Transforming Shakespeare 2: The Bard and “Argentinean Knife Fights”

Full of bravura sequences and fantastic storytelling, the seventh issue of Kill Shakespeare stands out as one of the most imaginative in a thoroughly successful series. With the 12-issue series entering is final act, this article and the next will briefly examine some of its highlights.

This is the issue that bears the strongest comparisons with Neil Gaiman’s classic work in The Sandman, in terms of blending familiar literary characters in a fantasy world that surpasses simple pastiche and offers moments of exuberance and fascinating creativity.

By this point in Kill Shakespeare, the “rules” of this world have been established, and we have a grasp on the characters and their motivations. This is a point in the story where co-creators Anthony del Col and Conor McCreery indulge in lavish and extravagant storytelling, where the visuals push the narrative boundaries in ways that compliment the story in unusual, intriguing and exciting directions. This is a point where it feels like this comic is really something special.

With many pages framed by curtains and many panels framed in baroque picture frames, this issue focuses on a play that takes place one night while Hamlet, Juliet, and their team rest in between battles. As in Hamlet proper, this play-within-a-play draws explicit parallels to events taking place in the lives of the audience, primarily young Hamlet.

When the Dane bursts backstage to confront the players, he encounters a mystical hall of mirrors, and together with Juliet, who follows after him, they must confront their pasts. Because their stories are so well known, it’s fascinating to witness Del Col and McCreery imagining alternative lives for these characters — in Juliet’s case, we witness what takes place after the end of her famous story; Hamlet’s alternative life follows a significant point midway through his original story. In Kill Shakespeare, Hamlet is even allowed to utter, “I am fortune’s fool.”

In part two of an exclusive three-part interview, Kill Shakespeare‘s co-creators Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery discuss their writing process and the response from critics, comics and Shakespearean authorities (read part one). Part three will conclude our interview and features an appreciation of issue nine, when we finally meet the elusive William Shakespeare.

PM: How do you approach a subject as massive as Shakespeare, in terms of adapting his characters and stories? Was it intimidating?

Conor McCreery: It is intimidating in its way. Obviously these are characters that are very important to a great number of people. But really there have been SO many interpretations of these characters that we feel we’re just the latest in a long line of people playing with the Bard’s creations. Now we’re doing something that is, if not unique, at least very unusual – but we still feel like a distant cousin at worst.

Anthony Del Col: We knew that we would have some critics who would object to the concept of slightly revising some of the characters but we welcome that. Anything that gets people talking about a writer who died almost 400 years ago is fantastic in our eyes.

PM: What has been the biggest surprise in adapting Shakespeare to your story? Have you had any insights into his work?

ADC: The biggest insight is discovering how many fans of Shakespeare there are in the most unlikely of places! The general perception is that most people don’t like his work because of bad high school teachers but a lot of people have connected to one of his plays or a particular character. Shakespeare was such a great writer that he made stories and told ideas that would appeal in different ways to different people.

CM: I’m always amazed at what a humanist the Bard is. The man understood human nature like few artists ever have. And even more pleasingly to me Shakespeare actually LIKES people. I find his plays always give me faith in people – even when someone is losing a tongue or an eye. (To be fair I may have set the bar particularly low for my fellow man.)

PM: What has been the most exciting/surprising/fun aspect of the project in general? What do you look forward to the most from issue to issue?

CM: My favourite part is seeing Andy’s pencils for the first time. Seeing the words come to life and seeing Andy’s mind at work is always a source of great joy for me. Except when he’s drawing little men on horses in the background – then we get into Argentinean knife fights.

ADC: My favourite part is to watch the Argentinean knife fights between Conor and Andy…

PM: What has the response been like from readers, industry people, Shakespeare authorities? Patton Oswalt provides a great cover blurb (“Kill Shakespeare is full of dark laughs, shocking alliances, bad puns and wild violence. Like the best of Shakespeare himself…”)–how did that come about?

ADC: Most people really like the series. A lot of Shakespeare authorities enjoy any take or interpretation of the Bard so they’ve gotten behind this – especially since it’s drawing in a new, younger crowd. The Folger Shakespeare Library, one of the top Shakespeare institutes in the world, had us do a talk last month and were impressed that so many new people were in the audience.

CM: Full credit to Anthony he did whatever it took to get those blurbs. I still think we have some kidnapped family members in his storage unit.

ADC: No comment.