Joe Kelly and the Fighting Dragons

Kelly Talks Four Eyes

And the Joe Kelly creator-owned train keeps rolling.

In April, we told you about I Kill Giants a new seven-issue miniseries from Image starting in July. Next up, Four Eyes, drawn by Max Fiumara, coming later this year.

Four Eyes - usually derogatory name for those wearing glasses…but in this case, the name is more literal – as in four individual eyes.

On a dragon.

That’s used in illegal fighting in 1930s’ Brooklyn.

Yeah, it’s probably best if we let him explain it.

Newsarama: Let’s start at the beginning here Joe – what’s Four Eyes about?

Joe Kelly: It’s a revenge story set in the Great Depression in Brooklyn. It’s about a boy who’s trying to get back at a gang that’s directly responsible for his dad’s death. But the world in which they live is a world where underground dragon fighting is entertainment for the masses.

NRAMA: So it’s 1930’s Brooklyn – but with dragons…

JK: [laughs] Yeah – they’re the pitbulls of the world. The kid’s dad dies while trying to get a dragon egg for this heavy duty boss. Once the kid realized what his dad did, and the sacrifices he was making, not to mention the things he was doing just to help his family, he gets really pissed and decides that he wants vengeance against this gangster. Thing is, he’s only about ten.

But he manages to get his hands on a runt – a disfigured dragon, and decides to train it up, fight his way through the ranks, and take this guy down. That’s it in a nutshell.

NRAMA: And the title?

JK: Oh yeah – the dragon has four eyes. Literally. It’s been deemed to be an “un-fightable” dragon – it can’t see right, and it just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, really. It’s like a hard-luck boxing story from the ‘30s, but with crazy cock fighting, and instead of roosters, we have dragons.

NRAMA: Mixing gangsters with boxers, I can see…but mixing them with underground dragon fighting…that’s certainly a unique twist. Where did that all start to come together for you?

JK: Somewhere along the line, I was on a trip in Europe and I was talking to someone about kooky projects that we were thinking of, and I just got hooked on the idea of dragons and Tommy guns. I liked the idea of seeing, “I’m on top of the world ma!” and then a dragon coming in and biting the guy in half. The image stuck, and I thought it was cool, but I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just sat on it for a while, and then met this artist Max Fiumara, who drew Infinity Inc. and Blackgas for Warren Ellis. I thought he had a pretty cool style, and I talked to him about it. He was interested, and I said, look, if we’re going to do this, I don’t want you to play it straight. You should really enjoy it – it can be more cartoony, and the characters can be more expressive, because it’s such a weird world.

So this style that he’s doing these dragons in is just unbelievable – the dragons are very crazy real looking, and the characters are much more expressionistic, with a little more squash and stretch to them. I pointed toward Blacksad and a couple of other European books for Max to get some inspiration. So far, he’s knocking it out of the park.

Yeah – ten year old boy, learns the dark side of revenge and takes part in underground dragon fighting.

NRAMA: A story for the kids…

JK: [laughs] Yeah – really. Originally we were just going to do it as a one-off a larger graphic novel, but when I started see these dragons, and thought about the training of the dragons, and the battles – kind of like an epic boxing story, and all the things he’s going to do, and the compromises he’s going to have to make in order to get closer to this gangster…he has to become something of a monster himself in the process.

I like stories with young protagonists – I like to put my characters through the wringer. Really dark stuff happens with this kid – he’s chosen a really nasty path, so ultimately it’s a story of trying not to become the thing you hate, and we’ve got a lot of room to tell it.

NRAMA: Joe – you’re a father yourself. This and your other recent creator-owned work, I kill Giants, not to mention your contributions to Ben10 with Man of Action all have younger protagonists. Do you find yourself writing for your kids more these days, than say, for the in-joke getting, continuity-versed fan?

JK: It’s funny – it’s a mix. What Giants is also ultimately about, and what her secret is, and what’s going on in her life…it’s a real accessible story. That book probably skews more for a teenager and up reader, while Four Eyes is pretty dark – this kid’s dad is eaten on page three, so we’re not messing around. So…they’re not exactly for my kids, but they heavily, heavily influence where the stories are coming from. There’s a lot of my daughter – not so much how she is now, but ways that she could be – in this character. And another book that I have coming out later this year or early next is a bona-fide children’s book - Douglas Fredericks and the House of They drawn by Dave Roman.

But yeah – I guess I am kind of a shallow writer [laughs] I was a newlywed, and was writing Superman, so I focused on the Lois and Clark relationship – that was very easy for me to put myself into; so even though it’s not directly my kids, I’m using the feelings that they can invoke in me as fuel. But I wouldn’t necessarily see them as being for my kids.

NRAMA: You said you have another project coming this fall – is this vein of creator-owned books something you see yourself staying in for a while, while keeping your toes in the super-hero realm with Spider-Man and other projects?

JK: Yeah. I look back on the comics I’ve done, and I’m very, very proud of the stuff I’ve done so far, but my one regret is that I haven’t done more creator-owned stuff earlier. I wish by this point I’d have a thicker library of weird and fun “Joe Kelly” books. So, I guess I’m doing it now, based where I am with other work, and what opportunities are here. And you’re right – I’ll keep a foot in the “mainstream” comics with things like Spider-Man, but we have such a gift with this medium of the stories we can tell. I know there are people out there who want to read these stories, so if I can find them and they can find me, I’m a happy guy.

What’s been really exciting has been finding that these projects are reaching out – Ken has connections with publishers in Europe, so Giants already has life over there, and I’m sure the same will happen with Four Eyes. The world is so much smaller than it can feel when you’re working on a Marvel or a DC project. You know the audience is out there, but you really don’t have communication with or access to those markets. Now, all of a sudden, you’re doing an independent book, and if you can sell something to Spain, and sell something to France, it keeps those projects afloat maybe longer than they could have if you were just looking at the American market. That’s very exciting to me – the models as to how we’re going to put these books out has expanded a bit, and if we can make a little bit of money telling the stories we want to tell, and not totally being shackled by marketing demands, I think that’s great – you want to be able to help shape a market, not be forced to fit into a market that is inflexible.

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