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Automatic Casey: Pushing The Boundaries By Ed Mathews
Joe Casey is a professional comic writer and rawkstar at the helm of one of the industries most well known franchises; SUPERMAN, and the revived and excellent post super human industrial action team, WILDCATS. Now he's redefining the boundaries of the genre with a new mature readers, superhero comic series; AUTOMATIC KAFKA. Mr. Casey sat down with Ed Mathews for this very focused interview on AUTOMATIC KAFKA, a superhero book with a unique look (provided by co-creator Ashley Wood) and a unique take on the possibilities to which a superhero comic can aspire. All of which deserves further inspection.
Ed Mathews: The idea of 'celebrity fades from public eye, hits rock bottom, tries to stage comeback' is not new in other genres. What made you think to apply it to superheroes? This is very much a superhero book with an interesting twist. If The Authority is the WildStorm JLA, is it safe to consider the $tranger$ the WildStorm Avengers?
Joe Casey: More like a cross between the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. And, I gotta' say, I'm so fucking sick of the whole "celebrity superhero" angle that I figured I'd come up with a book that not only skewered the entire concept, but examined the dark side/slippery slope of the whole thing. I'm really hoping that Anti-Fame will be the next trend in superheroes (taking us back to their original "mystery men" aspect) so I guess I'm just trying to put a final nail in the current coffin with this particular series. But, no matter what the approach, this IS a superhero comicbook (which is why we proudly say so on each and every cover).
EM: Anti-Fame has a nice ring to it. Sort of like a bad VH-1 Behind The Music amped up. Is this why you chose to focus on the life of Automatic Kafka instead of, say, naming the book The $tranger$?
JC: I didn't want the book to be ONLY a post-celebrity superhero team book, and I found a resonance in the idea of a robot -- an artificial being -- trying to find his humanity that actually touched upon some real emotions that were worth exploring. I knew I'd be peeking into the lives of the other characters, but I wanted to do it through the lens of one, central character.
Besides, strictly as a title that you'd read on the stands, AUTOMATIC KAFKA has a better, more original ring to it.
EM: It certainly does. Why did you decide to choose the name KAFKA? Slapping Kafka on the front of a book is obviously going to trigger some reaction to those who read a lot. And why not Kierkegaard? What made Kafka resonate to you?
JC: I'd created the character for another series pitch I'd come up with, years before. And, like you said, that particular name triggers all sorts of reactions in people, which I definitely wanted to do. And, without getting into some long dissertation on the subject, each and every one of those reactions factored in to my using that name in the title. And to me, all of the best series' titles suggest something about the tone of the piece, besides just name-checking the lead character (or characters).
EM: AUTOMATIC KAFKA was created by you and Ashley Wood. Is this a creator participation deal for you guys? What attracted you to work with Ashley Wood?
JC: Yeah, we've got basically the PLANETARY deal on this one. We both own a piece of the property, should it ever move into other media (yeah, right!). I've always been a fan of Ash's work, and even contacted him years before about working on DEATHLOK with me at Marvel (which he was up for, but Marvel could never match the money he was making working for Todd McFarlane). So, when Ash was talking to Wildstorm about doing some work there, it was just natural for us to hook up on this and do the kind of book that both of us have always wanted to do.
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EM: What other media do you think AUTOMATIC KAFKA would best be suited for? What's your tag line?
JC: This is a comicbook. That's the medium which it was specifically created for and that's the medium in which it works best. I've created comicbook properties that have been optioned for movies and I've created things exclusively for other media, but AUTOMATIC KAFKA is a comicbook... and proud of it. Creator-owned work doesn't always have to be the first step up the multi-media food chain. I love comicbooks so I'm more than happy to create things that are meant only for that medium.
EM: This is a refreshing answer, Joe. What do you feel you can do in a comicbook that isn't easily replicated in other mediums?
JC: Just about everything. If your mind can imagine it and your hands can get it down on the page, there are literally no limitations. You can explore time and space in ways that most other media struggles with. You can delve into character nuances that cannot be matched, even by live human beings acting in a film. If nothing else, AUTOMATIC KAFKA has been a way for me to push my own boundaries of what can be done in a comicbook and the experiences I've gained from writing this series have begun to inform all of my other work.
EM: Compare and contrast time. When you re-imagined Wildcats, you stripped the characters of the very trappings that made them spandex superheroes. Now, you're plastering SUPERHERO on the front cover of AUTOMATIC KAFKA. What are the similarities between the two books in your mind and what are the differences? As the writer, how can you draw that audience from one book to the other?
JC: The main connection between the two series is that they're both superhero series. AUTOMATIC KAFKA is showing what superhero comicbooks CAN be, while WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 is showing what they DON'T HAVE to be. In a way, I'm just trying to fuck with people's perceptions of what a superhero series is. I don't know how many people are reading both books, since they're so different from each other. I'd like to think they could be marketed to the same crowd, although I learned long ago not to try and understand the marketing strategies of the big publishers. I think both series are dealing with ideas that go beyond the "typical" superhero fare. KAFKA is a more reflective, emotional story that's as much black comedic satire as it is a story, while WILDCATS is socio-political thriller fiction on a global scale.
EM: Aside from the allusion to various characters like Vision or Robotman, why make A.K. a robot?
JC: Because, in comicbooks, a robot/android character is an effective metaphor for a person who's lost touch with -- or searching for -- their own humanity. That feeling like you don't exist in the same manner that everyone else around you seems to... that's a universal feeling of alienation that we've probably all felt at one time or another. Automatic Kafka's searching for that sense of self, that sense of belonging. A robot in a world of humans. An outsider looking in.
EM: What can the readers of the book look forward to in future issues?
JC: Don't let the solicitations fool you. I always turn in nonsense text so there's no way for anyone to possibly telegraph the issue-by-issue movements. However, I also don't like to drag things out too long, so issue #9 will have some MAJOR revelations about Automatic Kafka and the nature of the series as a whole. Metamorphosis is the key word here and issue #9 constitutes a huge shift in purpose. Also, the secret of the mysterious member of the $tranger$, Saint Nick, is revealed. Not to mention the appearance of a pair of unlikely guest stars.
EM: Can we expect a trade paperback in the near future? WildStorm seems to do better in that format.
JC: Let's hope so. I have zero control over that but obviously I feel like this book could find a wider audience in book form. One aspect of AUTOMATIC KAFKA that doesn't really translate in the monthly installments is its standing as an art book. The work that Ash puts into the visuals is fucking amazing and I think it definitely deserves a more permanent edition. Of course, an onslaught of letters and e-mails to Wildstorm, DC and ESPECIALLY Bob Greenberger would certainly help the cause.
About: Joe Casey's unfulfilled dream is to run away with the circus... Ed Mathews is Co-Editor in Chief of PopImage