.
What I am trying to do with Glory is create a huge level of scope. I really want to take a fantasy epic and filter it through superheroes. My ideal situation is to stay on this book for a very, very long time. Hopefully Ross will be there with me the whole way. The first three issue spans centuries – well over a thousand years in total. It’s a big, big book with big, big plans. I know everyone says this about everything, but it’s my hope to achieve it here. The idea with Glory is she’s a weapon so destructive people confuse her with a god. That’s quite the impression. Superman doesn’t have that. People just think he’s a dude who can fly.
O’Shea: What was the overall appeal to working on the Extreme relaunch?
Keatinge: I grew up with the Extreme books. I was only in fifth grade when Image Comics launched. Youngblood had an especially massive impact on me. Every single interview with Rob psyched me up beyond belief. Youngblood #6 remains one of my favorite single issues ever. Then when Platt came on Prophet? The best. Bloodwulf’s debut in Darker Image? Blew my mind. As I got older my tastes changed a little, but the Extreme books did as well once Alan Moore was brought into the fold. His work on Supreme and even smaller tenures on Youngblood and Glory excited me even more.
It used to be that Marvel and DC were the big universes people wanted to grow up to work in and while I absolutely have a huge desire to do that, I think you’re going to be seeing more and more people coming into comics who grew up with that sort of passion for the Image Comics characters. I was able to work on Savage Dragon, I would be insanely stoked to get my hands on Spawn or The Darkness someday. Working in the Extreme universe is incredibly exciting for me. There’s a couple of cameos of other Extreme characters in our first issue of Glory and when I realized these stories ‘counted’, that they weren’t fan fic or whatever, I felt like a major life goal had been fulfilled. Now I just need to get married and have kids. I’ll be set.
O’Shea: Are you getting a chance to build Glory from the ground-up, or are you going to be capitalizing on past runs of the character to some extent?
Keatinge: They’re giving us an astounding level of freedom, but I feel it’s a little ridiculous to jump on an established character or series and not acknowledge their past. Otherwise you should just be making creator-owned comics. Furthermore, I think it’s lazy and disrespectful to the fans who loved the previous comics to go in and say, “hey, all that stuff you loved? DIDN’T HAPPEN.”
My approach to continuity in general is to try it like Rashomon. How Ross and I interpret past events may be different than another creative team, but it still happened whether it’s the original Duffy/Deodato run or Moore/Peterson. So, we definitely build on the past, but with an eye toward the future. I want to create a new audience just as much as I don’t want to alienate the old audience. My first issue is written with that kind of person in mind. If you have absolutely never read Glory - or, heck, a comic book at all – in your life you should be able to fully understand everything you need to jump on board.
O’Shea: In terms of collaborating with Frank Cho, do you think you would have been more intimidated to work with him had you not become friends with him prior to contemplating collaboration?
Keatinge: Probably. Going in I just viewed it as making comics with a buddy, but every once in a while I’m reminded he’s FRANK CHO, one of the most respected and admired artists in mainstream comics. That said, I am really grateful to be collaborating with him. While he’s a fantastic artist, having him as a co-writer has been basically a crash course in writing comics. Whenever he has changes to my stuff I initially want to argue, but I’m pretty sure virtually every time I’ve thought, ‘oh, hey, never mind. You are totally right.’ I hope between this, Guns & Dinos and a few other projects he has the general comics industry respects him even more as a writer than they do for his award-winning run on Liberty Meadows. He’s the real deal when it comes to writing.
O’Shea: I love how when you discuss this project at your Tumblr site, you wrote in part ” to have a superhero book I’m writing with a massively popular artist be announced to come out on [Image’s] 20th anniversary feels like the culmination of my own 20th anniversary of my first having the dream of writing comics means everything to me.” Which are you enjoying more, writing superhero comics, or getting to launch such a major project at such an auspicious time in Image’s history?
Keatinge: Writing comics at all, really. I’m always more into the craft and the work than I am the hype of it, but it’s hard to resist on the 20th anniversary. That said, again, I try to keep my eye on the prize. Gotta focus on the writing.
O’Shea: In general, what is the biggest benefit to you, as a writer, to get to explore the superhero genre?
Keatinge: You can do ANYTHING. You can make any genre work within it. You can bend or otherwise completely devastate any law of science. There are no budget limitations. Anything goes.
It’s due to this I think there’s a lot of potential in the genre. Furthermore, I think what’s traditionally discussed, promoted and marketed as superhero comics is really just one gigantic sub-genre of something much larger. A lot of people scoff at the notion that superheroes being something adults would want to read. I think they’re nuts. They’re defining a genre by their most popular works, whereas I try to think more of potential than execution. Should X-Men be for all-ages? Yeah, probably, but if Image showed me anything it’s that I can create anything under any genre the way I want to do it. They went with superheroes at first, because that was what they were passionate about. Same goes for Andre and I with Hell Yeah.
O’Shea: Will you concede that when you say lines like “Hell Yeah is the direct result of almost thirty years of comics passion put into one book.” that you may be putting some pressure on yourself?
Keatinge: Absolutely not.
I’ve been reading comics in many different forms in many different genres my whole life. Every life experience I’ve ever had somehow informs the work I’m doing today. It’s not hype, it’s fact.
Besides, I think pressure’s a good thing. Poor work comes out when you’re comfortable. I am extremely hard on myself with everything I do. A small part of it is psychological condition. Most of it is never wanting to be boring.
O’Shea: You were first introduced to Andre Szymanowicz while working on PopGun. But when did you realize he’d be a good fit for Hell Yeah?
Keatinge: Mark Andrew Smith and I were discussing different projects we wanted to do together. I believe I suggested James Stokoe for what became Sullivan’s Sluggers. He suggested Andre Szymanowicz. So, that’s what got us talking. However, what convinced me was hanging out with him one on one at a San Diego Comic Con a couple of years ago. Like I was saying with Ross and Frank, Andre and I just completely clicked. The show ended with us at the Hyatt bar, shaking hands to make this book happen. Sometimes you just know.
O’Shea: Branding-wise, how did you arrive on the name Hell Yeah?
Keatinge: It sure helps that I say the phrase all the time. The universe of Hell Yeah has been percolating in my head for a while. One of the first thing I thought of was superheroes being treated and named more like bands than typical super-teams. The first team name I thought was ‘The All-New All-Differents’, the second was ‘Hell Yeah For Justice.’ It struck me then that the name was the perfect embodiment of the book, especially since Hell Yeah For Justice is the group the series’ main character, Ben Day, will be hanging out with. So it was more organic, less market strategy. However, I will admit it makes for a pretty rad logo.