Updated: Jan 24, 2020
When I first picked up a Deadpool comic, it was DEADPOOL #1, written by Joe Kelly. From then, I was a Joe Kelly fan. While Liefeld created the character, Joe made him one of my favorites. Joe has been writing since the mid 90's and has compiled an amazing collection of work over that time. His writing is some full of emotion, not many comics will make you laugh at loud like his will.
After making the Merc With A Mouth successful, he took on Superman, in ACTION COMICS. His run on that title lasted 5 years. During that time he wrote, what WIZARD MAGAZINE called the best issue of 2001, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?". From there he wrote a long run on JLA and worked on a number of other projects. He is also a part of Man of Action collective of creators (along with Joe Casey, Duncan Rouleau, Steven T. Seagle), who have worked on shows such as BEN 10 and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. Perhaps one of his most beloved and personal projects, I KILL GIANTS went on to become adapted for a feature film.
COMIC LOUNGE: When did you first get in to comics as a kid?
JOE KELLY: My uncle gave me a box of rotting old and torn comics when I was about seven. Lots of superhero, war, and horror books from the early 70's mostly. I loved everything but the war stuff. Read them over and over because they were the only comics I really had. Spider-Man was my guy. Still my favorite, to be honest. My ultimate love of comics didn't blossom until later.
In Middle school I was sick one day and at the drugstore I saw NEW MUTANTS #18 on a spinner rack. Bill Sienkiewicz art. Claremont story. After that, I was hooked. When I could afford comics, I bought them. When I couldn't I borrowed them.
COMIC LOUNGE: Did you always want to be a writer? Who were some of the writers that inspired you?
JK: Actually I wanted to be an artist first. I loved to draw. I bought the Marvel Try-Out book thinking that one day I'd get my big break. Of course, that means drawing every day and honing one's skills, which I didn't really do once college hit.
That said, I always loved writing. As a kid I won school awards for writing, the whole thing. I didn't really think of it as a possible career until Undergrad when I wrote plays. A few were well received and I got the bug. Later, I went to NYU for Dramatic Writing, and my love for the craft exploded. I had the right teachers and peers and was more mature as a student. (Still not 100% ready for the big leagues, but better than in my undergrad days.) It was a wonderful environment that led me down this career path in more ways than just an education.
COMIC LOUNGE: You have written some of the biggest characters in comics. One character that you really made your mark on was Deadpool. How did you come up with the new spin on the character when you took over?
JK: I was offered the chance to pitch for the series by Matt Idelson, my long time editor. Matt doesn't get enough credit for pushing Deadpool in the direction everyone knows and loves today. While other writers were pitching him tough-guy merc stories, I zeroed in on comedy and the pathos of the character as I understood him. I felt that if we were going to spend any length of time with a killer, we needed to find a way to care about him. Self-loathing hidden behind humor is a very relatable set of character traits I could get behind. Matt helped me to zero in on Deadpool's operational theme: He's a guy who was dealt a very bad hand by life, and wants to turn that around and do good, but whenever he tries Deadpool screws up royally. On those rare occasions when he succeeds, the universe still gives him a swift kick to the 'nads, because it's what he thinks he deserves. Then on top of that we added the funny.
COMIC LOUNGE: Having been such a huge influence Deadpool's adventures, what was it like seeing him brought to the big screen and becoming a household name?
JK: It's wonderful. I'm glad that we were able to build upon the foundation that Rob and Fabian laid and help their creation move forward. I'm proud of the contributions we made - I was blessed to work with an amazing string of artists. Looking back it is a bit surreal considering that the book was planned to be cancelled after 6 issues, but that's how the world works sometimes.
COMIC LOUNGE: Do you have anymore Deadpool stories in you?
JK: Yes, and it's very uncomfortable. I should see a doctor about removing them.
COMIC LOUNGE: You also chronicled the adventures of Superman. One of the most popular issues being ACTION COMICS #775. Where did the inspiration for that story come from?
JK: Long story short: I am a fan of dark comics. Always have been, but a few months before #775 came out I read an issue of the Authority that crossed a line for me. It wasn't just about JLA analogues behaving badly or "harsh realism", it was a moment that made me feel that the book was trying to say that if you believed in any of the aspirations of comic book heroes, you were an idiot. Whether or not that was the point of the story didn't matter, it's what I took from it and I was mad. Anger is good fuel. So we had #775 coming out - a double sized issue - and I wanted to show people why Superman, and more importantly the ideals he's come to represent,
are vital and critical - not just for comic fans but for the world at large. Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen brought the Elite to life and that was that.
I'm very proud of that story and the way it resonated with and continues to resonate with people.
COMIC LOUNGE: You have written many great comics over the years, I KILL GIANTS being one of them. Where did the idea for that story come from?
JK: It's always hard to answer this without spoilers - so if you haven't read the book, go read it and come back. We'll wait......... OK: I was a relatively new parent at the time that my father contracted type 2 Diabetes. He was in the hospital for months and lost half a leg. As an adult, I'd never thought about the mortality of my parents in any meaningful way. Now it was staring me in the face and I had a spunky, smart and fascinating daughter growing up at the same time. So I started to imagine a scenario where a girl like her, but pushed a bit to be geekier and more of an outsider, was confronted with the unimaginable. What would happen?
I took my dad to physical therapy to learn to walk on his new leg, and while he was in there I wrote the outline on a legal pad. All in one shot. That never happens for me. Over time, things obviously developed, and then Ken Niimura brought Barbara and her world to life using his glorious sorcery. I Kill Giants was born.
COMIC LOUNGE: What was it like seeing your creation brought to life?
JK: Very special. The experience was wonderful. Not only did I write the script but I worked closely with the director and the production at large. The actors were amazing, the movie looks great - it was a dream come true.
That said, what really gets me is when I go to conventions and people tell me about the impact that IKG has had on them. People find the book during rough patches in their lives, and many a tear has been shed at a convention or a screening as someone tells me their story. Making a movie is great - it was a lifelong dream, in fact - but those personal interactions are where IKG truly comes to life for me.
COMIC LOUNGE: Not only have you written comics, but television shows as well. Do you approach writing for TV differently than comics?
JK: Sure, but mostly because of the limitations of time and ratings. A cartoon for kids is going to unspool in a certain way, there are broadcast concerns, production, etc. to keep in mind while writing. In comics the sky is the limit with the right artist, and as I've said I have been blessed with great artists my entire career.
But story is story. All of the rudiments come into play no matter what. Craft over form every time.
COMIC LOUNGE: Are there any projects you're currently working on that you can talk about?
JK: A TV pilot, a short film, a feature film, my next book with Ken Niimura... that's probably enough for now. ; )
COMIC LOUNGE: What does being a writer mean to you?
JK: That's actually a hard question... Being a writer with an audience is a tremendous gift. It's like hitting the lottery, honestly. Since I have bene lucky enough to fall into this craft and make my living at it for over twenty years, I feel a strong responsibility to provide a reader/viewer with a complete work of art that is a fair trade for their precious time. I want to transport them to a place where they can wrestle with some demons, or laugh, or both, and maybe in some small way make their world a little better for the trip.
COMIC LOUNGE: Do you have any advice to writers trying to get there work published?
Commit to writing like it is a real job. Pick the best time of day to write and the maximum amount of time you can afford and make that sacred. Write for the same amount of time at the same time 5 days a week - 7 if you are that sort of person. Write forward without rewriting until the piece is done. Then rewrite. Then get it out into the world, whatever that means - blog, comic, film, send to an agent, etc. Then do it all again.
Also, while "write what you know" is important, "write what you and only you feel" is more important. Be true to your inner voice. No matter what.
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. If we do the work and trust the process, amazing things can happen.