In Shutter, their upcoming series for Image Comics, writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila del Duca set out to create a universe where nothing is off limits — except superheroes and zombies. The series follows Kate Kristopher, a former child adventurer and the last in a long line of explorers, as she tries to live a normal life. For a yet unknown reason, she turned her back on adventure and excitement, preferring to embrace anonymity. But secrets won’t stay hidden and before she knows it, Kate finds herself once again dodging peril and plumbing into the depths of her family’s mysterious past.
Shutter revels in a world of robots and exotic creatures, where a minotaur wearing a monocle casually reads the paper as he commutes to work, and maybe that girl you just passed on the street has a tail. These oddities, however, are typical daily occurrences. Even with this exposition, you can’t help but wonder what lies in store when Keatinge and del Duca strive for weirdness.
The debut issue, out tomorrow, pokes at an interesting question – what’s life like for an adult Johnny Quest or Will Robinson? But, as opposed to the black humor of The Venture Bros., Shutter approaches this hypothetical seriously. Shooting for realism and dimension, Keatinge hints at Kate’s flaws early on, and she’s immediately more relatable for it. The lightning bolt that sparks life into this book is del Duca’s art, though. Her pencils are dynamic and sensitive, from the empathetic contours of Kate’s face to her city’s sprawling horizon, which look just as fantastic as the monsters within it
With their ambitious new series set for release, Keatinge and del Duca took some time to chat with Paste about their new project, its evolution and diversity in comics.
Paste: So, what can we expect to see in Shutter?
Joe Keatinge: The first issue starts on the moon, then goes to New York. Kate’s built this life for herself over the last 10 years and really guarded it closely. By the end of the first issue, that’s completely shattered. So she has to venture off to figure out this mystery behind her parents. In the first issue alone, there’s minotaurs, spacemen, robots and ghost ninjas. In the second issue, there are some flying saucers that the NYPD fly in. There’s a kraken. I don’t want to say too much.
Leila del Duca: Since we both love pretty much everything about this planet, we’re going to go to a lot of different locations and have various influences from all over the world.
Keatinge: After the first arc, it’s all over the planet.
Paste: And are there any rules for this world?
del Duca: No superheroes. Absolutely no superheroes.
Keatinge: Yeah, no superheroes, and I guess we don’t have zombies. I don’t want to get into that stuff now, but it’s not as random as it may seem. In the arc that starts in issue seven, you’ll see a lot of what I’m trying to not talk about now.
Paste: How did the idea for the series come about?
Keatinge: It’s been percolating in my brain for a really long time. Years ago I wanted to do a world-spanning, globetrotting fiction type of thing, and the idea for Kate Kristopher herself was there from the get go. My influences certainly include Tintin, Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese, stuff like that. Years later, I was at the New York Comic Con, 2012 I think, and I was sharing a table with Ross Campbell, Intergalactic’s Ken Garing and Hell Yeah’s Andre Szymanowicz.
del Duca: Both Ross and I were staying with Amy Reeder. I was tired of mouth-breathing at various creators at the convention, so I decided to just chill out with Joe and Ross at their table. So that’s how Joe and I met.
Keatinge: When Leila showed me her art, I was like “Holy shit!” I knew from the get go. Then we started talking about Shutter, and I was like “What do you want to draw?” She said “Everything!” So I thought, why limit the book to be this grounded thing? Why not have all this crazy shit in there while maintaining this emotional core?
del Duca: When he started pitching the idea to me and I kept on telling him that I wanted to draw everything, we decided to make the world she lives in a little more fantastic then. Initially, we were going to have only 30 percent of the world have weird, fantastical stuff, but it got kind of crazy. So there’s a lot more mythological stuff in there than before. There’s crowds of weird creatures now and weird architecture.
Paste: One of the things that jumped out from issue #1 was the subway; Kate’s sitting next to a minotaur, and it seems like a signal to the kind of book we’re going to have.
Keatinge: I’m glad you zoomed in on that panel, because I felt the same exact way. When I saw that, I was like “We got it.” And it’s not just because there’s a minotaur there and a space guy there, but there’s all this crazy shit there and you’re still drawn to Kate, and you still feel Kate’s emotion. That’s one of my favorite things that Leila does. No matter how absurd the shit that I write is, she’ll zero in on Kate. Her emotions are real and that makes it work.
Paste: Kate’s flaws are hinted at in the first issue, so tone-wise what’s the series going to look like?
Keatinge: Well it’s not all over the place, but when you have a book where you want to do everything, why not change it up? I don’t want to sound too hoity-toity, but think about life: some days are beautiful and everything is amazing, sometimes it’s a dark, horrifying thing. I think that’s what a lot of the book is going to be like. It’ll shift tones as Kate’s life and situations evolve. That’s the way I look at it. Life is never just one thing, so why should this character’s life be like that?
del Duca: I would use the words beautiful and ridiculous.
Paste: Leila, can you explain how you approach a story like this artistically?
del Duca: When I read the scripts, I typically have a certain emotion, or Joe has a certain emotion he wants depicted on each page or panel, so I figure that out first. That’s the most important thing — the emotion of the story, because when I read comics that’s what stands out to me, and that’s what I connect to. So I do that first, then Joe always puts crazy visuals into the story, too, so secondly I have to figure out how I’m going to draw everything else. In every issue there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve never drawn before, so I have to do heavy referencing. So it’s a mix between finding the right reference to accurately depict what he’s describing, but also having characters act in a certain way that correctly depicts the emotion we want to portray.
Paste: And in terms of developing the aesthetic, what were your inspirations?
del Duca: I think I’m influenced most by Mike Mignola, Sean Murphy and Mark Schultz. From Mike Mignola, I get the light and dark contrast the most, and composition. Then from Sean Murphy, I get his storytelling, page layouts, sketchiness with the brush… well, I guess everything from Sean Murphy. Then Mark Schultz — he would do dry-brush and I loved it. Also, I manhandle the brushes that I ink with and they would get ruined, but now that I’m using a dry-brush technique, I can still use those ruined brushes. I really love how it looks.
Paste: What kind of look does dry-brush lend?
del Duca: Dry brush vs. non-dry brush: the dry brush is a more sketchy style.
Paste: Is that your usual style, or did you decide you wanted Shutter to look a certain way?
del Duca: Well, I had been trying to develop the style for a while, and it still hadn’t clicked. Then Joe was like “do whatever you want, I trust you completely.” Before, I hadn’t been a co-creator on this level and I really feel like I have so much control. He trusts me so much that I trust myself, and I don’t have to double check things. We’re on the same page, so that allowed my style to blossom with Shutter.
Paste: Joe, is it also a new experience for you with that level of control?
Keatinge: I had a bit on Glory. Shutter is the most personal thing I’ve ever written. You know Image. The way it works is it’s you and your collaborators and that’s it. It’s freeing and it’s fun, and it’s the way I love working on comics. It’s me and Leila in the back of the classroom huddled over notebooks drawing whatever the fuck we want. That’s my favorite mode of working on comics.
Paste: Was there something you thought was missing from comics that you wanted to add with Shutter?
Keatinge: The comics I like best are comics that wouldn’t exist with other creators. Something like Hawkeye...without David Aja and Matt Fraction, that comic doesn’t exist. Without Leila and me, and Owen Gieni the colorist and Ed Brisson the letterer, this book doesn’t exist.
del Duca: Other than being able to draw whatever I want in this comic, Joe does a really awesome job at putting cool page layouts on there. He has some 16-panel grids and that kind of stuff. I really want to do more — Joe, hint hint — double page spreads that have panels on them. I really love doing that. One thing that you can’t really recreate in any other medium is the panel situation. You can have overlapping panels and stuff, and people can attempt that in television and movies, but it’s just a different thing.
Paste: You said the idea started grounded and grew into something more fantastic. Can you elaborate on how it evolved?
Keatinge: It was seeing Leila’s stuff and talking about what she wanted to draw. When you have someone who can draw everything… I think it kind of sells the point I was trying to make with the book. I don’t know if I should say, but I think what Kate goes through contrasted with all this crazy shit almost has more of an impact. Growing up, my influences in comics were spread all over the place. I was never one of those guys who only liked superheroes: I liked everything. The challenge is how do you keep Kate the core. It was all Leila, man.
del Duca: Remember, the first thing that was kind of complete was the cover for issue one, and she’s the only human in the whole scene. There’s a bunch of other humanoid creatures behind her, and I think we threw logic out the window at that point.
Paste: The press release compares Kate to Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. Did you feel like you had big shoes to fill?
del Duca: It seems like big shoes for me to fill. This is my first comic that people are actually paying attention to, but I’m really confident with what we’re doing, so that fear isn’t there any more.
Keatinge: Not really. That kind of thing is for marketing. I mean, I would have said Tintin, but how many Americans know Tintin? I’m just here to have fun with my friend here, and if people read it and like it, great.
Paste: Kate is a multicultural woman, and the comics industry gets a bad rap for its lack of diversity. Can you talk about how you approached creating her?
Keatinge: I just write human beings. It was never like, “Oh, I’ve got this quota to fill.” Half the world’s population are women. If it was a male character, no one ever asks this stuff. It’s just the character, the story, and it’s fucked up that it’s 2014 and it’s still a thing — like “Oh women characters? That’s astonishing!” Write the comics you want to read.
del Duca: As a girl growing up reading comics and paying attention to the entertainment industry — and everything that a person gets bombarded with — I’ve done a lot of thinking about this over the course of my lifetime. I’m very aware of it when I draw. I don’t want to pose women in ridiculously sexy poses. I want to draw people of different races because it’s boring to just draw white people, and it’s not realistic. I want to break the cycle of dumb things that happen in a lot of comic books, like lack of diversity, lack of realistic characters. I try to portray things a bit more believable when I draw.
Keatinge: I don’t know a bunch of white people. I know people from all different cultures and mixed races. Again, it’s not like a checklist. I look around us, people that Leila and I know. It’s just the world that we look at, and the one we want represented. I think it’s fucked up, and I get why you’re asking the question, but for me I just write the stuff I know.
Paste: In the same vein, Kate’s friend, Alain, is transgender, which I didn’t pick up on at first. Can you talk about that decision?
Keatinge: Because trans people exist! I’m sorry, I feel like I’m being flippant about it, but I’m not. It’s just I know trans people and trans people are friends of mine, and this friend of Kate’s is trans. Again I don’t want to be flippant about it, but I’m tired of people being reduced down to quotas. It’s just people. The world that Kate’s exploring, I want it to reflect reality and the relationships of people that are in it.
del Duca: All the fantastical elements in Shutter, we wanted them to be there, but it wasn’t a big deal. Kate wasn’t like “Oh my God there’s a centaur!” It’s just the way life is. And we wanted to portray the same thing with transgender characters. I wanted Alain to be transgender, but it’s not that big of a deal. It shouldn’t be that big a deal in real life. People are awesome and beautiful in their own way. It’s not that big, so don’t make a big deal about it. That’s kind of what we’re doing with Alain’s character. It’s not out in the forefront like [gasp] “Oh she’s transgender!” It’s just kind of her back-story.