All Roads Lead to Shutter: An Interview with Joe Keatinge

Joe Keatinge’s star might still be rising, but his place in the industry was secured after the launch of his acclaimed run on Glory in 2012. Since then, books like Hell Yeah, DC Comics Presents, Morbius: The Living Vampire, and Marvel Knights: Hulk have (relative merits aside) served as stepping stones to Keatinge and artist Leila del Duca’s newest creator-owned series, Shutter.

Joe kindly took some time to chat with me about life, comics, and his new book. There was also some wine and a sandwich, which have been edited for your reading pleasure.

LM: So Joe, you’ve been in the industry for quite awhile now, doing things like color flats and editing before settling into writing. How has the ride been for you so far?

JK: I’ve always wanted to write comics. The fact that I’ve somehow been able to do this is weird – and good – and I’m thankful for it. There’s ups and downs, but at the end of the day I sit in an office in my favorite city on earth and I write comics. I kind of lucked out. And now I’m working with Image and Marvel, and they’ve both been pretty great. I’m liking it, man. Comics is a good gig.

LM: I feel like people often point to you as a fan turned creator. Would you agree with that, or is this something you’ve always wanted to do and pursued from early on?

JK: Absolutely! I don’t remember a time in my life when comics didn’t exist. I certainly have other interests, but comics is the oldest one I have. I have to guess that comics for me started with inserts into toys, like Transformers and GI JOE.

I tell this story a lot, so I’ll be brief – but I remember reading Spawn #10, which was a weird comic… the Dave Sim issue… and I didn’t get it. It was about creator owned comics and the history of comics, and it didn’t make any sense to me. So I read it over and over again, and I realized people actually make these comics, and that was something I could do – I could make comics. Both of my parents are writers, and I’m a big reader, so I guess writing was what I naturally leaned into – plus I can’t draw.

Over many years I was convinced it wouldn’t happen for me, but then I decided to really pursue it. I was going to college at the time to become an English professor and I hated it. So my then-girlfriend asked what I really wanted to do and I said “comics.” It’s always been comics, but you know that just doesn’t happen. So when my dad encouraged me to go to San Fran and try out comics for a year, I did that.

(Soon)… A friend of mine was drawing backups for Savage Dragon and their color flatter quit, so they asked me if I knew how to use Photoshop. I did not – but I was like “Sure, I’ll figure it out.” So that got me to know people like Erik Larsen, and then because of that friendship I would hang out at conventions and stuff. “Breaking into comics” is all bullshit. My long, convoluted way continues…

So I volunteered to run an Image booth at Wizard World 2004, and after that a friend didn’t want to run his booth, which actually belonged to Robert Kirkman. I ran that booth, and then Larsen came up to me and offered me a job. It was a huge opportunity for me, but eventually (years later) it became clear that it was time for me to move on. So I did, and basically failed for a year. By then I was putting together Hell Yeah, and that book got noticed by Rob Liefeld, so I was asked to pitch on Glory, which has launched everything for me. I’ve got this Adventures of Superman thing coming out (3/10/14 digital release) and that’s directly from Glory, and now the next stage is Shutter. I feel that everything has been leading to Shutter, you know?

LM: How many titles are you currently writing?

JK: That’s hard to quantify, because there are lots of things in different stages. In April I have nine books coming out. Shutter I’m actively scripting, I’m pitching on a few things, working on a few unannounced things, revisions on Age of Ultron, etc. I guess I’d say I’m always working on four books with a fifth slot open for short stories or random fun shit. The Vertigo Quarterly: CMYK (Cyan) that I’m working on with Ken Garing, for example. Stuff like that.

LM: You’ve just finished your Hulk run. Do you have a favorite Hulk book?

JK: I remember my dad took me to Superior Comics in Santa Monica, which is now long gone. He dropped me off and I looked around forever, and they had a comic I had never read before called Fantastic Four. On the cover was Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Hulk, and it was drawn by Art Adams and written by Walt Simonson. The whole conceit was, according to my eight-year old brain, that the Fantastic Four are fucking dead and now these guys have taken over the book. That’s all I know. So I had this one issue that I thought was the best issue I’d ever read in my life, and I assumed I would go back and I could get the next book. But I went back and the Fan Four are alive again, and it’s drawn by someone else. But it’s still one of my favorite issues, I think it’s amazing. That shit blew my mind.

LM: What else are you putting time into these days?

JK: I mean Shutter is work, but it’s something I really enjoy doing. I do draw for myself. I read a ton and watch a ton of movies. I’ve been doing these iPhone game things called Survivor Z, which came out at San Diego Comic Con last year and I’ll probably do some more for those guys. All sorts of shit. There’s nothing that supersedes comics for me, though. Where comics are at now, you can do anything you want! I don’t think Shutter could have existed three years ago.

LM: Give us the rundown on Shutter. What can readers expect from this book?

JK: SHUTTER is an ongoing series mixing up everything Leila and I love about… well, basically everything — Planet Earth. International travel. Intergalactic travel. Science fiction. Science fact. Giant monsters. Robot cats. Real life explorers. Fake life explorers. The multiverse. Lions in pinstriped suits carrying giant guns. Ninja ghosts. A whole lot more. All told from the perspective of Kate Kristopher, who used to be the world’s most famous explorer before she quit for reasons no one else understands, until a family secret draws her back into the life she fought hard to leave behind.

LM: Where did the idea for the series come from?

JK: I’ve been doing a lot with the subject of family, and Shutter is partly that. It’s really the thing that my life has been leading to – being fascinated by family and the human experience. I loved Tintin growing up, Corto Maltese as an adult, just exploring this world and how amazing it is that we exist at all – that’s just fascinating. It’s just one of those things. Hell Yeah was me writing a comic about why I got into comics and what I loved about comics growing up – Shutter is where I want to go in comics, in life, what’s going on next.

There’s all sorts of shit it comes from – figuring out your place in the world and in life. I research this book every day via National Geographic or Atlas Obscura or whatever. I think to myself “I want to write about this part of the world now because it’s something I didn’t know existed and it sounds like it’s out of a Jack Kirby comic!” I like writing about ninjas – there are ninja ghosts in there. And part of the book is Leila – she can draw anything – and she pushed me to challenge her in terms of visuals.

The first go-round of Shutter was super grounded, because I wanted to write my own Corto book basically, but then I met Leila… This book had never worked before, it was half done. The other half was her. If we hadn’t met I don’t think this book would have happened. There’s nothing in this book we can’t do. There’s no one at Image saying “don’t do this.” We say this is a mature readers book because we want someone to be able to curse when they get bad news. I just wanted a place where I could tell a story with my collaborators in the settings we find interesting, and hopefully publish. That’s kind of it.

This is the point where I had wanted to ask Joe about writing women characters, since he does them so well, but he seemed to sense where I was headed and had this to say:

JK: I’ve become really fascinated with interviews and the art of the interview. Playboy started doing these things where they compiled their interviews on the Kindle for nothing, and there’s a quote from Ingmar Bergman that I really like, which is from 1964. Fifty fucking years ago! Here it is:

“You’re going to ask how it is I understand women so well. Women used to interest me as subjects because they were so ridiculously treated and shown in movies. I simply showed them as they actually are–or at least closer to what they are than the silly representations of them in the movies of the Thirties and Forties. Any reasonably realistic treatment looked great by comparison with what was being done. In the past few years, however, I have begun to realize that women are essentially the same as men, that they both have the same problems. I don’t think of there being women’s problems or women’s stories any more than I do of there being men’s problems or men’s stories. They are all human problems. It’s people who interest me now.”

I remember when I was doing a lot of Glory press everyone was like, “What’s the deal with writing women?” I just writing human beings, you know? Half the world’s population. I don’t read Pretty Deadly or Velvet because they star women, I read them because they’re awesome books. That’s it. I find it disturbing that it’s 2014 and there is still this issue with writing women – that we’re still having this conversation.

I don’t want to get too personal, but it’s been an interesting year. I’ve had a couple people pass away on me, and it’s really changed my view on some things/reaffirm others. You’ve just gotta do your thing. We’re all gonna die. We’ve gotta create the things we want to create and put them out there. I just want to put the things out there that reflect the world that I want to see.

LM: You’ve set two books in France, and you seem to have a big affinity for the country and culture itself. Why is that, and can we expect to see any in Shutter?

JK: There’s a lot going on there. Every superhero book is in New York! Like you can’t have a superhero book in another goddamn city?! I went to France for the first time in 2010 and it changed my life. It was a culture I really enjoyed, a history I find fascinating. I got to see human creation and engineering from this zero point.  Everything that I believe comes out of the notion of creation, not destruction. Infringing upon the life and liberty of someone else is where the bad shit comes from. So yeah, it’s just a culture I’m into. Glory obviously took place in France, the Normandy region seemed like a good place to put it. In the Hulk, my point was to set this really American idea in a completely different setting and see where it went from there. With Shutter, it’s about setting things on a larger international scale. I think humanity is amazing, so it’ll be a very international book.

LM: I wanted to ask “SUP WIDDAT?” in regards to some of your titles that have been sort-of-announced, but not released yet. First off, Null/Void.

JK: This is a book James Harvey and I have been talking about doing for awhile. I originally saw his stuff on Robot 6, and I was like HOLY FUCKING SHIT. So we met up and got along really well, we tweeted about it, but the more I talked to him about it, the more clear it was that it was HIS story, and I was unsure of what I could contribute. So I’m still helping him with little things, but otherwise he’s writing and drawing it. It’s just one of those things that we talked about and it became something else. What I am here to do now is just be his cheerleader. I look at his stuff and I think he’s going to be one of those guys that we talk about for a really long time and who could have a substantial impact. I think the last person I thought that about was Brandon Graham. I think James is the next person in line. Fiona Staples and Emma Rios too, all have that potential.

LM: What about Intergalactic

JK: That’s happening through Image, though it was originally announced as Monkey Brain. As Ken and I put together the series, it became clear that the story wasn’t matching up with the digital format. So it’s happening, but we’re not talking about it till we’re done. The thing I’ve learned about talking about stuff too early or things being late is this – shut up until you’ve got three issues in the can, and don’t publish it until you’ve got about five or six. And that’s what we’ve been doing on Shutter. I read comics and I think it’s shitty when it takes a year for the next comic to come out, but you know, lessons learned.

LM: HELL YEAH?

JK: The only thing I feel really bad about is that we have a pretty substantial fan base and they’ve been awesome to us, and that book helped launch everything. We’re gonna finish it. We’re stocking up issues and we’re going to release them, like four more issues and the story is done. We might do some minis or one-shots too, but that’s the far flung future.

LM: Lastly, Brutal.

JK: Ask Frank Cho. When he’s ready to do it, I’m ready to finish writing it. I think we just have to shut up till it’s ready to go. It’s my hard and fast rule now. None of these were even officially solicited.

LM: There’s been a lot of discussion over Eric Stephenson’s Image speech as to whether it was on point or not. What was your take on it?

JK: I don’t think his point was that Star Wars comics are invalid, or shouldn’t exist. His point was that in the end, licensed comics serve the brand, not the medium. Eric is one of the smartest guys in comics; he realizes that lots of people get into comics through licensed stuff. Dark Horse has had Star Wars for 20 years, 20 YEARS, and because they want to better serve the brand, it’s moving to Marvel. His point was that if you’re trying to promote the medium of comics in the long term, licensing is maybe not the best way to do it, because in the end it’s a temporary thing that serves the brand, not the medium. The best way to promote the medium is new ideas.

LM: Final question! If you could be any character you’ve ever written, who would you be and why?

JK: I’ve done a bunch of horrible shit to my characters, so I’m not sure I’d want to be any of them? I guess Kate Kristopher. That’s whose head I’m in the most. But the cheesy answer I feel like is that each character represents something else, but the world that Kate resides in is the world Leila and I have built, and I also credit (colorist) Owen Gieni as well. There’s no restrictions, she’s going all over the world, I wanna go all over the world. So yeah, Kate Kristopher.

Shutter is slated for release on April 9th from Image Comics.

2 thoughts on “All Roads Lead to Shutter: An Interview with Joe Keatinge

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