In 2010's video game Red Dead Redemption, Chris Pasetto and Christian Cantamessa helped craft a story of the dark final days of the American wild west - and now they're pivoting to ancient Greek mythology.
Scheduled to launch this Wednesday, Kill the Minotaur remakes the classic story of Theseus and the Cretian Minoatur in what artist Lukas Ketner calls a "grindhouse-y re-imagining." Published by Skybound Entertainment through Image Comics, Kill the Minotaur is scheduled to run for six 30-page issues.
Newsarama talked with the trio about Kill the Minotaur, adapting it after so many have done it before, and the designs for Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Labyrinth, and how it's pulled from ancient texts and sometimes, more modern stories.
Nrama: Guys, how would you describe Kill the Minotaur?
Lukas Ketner: Kill the Minotaur is a grindhouse-y re-imagining of the classic Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. It shows the actual events that were distilled into the story that we know today.
Nrama: Christian, Chris, how did you seize upon the idea to adapt and expand on this big of Greek mythology?
Christian Cantamessa: Chris and I were bouncing ideas around for a new project to do together and we started talking about mythology, since we are both big fans. The myth of Theseus and the Labyrinth is one of the most archetypal stories - a hero trapped in a claustrophobic maze with a monster. We realized that the there was an opportunity to retell this classic story from a modern perspective, to look at the origin of the myth. As we did our research, we found an angle that truly excited us.
Chris Pasetto: The Minotaur myth has always been a favorite of mine. Christian and I started talking about revisiting classic stories and this immediately came up. Not everyone may be familiar with the Minotaur myth in its original form, but everyone's probably seen some aspect reinterpreted in a more modern form (I recall Suzanne Collins citing it as an influence for The Hunger Games). So, it's interwoven in our cultural psyche, and with good reason. The myth touches on heroism and courage; sin and tyranny. There are intimate personal dimensions to the struggle as well as larger social conflicts. And it's extremely primal. Being lost in the dark while you're stalked by the original "monster in the house.”
Nrama: Do people need to know of greek mythology to get this story?
Ketner: Knowing a bit about the myth certainly enriches enjoyment of the story, but it’s not essential to enjoying the series; it’s exciting, terrifying, and fun regardless! Readers will discover that many events and details from the original myth were interpreted by the people of the time in the best way they knew how - seeing it through modern eyes will give you clues that the characters in the story might not have understood or recognized because they lived in ancient times. A cursory two-minute skim of the myth on Wikipedia wouldn't go amiss at some point while you're reading the series, but you don't have to be a mythologist.
Nrama: So with such a revered text, did you have any hesitation to expand on it as you have?
Cantamessa: I wouldn’t say there was hesitation, we embraced the idea with passion and we were very excited to contribute our own version of the myth. That said, we definitely wanted to be respectful of the classic text and of its many fans.
Pasetto: No hesitation, really. Probably because we're not trying to do a faithful adaptation. Though we lean on the original myth heavily (as well as actual historical evidence) this is our twist on the story. When you think we're going to do a traditional adaptation, that's when we deliberately go off the rails. Kill the Minotaur isn't just a re-telling of the myth, but a story about myths.
Nrama: The Minotaur Asterion's origin is an overlooked part of mythology - do you touch on it at all in this story?
Pasetto: Oh yes. You might say Asterion's origin is the cornerstone of our story, but I don't want to reveal too much. For those who aren't familiar with the original myth... King Minos' wife "laid with a bull" to produce a son - half-man, half-bull. Because he could not bring himself to kill the monster, Minos had a labyrinth constructed (by the brilliant inventor/architect Daedalus) to contain the creature, and fed it regularly with sacrificial youths from the neighboring city-state of Athens.
At least, that's the story that's been handed down to us.
There's a lot to play with in that source material. We really deconstructed the origin of the Minotaur and the characters who played a part.
Why did they make those choices? How would real people - not mythical archetypes - react in those situations? In some cases we invented our own material to fill in the blanks, but I think we made those creative embellishments in a way that still fits with the source material.
Nrama: So, size up the two sides - who is the Minotaur here and who is Theseus?
Pasetto: The Minotaur is the archetypal monster; Theseus is the archetypal hero. Simple, right? That's where the myth starts, but our spin attempts to break apart those conventional definitions. Theseus is anything but your typical hero. And the Minotaur is not the monster you think it is. And two sides? I don't think anyone's on the same side in Kill the Minotaur. So much of the conflict takes place along alternate vectors. Proportionally the conflict between Theseus and the Minotaur is only about half of what drives the story... maybe less.
Cantamessa: Theseus definitely isn't your sword-and-sandals type of hero, out to slay monsters and to save the world. He is a young man who craves the glory and the power that his favorite heroes have achieved in the epic poems, but he will have to overcome far greater challenges than he would have ever expected, physical and - importantly - very personal. I don’t really want to say much about the Minotaur, but expect something different from the creature that you remember from the classic story, and the same goes for the Labyrinth itself.
Nrama: Lukas, This myth has been illustrated countless times - what do you go by in terms of defining your own look and feel of the story?
Ketner: As the artist, I first went and found all the visual reference that I could get my hands on. I started a collection of books, websites, and even old National Geographic magazines and illustrated kids’ history books (like Eyewitness books, for example). There was a lot more reference available for the Athenians than there was for the Cretan culture, but that also means that some of that reference conflicted source to source. In the end, I kept as much accuracy as I felt was necessary, then went about making the two cultures visually distinctive - lots of submissive silvers and blues for the Athenians, and lots of gold, bronze, reds, and oranges for the Cretans. In the story, Crete has defeated Athens in a recent war, so the Cretan culture needed to have a bit of a fascist tilt - they force the Athenians to give up their best kids to a monster after all!
The Labyrinth is a different story altogether - it needed a design that would fit in with revelations and discoveries later in the story. It looks bizarre and out of place next to Knossus palace, and it’s supposed to. [Laughs]
Nrama: How'd you go about designing the Minotaur?
Ketner: The Minotaur itself probably got the most attention and revisions during the design process. It’s the star of the show! The first few designs are floating around on the web (ok, I may have tweeted one or two of them), and you can see they’re a bit out-there. I really went for a squicky abominable looking creature. We refined it from there based on all of the things it did and what needed to happen to it throughout the course of the story, and the final looks very different from earlier designs.
Nrama: And Theseus, what about his look?
Ketner: He’s basically just meant to look like a rich kid from ancient Athens. Blonde, spoiled, but not a total loss. He has a great loyalty to his friends who come from a variety of social classes. He’s been told his entire life that he will be a “hero”, and struggles with the pressure of living up to whatever that means. His hatred for Crete and his desire for “a place in the songs” is what sets him on his quest. As with many people in impossible situations, his look will change for the bloodier and grittier as the story progresses.
Nrama: The Labyrinth is a big part of this as well - how did you work with Lukas on designing it?
Cantamessa: The Labyrinth is definitely a character in itself. We had a good mental model for the look and feel of the place, but Lukas injected so much of his unique style and personality into it, he brought the world to life in an unexpected and majorly epic way. We started with mood boards and then it was all about sketching and iterating. Major kudos to our colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu as well for achieving the final look that you see on the page.
Pasetto: Christian and I had some ideas about the Labyrinth when we began, and there's a narrative foundation to what it is and how it functions. We like to think of the Labyrinth as a major character in Kill the Minotaur. Then when we started working with Lukas, it felt like we were planting seeds in fertile ground (so to speak). Seriously, Lukas reacted like one of those MKUltra sleeper agents. All we had to do was whisper "Labyrinth". He just started drawing it, shaping it, building it, really bringing the Labyrinth to life. I think that's one of the tremendous strengths of Lukas' artwork. He really digs into the reason why a creature or fantastic place exists and weaves its function into his awesome designs - I loved that in his work on Witch Doctor as well.
Nrama: How did you two connect with each other, and connect with Lukas?
Pasetto: Christian and I have worked together for about 12 years now. We met working together on the videogame Red Dead Redemption. After that, we collaborated on our first short film, How I Survived the Zombie Apocalypse. Then we wrote a feature film, Air (which Christian directed). That makes it sound like a simple progression from one project to another, but it was anything but. We've wrestled through many different story ideas, building and tearing down in equal measure. There are probably a hundred other writing projects scattered through that time period - we keep a full stable of them, it seems. That's how Kill the Minotaur came about. It was one of our favorite horses in the stable. After we finished Air, we had a great relationship with Skybound and we really wanted to make Kill the Minotaur into a comic. We pitched it, they loved it... then we beat the shit out of it for months and months.
Cantamessa: We met Lukas through Sean Mackiewicz, Skybound's Editorial Director, and we fell in love with his artwork and his passion for visual storytelling.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals for Kill The Minotaur?
Ketner: Just to entertain! If people enjoy the series and get a few surprises out of it, then I’ve done my job. I loved the myth as a kid, and Christian and Chris have really crafted an unexpected take on what we all assume is a very familiar story.
Cantamessa: I hope that our audience will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it in this wonderful medium that are comics. I am thankful that Skybound gave me this incredible opportunity.
Pasetto: The sixth issue is definitely a solid conclusion for the series, but we've also done a certain amount of world-building which we'd love to continue beyond #6. All depends on how much people love this first run. Beyond that, I think this story just screams out for a Broadway musical treatment. Hey Hamilton people, call me!