An DCU:NG Email Interview with Karl Kesel

Sean: What first got you interested in comics, both as a hobby and as a career?

Karl: 1969. Ten years old. Family driving cross-country in car on vacation. Bored out of my mind. Thank God for comics sold at gas stations. I was hooked!

Sean: What was your first professional work in comics?

Karl: 1983. Marvel Age published (and paid me for) a sample page of Indiana Jones that I inked over Kerry Gammil. Joe Rubenstien critiqued it. Said some very nice things, like that I could probably be working professionally in the industry within six months -- and I was! But it was for DC— New Talent Showcase (can't remember the number), a story called "Bobcat" pencilled by Stan Woch. By my 25th birthday in 1984, I was inking Tales of the Legion— a full-time comics professional at last!

Sean: Since this site focuses on the young heroes of the DCU, let's find out your feelings on some of DC's teen heroes. Robin?

Karl: Great character. Chuck Dixon has really brought him into his own. I'd really like to see a close friendship develop between him and Superboy.

Sean: Impulse?

Karl: One of Waid's many wonderful inspirations. All-out fun.

Sean: Jurgen's Titans?

Karl: Solid team, especially considering some of the compromises Dan had to make to get the book going. I'm sorry it never really caught on. Risk will be showing up in Superboy 65.

Sean: Damage?

Karl: Another character with great potential. Should be interesting to see what Devin does with him in Titans. He'll also appear in Superboy 65.

Sean: Young Justicers like Secret, Wonder Girl, and Arrowette? CM3?

Karl: Peter's doing great stuff with these characters and their inter-actions. I'd like to reflect some of it in Superboy's own book, whenever possible. CM3. Love the character, hate the name. Hey-- he'll be in Superboy 65, too!

Sean: Why do you think teen heroes (especially sidekicks) and young heroes (Gen Xers like Dick Grayson and Jack Knight) are becoming popular again?

Karl: Two simple words: Reader Identification. No one wants to have to grow up to become Batman or Superman— they want to be a hero right now! Plus, the problems these heroes have are in many cases the same sort of problems the readers face. And since they're younger, they're automatically underdogs— and America loves to root for the underdog! (At least, I know I do!)

Sean: Let's get your take on Superboy. What makes him tick? What's his favorite color? What music does he prefer? What makes him such an unique character in the DCU?

Karl: Superboy's favorite color: The primaries— Red, yellow and blue, of course! Music: Alternative, definitely. Garbage, Hole, Barenaked Ladies, etc. Hates Top 40, mostly. (Not unlike myself, oddly enough). He loves adventure, having a good time, also loves being a hero, saving the day, basking in the spotlight. He is a total wish-fulfillment character— hopefully, he leads the sort of life and has the sort of adventures most of the readers would like to have.

Sean: How 'bout some of the current supporting cast? What's your take on Guardian?

Karl: The father-figure for Superboy, when Superman's not around. Looks out for The Kid. But he'll only stick around as long as he feels Superboy needs him.

Sean: The Mechanic?

Karl: Mickey's my favorite supporting character, with a very clear, simple motivation that I'd rather not reveal right now. He knows what he wants to do and is willing to roll up his sleeves and do it himself if need be. Doesn't matter what toes he steps on.

Sean: Sterling?

Karl: A genius who's never had a normal childhood. She sees a sort of Freedom in Superboy that she's never experienced in her own life. As things progress, the biggest question will be: should she and SB be just friends, or something more?

Sean: Tekka (and will we see more of her -- please)?

Karl: She'll definitely stick around. A free-love flower-child whose innocence and trust could get her into a lot of trouble.

Sean: Will we get to see a return of former cast members like Roxy (please!), Hillary, or Krypto?

Karl: Roxy will be back, definitely! Hillary and Krypto should show up in SB 67— our long-promised "Meanwhile, back in Hawaii" issue. (Unless it gets delayed ... again!)

Sean: How did you and Tom come up with the new direction for SB? Why such a drastic departure?

Karl: Tom and I left Superboy because we couldn't find a direction to take the book in that was unique and felt right. Our mistake the first time around was to treat Superboy like any other teen-hero book. The result was -- it was like any other teen-hero book! I think Ron Marz found the same sort of problem with the character. There was something about the approach that just wasn't clicking, as interesting as all the pieces were. After hearing Ron was thinking of leaving the book, I literally woke up in the middle of the night with the "Last Boy on Earth" story and a completely new approach to the book fully formed in my head! The high concept was pretty simple: Jack Kirby does Johnny Quest! I quickly called Tom, asking if he would be interested in going back to the book with me. Thank God, he was! As our editor, Mike McAvennie, said— the new approach felt like what should have been done with the book from the beginning. Couldn't agree more.

Sean: What's the story behind deciding to finally give SB a name? And why Kon-el? I mean, I know why in the story, but what made you decide to tighten the tie to Superman and since that tie is now made, do you feel that Clark should be more up-front with SB about his secret identity?

Karl: It was never originally intended for Superman to give Superboy a Kryptonian name but as I was writing the issue, he did! It was really a case of the characters writing themselves! I settled on Kon-el because I wanted a name that began with "K" and, of course, the "el" was a given. The relationship between Superman and The Kid will definitely tighten over the next year. And the issue of Superman's secret ID will come front-and-center, trust me.

Sean: Tell us a little about your approach to writing a comics story.

Karl: I'm lousy at analyzing what a book "needs" at any given point. Kurt Busiek and Dan Jurgens are very good at this, if you ask me, but I operate on a much more instinctive level. What would be cool? What could happen to Superboy that I, as a fan, would really love to see? What story would excite the fan in me? Luckily, at this point Tom and I have dozens of ideas that answer those questions! The next question is: of these ideas, which serves the character best, at this point in his/her/their development? I'm no where near as successful here, but I really try to find a way to make any given story advance the character in some way, big or small. Tom and I always talk over SB plots in detail, and he gives me lots of great suggestions (and points out story problems that I missed totally), and then I enter it all in the computer. I've found I really enjoy working plot/dialogue (a.k.a. "Marvel-style") since it gives me a second chance to polish the story and fix any errors when I get the pages back to dialogue them. Getting away from the story for a little while like that really helps me view it much more objectively.

Sean: Any teasers as to what's coming up in the book in the next few issue or even further down the road?

Karl: SB 65: Gala Guest-star issue! SB 66: Return to the Wild Lands! SB 67: Meanwhile, back in Hawaii! SB 68: A new villain called Ripjak. SB 69: Very likely the beginning of a new, major, important storyline. Four issues long. Not settled on anything definite yet, but Superboy in Space is looking pretty likely.

Sean: Which comics or characters would you most like to have a chance to do?

Karl: At DC: The Challengers of the Unknown (keep reading Hyper-Tension!) At Marvel: Fantastic Four.

Sean: Which creators would you most like to have a chance to work with? Who are your faves to work with so far?

Karl: I'd love to work with John Byrne or Steve Rude again, loved inking both of them, but I doubt I'll ever get close to John's pencils again, and Steve has a ton of Marvel projects lines up right now, and I'm exclusive to DC. Garcia Lopez would be a dream to work with. The Kubert Brothers. I'd even make time to work with their dad, Joe! Adam Hughes. Mike Wieringo. There's a ton more, but I'm very fortunate— Tom Grummet is an absolute joy to work with, writing and inking.

Sean: Any future plans or projects we should be looking for?

Karl: World's Finest, of course, and I've just started Superman/Savage Dragon, a one-shot cross-over with art by Jon Bogdanove. That's enough for me! Who do you think I am— Mark Waid or Kurt Busiek?

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