Talking to Ted McKeever
For comic book fans of Ted McKeever, it's a dream come true. For the writer/artist himself, it's a liberating yet daunting task more than 20 years in the making.A collection of his major works, The Ted McKeever Library is being released by Image Comics' Shadowline beginning in October with Transit, the creator's earliest work. First released in 1987, Transit was previously left unfinished at issue #5, but McKeever is finishing the critically acclaimed series for this collection, which will feature extras like unused art and original covers. After the release of the collected Transit, Shadowline will also collect volumes of Eddy Current and Metropol. Together forming what Shadowline is calling McKeever's "inter-connected magnum opus," the three series explore a twisted futuristic world with the creator's trademark dark humor. Newsarama talked to McKeever about the collection, why now is the time to finally finish Transit, and how it feels to have it all done. Newsarama: How did the Library project come about with Shadowline? And why do this now? Ted McKeever: Basically I was discussing with Jim Valentino about doing something new for Shadowline. I had a series in mind that was sort-of an extension of some of my past works, like Transit and Metropol, and during our conversations, the fact came up that Transit was the only series that was never able to complete. The original publisher went under at issue #5, and the 6th was never done. Jim then brought up the idea for Shadowline to release Transit as a collected edition, as well as two of my other series that were intertwined, thus creating a "library" of my past works. The reason why now, is because I have spent the last seven years running the gamut of doing much "mainstream" stuff, and while financially satisfying, it left a distinct void of creative freedom I had come to miss. And so, it just seemed like a natural process, a cerebral memento if you will, to return to my original stories as a reminder to myself, but also for the fans who either had never read them, or wanted them in collected editions. NRAMA: Shadowline described this as your "magnum opus." Do you see it that way? TM: It's difficult for me to see my work in anything but what it is. To have it described that way isn't for me to judge, as Transit was simply a story created from a passion stemmed from a subject I had the desire to spend months working on. How it's seen or described now, well, it's better left at that. NRAMA: Let's start by talking about Transit. As a little background information first, bring us up to speed somewhat with where this project originated and what it's about. TM: Having spent years working for ABC television, doing courtroom sketches, sitting through months of court cases and trials, hearing testimonies and verdicts, I started to piece together a story about corrupt governments and radical religious groups. But it was missing something. Then a few years later, while working at the Miami Herald as an editorial artist, I was doing a piece on graffiti art, and suddenly, there it was -- the missing part. What better to have a lead character who was a scrambling subway tunnel-rat who got thrown into all that political and religious insanity? I came down with chicken pox, at the age of 23, and had to be confined to indoors and darkness for about 3 weeks. The time was spent day upon days working on storyline and characters, fleshing out what would then become the first issue of Transit. Three months later, after working my day shift at the paper, getting home and working throughout the night, I had the first issue completed. Then I went to a convention I had read about, up in Atlanta, and decided to bring the Xerox-ed issue with me, and see if I could get some feedback. I met and showed Archie Goodwin, who said, after finishing the entire issue "there are no changes needed. Send this out to as many publishers as you can," which I did, and found a publisher in Canada, who I signed with, quit my job at the Herald and started working on the series full-time. NRAMA: What can you tell us about what you'll be doing with Transit now and what readers can expect? TM: The joy of doing this project is being able to finally do and complete the sixth issue. That will be in the edition, as well as a bunch of extras, like unused ads, some of the original art designs I had done those weeks in confinement, as well as all the original covers, plus a newly done cover to Issue #6. NRAMA: Is it a relief to finally have an end in sight for Transit? Or will it be something you miss having in front of you? TM: Actually that's been a constant struggle for me to deal with. Being the type of person who has issues with leaving things undone, Transit was a thorn in my side for 23 years -- the only series I had ever done that was incomplete. It was a scab that would not heal. And yet, I felt this melancholy seeping into me as I started to put pen to paper. Each time I sat down to work on it, I felt myself pulling back not wanting to do it. Making me realize I had become comfortable with it being my holy grail. But, as my grandfather had instilled in my mother and she in me, you don't allow something to control your abilities that you are fully capable of doing. So, I decided, once and for all to do it. Plain and simple, dig down deep and do it. And now having completed it, I feel . . . well, lighter. Liberated, actually. And as my good friend Dana Moreshead said to me "an anchor released allows you to fly again." That pretty much says it all. NRAMA: What else are we going to have as part of the Library, and what can you tell us about these works? TM: After Transit, I started working on a 12-issue series titled Eddy Current. It's about this guy, locked up in an asylum who has these visions of grandeur to becoming a superhero and saving the world. One night, at 6 p.m., an electrical storm blows out the facility's power, and bed-check isn't until 6 a.m. So he's got 12 hours to escape the asylum, save the world, and get back in time so's not to be caught missing. It's what I consider to be my "comedy", albeit a really dark twisted one. Then after that was Metropol and Metropol A.D., which, all combined, were 15 issues, and were about a city that has been walled in for fear of an outbreak spreading beyond its perimeter. Within the city's imprisonment, a biblical plague breaks out that literally kills massive amounts of people, only to have them re-birthed as either angels or demons. The angels, armored in industrial suits of steal and rivets, carrying automatic weapons, must battle the mutated demon hordes. The ratio is pathetically imbalanced, as there are five angels, and thousands of demons. NRAMA: How are they all these stories interconnected? TM: A big part of that has to do with the sixth issue of Transit. Some might not realize that Transit's ending is a direct link to Metropol's beginning. It contains much details as to how things are the way they become. In Metropol, there was a definite explanation of certain characters and where they came from, but the sixth issue of Transit shows that much more clearly. And without giving too much away for those who haven't read Eddy Current yet, his inclusion has its own revelation on a totally different plain. NRAMA: Is this truly an ending to this world? Or is this something you plan to revisit? And if so, any idea when? TM: I definitely have ideas and plans to add more to this world, for sure. In fact, as I said earlier, I had approached Jim and Shadowline with a storyline that encompassed a much broader scope of the landscape set in all three series'. It delved into subjects more in line with Eddy Current and Transit than Metropol, as in more dark humor, twisted takes on society and yet grounded in earthly realities. Well, kind of. As to when and from whom, Shadowline and I are talking, but the details are still stewing on the proverbial stove. NRAMA: How would you describe the theme and style of your work on these projects? TM: I'll put it this way. The themes and styles of my self-created works is like a recipe to me. A thread of absurd violence, mixed with an offbeat disposition, visceral sadness, with an underlining of compassion and human morality. NRAMA: Is there anything else you want to tell people about the Library collection? TM: Just that I am extremely proud to have these coming out in the way that Jim Valentine and Kris Simon have allowed me to do so. They have both been extremely gracious as well as inspiring to work with on these volumes. The professionalism and creative freedom they have contributed to these collected books, and also to me as well, has allowed me to not only revisit my past, but also bring it to the present, in a form that has never been presented before. And for the fans that have followed these series' already, there's a lot of new stuff added they have never seen before. For those who haven't read them, now is the time.
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