Furious Five With Joe Keatinge: The Emerald City Comicon Edition [Interview]
Emerald City Comicon, a time when the “Seattle Freeze” thaws and comic creators, consumers, and costumers are welcomed into the city’s warm embrace. The event also marks the beginning of convention season, a frenzied (and friendly) whirlwind that will run until the close of New York Comic Con in October. In celebration of that beloved of all seasons — which has now managed to stretch to three-quarters of a year — we bring to you our Furious Five feature — five creators, five questions each. Allow ComicsAlliance to be your Grandmaster Flash as we race through the best of Emerald City Comicon. Next at bat? The always candid and charming Joe Keatinge, known for his work on Glory, Hell Yeah, and Morbius: The Living Vampire.ComicsAlliance: The start of convention season can almost feel like another iteration of “getting the band back together.” Time spent with peers in close quarters is a given — a dream when that creative spark hits, but a nightmare when a colleague demands that eighth stop at Top Pot Doughnuts. Your camaraderie with your fellow creators is well known. Who would you pick as your “roadies” for a convention tour? Why?
Joe Keatinge: Well, I don’t know if I’d call them “roadies,” as that seems demeaning, but yeah — I would definitely agree that one of the best parts of being on the convention tour is seeing everybody again. I’m lucky that some buddies make the same convention tour rounds I do, like Eric Stephenson, Ron Richards, Brandon Graham, and Moritat. Then again, each convention is a little bit different, usually varied by region.
For instance, I rarely see Ross Campbell outside of New York Comic Con, so if I’m there, I like spending a lot of time with him. There’s also a lot of Marvel and DC staff I love hanging out with there too who, again, I’d rarely ever see otherwise. I’m really lucky to have editors whose company I highly enjoy, like Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker from Morbius, but there’s also a lot of folks like James Viscardi, Ben Morse, Arune Singh, Ryan Penagos, Rickey Purdin, and Darren Shan, to name a few. Then there’s a bunch of retailers — folks like Dave Crispino from Collector’s Corner seem to be at every show. Plus, there’s all of Portland, which is kind of like living in a perpetual Comic Con at times. All of my studio mates at Tranquility Base are folks I’d be spending time with at cons if I didn’t already see them every single day.
In general, comics folks are good folks, so much so that if I listed everybody I like seeing here, we would use up the entire Internet.
CA: In earlier interviews, I asked your creative compatriots Kelly Sue DeConnick and Jeff Parker how they would use the Time Gem and Mind Gem to improve upon their realities given their comments on a writer’s need for time management and the ability to see into the mind of one’s character. Let’s say you’ve also partaken in this lucrative rumble with Thanos! While Kelly Sue cherishes her reign over all time and Parker plots with the aid of a Mind Gem, you pluck a Power Gem from the defeated Titan’s gauntlet. You’ve recently wrapped Glory, a work dealing with characters possessing (and expressing!) power levels intimidating to the common man. With unlimited power at your command — from the strength of ten athletes to the ability to break worlds — what would be the first task on Joe Keatinge’s agenda?
JK: With power comes endurance, right? Because if so, it’d be the ability to work without needing to rest at all. So, I could write a script without stopping. Sometimes I get in a creative groove and get physically exhausted just due to working so many hours, even though my labor basically consists of sitting on my a** and pressing buttons. It’s a workaround to get to what Kelly Sue mentioned. There’s just not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do. I have so many stories I want to work on, so many artists I want to collaborate with. While I’m a massive sleep fan, I’d use that gem to keep on writing and get way more done.
Plus — I don’t know, stop all war? Maybe make a river for a region in drought? Those would probably be good uses of godlike power as well.
CA: “Each one, teach one.” You’ve mentioned established industry figures such as Erik Larsen and Eric Stephenson granting you a foothold in comics and assuming the role of mentor during the early days of your employment at Image. Given your former role as an editor and marketing coordinator and current role as an established writer, you’ve now assumed a position as an individual capable of providing support and key opportunities to industry newcomers. What is the most valuable advice you’ve received and applied to your own work? And what is the most valuable advice you’ve imparted?
JK: The best advice I’ve ever received about writing comics came from Matt Fraction shortly after my first writing gig many a year ago where he said to “write the comics you want to read.”
It’s a simple statement, but I think it’s solid advice. A lot of folks get caught up in the bigger picture too much — what the audience will think of their work, what the market wants, etc. Screw it. Just write the comic you want to read. There’s a great Alan Watts lecture about what you’d do if money was no object and the end result is, well, do that. Don’t worry about the money, the reception. If you’re not true to yourself, then you’re going to put out some subpar work. Granted, on work-for-hire comics, there are usually more than a few voices involved, but I enjoy that. I like collaborating with people, taking the different perspectives and forming something entirely new.
Basically — don’t worry about it and just write. And yeah, y’know, there’s a good chance you’ll fail. I think every writer has failed on projects — I know I certainly have — but whatever. Do better next time.
And don’t worry about what people think. Don’t sweat reviews. Don’t worry about the reception. Sure, it’s nice to get kind words written up about something you created, but I don’t know — I find the awful reviews strangely flattering too. They still had a passionate reaction to something you did, however negative. I never get mad about them, even the folks who try to get personally insulting. First thing, no matter how hard you try to be vicious, you can never out-vicious the internal critique of a creator on their own work. Trust me, you have no idea.
Second thing, in general, I don’t get why people spend so much time, energy, and vigor on stuff and people they don’t like. I don’t like a ton of things and y’know what? I don’t dwell on them. There’s too much cool s**t out there. The stupid s**t can remain stupid s**t. I don’t need to spend the rest of my life whining that there’s stupid s**t out there. It seems pointless when I only have such a limited amount of time to be alive and appreciate the good stuff.
Also, don’t talk about what you want to write. Just write it. Just put words on paper or pixels or whatever. Don’t worry about other people’s process or how many pages they do a day. Do what works for you.
Oh, and another thing. Read stuff other than comics and read a lot of it. I read a crap ton of comics, but — man, if you want to write a comic book where Doctor Doom takes over the world? Reading other Doctor Doom comics will just make yours a carbon copy. Read about Napoleon. Read a newspaper. Some still exist. I like the New York Times.
Anyway, the point of these fifty tangents is this: when it comes to writing, in the end nothing else really matters, as long as you’re doing work you’re personally proud of.
CA: From Glory to Hell Yeah to snapshots of Brutal, we’ve seen some pretty visceral violence in the works you’ve created. Yet is there a line you’ve established that you will not cross in order to avoid impropriety — or do you feel comics should accurately reflect the violence found within humanity?
JK: I don’t know that anything I do accurately reflects violence in humanity. I mean, Jesus, do you know any giant monsters torn apart by massive warriors? Maybe it’s due to the lack of diversity in Portland, but I sure as hell don’t.
Look, I’m writing fiction. I think violence amongst actual humanity is a waste of damn time, but it does make for entertaining fiction. I respect the intelligence of people who read my stuff; they know fact from fiction, good from bad. It’s so condescending to worry about an audience reading something you’ve written, whether it’s a movie, comic, or video game and worry they’re going to try to act it out. Sure, there are a handful who do and guess what? They suffer from severe mental illnesses.
Anyway, yeah, sometimes violence is reflecting a larger theme, but sometimes it’s just a woman punching out a monster. That said, if it’s violent just to be violent and shocking for shock’s sake — that’s boring; that’s a waste of time. I think it needs to make sense for the story, be true to the characters and have some larger meaning to some aspect besides the punch itself. For instance, I don’t like the Hostel movies, because they seem to just dwell on the violence, glorify it. With Glory in particular, I try to show that this comic-book level of violence has massive, human repercussions. If you don’t have that, it’s just gross.
CA: Finally, you’ve mentioned that your next project, Intergalactic, is a tonal shift from your previous works. How so? And did you approach the project differently in comparison to your normal mindset when writing?
JK: Well, there are no giant monsters torn apart by massive warriors, to start with. Intergalactic has been really tough and slow to write for a number of reasons, mostly due to the format. I don’t want to do digital comics that are just cut up print comics. Image is going to eventually collect Intergalactic in print and my goal is to make it a huge pain in the a** for my collaborator, Ken Garing, and I to figure out how to actually make it work in print. That said, I’m loving it. It’s so different from anything I’m doing on a mechanical level, but also in terms of tone — there aren’t any aliens. There’s nothing all that fantastical. All the technology could exist if we stuck with the space program with the same vigor as our military-industrial complex. It’s definitely a challenge to write, but it’s a challenge I love.