Robot 6

Talking Comics with Tim | Karl Kesel

Section Zero

With the passage of time, pundits/critics frequently reflect upon past era creators (be it Golden, Silver or Bronze Age), quite often finding a newfound appreciation for certain folks. Sometimes I wonder why we have to wait for a creator to be  no longer active in order to garner increased respect. For example, artist/inker/writer Karl Kesel is a creator, who while he has definitely received critical praise over his long career (dating back to 1984), I think his body of work warrants even more attention and praise. I was thrilled when I found out that Kesel relaunched Section Zero (his Gorilla Comics 2000 project with artist Tom Grummett that ended after three issues) as a webcomic at Mad Genius Comics. The news got even better with the revelation that Kesel and Grummett intend to develop new Section Zero content. I am a longtime fan of Kesel’s work–particularly his mid-1990s run on Daredevil #353-364 and Fantastic Four #56 (the latter of which we also discuss). My thanks to Kesel’s Periscope Studio studiomate, Jeff Parker, for putting me in contact with Kesel.

Tim O’Shea: How and when did you finally decide to resurrect Section Zero–and as a webcomic?

Karl Kesel: I’ve wanted to do a web comic for some time. The tipping point was when my wife and I decided to adopt a baby (we’re still waiting to get one!) and I knew I wanted some sort of legacy to leave my kid. I put together Mad Genius Comics, and hired the talented David Hahn to pencil a Johnny Zombie story. As that was posting, I thought: what next? I had a ton of ideas, but the one I kept coming back to was Section Zero. Tom Grummett and I had started it in 2000 through Gorilla/Image comics, and due to my getting divorced, it had been put on indefinite hold. It was Unfinished Business, and I thought the time was right to finish it.

Of course, what I want to do with Section Zero doesn’t matter if Tom doesn’t want to do it, too— we’re equal partners. I was thrilled that Tom was just as eager as I was to get back to Zero.

O’Shea: In rerunning the original series, Richard Starkings decided to re-letter the pages. What prompted him to make such an offer–and how surprised were you when he made it.

Kesel: Richard is a perfectionist, God bless ‘im! He began by insisting Comicraft finish lettering the entire story arc, and once he looked over the existing lettering, he wanted to “freshen” the look of it. I was thrilled, honored, surprised, and deeply touched. He’s going far, far Above And Beyond here, which is why he’ll always be St. Starkings in my book.

O’Shea: Because Starkings is relettering the pages, you have decided to tweak the script a bit along the way. Can you point out some of the changes you made (other than sharpening your 2000 presidential election comment in the prologue [as you discuss in this blog entry])?

Kesel: The dialogue tweaks came actually about when I thought I was going to have to re-letter the book myself (a disaster in the making, if there ever was one) and also because what the story was about when it was an ongoing series, and what the story is about now that is has a 12 Year Gap in its center— those are very different things. I happen to think the 12 Year Gap has vastly improved the story— but for the book to hold together and read as well as possible, that meant making some minor dialogue tweaks here and there.

One tweak that comes to mind right away is the interchange between Sam and Tina on page 7 of Part 1. They reference something that happened in their past— something we’ll go back to later in the story.

I’ve also streamlined the dialogue a bit— not really changing it as much as trimming it down where it had some unnecessary fat.

And we’re inserting one new scene toward the end of Part 2— that part just started posting on March 1st. Again, something that pulls the story together and works with the 12 Year Gap better. That is one of the plusses to web comics: if the story needs a few extra pages— no problem!

Story continues below

O’Shea: What are you enjoying most about getting to work with these characters again?

Kesel: That I get to work with them again!

O’Shea: As you have grown as a creator, I am curious do you have a newfound appreciation/affinity for certain cast members this go-around compared to the last time?

Kesel: My respect for both Thom “24 Hour Bug” Talesi and Sargasso has certainly grown. They were fun characters 12 years ago, but when I thought “What are they up to now? What have they done since we last saw them?” I was surprised that the characters seemed to step forward and tell me! Their roles were instantly clear to me, and they’re now much more pivotal than they would have been in 2000.

O’Shea: How much of a story bible is there to Section Zero, I mean I was struck by the following character detail: “In the ’80s Sam fronted the punk band “Fort Charles”— named for Charles Fort, the first chronicler of the odd and unexplained— and played CBGBs a number of times, always with thrillingly disastrous results. “

Kesel: There’s no story bible as such, just certain touchstone events that come into my and Tom’s minds that tickle us, and round out the characters a bit more. Given Sam’s age and temperament, it made sense that he’d have been part of the late 70s/early 80s punk scene. That single idea instantly opened the door as to how Sam and Tina met— a story I’d very much like to tell at some point.

I think this is one of the unique things about Section Zero— the characters are anchored in time, and are a part and product of their times, just like we all are. And as time passes, that means their time on-stage is limited, and every story has to be the very best one Tom and I can tell about them.

O’Shea: What is it about Tom Grummett’s storytelling and overall talents that makes him such a perfect collaborator for you?

Kesel: His storytelling is crystal-clear, his layouts are dynamic, his design sense is flawless, his characters are always interesting and engaging. He has one of the best instincts for what makes a good comic-book cover in the entire industry. We’re about the same age, so our ideas about what makes Good Comics are pretty similar. I only have to start describing something, and he already knows what I have in mind, and then gives me more. There’s an upcoming scene with a Troll— I was giddy when I saw what Tom had done with it!

O’Shea: In addition to Section Zero, you have also developed another webcomics project–Johnny Zombie. Care to discuss that character’s creation a bit?

Kesel: I’ve always “loved” zombies— meaning they’re the only monster that still scares me, to this day. So it was only a matter of time before I did a zombie comic of some sort. My basic problem was that zombies stories are usually pessimistic in nature, while my work is generally optimistic. So I wondered how to bridge that gap and do a zombie story that delivered on both fronts? Johnny Zombie is the result. Since there’s only been one JZ story so far, I don’t want to say too much about the actual concept. That’ll become clearer as more stories come out. And there is a new Johnny Zombie story in the works— I’m aiming to have it on-line come Halloween. Wish it could be sooner, but I’m squeezing all my web-comic stuff in around paying work!

O’Shea: If you could, would you prefer to be a writer full-time, or do you enjoy inking so much you never fully want to step away from it?

Kesel: Writing is mentally exhausting, penciling and inking is physically exhausting. For me. I enjoy bouncing between the two since one helps me recharge for the other. Knock on wood, I’ll be able to do both for a long, long time.

O’Shea: As a former writer of Daredevil, I have to ask–are you enjoying former Gorilla partner Mark Waid’s current run?

Story continues below

Kesel: I am THRILLED with Mark’s work on Daredevil. It’s everything my run should have been, but wasn’t because I simply am not the writer Mark is.

O’Shea: I know you inked Neil Edwards on an upcoming Spider-Man Season One book by Cullen Bunn, but what else is on the horizon for you creatively?

Kesel: More work inking Neil Edwards! I’m wrapping up X-FACTOR 237 over his pencils right now, and will then move on to an issue of SCARLET SPIDER he’s drawing. If we become known as an inseparable team, I certainly won’t complain!

O’Shea: How does your work benefit from working in an environment like Periscope Studio?

Kesel: I don’t get down there as much as I should, or as much as I’d like, but Periscope offers a very vibrant, creative space to work in. I learn something new every time I go in, and maybe pass on a trick or two myself from time to time. The people are also all first-rate, and a ton of fun to be with. And when I get a hankerin’ to try a new recipe for a cake or cookies, I know my wife Myrna and I don’t have to eat it all ourselves! Communal food disappears very quickly at Periscope…

O’Shea: When you wrote Fantastic Four 56 (a 2002 tale that which delved into Ben’s faith), how surprised were you at how much that story resonated with people? Also, any interest in writing a Ben Grimm/Thing miniseries at some point?

Kesel: Yeah, I was VERY surprised by how much attention that story received! I was just doing my job the best I can, just like always, and suddenly there was all this hub-bub. Good hub-bub, thankfully. It really opened my eyes— a hopelessly white, American male— to just how hungry people are for heroes who are like themselves. I believe people are inherently, deeply tribal and have an ingrained desire to proudly connect with others of their tribe, be that geographically (New Yorkers) or vocationally (Cartoonists Unite!) or through sports (the most obvious and primal example) and certainly through ethnicity, race, and religion. And we identify with any number of different tribes at any given time. It’s what gives us our sense of place in the world. (It can get out of hand, too, but that’s for my “extremism” rant.)

So: Yeah. It’s a story I’m very proud of, and and humbled that it means so much to so many.

Would I be interested in writing more Ben Grimm/Thing stories? Does Dick Cheney want to rule the world by pulling strings from behind a dark curtain? Of course!!



Kesel is an incredibly underrated talent deserving of more attention. Also thanks for at least mentioning his Daredevil run. It’s a great run that’s completely overlooked due to the higher profile talents on the book since then, but I’ve always thought it was one of the best.

Can Marvel smarten up and get Kesel to write FF and ink it with. Grummett as the primary penciller?

Simon DelMonte

March 5, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Kesel continues to be my choice to take over FF. Or any book with Silver Age or Golden Age roots. His Capt America “lost” newspaper strip and Patriot miniseries were both really fun.

I met Karl Kesel last year at Emerald City ComiCon. Nice guy. I actually was looking for him at Wizard World Chicago 2010 (he was on the guest list), but couldn’t locate him. He told me he called in sick that day. I had him autograph my copies of History of the DC Universe Books I and II (he inked them). Since he also worked on the second Hawk and Dove series, I recommended he see that one Justice League Unlimited episode with them.

Acer you recommended that to him? did you think he didnt know? i am sure he did….. and Kesel worked on the mini as well as the regular Hawk and dove series

the first was by Ditko
the 4th was not even close to thpose charascters
and then there was the current one

Kesel has wrote Hank Hall more than any other writer.

Shamus and Simon, I would be overjoyed if they tapped Kesel to write FF post-Hickman.

Acer, glad you got a chance to finally meet Kesel and chat with him in person. I am hoping to make it out to Emerald City ComiCon one of these days.

So happy to see this interview! Karl Kessel is an extrememy underrated writer, along with being a masterful inked and pretty decent penciller. I agree with the posters who single out his Daredevil run (still my second favorite run of all time on DD after Born Again) and his excellent Hawk and Dove series for DC. Let me add a run on Human Torch he did as part of the ill-fated Tsunami line a decade or so ago. I only read the first 6 issues, but he wrote them and Skottie Young did the art. Worth picking up for sure! Glad Section Zero is back. Wish someone would give him FF!

Have you not been to it before? You’ll love it, especially with the guest turnout this year–they just announced Edward James Olmos as part of the lineup.

He told me he didn’t see it at the time.

Had a chance to meet Karl at DragonCon last year, and he was an extremely nice guy. Got a terrific Cap sketch from him, bought a couple of original pages, and was delighted to chat for a bit. When I mentioned how much I had enjoyed his DD run, rather than take it as an opportunity to have his ego stroked, he instantly took it as an opportunity to recommend Mark Waid’s run. A true gentleman and great talent.

Honestly, what modesty. Yeah, Mark Waid’s DD run is great, but one thing it has going for it is that it reminds me of Kesel’s run which, as everyone above says, was blooming good. How I miss Rosalynd Sharp (a play on LA Law’s Rosalind Shays?).

And again, I’m with the gang – Kesel and Grummett on FF would be magic.

I’d love to hear Karl’s thoughts on the current Hawk and Dove book. I suspect he’s too much of a gent to comment.

If you’re reading this, sir, best of luck with the adoption and Section Zero, but be sure, you already have a great legacy.

Great talents. I followed their work back in the day — always enjoyed it. And am always intrigued when I see either of their names pop up in comics today.

Never been one much into web comics but will check it out!

I LOVED Section Zero and was really bummed when the book didnt continue. I was super happy when I saw it was coming back. I posted all the info. in the Independant forum on ComicBookResources. Such a great team. Too bad Karl and Tom did not get a book for DC’ new 52. A DOOM Patrol by them would be awesome.

its nice to see I’m not the only one who loved Kesel’s Daredevil run! It was a jokey DD that I wasn’t used to…and I really grew to enjoy it. I was bummed when it ended…

Even before DD I loved Kesel’s inking over John Byrne on Superman (still my favorite era of Supes) and over Luke McDonnell on Suicide Squad (one of my favorite series ever).

Karl Kesel is a genius of comics, and I’ve pretty much collected most books he’s had a run on. When he teamed with Grummett for Section Zero it was the only Gorilla comic I forked out for, being the result of two great unsung artists that are untouchable together.

Completely agree with the DD comments above, and if these two got the FF after Hickman, well that would be to awesome for words.

That same team of Kesel & Grummett were pure gold on Superboy.

If Karl Kesel were to write the Fantastic Four, I would start picking the comic up again in a heartbeat!

Leave a Comment


Browse the Robot 6 Archives