While for some the process of making comics is an assembly-line affair that smoothes the edges of uniqueness and style, a remarkable few artists stand against the tide and make their name in comics because they’re so different. One of those artists would be cartoonist Ted McKeever. He’s worked for virtually every comic publisher around – and a few that aren’t around anymore – and has been given the latitude to take classic characters such as Wonder Woman, Batman and others and put his own unique spin on them, while also venturing into his own psyche to pull characters and characterizations out for all the word to see. While his style might be hard to explain in words, it’s more identifiable than 99% of comics’ artists out there.
After breaking into the industry with his series Transit, McKeever followed it up with the 12-part Eddy Current which earned him industry recognition and several Eisner nominations back in 1988. He continued doing creator-owned work both at Marvel’s Epic imprint as well as DC's Vertigo, before jumping into the world of superheroes while still hanging onto his style with DC Elseworlds books and work on Batman and Ultimate Marvel Team-Up. In recent years, he returned to the independent press to finish his debut series Transit and is now branching out with a new project.
Debuting this June and running for five issues, Ted McKeever’s Meta4 series sees the cartoonist return to his own creations and idiosyncrasies to tell the story of an amnesiac astronaut and a muscular woman who dresses up as Santa. For fans of his previous work such as Industrial Gothic and Metropol, this new series shows McKeever taking to the streets of New York where he tasks these characters to find themselves, while revealing a little bit about himself in the process.
Newsarama: Not much is known about Meta4 yet – so tell us Ted, what is it about?
McKeever: Basically it's a story of self-discovery. One man's answers for self become an expedition to overcome barriers that stand between the "presented us" and a recognition of our true inner selves. How the reality of those around us, and our participation in such a natural world society, never truly exceeds the limitations of human powers.
That's the deepest parts of it.
The main characters are The Astronaut (who will gain a name) and Gasolina, his esoterically gifted and very muscular female companion.
It also has a substantial amount of twisted romance and scientific comedic insanity, that traverses amongst the shady streets of Coney Island (as well as other more distant locals)
Newsarama: This journey of the Astronaut and Gasolina – what are they looking for?
McKeever: Well, now that would be telling. [laughs]
It's not so much "what" they are looking for, as a standard tale would have at it's base; it's more about how they are who they are, why they are, and what happens to cause those perceptions to change. It is their reactions to (and dealings with) strange and bizarre happenings, along with the isolation of a city, that becomes the focus of the story, rather than the happenings themselves.
Newsarama: And why are they traveling through New York City – and not say, Peoria or some where?
McKeever: Because, for me personally, that city holds more emotions and histories than I care to mention. Many things have transpired and happened in New York that have drastically changed my life. Not only being born there, but also over the years, I have spent more and more time, each year that I return to it, finding more and more secrets unlocked and altered. Both within myself, as well as the nooks and alleyways of the city.
That said, it also is a great city of such varied atmosphere, where you can be in the middle of a crowded jam-packed street corner, and feel totally and completely isolated and alone. Nowhere else have I experienced that feeling.
Newsarama: The Astronaut is coming into this with amnesia. Everyone out there has some memory loss – albeit not as drastic as he does, but we’ve all forgotten where our keys are at one point. Tell about your ideas of memories and forgetting it with this series.
McKeever: It's twofold. For the first example, we all have in us the ability to be two (or even more) people at the same time. Some of us have a "work-self" and then a "home-self". We can be polite and friendly so our partners, children or pets and yet be tyrannical to our co-workers or driving in our cars. It’s a sort of memory loss, or better said, more a memory aside. That we are able to consciously control how we behave, or remember who we truly are, based on our decision to do so at any given time.
That said, there is nothing more frustrating, for me personally, than to forget something. As you said, car keys, or a wallet, or whatever it might be. The moment I realize I can't recall where something is where I left it, or what I had planned on doing and then forget what that was, literally is like a punch to my gut. Why that is, I don't know for sure. It could be that having been sober for 8 years now, this is my way of remembering clearly how bad my life was back then, having spent too many inebriated days with absolutely no memory of where or who I was. To be asked now, by my son "Dad, do you remember when we went to that place . . . ?" to which my mind has absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever . . . I cannot express in words how painful and debilitating that is to experience.
I've had my share of moments where I can't remember chunks of time, even full days, and trust me when I tell you, it's a very unsettling and disturbing thing to experience.
Tapping into that, for me, is where a lot of Meta4 is coming from.
Newsarama: All of your recent work has been in color – both the work-for-hire and creator-owned – but Meta4 is in black & white. In an interview with Heidi MacDonald, you posited that 2010 would see an increase in B&W work. Can you tell me about your thoughts on B&W comics and specifically to Meta4?
McKeever: Color has been a symptom of the industry's need for the status quo. They say that to print a black & white comic cost almost as much (if not equal) as a color comic. They also say "give them more flash for their buck. " To which I respond, let the story dictate what format the book be. I mean, could you see classic brilliant films like Raging Bull or Manhattan being any better if they were in color? Just because the format is available doesn't make it appropriate for the project.
Marvel recently started up this wonderful return to their old B&W magazines of the 70's and 80's, and asked me to contribute to a few of them. That was a very cool thing to be a part of, and between those stories and me finally finishing the 6th chapter to my series Transit, I was reminded of how I longed for the B&W book to return. Not out of expense, not out of inferiority, but out of love and desire to create using its boundless graphic beauty to express an idea the way it needs to be.
Newsarama: This is a return to you to full fledged creator-owned work, after years of doing work-for-hire for DC, Marvel, IDW and Fox Atomic amongst others. What led to the return?
McKeever: As I previously said, Doing Transit's 6th chapter. While I was working on that, having never expected to ever be able to finish what had been left incomplete for so many years, I literally had this epiphany of me sitting at my desk 25 years ago scratching out the first 5 issues, along with Eddy Current, and it hit me. It hit me hard. I had no idea what I was doing back then and yet I created, and drew and wrote endlessly, tirelessly, stream of consciousness to the nth degree. And where had all that gone? Well, life gets in the way sometimes. But then again, sometimes you get to recapture that moment, redeem yourself in a moment of pure clean clarity. Grab it with both hands and strive forward without any hesitation. I like living creatively by the seat of my pants. And Meta4 is most certainly that
Newsarama: What’s it been like, to be able to cut loose more than you’re not working on somebody else’s character but on your own?
McKeever: Let's say, as a child, your favorite candy . . . your favorite anything was . . . candy corn. Now let's say as the years passed you developed diabetic symptoms, and for health and financial reasons you couldn't even smell the stuff without going into a sugar-induced spiral. Now let's say that, oh, about 15 years later your doctor says you're completely void of any diabetic problems and can eat as much and as many candy corns as you'd like.
What would you do? How would you feel? How happy would you be?
That is what it's like for me to work on my own creations again. Metaphorically speaking, of course.