In my latest interview, I had a chat with Eisner winning author Sean McKeever where we discussed representing our birth state, writing for BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic video game, and the Billy Ray Cryus comic that somehow was.
Colin Hollister: As some of our readers may have noticed, The Capeless Crusader is based out of Madison, WI, with much of our staff being proud Wisconsin natives. You too are Wisconsin born, which stands to reason when considering many of the characters you’ve created throughout your career—such as Juston Seyfert from Sentinel and Greg Willis from Gravity, both of whom are Wisconsinites. How important is it for you to have the state represented in your writing?
Sean McKeever: I grew up on Marvel comics, and so much of that material was centered around New York City. I often found myself thinking about what it would be like to have superheroes in rural areas, like in Eagle River, where I was raised. So, by the time I got the opportunity to write my first Marvel comic—an issue of The Incredible Hulk—I’d been living in Ohio for a few years and feeling very nostalgic toward Wisconsin, and I decided I’d tell a story about a down-and-out super-villain knocking over convenience stores in Wausau, where there were no more super-powered good guys to stop him…except for the freaking HULK who happens to lumber through town.
Later, when I was asked to pitch both Sentinel and Inhumans, it made a lot of sense to have those stories take place in a Midwestern environment, so why not Wisconsin? By placing both stories in proximity to one another—even though Antigo and Madison aren’t exactly close—it also offered the opportunity for a crossover down the road (which, sadly, I never got to do). Using Wisconsin was definitely a mix of “write what you know” and working through the bittersweet feelings I had toward my home state, which I adore but never want to live in, ever again. I don’t know how Neil Gaiman does it. Or you, for that matter.
CH: One of the greatest tragedies in all my years of comic book collecting, and I say this with great sincerity, has been Gravity’s inability to maintain a prominent foothold in Marvel comics. When he debuted in the five-issue Gravity limited series in 2005, and shortly after when he appeared in Beyond and a Fantastic Four story arc, to me it seemed as if he was on track to be the next Spider-Man, so to speak. As the character’s co-creator, alongside Mike Norton (who, interestingly, also has a book that takes place in Wausau) how hard are you pushing for a bigger presence of Gravity at Marvel comics? What is your opinion on having the same big name characters appearing in a dozen or so books month after month when lesser known characters of great potential are often left stranded in comic book limbo?
SMK: I don’t push for it at all. I mean, there’s just no way to do that. Writers at Marvel write the characters they like, as opposed to having characters forced upon them. So when folks like Jeff Parker and Dwayne McDuffie took an interest in keeping the character around, I was thrilled. And it’s not like anyone ever contacts me and says, “Hey, we’re going to start using Juston Seyfert in Avengers Academy.” Unless I’m in tight with a writer or something, I find out when the fans find out.
As for the headliners headlining a ton of books, I just have to kinda shrug. Fans want what they want. It’s not like Marvel could cancel three Wolverine books, say, and replace them with series for Gravity, Marc Sumerak’s Machine Teen and Fred Van Lente’s Scorpion and the sales will be the same. Marvel would lose money compared to using those resources on a popular, existing character.
CH: Books like Marvel Age Fantastic Four and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, as well as several variations of DC’s Teen Titans, have by and large made your writing synonymous with the “all ages” and “teen friendly” ratings. However, you’ve occasionally explored more mature themed concepts such as Mystique or even your segment in Lyod Kaufman Presents: The Toxic Avenger and Other Tromatic Tales. Would you consider yourself as being focused on creating all ages/teen friendly work, or do you have a desire to do more adult oriented subject matter?
SMK: Sure, I have plenty of mature stories I’d like to tell. My earliest writing, back in high school, was all very dark and horror-tinged. It does become difficult to express your ability to tell those kinds of stories to editors. I had a phone call once with an editor who swore up and down that SMLMJ was his favorite Marvel book, but yet expressed no interest whatsoever in hearing about my ideas for mature-readers comics. It’s frustrating.
That said, I genuinely enjoy writing all-ages titles, and I come up with new ideas for those all the time, too. It’s just that a little variety wouldn’t hurt, you know?
CH: I know you can’t get into specifics about your role writing for BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO, so instead could you tell us how you began working with the company? How does it feel to be adding to the Star Wars extended universe during a time of such unprecedented Star Wars media buzz?
SMK: Marvel and DC had both stopped accepting pitches—DC had their “New 52” titles and teams locked in place, and Marvel went full-stop on producing mini-series and accepting pitches for new series—and so I thought about what I’d like to write if not comic books. I had been trying to break into video games with only a small amount of success, so I took a shot at finding work with BioWare. I’d met the Art Director for SWTOR, Jeff Dobson, quite randomly at a cigar bar in San Diego a couple years prior, so I dropped him a line. It turned out that SWTOR had an opening for a writer, so I started the lengthy and fascinating audition process with them, eventually landing the job and relocating to Austin, TX.
Being born in the ’70s, I ate, drank, lived, breathed and dreamed Star Wars as a kid, so getting a Star Wars writing gig was pretty exciting. It’s especially exciting now that, as you mentioned, everything’s coming up Star Wars lately.
CH: In 2005 you won the Eisner for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition, and in the years that followed you received just that. With your recent work on BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic it seems as though you’ve been somewhat absent from the goings on of the comic world. Do you plan to regain your presence in the comic book industry once your workload at BioWare lessens, or do you plan on continuing with similar projects?
SMK: I’d like to keep making comics, and will eventually. It’s probably for the best that I’m taking this break and focusing my energies elsewhere, but I can’t stay away forever. However, I don’t expect my workload at BioWare to lessen anytime soon. It’s literally a full-time job, so any comics I make will have to be a nights-and-weekends type of affair.
CH: A fun question to end on: would you rather be stranded on an island with nothing to read but Marvel Music’s Billy Ray Cyrus comic, or stranded on an island with the superfast version of Dance Hall Days playing non-stop? And go!
SMK: Ha! See, now that’s just evil. Not fun at all. I really need to tweet less about things I don’t like! But I guess the comic, because I can use it for kindling, and the fumes just might kill the brain cells that remember that awful Wang Chung cover exists!