Sunday, June 30, 2013

Behind the Times Review: Kill Shakespeare, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2: The Blast of War

Saturday, June 28 is a day that will forever live in my heart. I attended my first American Library Association (ALA) conference, held in Chicago, IL, one of my favorite cities. I accompanied and was accompanied by the lovely Liz Seeber of Assorted Leafs, who is definitely my boon companion in book nerdery. I began my journey at 0600 hours Saturday morning and rolled back into town around 9:00pm; a long day, to be fo sho, but worth every single second of it.

While awaiting the arrival of Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan of Bookends, Liz and I ended up down yonder in Artist Alley. I always visit Artist Alley at any convention I attend because there is always good times to be had. Artist Alley at ALA turned out to be the most magical place in all of Chicago:
  • I met Faith Erin Hicks , who I have loved and adored via the internet for many years. 
  • I met Matt Phelan and picked up a galley of his new book, Bluffton, which promises to be amazing (and is set in Muskegon, MI!).
  • I met Gene Yang and Thiem Phan, who were incredibly funny and charming and I can't wait to read their joint work, Level Up, and Yang's new Boxers & Saints graphic novels.
  • I may have gotten to shake hands with Cory Doctrow and I may have fan girled just a bit, which is totally not how I imagined that going. In my head, I was cool and intelligent and we briefly discussed our joint dislike of DRM, while reality looked a lot like, "omgcorydoctrowhiiiiii". Not my finest moment. 
At the end of one aisle of Artist Alley was a large banner with a bloody hand holding a skull that read, "Kill Shakespeare" - always an eye catching combination. Anthony Del Col, one of the co-creators of the series, was manning the booth and boy, does he know how to sell you a graphic novel. Well, in this case, he knew how to get me so excited about that it was one of the first things I told Cindy about when we finally met up and she liked the idea so much that she bought both graphic novels (and is letting me borrow them to read first because she's just BAMF like that).

The Amazon summary of the first novel is a little weak, but here it is: "This dark take on the Bard pits his greatest heroes (Hamlet, Juliet, Othello Falstaff) against his most menacing villains (Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Iago) in an epic adventure to find and kill a reclusive wizard named William Shakespeare." I imagined this to be like Shakespeare: Battle Royale as Del Col was explaining it to me but when I relayed this explanation to Cindy while standing in front of him, I got a look that clearly said, no, no that's not it at all.

In truth, there's more going on than can probably be summarized in a coherent fashion. The story pulled together characters and elements of many of Shakespeare's plays and gives them a new life. Kill Shakespeare was originally released in comic book format, then combined into two graphic novel collections. Vol.1 graced book shelves in 2010 and Vol. 2 arrived in 2012. Internet, I fully blame you for keeping this off my radar for so long because both of these are great and they should have been talked about more.

Vol. 1 sets up the tale, starting with Hamlet leaving Denmark on a boat bound for England. He has killed Polonius and his mother has forsaken him, leaving him just a big mess of angst. In keeping with the original play (and even giving a bit of a nod to Tom Stoppard's "Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"), the boat trip doesn't go well and Hamlet falls overboard. He awakens in the kingdom of Richard the Third and King Rich wastes no time laying out a quest for Hamlet with a nice, big carrot-onna-stick: Hidden in the forest is a man some call a wizard and some call a God, a man who is hurting the poor people of Richard's kingdom. Kill this man, says Richard, and I will have my three witches resurrect your father.

Spoiler: He's lying. Just a little bit.

If you're looking for something that stays true to the source material, this definitely isn't your game. There are some well placed quotes but that's about it. This is Del Col and McCreery's story and, for me, they nailed it. The character choices are well thought out and how they interact with each other makes them lively and worth following. For someone who always felt that some characters got the short end of the stick in their original tales, the graphic novels provide for a very different sort of ending.

Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 provide the first full story for Kill Shakespeare, but Vol. 3: The Tide of Blood, due out in October 2013, opens a whole new tale. I can promise you I will be right in line to pick this up - and don't worry, Cindy, it's on me this time!

Kill Shakespeare, Vol. 1

 Cover Art Issue #1

Kill Shakespeare Vol. 2: The Blast of War

 Cover Art Issue #1

Kill Shakespeare Blog - here be some fantastic art, including fan art and previews of the new Tide of Blood series!

Kill Shakespeare on Facebook.

Kill Shakespeare on Twitter.

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