It's not often that a comic book creator has the opportunity to complete an unfinished project years after it began, but Ted McKeever was able to do so with the Library Edition of TRANSIT. He has followed up that accomplishment with another critically acclaimed series at Shadowline, META4. Just before taking off for the insanity that is the SDCC experience, McKeever took the time to answer 10 Questions for Shadowline Online.
1) You've mentioned in another interview that META4 was somewhat autobiographical. Does that mean it was easier or more difficult for you to write?
Both actually. Easier in that unlike writing "about" something far out fantastical and having to stretch the imagination, the basic core premise and theory were laid out already. Most of the underlying story and theme of META4 were deeply personal, from experiences or thoughts had over years, and so it was just a matter of tapping into those. But then that's where the difficulties came in. Delving that deeply caused me to have to re-face and remember extremely hard times I had gone through. It had moments of extreme revelations that were actually theraputic for me to finally exorcise out of me and bring to light feelings I had not yet come to terms with. It was far from easy, but once I started actually doing the art I stopped trying to pick and chose what to show and say and let the honesty dictate. At that point the floodgates opened and I just let it all come out onto the page.
2) Do you draw inspiration from other forms of media (movies, TV, other artists) when designing the worlds you create in your stories?
If anything inspires me, it would be music. I don't read a lot of other artists' work these days. I'm also not a big television-watcher. There are certain shows I was into, but those were few and far between. Movies, for the most part, I watch as much as I can, but then again I go through phases of seeing a few, then none at all. Lately, the last decade or so has been a big mess of candy-filled unhealthy movies with only a handful worth remembering. I feel that "movies" are the stuff they make now, while "films" are what they were when then had heart. In 1974, when I was 14, I was an usher in a theater and that was when the usher stayed in the theater the entire showing making sure the temperature was set and the people were quiet during three shows a night. The quality of films from back then, they just don't make them like that anymore: Godfather Part 2, Young Frankenstein, Taxi Driver, Missouri Breaks... they just came out one brilliant film after the next, and I ate them up. But nowadays... eh.
Anyway, back to the question at hand. The words my characters speak, and the ideas that run through the stories come mostly from my head. Dialogue is like the radio for me. I listen to people speaking, change the words, but use the tones and intent. The world around me is like one big verbal grocery store. All I have to do is squeeze and find the ripe stuff, and cut out the soft mushy parts.
3) As someone who does everything in the process of creating a comic book, what title do you prefer: Writer/Artist? Cartoonist? Something entirely different?
I've always been okay with Writer/Artist. I mean, that's what I am. I just feel it lacks anything fitting for what we do (that being those of us who write and illustrate as opposed to doing one or the other). I like single words that describe a person's choice of field though. Musician, sculptor, physician. "Creator" works okay, but to me it sometimes sounds more like a kind of Dr Frankenstein. Maybe Creatist, instead?
4) What is the oddest thing you have ever experienced at a comic convention?
Only one? Sheesh.
Okay, it was at SDCC about two years ago, I was walking into the men's room, and aside from the damp echoey disarray that IS the men's room at the con (and those who've been there know exactly what I mean) there is this guy standing at the urinal dressed head-to-toe in one of those thousands-of-dollars exact replicas of a Stormtrooper in black armor (EDITOR'S NOTE: TIE pilot -- Geeky Marc). He had the helmet, boots, gloves, holstered guns, all of it. The only problem was, I guess, with the helmet on, his vision was seriously limited. And so there he is, standing "facing" the urinal, doing his thing, only he's not 100% straight on target. He's slightly turned to the left. And while humming some tune in his suffocating helmet, he's oblivious to the sound and fact he's missing the urinal completely and graffitiing the wall next to it with his... Force.
That one always struck me as the funniest of the odd. Some day I'll tell you about the one that can't ever see print though. Heh.
5) The Ted McKeever Library Edition of Transit finally allowed you to release the completed story to fans. Was it liberating to get that done?
Totally liberating, yes. It was years and years of having that series be the one and only project I've done that was never completed. I had worked on a few series since then, like Doom Patrol that got cut short for one reason or another, but it had closure. Rachel Pollack and I were able to end the series with a finale. But Transit literally had just the one issue left and it never got done. Being that I'm very specific about finishing something, it was a huge thorn in my side. So having the opportunity to complete it was a huge creative weight lifted from my shoulders. That said, it also was extremely sad for me to say goodbye to a series that because of it's incompletion, had been a constant flickering film in my head for so many years, unfulfilled and yet fully formed. When I finished the last panel, it was like shutting down a show that had run its last reel.
6) Do you get more enjoyment from either writing or drawing a comic?
Honestly I love drawing, it fuels me in ways that nothing else does. But writing gives me the freedom to explore subjects and locations that I find inspiring to draw. When I'm writing, I relish the open road to drive down any path I so choose. But then when I'm illustrating those themes, I am totally enjoying being immersed in it. It's kind of like a dog chasing its tail.
7) In META4, the character Gasolina speaks in Dingbats. Do you speak any other languages?
Unfortunately not. I've always found it fascinating to be able to speak another language and yet, for whatever reason, my brain just doesn't retain the ability to do it.
8) What changes have you seen in the comic industry since you got your start back in 1987?
Comics used to be self-contained expressions of the imagination, created for and by people whose end goal was the printed page. Ideas and stories cultivated and illustrated with the sole purpose of being read and seen on pulp paper that was folded and stapled in all its 6X10 inch glory. We had films and television shows "based" on them, but for the most part, those were side projects that tapped into an audience's need for extra stuff. But now, 25 years later, we have these big overblown lumbering films that suck whatever passion was put into the original comics and regurgitates out some fast-food altered version "they" think works better. But that's more about how "Hollywood" has taken control. As far as the comics industry goes, the biggest change from back then is the lack of variety. If it wasn't for guys like Jim Valentino at Shadowline and Image, the diversity of a medium that I love so much would be all but gone. They at least put out books for the audience who wants something different.
I understand about "sales." I'm not blind to commerce, but I will not accept the fact that there is no longer an audience out there who would enjoy a seriously good comic series that has nothing to do with flying folks who sport lazer-shooting rings that can't be hurt; characters who still die once and a while and then come back in some massive celebrational hoopla only to go right back to the status quo like nothing ever happened. Nothing is for certain, especially these days, but at least companies like Image give it a shot and do it with heart. People like Jim are from a time when handshakes meant something, when they used to be a bond as strong as any contract.
But now, all a handshake does is pass bacteria.
9) If you were not involved in comics, what sort of alternate career do you think you would have pursued?
Some kind of construction job. A bricklayer.
10) What one question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview but haven't, and what is the answer to that question?
It's more a response to a question I was once asked by Frank Miller. We were in the back of a cab in New York talking about comics in general, and he started on how we, as comic book artists and writers, don't need editors and then asked me if I agreed. Well, no, I don't agree. We DO need editors. Good editors who know their craft and have a talent that befits their title. I believe a good editor can pull out of you what you are unable to by way of self-doubt or losing your way creatively. I've worked with some of the best editors in this industry. Heck, in ANY industry. Editors like Archie Goodwin, Neal Pozner, and the smartest man I have ever known and my best friend Lou Stathis. These were completely accomplished men and gifted editors all. They made whatever they oversaw and edited BETTER than it would have been without their inclusion.
Equally as genius as they were, and in a day when "editors" seem to be more frustrated-writers who put their "opinions" in place of true leadership guidance and conduction, there is one man I have the utmost respect for on all those same appreciative levels: Jim Valentino. He is, in my humble opinion, on the same level as those I mentioned before. Discerning publicist, profound editor and one very exceptionally brilliant human being. So yes, we DO need editors, darn good ones that make US better, and for that I am grateful for their place in this industry.
Ted McKeever is at the SDCC this weekend signing advance copies of the META4 TP and avoiding members of the 501st in the men's room. The META4 TP will see wide release on August 3rd and will be available for purchase online and at your local comic shops.