I recently got the opportunity to interview Sean McKeever, writer of Mystique and Mary Jane. As a fan of his work, this was a good thing and it was made even better by Sean being a really cool guy. His love for comics is plain to see. All characters and creators, all genres and companies, past and present, he just simply loves comics. It’s nice to be reminded every now and then that the people with their names on the covers of the books we enjoy so much are every bit as excited by the business as we are. He’s also endearingly modest, despite his quite obvious talents. Having worked on a number of indy and self-published comics throughout the ’90s, most notably the acclaimed Waiting Place series, McKeever was brought into the Marvel fold by friend Paul Jenkins and Jenkins’ editor on Incredible Hulk, Tom Brevoort. After a few fill-in appearances, McKeever was given the chance to shine on his own as part of the Tsunami line with the well-received Sentinel and Inhumans titles. Nowadays, Sentinel is enjoying a second lease of life in digest format as part of the Marvel Age line, for which McKeever has also recently completed a run on Marvel Age Fantastic Four and the highly enjoyable Mary Jane series, as well as taking over Mystique from Brian K. Vaughan as of issue #14 and has big plans for the future direction of the book – including resolving the long-running mystery of the Quiet Man’s secret agenda in the upcoming Quiet arc starting in issue #20 this October. With highly proficient character-based work full of well-rounded characters that drive the narrative forward through their dialogue as much as through circumstance, McKeever has been constantly delivering some of the most refreshing and contemporary titles of that past few years.
But that’s more than enough from me; let’s hear from the man himself…
Q: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us, Sean. How goes it?
A: Pretty well, thanks.
Q: Your first arc on Mystique – Unnatural – has just wrapped up. How do you feel it has been received by the fans? (BTW, as a fan, I give it two thumbs up, excellent job!)
A: Oh, thanks–I appreciate that. You know, this is the first time I’ve ever taken over a book for someone else, and to replace a hot writer like Vaughan on top of that was somewhat intimidating. It didn’t really affect my work, but it did concern me a great deal, because I didn’t know what to expect from the existing readership of Mystique. While there are a number of vocal folks out there who are disappointed that I’m not BKV, I’d have to say I’m pretty pleased with the reaction. I even read one review (of #16) where the reviewer believed Vaughan was still on the book, and said he was going to miss him!
Q: One noticeable contrast has been Mystique’s growing insubordination throughout Unnatural, which is somewhat reminiscent of some of her earlier interpretations in the X-books. What prompted this subtle shift?
A: Well, that came about in the midst of the writing of Unnatural, actually. I got to thinking about where I wanted the book to go and who Mystique has been over the past couple decades, and it just made sense for her to start asserting herself more in this situation Xavier’s put her in.
Q: There have certainly been a number of different takes on the character over the years, e.g. Bryan Singer’s movies, the X-Men Evolution cartoon, Freedom Force, etc. What originally attracted you to the character?
A: Most of my Mystique reading from back in the day was during the Freedom Force era. I liked her then, and always thought she was an intriguing character, but it wasn’t really until I set out to research for the title that I got a very distinct sense of who she is and why she’s such a fascinating woman.
Q: She’s certainly one of the most intriguing characters in the Marvel Universe. What did you make of the much-maligned Draco story in Uncanny X-Men? It was certainly a, er, *different* take on the character…
A: Honestly, I only breezed through the collection to check out the Mystique bits, so I don’t really have an opinion on that story.
Q: One of the benefits of Raven’s abilities is of course the artistic possibilities it opens up for the very talented Manuel Garcia. What’s it like working with him? Are you quite specific in your descriptions of her “X moments” (e.g. Mystique making a slide of her arm for Shortpack to disembark) or does he bring his own ideas to the mix?
A: Yeah, Manuel’s doing some great work, isn’t he? He and I don’t really communicate much, unfortunately, because he’s in Spain and I’m in America, and I honestly don’t know how much English he knows. So, for the most part, he’s following my directions in the script. What he brings to the table is his ability to visualize my ideas in exciting and sometimes unexpected ways. I’m always geeked to see new pages of fight scenes, because that’s where he shines the brightest.
Q: Of course, it would be remiss of me to not mention Mike Mayhew’s covers, which have to rank among the very best in the business right now. Do you have any input on those or just let him do his own thing?
A: I’ve had some input on the covers coming up for the Quiet arc. So far my favorite is #19’s cover, where she’s holding a couple pistols. That’s a kick-ass cover, and I’m happy to say that it’s being reproduced without any extraneous cover copy.
Q: The upcoming arc – Quiet – looks set to be the most important and revelatory story of the entire series so far. Are you excited about it?
A: I just finished writing Quiet a few weeks ago, so right now I’m really amped to see the story unfold for the readers, yeah. It’s got a couple nice twists and a few surprise guest stars–one in particular will no doubt bring a smile to fans of Mystique.
Q: Now, you know it, Vaughan knows it, departing editor Cory Sedlmeier knows it, and, apparently, after issue #20 we’ll all know it too. I am of course referring to the identity of the Quiet Man. Can you give us a hint?
A: It’s Quasar.
Q: It’s Destiny, right?
A: I just said–it’s QUASAR.
Q: C’mon, you can tell me… off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush…
A: Okay, okay…I give up. The Quiet Man is actually Bill Jemas.
Q: I had concocted this over-elaborate scheme in my head that had pegged Magneto down as the Quiet Man, which was going to lead to crossovers with Excalibur as Mystique and Xavier tried to ascertain who was the real Magneto and who was the “impostor” from New X-Men… Crazy, no?
A: Maybe you’re crazy…or maybe you’re a genius. I guess you’ll find out by year’s end.
Q: Oh, okay then! Seriously though, this has been one of the most intriguing mystery plots of any comic book in recent memory. What sort of ramifications will this big reveal have on the book, in particular on Mystique’s growing disillusionment with her conflicted loyalties to Xavier and Shepard?
A: It will have MAJOR ramifications. Major.
Q: What motivations does the Quiet Man have for trying to woo Mystique to his (or her) side? What does he (or she) have up his sleeve?
A: A PS2 and a ham sandwich. C’mon, seriously–you think I’m gonna tell you that? Wait and see, man. Wait and see.
Q: Where is Shortpack going to fit into all of this? He has certainly been put through the emotional and physical wringer as of late, even going so far as to request a transfer from Xavier after a falling out with Mystique, and now according to the latest solicitations, he’s going to be MIA…
A: Well, if you’ve read the last part of Unnatural, you know that Shortpack’s become pretty unhappy with Mystique and is feeling pretty frustrated. And if you recall from the end of Vaughan’s run, Shepard has given Shortpack information on finding Prudence’s killer. These are elements that will shape his disappearance at the outset of Quiet, but you’ll have to read it to see just what happens to him.
Q: So once the events of Quiet have unfolded, will there be a brand new playing field for the book to explore?
A: Yes, there will be some change to the status quo. Maybe everything will be turned upside down or inside out. Or maybe Mystique will die. Or maybe it’ll just be a small change…
Q: What future plans do you have for the book? The ending to Unnatural suggested that we certainly haven’t heard the last of DermaFree…
A: Hmm. With this sort of book, and with surprises coming up in Quiet, I’d rather keep my cards close to my vest, sorry.
Q: Fair play. Is there any pressure from ‘up above’ to keep things in check continuity-wise with the other books? Joe Quesada mentioned at a few cons that they were going to make the Marvel Universe more cohesive over the next year…
A: There’s certainly no pressure, but I think the current feeling is that having a more cohesive continuity is something we writers and editors can involve ourselves in if we wish. And I, for one, am very excited about that. There had been a fair amount of resistance toward continuity references lately, and I’m a big fan of using continuity in ways that enrich the story without confusing people who aren’t in the know.
Q: Will we ever see the book deal with issues concerning Mystique’s relationships with the likes of Rogue or Nightcrawler?
A: Of course that’s stuff I’d like to explore, being more of a
character-centric writer. It’s certainly possible.
Q: Without meaning to get all pessimistic, what sort of a lifespan do you see the book as having? Recent sales have been getting perilously close to the cancellation line that recently claimed titles like Thanos and X-Statix.
A: It’s hard to say, and even if I had any information about the book’s status I’d hate to spill the beans without Marvel’s blessing.
Q: Do you think that the title’s momentum has been hindered from the get-go because of its roots in the failed Tsunami line? Furthermore, and apologies for once again drawing a comparison here, do you think that the true successor of Tsunami were you and Vaughan? You have both managed to keep your separate projects alive (Runaways and Sentinel), whilst also helping this book outlast all the others.
A: Tsunami, as an imprint or a line, was never an imprint nor a line, to my mind. So I can’t really see myself of BKV as “successors” or anything. We both worked for Marvel before those titles, and we’re both working there now. Same with Skottie Young, Daniel Way, and a whole bunch of people who worked on those books. Heck, Matt Clark went on to Adventures of Superman with Greg Rucka.
As far as the book’s momentum…ALL the books Marvel launched around that time were hurt by having too damn many new series launched at the same time. When you do that, retailers tighten their belts because they know not all the books can succeed. There just aren’t enough fans with enough disposable income for that to happen.
Q: Thankfully, Marvel seems to be a bit more restrained with their lines such as Icon, Marvel Age, Marvel MAX, Ultimate Marvel and, well, everywhere else not involving the X-Men… Anyway, certain titles such as Sentinel have been “reborn” under the Marvel Age digest format. Do you think Mystique would work in digest form? Should Marvel pursue a more adult-oriented digest line in addition to the all-ages titles?
A: I definitely do NOT think Mystique is right for digest form, and it’s a concern I raised when I took over the book. She’s a murderer and a terrorist–hardly the type of main character that should be featured in an all-ages line. I’m very pleased that Marvel decided to do regular-size collections for Mystique.
As far as a mature-readers digest line, my gut tells me “no”. It seems to me that it would be too easy for unknowledgeable bookstore employees to rack them with the all-ages books, with the TokyoPops and stuff.
Q: Runaways, as well as WildStorm’s Sleeper, have both recently switched over to a “season” format. Do you think that taking a similar approach with Mystique following the resolution of the Quiet Man plot would be a viable option, or that it would increase the longevity of the title?
A: No idea at this point, but if the book were in trouble, this is something I’d be willing and even eager to explore, despite the fact that I’m not a fan of new #1s for an ongoing title.
And can I just say to the publishers–can we please stop making our comics sound like DVDs? “Season Two”, “Director’s Cut”, “DVD extras”… It’s lame. Call it “Sleeper, Series Two”. I mean, in TV they call it a season because that’s a name that makes sense! Unless a book is 8 months on, 4 months off or something, it’s just an inappropriate title. And there is no damn director for there to be a Director’s Cut!
Okay. Rant over.
Q: You’re so cute when you’re angry… The thing that gets me is that all of these Director’s Cuts or Special Editions or whatever are only used for what is meant to be a milestone issue, right? So… why not just put them in the issue in the first place if it’s that big a deal??
A: Why do movie studios put out the DVD and then the multi-disc special edition later? Same reason.
Q: Point. Anyway, the second Sentinel digest is due to be released on October 13th (looking forward to it!) but will the title have any life left after that? I know that all 12 issues will have been collected by that point but is there any chance of it becoming the first direct-to-digest book in the Marvel Age format?
A: I don’t know that Marvel’s considering ANY book for direct-to-digest. I just don’t think the economics are there, especially at a $7.99 or $5.99 price point for the amount of work that goes into it. But there is a chance for Sentinel to continue beyond the first 12 issues. Cross your fingers with me, eh?
Q: Consider them crossed. Surely they would recoup some of the costs if they just skipped the single issue format and maybe put some adverts into the digest itself? I’m no businessman and I have no idea about the inner finances of Marvel or anything, but if it works well enough for companies like TokyoPop then surely there would be a way for Marvel to do something similar and appeal more to that market?
A: Sure, TokyoPop is doing it, but most of their material consists of reprints. And they can’t compete with a page rate on new material. Talent would have to slash their rates to make it work. And advertising in a perennial product is a bad idea, because ads eventually become outdated, while the material’s still sitting on bookshelves. Also, Marvel did put some house ads in their graphic novels at one point, and I felt it was horribly tacky.
Q: Ah, I guess I’m just looking for a window of opportunity for Sentinel, really. Is there any chance of an Inhumans digest or trade at some point?
A: It doesn’t sound like it, but people are welcome to write Jennifer GrÃƒÆ’??ÃƒÆ’?Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¼nwald at Marvel, 10 East 40th St, 10th floor, New York, NY 10016 and request some Inhumans digests.
Q: Done and done. So what does the future hold for Mary Jane? Everyone that I have shown the book to has admitted to being very impressed with just how much fun it was to read, particularly since most were expecting some sort of kiddie-fare read or something. Now, we have heard that issue #4 is to be the last one for now, but also that the book has not been cancelled?
A: I don’t know what the future holds at this point. All signs point to “full steam ahead…eventually”. But I’m honestly not really privy to what’s going on behind closed doors over there at 10 East 40th Street… Again, cross your fingers with me.
Q: I read an interview with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on Newsarama and he mentioned a Mary Jane book he pitched to Marvel that would have focused on her as an adult, in New York as a struggling stage actress. Any comments about that?
A: It’s a good idea, but Marvel had other plans, I guess.
Q: One of my colleagues here at the Nexus, Jamie Hatton, convinced me to check out your creator-owned Waiting Place books from SLG. Utterly fabulous read! Given their similar subject matter about teens growing up, was writing Mary Jane at all influenced by Waiting Place?
A: Not really, no. It’s just what I’m good at writing. Look at Sentinel and Inhumans, too. I hate to be pigeon-holed, and I want to write more adult books and just different styles of books altogether, but I have to admit that it doesn’t hurt to have a hold on a niche in this business. “Hey, we need a horror comic–how about Steve Niles?” “We’re gonna do a comic about Mary Jane as a teenager. We’d be stupid not to ask that McKeever jerk!”
Q: Hey, you’ve found your voice and it is one that lots of people enjoy and relate to. If only I could be so lucky! You mentioned on Silver Bullet recently that you were working on some creator-owned projects. Dare I hope that this means there is more WP in the works? And which characters are you most like? I’m, sadly, probably most like Scott…
A: I’m a bit like Jeffrey and Scott. Scott was maybe more of a caricature of some of the things I didn’t like about myself, because he totally became my whipping boy. But, really, every character I write about has a bit of me in them in one way or another. With TWP being my first series though, and pretty much based on the town I grew up in, I was a bit more obvious about it.
No more TWP in the works for now. I never say never, but at this point I’d really rather move on to new characters. I really liked how I ended TWP, so I could really only go back if I thought I had the perfect follow-up. Hasn’t happened yet.
Q: You’ve also been busy working on Marvel Age Fantastic Four. Have you found it awkward to be not so much writing a story as attempting to retell it in a more contemporary manner? Also, was it at all daunting given who wrote the originals?
A: It was awkward, and it was daunting, but it was a wonderful technical challenge–one that I feel I passed with flying colours.
Q: So, what does the future hold for Sean McKeever? Are there any other projects lined up, or that you would like to work on at some point? Personally, given your remarkably fresh dialogue and “classic contemporary” style, I always thought you would fit superbly onto an Ultimate title. Would there be any characters you’d be interested in “Ultimatizing”?
A: Nothing I can announce at this point. I do have a 16-page self-published mini-comic coming out in October, called The Meredith Club. It’s a twenty-something drama illustrated by Steve Black, and I’m looking forward to finally publishing that. It’ll be available on my website, and retailers will be able to buy it
through Cold Cut Distributors.
Other than that, I’ve got a couple top secret things I’m working on right now–one of which is so top secret that you may never hear about it! Haha! No, really. The other of the two is a one-shot that you’ll likely hear about toward the end of the year.
Hmm… Who would I Ultimatize?
Big Wheel. Ultimate Big Wheel.
And with that, we’re done. Don’t forget to check out Sean’s official website for all the latest info, previews, etc.
Sean McKeever Checklist:
Vampi: Vicious #1-3
Negative Burn #30, 38, 44
Lacunae #3 prose piece
G.I. Joe: Frontline #9-10
Incredible Hulk #26, 30-32
Inhumans #1-12 (2003-04)
Marvel Age Fantastic Four #1-4
Mary Jane #1-present
Marvel Double Shot #3
Looking at the Front Door one-shot
The Meredith Club one-shot (COMING SOON)
The Waiting Place vol. 1 #1-6
The Waiting Place vol. 2 #1-12