We fantasize about having superpowers, but how many of us consider how the rest of the world would react? Joe Keatinge, the Harvey and Eisner Award-winning editor of the PopGun anthology, imagines a world in which superheroes are the new sports and movie stars with his new series, Hell Yeah. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the series and his thoughts going into it. Here’s what he had to say.
The world of Hell Yeah is one in which people with superpowers have rendered sports and action movies obsolete. Are there other areas of society that have been affected, and can you give us a hint as to how?
Joe Keatinge: Yeah, the first issue really only begins to touch on just how superpowers existing affects all different parts of society. Getting into it too much would be spoiling a lot of what’s to come, as it’s a major part of the series. It’s in its DNA, how it got inspired from the get go. While I absolutely loved Watchmen, I was always put off by the decades of imitators it inspired, who thought the end result of superheroes on the real world was just sad and depressing. The Image debut and future titles such as Milligan & Allred’s X-Men showed there could be much more than that, but it was always from the perspective of the big guns. I wanted to see what those worlds would be like from the perspective of someone who’s not a celebrity superhero. I wanted to explore what it’s like to be raised in a world where people have magic rings, time machines, magic imp fans and all that other crazy stuff from throughout comics history that sometimes gets shelved because it’s deemed too weird. I’m all about that.
Ben Day is about as close as you can get to being an ordinary college kid for all his superpowers. What made you decide to make your protagonist be as typical as he could be?
JK: To get into all the super-world has to offer, you need to do from the perspective of someone who doesn’t appear all that superhero. Ben’s kind of a dick. His powers aren’t all that fantastic. He’s not a genius by any stretch of the imagination. He’s not a guy who’s compelled to make a pair of colorful tights and wear them while running across roofs to stop muggers. He just wants to hang out with his friends and dick around. Circumstances obviously dictate he do otherwise, but that comes later.
Was Hell Yeah inspired by any real-life events, or did the series get its start with you wondering what would happen to our world if a race of supermen appeared?
JK: I think it’s imperative for any work have a core element of truth to be worth reading. Fantastic plots without experience are empty. I never had superpowers, my dad certainly didn’t go through the things Ben’s did, but this book is packed full of things from things that have happened in the real world and even my own life.
Do you mind saying what kinds of events inspired you?
JK: There’s a lot in there that wouldn’t seem to directly connect to someone if they just read the book. There’s a lot of the times when I’ve fallen in love, the times when I’ve had my heart broken, the times when I’ve gotten in fights, the relationships I’ve had and missed on having. That kind of thing. Possibly too much to get into in an interview about a comic where people are punching each other out, but I will say it has helped to have both thrown a punch and taken a more than a couple to actually write a fight scene.
I will say my first trip overseas, to France (specifically Angouleme and Paris), really changed my life. It made me rethink everything I was doing, made me remember what I really wanted to do, and put me on the direct path that has led to this book going from something I talked about to something that exists. There’s nothing quite like drinking into the wee hours of the morning in Paris to really inspire someone.
One of the things that really comes through in the first issue is your enthusiasm for the story and the characters. Did your whole creative team feel this way about the issue?
JK: I’m thrilled to know that comes through. This series is the absolute definition of passion project. The best advice I ever got about writing was to “write the comic you want to read” and this is certainly it. That being said, I do get the impression it was a mutual feeling. Hell Yeah had a different artist a couple of years ago and it was an absolute disaster in just about every possible way. In fact, it was so bad I had given up on it ever happening.
Then I met Andre Szymanowicz and he was a guy who really shared my enthusiasm for comics. The guy loves them just as much as I do and wants nothing more than to create them. He really gelled with Hell Yeah from the get-go and has been the ideal collaborator. I’m glad to hear it shows.
You’ve also got your reboot of Glory coming up. What caught your eye about that series? How did the collaboration with Rob Liefeld contribute to it?
JK: [Image Comics publisher] Eric Stephenson asked me to pitch. He’s been a big supporter of me writing for the last several years, seeing stuff that I don’t think anyone has seen. When he asked if I would be interested, I didn’t even hesitate. Being part of a relaunch of Extreme is something I have wanted to be a part of for the last couple of decades. It took no convincing.
Rob is amazing. I worked with him for years at Image and – yeah, talk about enthusiasm. That guy is infectious. I think people might get the wrong impression of his view on comics. He is into checking out just about anything and is one of the biggest supporters of new talent from the get-go. Way back when I was a colorist he was one of the first huge creators to offer any help and support I needed. Dude’s a great guy. The dude explodes with ideas all the time. His naysayers drive me nuts, because if you look at the way Marvel IP development has been run for since the early 90s, you can see just how influenced it still is by what Rob did then. Deadpool is one of their most popular characters in recent memory, and Cable just kickstarted one of their biggest crossovers ever. There’s a reason DC just set him up with plotting three different titles.
My point is this: having him to work with and bounce ideas off of has been tremendous. It’s a major opportunity, and one I’m very thankful to have.
To talk about your past work for a minute, you won awards for the comic anthology PopGun. What void in the graphic world did you feel the anthology filled? Do you see yourself filling a similar void with Hell Yeah and Glory?
JK: I’m not sure PopGun filled a void as much as it created a lot of new opportunities. People who were never heard of before that book have now gone on to a lot of success, both in and out of comics. Is it because of PopGun? I don’t know about that, but to me it was the war call of this new era where young creators were raised on the notion that creating your own work was an endgame. It wasn’t just some dude in Canada or three brothers in LA. It’s a major part of why people start making comics now.
As for Hell Yeah and Glory, well, that remains to be seen.
Now that we’ve got a bit of backstory on Ben, his family, and the circumstances surrounding the world’s first true superheroes, is there anything you can tell us about the series’ future?
JK: I’d rather keep those answers in the books, but I do believe the journey in discovering the answers to these questions and many others will be well worth the ride.
Take the ride for yourself when Hell Yeah # 1 hits digital and physical bookstore shelves March 7th.
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Written by Bree Kornblum Katz (@breekatz)
Bree writes when she is not skiing off cliffs, facing down funnel clouds, or plumbing the depths of the internet. She's published short stories with Dead Dog Press, Six Sentences, and BlazeVOX and currently blogs about her hair-raising experiences in the Rocky Mountains at extremetothemax.com. She's still waiting on her… More »
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