By Mark Turner
The industry is chock full of talent bursting with original ideas and strange new worlds, but it is a true joy when fans come across creators with a knack for capturing the fun and magic of the medium. Creator Roger Keel is such a creator. With an imagination that enables him to traverse genres, he is writing stories that engage fans of all ages. Taking time out of his busy schedule, Roger Keel talks about influences, Golden Age overtures, discipline when writing, and the challenges of the industry.
IM: Roger, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
RK: I was born in 1959 in Bonavista, Newfoundland, Canada, and still live there. I have lived here for the majority of my life. I am currently employed as a Heritage Interpreter at two joint Provincial Historic Sites—Cape Bonavista Lighthouse, which houses one of the few remaining Stevenson catoptric light systems in the world. The building dates back to 1843, the light to 1816. At the other site in the town, The Mockbeggar Plantation, we have a building that dates back to the early 1700s. As a fan of history, this is a dream job.
I have been a comic fan and reader since I learned how to read. Growing up in the 60s and 70s my tastes in comics ranged from Archie to Warren and all points in-between. A fan of SF and fantasy, I still enjoy a good murder mystery or action novel from time to time.
A fan and collector of old time radio, 30s and 40s b-movies and serials, silent films and classic TV and, as a writer, I’m not ashamed of “borrowing” a plot idea from all the aforementioned.
Happily married to a great woman who puts up with all my little eccentricities, we share the home with a dog and cat.
I follow hockey (hey, I’m Canadian!!), like the occasional beer, try to keep active, and hope that my fondness for Earl Grey tea affects me like it has Patrick Stewart (the man seems not to age).
IM: Much of your work has a decidedly Golden Age tone. What would you say is key to writing and crafting stories in this style versus, say, a more contemporary style?
RK: I’m not sure about the Golden Age tone. I would label most of my stories as having more of an early Silver Age tone, but thanks. I’m trying to write my stories in the same tone, and with the same feel as the stories I grew up reading. Most comics back in the early 60s had more than one story per issue and all the stories in the issue (in most cases) were complete in that issue. The main key to doing stories in this tone would be keeping the stories complete in 8 to 14 pages. I find a lot of contemporary stories to be just one chapter in a longer story. Not that that is a bad thing, at times, but in the small press/self-publishing world this can be a problem.
IM: What about this era of storytelling do you find so compelling? Who are some of your influences?
RK: Just the sense of fun that was prevalent in the Golden Age/Silver Age of comics. There was very little of the dark and sometimes overtly dreary feel that a lot of modern comic stories seem to have. I want to try to keep that sense of fun, even in my horror stories. I don’t often succeed, but I try. Now, when I say “sense of fun,” I don’t mean campy humor or silly jokes. I mean the sense that these stories are for enjoyment, not to pass along some grand idea, or some political or social point of view.
My influences? I could take the easy way out and say “everyone,” but some are Gaylord Dubois, Richard Hughes, Robert Kanigher, Carl Barks, Stan Lee, John Broome, Archie Goodwin, and Joe Gill, among many others.
IM: You’ve managed to write stories that span a number of different genres: westerns, superheroes, and tales like those of O.T. Ferret. Would you say you have a favorite? Could you share a bit about the differences between the various genres and what is involved in writing in a tone that is true to the various elements that each are known for? Which would you say is the most challenging to write?
RK: That is one of the great advantages of working in the small press: you can get the chance to work in so many different genres. I really can’t say I have a true favourite; I do tend to lean more toward the action/adventure genre, western, and my serial-style hero Jack Banyon, but O. T. Ferret (my attempt at a Carl Barks style story) was so much fun.
Each genre has their own set of differences and some similarities, though I find the pacing of each story to be the biggest difference. When doing an action story, like a superhero one, you try to pace the story faster than if you were doing a horror or romance story. The difference in pacing helps you set the tone. I like to try to have the events in a story unfold as slowly as possible with in the page limit constraints. This gives me the chance to add tension and conflict and build to a climax. With horror stories, I have found that the slower you pace the story, the better you can build tension. With action-filled stories, you can pace faster and let the action build the tension and move the plot.
As to what genre I find the more challenging to write, strangely it has been superheroes. I haven’t done many, but trying to get the feel of the characters in terms of how they work in their world has been hard, and working out plots that can work within those worlds has been a bit troublesome. But these two things, especially plots, are troublesome for every genre. It is hard not to be a bit repetitive in plot ideas in any type of story, but with so many superhero stories/plots having been done over the years, it is harder to find something different each time. Horror or SF stories, you can always put a slight spin to an old plot and get a fresh (or at least a not to moldy) story. With superhero stories, a lot of the plots have been spun and spun again.
IM: To successfully create stories like you do, it takes discipline. In terms of your craft, do you write every day? What are some of the challenges that you find you face and how do you overcome many of the creative obstacles faced by writers? Typically, how long does it take you to complete a script?
RK: I try to write at least one hour a day minimum. Not always successful, but I try. Now I don’t mean just writing on whatever my current script or story is, but I’ll just develop plots, try out lines of dialogue, and create characters. Some of these may never see the light of day; others may find their way into different stories.
The major challenge I face, and I’m sure others do too, is time. Getting time to write. I work, have a family and a home to take care of, and all the things that go along with that. Luckily, I have managed to work around these problems as best as I can. Due to my work, I tend to write less in the summer months than in the winter, but I do get some done in the warmer months. Writer’s block, that bane of writers everywhere, hits me from time to time. Sometimes I’ll have to walk away from a story and either work on something else, or take a walk around town (muttering to myself like a madman) and work the story out in my head far from a keyboard or pen. Dialogue is one of my constant obstacles, trying to get my characters to sound natural. This is hard to do when the character and the story is set in some past century. I find saying the lines out loud to myself helps, but getting feedback from another person is great.
Perhaps, one of the advantages I may have when it comes to getting time and space to write is that I write all my plots, ideas, and first drafts of all scripts in longhand, using pen and paper. I have quite a few notebooks filled with notes, plots, and scripts, stacked in a corner of my room. This method lets me write on lunch breaks at work, during intermissions as I watch hockey, or just lounging on the patio in the sun enjoying a beer. I then take my first draft, type it up and make any corrections or changes needed.
It may not be the “proper” or “correct” method to write, but it works for me.
Depending on the type of story and how excited I am about it, I have written a six-page story in as short a time as eight hours—from idea to first draft to final draft. Others have taken days, weeks, or even months to do. It all depends on the story, how many changes I need to make, and of course, the free time to write.
IM: Currently, what are you working on? Where can fans find you and your work?
RK: Currently I am working on the next issue of my comic: The Adventures of Jack Banyon. Also in the works is a new title from my comic imprint Stone Island Comics: Princess of the Trees!
I’m associate editor on a project that has been in the works for a while, a comic featuring the ACE Publication heroes of the 40s (Magno, Vulcan, Black Spider, and Lash Lightening). This will be a full color comic featuring art by Rock Baker, Scott Shriver (of AC Comics fame), Tony Lorenz, and John Lambert.
And of course, there is always a script or story in some level of completeness around.
My published work can be found at:
Main Enterprises: http://www.mainenterprises.ecrater.com/
Recollection Magazine: http://www.indyplanet.com/front/product/109957/
We Love Monsters: http://www.we-love-monsters.com/
And from Stone Island Comics:
My prose work can be found in
Collector’s Club Newsletter http://collectorsclubnewsletter.com/
The Imagination Link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ImaginationLink/?fref=ts
I can be found on Facebook as can my comic imprint, Stone Island Comics
IM: Growing up, were you a fan of comics? What were/are some of your favorite titles? When did you know that you wanted to write comic books?
Some of my favourite titles over the years and even now: Uncle Scrooge, Walt Disney Comics and Stories, Tarzan, Magnus, Robot Fighter, Turok, (Dell/Gold Key), Superman, G. I. Combat, Sgt. Rock, JLA, Batman, Legion of Super-Heroes, House of Secrets/Mystery, Ghostly Tales, Fighting Five, Blackhawk, Fantastic Four, Strange Tales (Shield!!), Master of Kung Fu, Jon Sable, Warlord, Conan, Nexus, Bone ,Crossfire, Ms. Tree, DNAgents, Airboy, Jonah Hex, and more.
I first got the idea that maybe I could write comics back in the late 1970s. I wrote all the comic companies at the time: DC, Archie, Charlton, Marvel, and Warren, asking for information on being a comic book writer. I got sample scripts, submission info and nice letters from all. Armed with this, I started. Then, fear took over. I forgot my idea for many years. Figured I wasn’t good enough. A few years later, I discovered fandom and fanzines, yet never worked up the nerve to try scripts for any of the ‘zines. Around the mid-80s, I started writing a column for It’s A Fanzine and made the acquaintance of Jim Burke (aka T.M. Maple). From this, I got letters printed in some comics, more sent and not printed, got more articles in other fanzines, and so on. A few years ago, via some mutual acquaintances, I met (via Facebook) Jim Main. Jim is a long-time small press publisher. After sending him an article for one of his magazines, I inquired about trying my hand at a comic story. With Jim’s help, *PFFZST! #32 featured my first story, Ghost Dance, with fantastic art by Kevin Dale Duncan.
IM: Any advice for aspiring writers/creators?
RK: For writers: WRITE!!!! Sounds like a cliché, but it is true. Write something every day. Also, read. Read everything: comics, newspapers, novels (fiction and non-fiction), magazines, etc. Not only will this help you in story construction, dialogue, pacing, and the like, you may get plot ideas as well, and who knows? You could even “borrow” a line of dialogue or two.
For creators: When you create a character or series, work out a background, a timeline of the characters and the series. With some of my characters, I have a timeline stretching back to the character’s birth. As ideas come to me related to the character, I add them to the timeline where I think they should fit in the character’s history. Now, not every idea will be added to any story, but they help me in forming an idea of what would motivate the character in any particular story, and sometimes, they help build the depth of the character and future plots.
For Artists: Draw! Every day. Not just heroes in action poses, but cars, houses, furniture, ordinary people in ordinary clothes, people sitting and talking, animals, boats, trees, everything!! You never know when one of us crazy writers may ask for two people in evening clothes, sitting in a boat in a tree, being served by a dog in a tux!!
IM: If you had to choose, would you rather be a golden age superhero or an animated pulp action hero?
RK: Tough one!! I think I would lean toward being an animated pulp action hero, something on the lines of The Shadow or The Spider.
Learn more about our interviewer at: Mark Turner