Geoffrey D. Wessel: Like Dexter, with Added Soccer

A comics interview article by: Morgan Davis

Recently the Comics Bulletin Twitter feed has become the kind of place where you're as likely to seemock feuds as you are to hear about our features and reviews. It was through some of those former shenanigans that we coerced indie creator and sometime Comics Bulletin contributor Geoffrey D Wessel into doing an interview for us about his new webcomic Keeper, the eerie, accidental coincidences between Keeper and a real killer player and his seemingly contradictory infatuation withTamara Drewe



Morgan Davis: So, your webcomic Keeper reads to me like From Hell meets Fever Pitch. But I'm curious to hear how you'd pitch it.

Geoffrey D Wessel: I usually describe it as a sports-crime thriller. I've also heard others describe it as "Dexter, with added soccer but without the morality." Which is a pretty fair summation too, as the motivations for killing between Dexter and Keeper are pretty night and day. I like the "From Hell meets Fever Pitch" as well, can I use that?

Davis: Of course! I know you're not British but Keeper is pretty Anglophilic. Have you always had a fascination with English culture?

Wessel: Long story short, yes, mostly due to discoveringDoctor Who at the tender age of 5 in 1978. Plus, there was a lot of PBS in my youth, so that helped. My interest in football came much later. Really though, I'm fascinated by other cultures, full bore. Honestly, people who write stories SHOULD be.

Davis: Given that, is Keeper a way for you to put knowledge of football and English slang to use or did you do a lot of research to make it authentic?

Wessel: I think I know a lot, but you can never be too sure of your own knowledge, so yes, I do quite a bit of research for the series. In fact, the direction of the series changed significantly because of such research. 

Originally the club where Scott Winslow [Keeper's main character] plays was based on Reading FC, who are an OK club, but the surroundings and supporters are utterly boring and didn't suit the purpose of the series at all. So, I had to start over, and found that Millwall FC in the Lewisham area of East London fit to a tee. And actually, I've become a bit of a fan of the club, despite the fact I declare as an Arsenal fan (in addition to a few other clubs, none of whom won anything this year either!). 

I've had some Millwall fans look at the series, too, and, well, response has been mixed. Some don't like the idea of a fictional version of their club housing a murderer, especially since Millwall fans have a bit of a bad reputation, warranted or not. And as it turns out, there actually WAS a former player who was convicted of murder, but this guy had played for eight clubs total, and Millwall was the
club he was at the least time, but of course the press jumped on the Millwall connection. So I can understand that siege mentality from the supporters with all that in mind, but come on, in the case of KEEPER, it’s all make believe, right?

But even make believe needs to be believable if you're going to do a crime drama. So beyond that, I have a crack team of friends in the UK, many of whom are in the industry, who go over the scripts to reality check them for slang, procedure, etc. It's really precarious especially since I'm not in or from the UK, so I don't want to make simple but glaring mistakes like I've seen in other works by writers in the same situation I am.

Davis: Can you tell us some future plans you have for the series? Will we see the details of some of the murders that happened in Chicago, for instance?

Wessel: Oh yes, we will most definitely see the murders in Chicago come back into play. Otherwise, we're going to see a character we've already seen be done away with, and the insanity ramp up as we get closer to the conclusion.

Davis: Are there any horror books that helped inspire you forKeeper? I'm thinking stuff like the aforementioned From Hell as well as Brian Michael Bendis' Torso or films like David Fincher'sZodiac.

Wessel: I'm sure subconsciously, yeah, or even Dexter as I mentioned. Bret Easton Ellis' American Psychois lurking in there too. But mostly I knew I wanted to do some kind of different crime drama, and I remembered back in 2007 I'd written a flash-fiction that was basically Keeper with a few differences. So I ran with that. 

I also noticed that sports comics are in pretty short supply, at least in American comics, although certainly in England the football strip is a pretty traditional form of entertainment. Also, lots of sports manga have made it over there, but are still very scarce over here. So, that was a motivating factor, a bit of a novelty. But sports are part of mainstream, ordinary culture, and the most effective horror is making the banal and ordinary something absolutely scary. As far as the actual writing, yeah, Torso is a bit of an influence, but I think it's also very influenced by Trainspotting as far as Scott's narration style goes. Structurally, Jason Aaron's Scalped and Brian Azarello's 100 Bullets and Filthy Rich have been huge influences on Keeper too.

Davis: Is there a balance you try to keep in mind for the football to killing ratio? Which of those two areas do you find easier to write?

Wessel: I'm trying to keep the two elements pretty equal, even though really, at the heart of Keeper, it's a crime or horror story. The actual footballing has been pretty minimal, a few specific highlights when you get down to it. I think in the second issue we're going to have more actual gameplay within the comic, it'll be good to get into THAT part of Scott's psyche, how well he does under pressure, and how that might affect him in his other activities.

Davis: Did you always intend for it to be released via the web?

Wessel: Keeper was originally supposed to be a Zuda submission, and Jeff Simpson was almost done drawing it when Zuda shut down. After a lot of debate, we decided to keep going with that format, not thinking that when we wanted to print it up later, how much of a pain in the ass it would be to reconfigure it for normal comic format. So, that's why #0 is in the format it's in. From #1 on, it's been released to the web, but in regular comic dimensions. 

We have submitted this to publishers though, just doing the usual hurrying up and waiting to hear back from them. I certainly think it deserves a wider audience, but considering it's gotten accolades from the likes of Phil Hester, Jacen Burrows and Ian Rankin (IAN FREAKING RANKIN!), it's definitely finding an audience that likes it, now we just need to get it OUT THERE.

Davis: Since you release a page a day, do you plan the scripts around those pauses in action?

Wessel: Absolutely, and that's something I definitely picked up from Scalped– every page ends with a potential cliffhanger, something to make you want to turn the page, or click back to next week!

Davis: With a horror/thriller work like this, do you think that built in tension helps make the work even more intense?

Wessel: Oh totally, and we're even in the middle of a sequence right now where there's going to be an underlying question of "Is Scott going to freak out right here and now?" It's fun, it's scary, it keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you want more.

Davis: Jeff Simpson's art looks very European, like something from Heavy Metal; did you seek him out specifically because of that?

Wessel: Ha, actually, Jeff had approached me after I made a very general "Looking for Artists" posting on Mark Millar's board a few years back. Really, I have to say MillarWorld has done quite a lot for me, I've met a lot of people that I've ended up making comics with on that board. But anyway, Jeff had approached me, and we talked a bit over email, and he agreed to work on Keeper, even though he had never once seen a professional soccer match. Bless him. And the best part is, Jeff and I have met several times, we even had a table together at C2E2 this past March, so we're definitely in for the long haul on this collaboration.

As far as the look of the series, Jeff's actually a fine artist, he is part of a gallery out in the Denver area, he does a lot of very realistic drawings in that vein, so that certainly helps for figure drawings. His colors for the series was a happy accident, as we had a colorist lined up, but right when we had "needed" it done (we were going to get it ready for a preview at Wizard World Chicago 2010), said colorist disappeared (turns out the person in question had gotten seriously ill, and disappeared off the internet a while). So, backs against the wall, Jeff took charge and hand-colored it with markers, giving it the look it has. And as it turns out, it's very distinctive, and from what we've been told by a few people, it reminds some readers of a long running football strip in the UK called You Are the Ref, so without trying to, we kinda homaged a well-known real soccer comic in the process, which really helps lure readers in I think.

And while we’re talking about Jeff, I think we should also publicly make mention of our letterer Jim Campbell. He helped design the look of the series, he’s been an industry veteran for years, he shares 2 Guinness World Records after working on that huge comic project at the KA-POW! con this past April, and yet he takes the time every week to work on Keeper. Jim moves mountains for us, and it’s greatly appreciated.

Davis: Speaking of which, Hadron Colliderscope has a similar feel to that kind of anthology, though more on the 2000 A.D. side of things. Was the plan with HC to bring that at times darkly comedic, heady sci-fi sensibility to the web?

Wessel: You'd really have to ask Michael Vincent Bramley, the Head Hadron Honcho, what his plan for HC was, but yeah as far as my strips, it was definitely influenced by 2000 A.D. In fact, a number of my strips in the Colliderscope were rejections from 2000 A.D., and CLINT Magazine as well. I'm not ashamed, I went for it, and I'm glad I had another outlet for these stories when they got turned down! But there are quite a few at the site that were purpose-written for Hadron Colliderscope, and I continue to contribute to them. It's a great strip, it's been online a little over a year now, there are a lot of great talents at work there (some I recruited even!), and even though I had nothing to do with it, there's even been a Warren Ellis adaptation posted there, so everyone who likes good fast funny sci-fi comics with nasty twists, come on by.

Davis: With Keeper live and Hadron Colliderscope ongoing, what plans do you have in the works?

Wessel: Lots of pitches and submissions, every which way I can. I have a story coming up in a to-be-announced Image anthology. I'm also trying to gain the favor of the Mighty One, still. I've put myself forward to ESPN for an opening as a blogger, covering Arsenal, the soccer club I support, but we'll see how that turns out. Otherwise, KeeperHadron, and any other opportunities that come my way.

Davis: When you're not writing about killing diabetics or murderous goaltenders, what comics are you reading?

Wessel: Honestly, I'm reading Tamara Drewe at the moment, real talk. It's not my usual fare, no, but it's well worth it. Besides that, I openly and flamingly worship Grant Morrison, so obviously Batman Incorporated is one of my regular reads, and anything else he does. Morning Glories is great too, Nick Spencer is just phenomenal, one of the best writers of the last five years, and he's actually been pretty supportive of my efforts too, so it's greatly appreciated! What else? 

Chew is great, Image has just been KILLING it lately with so many great titles. Paul Cornell's Action Comics is great, I'm eagerly awaiting more Casanova from Fraction, Ba and Moon, and I wish Kick-Ass 2and Superior would come out more often. I'm glad Kieron Gillen is back writing in the Thor range withJourney Into Mystery, and it's great he's taken the reins on Uncanny X-Men. I've loved Gillen's work sincePhonogram – I've even interviewed him for this site, and I also contributed to the Phonogram vs. The Fanszine in 2009 – and getting the work he is and the work he's done for Marvel is awesome. 

I already said I read Scalped, of course, but anything by Jason Aaron is going to get a look from me, he's fantastic. I read 2000 A.D. every week I can, I'm at the mercy of Clickwheel to make them available digitally with any speed, so I'm only slightly behind the British readers. I read a lot of webcomics too,World of Hurt by Jay Potts is a must read every week. I love Awesome HospitalThe Loneliest Astronauts ... and generally I give any that I hear about from reputable sources, or friends of mine, a look. Jeez, I've already gone on and on and barely scratched the surface. I read a lot. I'm sure I'll remember 50 more after this interview is over.

Davis: And for shits and giggles, let's hear your dream cast for Keeper.

Wessel: Oh man... you know, when I was first developing Keeper, the Jessabelle character was clearly based on Lady Gaga, but that was before she completely blew up and conquered the pop landscape so I thought I could get away with it, and, well I guess not! Beyond that, I don't know, I guess I don't really have one in mind, I mean I know who I have based characters on in my head, but there's no way in Hell they'll ever be cast in it. Jez Pritchard, Lewisham's star striker, he was based loosely on Arsenal's Theo Walcott, a young English striking talent. In the same way the teams are based on real clubs, names and details changed. That's about it really. Scott, I never really had a person in mind for, believe it or not. He could be anyone, anywhere, like a real killer.


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