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Catching Up With SNL Breakout Taran Killam and his Illegitimate New Comic

January 17, 2014  |  11:30am
Catching Up With SNL Breakout Taran Killam and his <i>Illegitimate</i> New Comic

Unfortunately, Paste has yet to run a review of breakout SNL star Taran Killam’s electric super spy homage, The Illegitimates. The 6-issue miniseries, co-written by industry veteran Marc Andreyko and illustrated by Kevin Sharpes, posits an alternate history where the bastard children of a James Bondesque agent named Jack Steele band together after their absentee father’s death. So it was with more than slight gratitude when famous 18th century literary critic Jebidiah Atkinson agreed to take a swing for us with a few quotes. “Bond’s exploits from the bedroom come out onto the comic book page. It’d be better if they stayed in the bedroom!” Atkinson tells Paste. “Oh, the kids of OO7. I’d like to take those OOs and put them after a B! Boo!” Jebidiah also happens to be one of Killam’s comedic alter egos, so those are probably the harshest words anyone will be able to find on this inventive octane-splurging slice of genre escapism.

The Illegitimates stands apart as an unabashedly joyous take on a genre that’s become more grim and austere throughout the years. This is definitely more early ‘90s kewl than realpolitik shakey cam suspense. Think James Bond Jr. instead of Skyfall. This isn’t to say it does’t revel in clever premises and new twists, which is definitely its creator’s MO. Killam started his sketch comedy career at the ripe age of 19 on MADtv before joining the revered improv group The Groundlings, which is where Lorne Michaels recruited him to be a new cast member on Saturday Night Live in 2010. To get the lowdown on this new project, now in it’s second issue of six, Paste chatted with Killam about promiscuous secret agents, the nerd parties going on at 30 Rock, and why Joss Whedon should probably hire extra security.

Paste: Congratulations on The Illegitimates.
Taran Killam: Thank you so much. It’s still a little mind-blowing. I went into a local comic shop just this past weekend just to see how it went, and it completely sold out from that store, which was pretty fantastic. And the reviews have been mostly positive. They’re gentle for someone new to the format such as myself. I’ve been a comic book fan my whole life, and this has always been a dream of mine. And after my first dream came true of being on SNL, I decided to shift my focus to attacking the second one, and now it’s a reality.

Paste: How did you come up initially with the concept of all of these bastard children sired by a James Bond icon?
Killam: I’m a huge James Bond fan and watched the movies growing up. We had the box VHS at that point, before the DVDs. And it just sort of struck me that we finish every movie with Bond on a beach with a girl, or in a bedroom with a girl, or in the wreckage of some train with a girl. And we never get to see the follow up of that. We don’t even get to find out how they broke up, let alone whether there were any lasting repercussions. And I also love anything with a team. I love The X-Men; that was the first comic series that I was dedicated to, because I feel like you can pick your player. ‘I’m the most like Gambit…or I’m totally a Storm.’ I like the idea of combining a superstar agent with a team. And yes, this follows the logical conclusion of James Bond’s sexual exploits.

At first I thought of it as this funny idea of a comedy movie or a sketch, but I liked the idea of taking it more as an authentic direction and playing it in earnest; being aware of how ludicrous the situation is, but at the same time existing in the reality that’s been established in all of these Bond films and Missions Impossibles and Jason Bournes, just because I love that world so much.

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Paste: Ironically, the first thing I thought of when I heard this concept was the SNL sketch where an aged James Bond is riddled with STDs. Have you seen this?
Killam: [laughs] No! No, I have to look this up on the server.

Paste: It’s such a logical extension. When you’re watching these movies, you suspend your belief and think that everything happens in the now and there are no repercussions. I know you have a sweet tooth for a lot of ‘90s fiction properties. Do you ever think of what would happen to any other icon if they aged in real time?
Killam: Oh absolutely. And that’s the thing: you rarely want to see what’s behind the curtain. You rarely want to dissipate the fantasy of it. What was so exciting about this idea that stuck in my craw for a while, is that The Illegitimates follows this to its logical conclusion, but it also offers the promise of new life. New characters. New adventures. This is expanding the world, whereas an STD-riddled Bond would be, for the most part, pretty depressing. This idea allows you to laugh at what a sexually promiscuous person Bond is, and you can also discover new stories within it as well.

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Paste: You have a storied background in improv and sketch comedy. Was there much difficulty adapting to the comic script format?
Killam: I think it’s still very much a learning process. You’re trying to think in single images, whereas improv explores as many possible ideas at once. You have unlimited possibilities in your mind, and you’re trying to understand that and get out as much as possible, whereas this is asking what is the most succinct, efficient way of getting your idea across. And having little to no artistic ability, it’s been an incredible process and I’m so grateful to Kevin Sharpe, our illustrator, for his ability to take a 1-word sentence of ‘they run out of an exploding warehouse’, and expand upon that and explain how angles help tell the story. And Marc Andreyko, my cowriter, has been so helpful with that, too. He’s existed in the world of comics for so long. He knows the language. He knows the dos and don’ts and pitfalls. It’s a very enjoyable experience. It hasn’t been too disheartening yet, which is very fortunate.

Paste: I wouldn’t necessarily think of Marc Andreyko for a humorous spy book first. I always associate him with The Lost, that insanely gothic book about a vampire Peter Pan, as well as Torso. The Illegitimates is so light-hearted and buoyant. How did you settle on this idea and collaborate?
Killam: He definitely has some gravitas with his previous body of work to say the least. I think the overall essence of super spy movies is escapism. You’re not really delving into the depths of humanity with these films. You want to see the guy get the girl and stop the bad guy. Your’e going in to play out a fantasy: Bond always wins. Bond always gets the girl. He always gets the bad guy. We’re not looking to blow people’s minds with existential concepts in a way that Moore or Gaiman might. Those are the heavy weights. This is definitely more enjoyable popcorn with your comics.

Paste: How did you discover Marc?
Killam: Marc and I met through The Groundlings theater actually, which is where I was performing in LA when SNL found me. We had mutual friends. I performed with a bunch of his close friends and then we became close friends. But we had been buddies for the better part of a decade at this point. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time as well. I took the idea of The Illegitimates to him probably six or seven years ago, and we kind of kicked it back and forth and let it ruminate.

And IDW, that’s what really pushed it over the edge. I’ve been reading titles from IDW for probably as long as they’ve been in existence. Ninja Turtles is one of my all-time favorite properties ever. I also love, love, love Locke & Key. I also love some of the things they do with pre-existing properties like Transformers and Ghostbusters. I was so happy when they agreed to publish The Illegitimates.

Paste: This isn’t the first time a member of the SNL crew has written a comic. Seth Myers and Bill Hader both wrote Spider-Man: The Short Halloween in 2009. You also voice Zip Danger in the superhero Hulu cartoon The Awesomes, which was created by Myers. How much comic book banter is there backstage at 30 Rock? Do you guys ever think of collaborating on new comic projects?
Killam: There hasn’t been any crossover yet, but obviously Seth’s a huge fan, I’m a huge fan, Bobby Moynihan maybe eclipses both of us with his nerd-dom. All of us got to do San Diego Comic-Con this past summer for The Awesomes.

We were literally Charlie in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Our minds were blown. We got to meet J. Scott Campbell, Bobby ran into Jim Lee, who’s a personal hero of mine. It’s pretty surreal because where we’re huge fans of these guys, they’re huge fans of the show. I think Bobby’s interaction with Jim Lee consisted of Jim Lee walking by, Bobby going ‘no way’ and pointing at him, and Jim Lee pointing back and saying ‘no way’! And Bobby again repeating ‘no way’!

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Paste: Is it just me, or is there a slight resemblance between you and (character) Vin Darlington?
Killam: Ooooh. You noticed that, I see. Guilty, guilty! Certainly in that first issue of course, Kevin asked ‘do you want any of them to look like you?’ And I said, ‘I’m footin’ the bill for it, why not?’ You know? When else am I going to get the opportunity to have myself drawn into a comic book. But then I didn’t want it to become distracting, that this was wish fulfillment fantasy roll play, so I told Kevin pretty quickly thereafter, ‘thank you so much, that was awesome, I’ll treasure it always, but you can veer away from that.’ So I’m sure there’ll be a little piping done where there’s an essence, but I told Kevin to make Vin his own character.

Paste: So what’s your dream comic that you would want to write?
Killam: Oh wow, that’s a good question. For years I would have said Spider-Man, because for years growing up I felt like I was Spider-Man, this goofy teen smart-ass that’s most like me. Now having it be somewhat of a reality and knowing that there could be opportunity down the line, I’d love to take somebody off the beaten track, like maybe Longshot from Marvel or do a Rick Jones: some of these super obscure characters that you could have more fun with, and wouldn’t feel the pressure of ruining a timeless beloved character.

Paste: You just mentioned two Marvel characters and your wife (actress Cobie Smulders) plays a Marvel character. It’s hard to think that there might not be some crossover in the near future.
Killam: Listen: I’ll be on set. [Laughs] Joss is going to have to hire some extra security to keep me behind the camera. Obviously, I get a super kick out of it, pun intended, that my wife is within the universe. I remember when she got the audition initially; my mind was blown. At first I thought maybe she was going in for Janet Pym. But it’s just been so cool and I think the most exciting stuff is happening in films right now. A lot of what Marvel’s doing, in terms of creating this expanded universe where there are crossovers, and there’s a continuation of narrative. The universe that I grew up loving in the comics is now expanded into this real-life version, which has been the dream, I think, as a fan.

Paste: Very nice. Is there anything else going on with you and The Illegitimates?
Killam: We’ll definitely be coming to Comic-Con this summer to promote Illegitimates. Hopefully the trade will be ready in time. The issues will be coming out every month through May, and you can also get it through Comixology.

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