Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2018 is Joe Kelly, a writer, producer, penciller and editor, and creator of the lauded Eisner-nominated graphic novel I Kill Giants.
Illustrated by fellow Festival guest Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants was winner of the 2012 International Manga Award from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was named the one of the “Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens” by the Young Adult Library Services Association upon its release.
Joe also wrote the screen adaptation for I Kill Giants, which is now a feature film.
Kelly’s additional credits include Four Eyes, Bad Dog, BANG!TANGO, DC’s Action Comics and JLA, and Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and New York Times bestseller Spider-Man/Deadpool for Marvel.
As part of Man of Action Entertainment, Joe is one of the creators of the hit long-running animated series Ben 10 and one of the creators/executive producers and head writers on Cartoon Network’s Mega Man.
Joe, What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Joe Kelly: I’m working on a new graphic novel with Ken Niimura called Immortal Sergeant. I’m just in the scripting phase right now, so it will be a while before it hits shelves. Art just came in on a children’s book I wrote called Claire’s Hair, and I hope to see that in stores in half a year or so.
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Joe: Always tough to choose as I am proud of (nearly) all of my work, but the most complete piece that also happens to be one of my favourites is I Kill Giants, drawn by the aforementioned Ken Niimura. It’s available in shops, on Amazon, etc. The film adaptation, which I wrote and produced is also available all over. Very proud of that one too.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Joe: Ah, plans… When I am on the beam and properly working out my day, it looks like this:
Up at 6am to help see my kids off to school. Peck at emails and see what’s cooking.
(This is a bad habit. I should meditate instead or look at art/photography blogs, which I get to asap)
7.30 – eat breakfast at the local Panera – not sexy at all but quiet so by…
8.00 – 10.00 – I dedicate two internet-free hours to writing in said Panera, earplugs in.
10.30 – 1.00pm – Start work related to Man of Action (my company) which generally includes the shows we’re working on. Meetings, phone calls, etc. happen for the rest of the day.
1.00 – 2.00 – Lunch
2.00 – 5.30 – More MOA work. Calls and emails.
In a perfect world, which has not existed for some time, I meditate in the a.m. and don’t let work roll past 5.30. Trying to get back into those habits.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Joe: With the exception of writing a novel, I feel that the comic presents the most direct line to from a writer’s imagination to the audience experience because there are so few people involved. I think something up, an artist makes it better. An editor helps us both. Other artists add their craft for colouring, lettering, etc. Done.
I love animation, TV and especially film, but there is big money and an army of people involved. Comics streamlines the creative process.
And the worst?
Joe: That amazing process starts with me. So if I am not on the ball, or other work demands my attention, etc. the system collapses. Hence my body of unfinished work – Four Eyes (Sorry Max!), Bad Dog (Sorry, Diego!).
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Joe: Myself. Insecurity, fear, ego, etc. People will say it’s the internet or other people or other work, but the truth is that as creators we make or do not make the time to work. We follow or ignore the challenging path of creation from day to day because we’re mentally committed or we’re not. It’s 100% on us. (Creators, feel free to throw tomatoes… but then get back to work.)
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Joe: Easier in that traditional publishing is irrelevant thanks to the internet. One can be “discovered” by any number of means. That said, I know that the signal-to-noise ratio is high and it’s work to be seen or heard. Getting one’s art out into the world is always a challenge, but today’s creators are no longer shackled by a handful of gatekeepers at the major publishing houses.
Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?
Joe: I have and I loved it. I thought I’d stepped into a postcard. The town centre is lovely and the people are great. I’m very much looking forward to being there in October!
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Joe: Hard to say – I have been lucky enough to meet many of my comics’ heroes, if only for a brief hello.
Someone I’ve never met who I would love to break bread with is Naoki Urasawa. He’s an incredible storyteller and draftsman who, in my humble opinion, combines the best elements of manga and western comics. I’m a huge fan.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Joe: For me, comic art festivals- especially in Europe – are revitalising. The fact that the art and the books themselves are being celebrated over the swag and the merchandise and the other storytelling mediums brings it all home. Reminds me why I love this art form. Plus, it’s a chance to meet artists and writers from around the globe, get a look at art and perspectives I haven’t seen before.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Joe: Work every day until your work is complete. No one cares about a half-filled sketchbook of ideas. Pick one. See it through. Show it to the world. Repeat. The rest works itself out.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Joe: I’m always behind on comics – my To Read pile is embarrassing. That said, I’m working through Slott and Allred’s Silver Surfer and really enjoying it. A love letter to the 60s with a modern edge. Fantastic.
Joe, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you in Kendal!
• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival will be back in Kendal 12th – 14th October 2018. Tickets for the Festival are on sale now from: www.comicartfestival.com
JOE KELLY ONLINE
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The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.