Ultra-vivid, ultra-violent and ultra-cool, Kill Shakespeare is a graphic novel series with added Bard Power. Co-creator Anthony Del Col takes Shakespeare Magazine behind the panels…

What would you say to a Shakespearean traditionalist who was sceptical about graphic novels?
“About seven years ago I myself was sceptical about comic books and graphic novels. I thought that they were all just superhero stories about men in tights and capes, that sort of thing. Then Conor (McCreery, Kill Shakespeare co-creator), who had been working part time at a comic book shop at that time, started putting some really interesting and provocative titles into my hands. Things like Y: The Last Man, Fables, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Blankets – all these things from different genres. It made me realise how interesting a storytelling medium it actually is.

“With comic books and graphic novels you’re not limited by budgets or anything like that, you’re only limited by your imagination. It’s actually a very thought-provoking medium. Yes, you have the visuals in front of you, but you don’t have all. There are interesting stories being told between the panels.”

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I know you were considering other mediums back when Kill Shakespeare was just an idea. Are you happy you settled on this one?
“Absolutely. Traditionally Shakespeare is viewed as very highbrow, which is unfortunate, and comic books are perceived as lowbrow. I thought it was poetic to make them meet half-way, to put the highbrow with the lowbrow. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, not to be read, and in a lot of classrooms across the world the experience is to have a teacher or someone in the class read it out for you. In the comic book medium we can bring everything to life, even more so than Shakespeare could himself in some cases. Hamlet meets pirates in the play – it happens offstage but you hear about it. In the very first edition of Kill Shakespeare you actually see this huge pirate battle. You can’t do that on stage. We write Kill Shakespeare, we have Sherlock Holmes vs Harry Houdini – I’ve fallen in love with the medium and I can envision myself writing comics for the next 30 years.”

Cover Volume 2 by Andy Belanger

Which of the characters is your favourite to write?
“When we first started, my favourite character was Iago because he’s so deliciously evil and always three or four steps ahead of everyone else. It almost got to a point where it felt like he was one or two steps ahead of Conor and myself. As time has gone on, and as the project has expanded into other mediums, Hamlet has become my favourite. I look for Hamlet in everything I watch or consume these days. The way we’ve scripted him in the television outline that we’re putting together right now makes him even more fun to write and I think that I… it’s not that I can fully grasp who Hamlet is, but I feel like I’ve gotten a better handle on who he is and the possibilities for his character.”

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What’s the plan for TV?
“The goal for a Kill Shakespeare television series would be to combine the dark fantasy world-building of Game of Thrones with the wit and knowledge of Shakespeare in Love. Game of Thrones is a huge success worldwide, and opened many people’s eyes to the power of fantasy. We think doing Kill Shakespeare as television can do the same thing for Shakespeare.”

Richard III by Andy Belanger

Outside of your own, do you have a favourite adaptation of Hamlet or any of the plays?
“Oh. that’s a good question. I’m gonna go a little off the beaten track, but I do like – it’s not a straight-up adaptation – I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare in Love. Just because it was a way to make Shakespeare accessible and exciting and relevant. I’ll do another cheat, because I am Canadian I have to give a plug for Slings and Arrows.”

I adore Slings and Arrows.
“For those that are reading this that have not watched it yet, I highly recommend it. In terms of straight adaptations, again because it made Shakespeare relevant for a whole new generation, I’ll say Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I know it has its fans and its detractors. I love how Baz just throws everything and the kitchen sink into everything that he does. That’s the adaptation – out of film, TV, everything – that I’ve enjoyed and watched and rewatched the most.”

Cover Volume 4 by Andy Belanger

What do you think it is about Shakespeare’s characters that make them so universal?
“Shakespeare was the ultimate humanist. He understood humanity and individuals better than anyone ever has or ever will.

The moment that Shakespeare really came to life for me was the first play I ever read in school. It was The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, who is a character who doesn’t necessarily speak to me – but it’s close to my heart – gives the ‘hath not a Jew eyes’ speech which gives you all this sympathy for him. The next minute he wants his ‘pound of flesh.’ So he goes from being a villain to sympathetic to a villain yet again.

“I find that so fascinating, that within a minute you’re able to see all the different facets – good and bad – of a character.
That’s why I think his characters have stood the test of time and have been done and redone.”

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So your first experience of Shakespeare was a positive one?
“Yes and no. I had a horrible teacher who was completely out of her element. The entire class was unruly. We were in Canada and not excited about Shakespeare – it was a negative experience up front. But I had been told by media and people in general that Shakespeare was the crème de la crème of storytelling, and I thought there must be a reason why. So if I’m not going to learn from my teacher, then I’m going to go out and try to figure it out myself. That’s when I started self-guided learning and sought out and read more things about Merchant of Venice and Shylock.”

Lady Macbeth by Andy Belanger

You’ve just released the Kill Shakespeare table top game, you’re working on TV ideas, what’s next?
“In addition to television I’d like to do a videogame. There are some really fascinating stories being told through this medium. I think they’re called narrative games, where it’s not a first person shooter, it’s more about storytelling and personalities. I’d love to be able to immerse players into a world where you can play as one of Shakespeare’s characters and you get to interact with all the others. In an early brainstorming session, what became the Kill Shakespeare comic was a video game, so I’d love to come back to that and introduce a whole new generation to Shakespeare through that medium.”

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I would play that.
“I know! There would be so many Shakespeare fans, even those who don’t play video games, who’d be like ‘Wait, what? I get to play as Hamlet? That’s amazing!’ and they’d dive into it. I also want action figures. Kill Shakespeare action figures. Because what Shakespeare fan doesn’t want to have an action figure on their desk of Hamlet, or Othello, or Puck?”

Absolutely! So, sky’s the limit, really?
“Sky’s the limit, baby.”

This interview originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine 06. Go here to read the original version.

Portraits: Piper Williams
Art: Andy Belanger

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