HELL YEAH To Hard Knocks: Joe Keatinge's Comics Journey

HELL YEAH To Hard Knocks: Joe Keatinge

 

Up until now, Joe Keatinge’s been best known in comics as a publicist for Image and an editor for the anthology series Popgun -- but not for long. Keatinge has left all that behind in favor of writing comics, beginning with the Extreme revival title Glory, his own creator-owned series Hell Yeah and the hard-hitting hero book Brutal

This path has been a long time coming for Keatinge, as he’s done smaller comics work in anthologies like Popgun and has been developing Hell Yeah for almost a decade. Collaborating with a talented trio of artists ranging from veteran Frank Cho, indie artist Ross Campbell and newcomer Andre Szymanowicz, Keatinge is looking to take 2012 by storm.

Newsarama’s worked with Keatinge for years in his role as publicist for Image, but now we turn the tables and talk to Keatinge as a creator coming into his own and breaking out in 2012.

Newsarama: I did a double-take when I saw you and Ross Campbell billed as the creators of a re-launched Glory series. First of all, how did this inspired team-up come about?

Joe Keatinge: [Image publisher] Eric Stephenson invited me to pitch for Glory last November, so almost an entire year ago now, and I worked something up in no time. The idea of working on a relaunch of the Extreme universe was exciting to a guy who was ten when they originally came into being. I grew up loving these characters, so I wasn't going to drag ass at the chance to be part of their rebirth. When it came time to find an artist, Ross Campbell was one of the guys we considered and when I saw his samples, he was the only person I wanted to work with on it. He's a comics' dreamboat.

Nrama: People’s memory of Glory is pretty hazy if it’s anything at all. Can you tell us about that original version and how you ramped it up to the one you’re doing in 2012?

Keatinge: It's tough, because while I don't want to alienate the original fans, I do want to open up her potential fan base. The approach I took to her continuity is a bit like Rashomon. If we were all given the same plot for a comic and went our separate ways with it, our final works would be really different. So I look at continuity the same way. Everything that happened with Glory happened, although our interpretation is different.

 

That said, our take on Glory is looking toward the future. While I don't want to negate continuity, I think it's an equally bad idea to get bogged down by it. The previous run was all about leading up to a big war between the two sides of her heritage, her mother's race of warrior goddesses and her father's race of savage demons. We start after all that's over. That's happened. Glory won. Yet she realizes that maybe her winning the war could have been the worst thing that could have happen. Where do you go when you've trained almost a thousand years for a singular purpose, only to fulfill that purpose and feel worse off for the results?

All in all, if you have never even heard of Glory before, we created this series with you in mind. The first issue gives you everything you need to know about her. The second and third issues expand on it and set up our entire run.

Nrama: So can you tell us – just who is Glory?

Keatinge: Glory is the nickname given to Glorianna Demeter, the royal offspring of a race confused with gods and another confused with demons to form the ultimate weapon when those two races make a pact for peace. If one side gets out of line, it is her purpose to beat them into submission. If it gets to war and diplomacy fails, she's a one woman army corps. Someday, she'll lead them all. That said, in the meantime, my primary goal is to make her comics' ultimate badass.

Nrama: Ross Campbell’s one of those artists I’m surprised has never done a major work-for-hire series for DC or Marvel before, so since him on Glory is a real coup from my perspective. How’d you get him onboard to do this?

Keatinge: At Emerald City Comic Con 2011 Eric and I convinced Brandon Graham to come on board as the writer of Prophet. After that, Brandon and I talked pretty regularly about our plans, what we wanted to see out of the books and so on. Right around this time we were looking for a Glory artist and he suggested Ross, which I'll admit initially surprised me. However, when I checked out Ross' DeviantArt, I was blown away by his renditions of characters from X-Men and even the early days of Image. The funny thing is the piece that really sold me was a Kitty Pryde piece he did for an auction put on by a guy named Douglas E. Sherwood, who was later signed on as the letterer for the book. I guess it was kismet.

Nrama: Ross is just as much a writer as he is an artist. What’s it like working with him as a writer given his own past writing his own books?

Keatinge: Ross is very much the ideal collaborator, in large part because he does have experience writing. I think the process of writing a script without an artist in mind then just handing it over to the artist isn't the best way to do it. I like collaborating. I like bouncing off ideas. I like knowing what an artist is passionate about drawing. That said, I talk with them a lot about what I intend to do with the book, what they think, etc. Ross gives a lot of great feedback and his involvement has definitely had a major effect on how I'm writing this series. It wouldn't be the same without him by any stretch of the imagination.

Nrama: Speaking of stretching, I wanted to talk to you next about your upcoming Image series Hell Yeah. Unlike Glory, this is your first big stab at creator-owned comics – and you’re doing it with fervor if the title’s any indication. What can you tell us about the book?

 

Keatinge: Hell Yeah takes place now, but in a world where after the world's first superheroes appeared out of nowhere twenty years ago. However, Hell Yeah is not about them. It's about the first generation raised in this world and how they've dealt with growing up in a world where athletes are obsolete because people can punch the moon, where magic rings are a thing you can buy on the black market. It is a bit of an ensemble book, looking at this generation from multiple perspectives, but the focus from the get go is on Ben Day, a guy who finds out multiple versions of him from throughout reality are being murdered and he may be the last Ben Day in all of existence. This opens up him to a whole lot more of this fantastic world than the general public could ever know.

Nrama: Besides Ben Day, who are the other major characters in the story?

Keatinge: Ben's best friend is Sara B., who may be the smartest person in the world, but her self-esteem and social anxiety keeps her from fulfilling her potential. In the first arc they'll meet a band from an alternate reality, Hell Yeah For Justice, whose lead singer is the girlfriend of her universe's Ben Day. The five of them are the focus of the series for the most part. We'll see other perspectives, but most of them will be through Ben, Sara and Hell Yeah.

Nrama: This is a project you’ve been carrying around for years, and even remember you talking about doing this years ago with another artist. Can you tell us about having this concept in your head for so long percolating before it finally came out into the open?

Keatinge: I think the book finally being on stands will be a huge cathartic relief. The general concept for this has been sitting with me ever since I was first reading Image Comics back in 1992. The more detailed idea has been there since high school. It has taken a lot of different forms, from the comics I'd draw in my own sketchbooks to a one-act play I wrote and directed in college. There have been some false starts, including that other artist you mentioned. The process with Andre Szymanowicz has been a long one too. We met through PopGun, discussed working together on something, then specifically discussed working on Hell Yeah, agreed to do it over two years ago and it took a while due to get going. Ever since we got going it’s been amazing, but yeah, it'll be a nice relief.

Nrama: In an interview over at iFanboy, you call Hell Yeah a “thematic if not direct sequel” to early Image comics. Can you talk about that connection to the Image 7 days of Image?

Keatinge: The early Image Comics stuff showed me there were no restrictions with what you could do with comics. You didn't have to do comics like the other company's were doing. You could kill your main villain, you could kill your main hero! The idea of doing my own comic with my own characters without being restrained by brand integration or whatever. I want to maintain the excitement of those early books with modern sensibilities, combined with my other influences at the time, which range from people like Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Moebius, Hugo Pratt and so on. As far as being a direct sequel? I'd certainly love it if it eventually crossed over with the original Image creations.

In fact, it already has. The Hell Yeah universe has already made one appearance in an original seven Image founders book. My Savage Dragon #171 back-up story has direct ties to Hell Yeah, so be sure to buy it up in droves and sell it for a million dollars someday. May the speculating begin!

Actually, don't. Just buy it and enjoy the story.

Nrama One project further away but still on my radar is your collaboration with Frank Cho on something called Brutal. This is the series people know the least about, so break it open for us: who or what is Brutal?

Keatinge: The title of Brutal doesn't relate to a character's name, but rather the overall atmosphere of the book. Anyone who has seen the teaser can see we're not holding back on this one at all.

 

We have been keeping details pretty tight to our chest, but we revealed a bit during Comic-Con International: San Diego. For now, we are saying the series is about an assassin named Stone, who exclusively targets superheroes and supervillains alike. However, so much of her background is integral to the overall plot, so saying more for now is just a bit early. The other aspect is it's not so much about the killing themselves (although we will show them in a manner that lives up to the series' name), but rather the effect they would have on the industry of superheroes. How the effect those who pay their checks. Who pays for the superpowers? That kind of thing. It's very unlike anything either Frank or I have ever done and I'm loving every minute of co-writing it for that very reason.

Nrama: Frank Cho’s worked with everyone from Brian Michael Bendis to The ‘Nam writer Doug Murray on his recent 50-Girls-50 series. How’d you manage to get on the same page and craft a story with Frank?

Keatinge: Frank's been a buddy for years now and we were asked to pitch together for a project, which I guess I can now admit is Glory. We came up with concept that was so far removed from the original character we were encouraged to make it our own thing. And we did. We always got along really well when I worked with him from a marketing perspective while at Image, but I had no idea we would click so well in a creative capacity as well. I used to be adverse to the idea of co-writing with anyone, but since doing it with Frank it's something I'm way more into. His half of the writing has brought a lot of new ideas and technique to my own. I've become a much better writer for the collaboration.

I have to admit I sometimes forget I'm working with FRANK CHO and not just Frank, the guy I call to make really, really vulgar jokes with, y'know? I just view it as making comics with a buddy, but then I'll sit with him at Comic-Con International: San Diego and get reminded he's one of the biggest stars this industry has to offer. It's pretty surreal.

Nrama: Frank’s got a lot going on between 50-Girls-50, the Guns & Dinos series and this. When can people expect to see this hit shelves?

Keatinge: Well, 50-Girls-50 has been wrapped up for a bit now and Frank's well underway with Guns & Dinos and a Marvel project. Once those wraps, I'm pretty sure he'll be close to all Brutal all the time. That said, we've been co-writing this thing for months now, constantly bringing other pieces together to form our story. So, the gears have been moving and even some pages drawn. I'm pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing. Frank's one of the most brilliant artists working in the industry today, but I think this is his year for being recognized as a writer of equal talent as well in between Guns & Dinos and Brutal. Working alongside him has been a huge learning experience. I feel seeing his sequences, his edits on my writing and his reaction to my stuff continues to improve my own work a lot. I know I'm one of the luckiest dudes on the planet for having the opportunity to work with the guy in such a capacity. Plus, he smells good. Have you smelled Frank?

Nrama: Errrr.. can’t say that I have, Joe. Moving on… You’re also one of the American comic creators more finely attuned to what’s going in European comics, even writing a column for a BD comics magazine overseas. Can you talk about the gulf between American and European comics and bridging that?

Keatinge: I think it's a gulf that's going to continue to shrink over the next several years. Ten years ago access to European works was very limited, even untranslated. Now there's a huge amount of works that's readily available, comics that used to cost you and arm and a leg for inferior quality reprints. That said, we now have people like Dark Horse publishing their incredibly beautiful Milo Manara library or Humanoids finally developing a publishing model that gets how to properly introduce works to the American market. And yeah, as excited as I am to be launching three books during the 20th anniversary of the publisher responsible for me to create comics, I think the Event of next year is Corto Maltese finally coming back into print in English. If there's stuff you can't find translated, you now have places like Stuart Ng Books where you can get your fix. So, I believe it's going to continue to get better. My ongoing tenure writing for Comic Box, the magazine you mentioned, gives me a lot of faith in this.

Joe Keatinge, 
photo by Justin Norman Joe Keatinge,

photo by Justin Norman

From a personal perspective, I'm into comics and all the forms they take, no matter where they came from. From an early age I loved works like Herge's Tintin without knowing where it originated from. As I got older I was attracted to comics by people like Moebius, Manara, Crepax, Pratt, Wendling and so on. I didn't care where they came from. After going to the Angouleme Comics Festival my passion exploded. I wanted nothing more than to be part of the European industry as much as I'm working on being part of the American industry. I don't see why you should limit yourself as a creator as to what world regions you work in, with the communication tools we have today.

Nrama: I’ve known you for a number of years given your work as Image’s PR guy, and you’ve done it all. You started out as a color flatter and went to be an editor, writer and even artist, not to mention to almost six years working on staff at Image. Is there any facet of comics you haven’t done that you’re interested in?

Keatinge: I'm just enthralled with comics, period, and want to learn everything I can about them, whether it's writing, drawing, editing, publishing, or even knowing more from a historical perspective. Comics is my biggest passion and love - you know, not counting people. I highly enjoy movies and video games, but while I'm definitely interested in contributing to them in a creative capacity it doesn't have the same intensity as comics. Maybe it has to do with how intimate of an experience creating comics is. There are comparatively much fewer people involved. That said, I've been on a huge tear about movies and video games after watching Drive and playing Uncharted 2. Those are pretty inspiring. I would love to be part of a movie or video game as exciting as those two.

Anyway, writing is certainly the reason I got into the comics business, so in a way all these other positions were leading up to doing that full-time. I feel like I'm a lot better off as a writer knowing what goes into every other aspect, whether it's how page signatures work in the printing process or knowing how to develop a marketing plan. I really encourage folks who want to get into the creative side to really learn the ins and outs of both their chosen art form and its industry.

I will say I think the next big step for me is finally take on some full-on cartooning, that is, both writing and drawing something. I've done this publicly twice, albeit in very short stories in the Next Issue Project, but I'd like to do a gigantic book of it, like an original graphic novel. I actually have an idea for something I may start serializing online soon. We'll see. It's a very different mindset to get in. For whatever reason my art style ends up resembling dead cartoonists, whereas I always try to keep my writing looking toward the future. Someday. I'm always up for a new challenge.

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