Joe Kelly Interview

In his career in comics, Joe Kelly has written such books as DC's Justice League, Action Comics, and the current Justice League Elite. This month he, along with artist Ariel Olivetti and cover artist Alex Ross, turns attention to the classic cartoon character, . Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently caught up with Kelly to find out more about this project.

Westfield: Are you a fan of Space Ghost?

Joe Kelly: Oh, absolutely. I'm a fan of both the original incarnation and Coast to Coast. I don't have them all on DVD yet, but I've always loved the character.

Westfield: I think to people who are only familiar with Space Ghost from Coast to Coast, the series is going to be a bit of a shock. [laughter]

Kelly: I would say so. I think that's part of why it took so long to do the project. I had been asking DC for two, two and a half years maybe, to consider a dark take on some of these Hanna-Barbera properties. Because Cartoon Network had him locked up as a comedy property, they were like, "we really can't dilute the brand," "we can't give people two conflicting versions." I guess they decided it was ok to take a chance on it now.

Westfield: Why did you decide to go the darker route? It seems even darker than the original cartoon.

Kelly: Originally, we wanted to have him make a cameo in the Our Worlds at War story we were doing in Superman. Just to see him really kicking butt was the genesis of this. Then, when I was thinking about Space Ghost as a character and what I remember of him, he did always strike me as a space version of the Lone Ranger or any of those other pulp heroes. The root of that stuff is pretty dark. Any of that kind of pulp sci-fi stuff has a certain level of darkness to it, including the wonder element of anything can happen, and look at the crazy aliens and ships and stuff. You remember things selectively, so I was selectively remembering bits of Space Ghost from when I was a kid and thinking he was a lot tougher of a character than he's been played. I wanted to try to explore that route. He didn't have an origin story, so we set this a good ten years before the cartoons would have taken place so it leaves us room to play it dark in the beginning, but then give us a place to go. It doesn't actually contradict any of the cartoon stuff.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story in the mini-series?

Kelly: It's two-fisted, science fiction, pulp action stuff. It starts with Space Ghost before he's ever in costume as an intergalactic peace officer. It follows what happens to him - the betrayal that sends him on a path of vengeance, but while he's trying to execute his revenge, he rediscovers his quest for justice and his desire to do the right thing. That's the overall arc of the story. There are definitely characters from the original cartoon in it, and people who only know these guys from Coast to Coast will be especially shocked at the villains. Hopefully in a good way though.

Ariel Olivetti painted it. He basically does pencils and then does everything on computer. It really looks incredible. He gets better every issue. It's such a cool look and it really works well with the fact that we know Space Ghost is a cartoon, but then I'm hitting it with this pulp sensibility so it's a melding of those two forms in a lot of ways. It looks incredible. And, of course, the Alex Ross covers look great too. Everybody who came to the project were all fans of Space Ghost. Ariel was drawing Space Ghost pin-ups and sending them to editor Joey Cavalieri before there was ever a project, just saying I wish I could draw Space Ghost [laughs]. And I know Alex had done one or two Space Ghost images as well. We all are really into the character. I think it shows.

Westfield: What's the approval process been like for the series?

Kelly: It's been startlingly smooth. It's been incredible. Joey and I go through the plots and if anything seems dicey, we flag it and say we'll have to see what they say. Everything has gone through DC and they go through people at Warner Brothers, and the Warner Brothers people have been very cool. Anything they've ever asked us to tweak has been completely reasonable. It's been less about story content and more about 'that looks bloody,' or 'is that too brutal?' That kind of stuff. Completely within reason. I know he is somebody else's toy, so we want to treat him with a lot of respect even though we're trying to do something a little bit different with the character. Everybody's been great. I wish they were all this good.

Westfield: Did you go back and watch any of the original cartoons to prepare for this?

Kelly: Not really because, like I said before, a lot of it comes from what you remember and what you think you remember about that stuff as opposed to actually going back and looking at it. I just bought the old Spider-Man 67 cartoons and what I had in my head and what I actually saw when I re-watched them were two very different things [laughs]. I didn't want to dilute my intent for Space Ghost by going through too much of that. I just had a feeling it might throw me off a bit or soften the blow that I was going for.

Westfield: Can you say anything about which other Space Ghost characters will be showing up, or do you want to keep that as a surprise?

Kelly: There's no monkey, but the twins are in it. It won't be too hard to guess, especially from the Alex covers, who one of the villains are in it, but it's a very different take on this character even from the original cartoon.

Westfield: From what I've seen of the series, bugs are mentioned occasionally. Is it a reasonable guess that Zorak'll be showing up?

Kelly: He might... [laughs] We've got a lot of brand new characters for the origin. We really do explain not just what motivates him to do all this stuff as a character, but where he gets the cloak from, and all the technology, and the costume. All of this stuff comes from somewhere and you see him assemble it as he goes along. So even if people know that Zorak is in it, there's still plenty of surprises.

I had so much fun working on this project it's been incredible. I just laugh that we got to do this, because it really is fun. I think the people at DC are pretty happy with it. We've been talking about what might come next - other Hanna-Barbera properties and what's available and what's not available. And I wouldn't mind doing more Space Ghost, too. In a perfect world, I'd like to do a trilogy.

Westfield: Moving away from Space Ghost for a moment, you're also working on Justice League Elite. Is there anything you'd like to say about that?

Kelly: I hope people are reading it [laughs]. Elite's been another great experience. At San Diego, people would come up to me and say, "I thought Action #775 was against this type of thing, and here you are doing it." And I keep telling people, "Just read the book. See how it goes." The mandate when we sat down and started working on it was, can we put something surprising in every issue? And I think we've done a pretty good job of that, whether it's just cool bits between the characters or big plot twists. I'm really excited to see how the story's been unfolding. I think it's going to translate when people read it. It's a fun bunch of characters. It's stuff that I wanted to do within the regular Justice League for a long time, but just couldn't. So it's a really nice opportunity for me and hopefully people are gonna dig it and stick it out and see how it plays out. It's always hard to say, with the way the current market is, what people are going to give a chance to and what they're just gonna let drop. So far, people seem to be liking it and buying it, so it's encouraging.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you're working on you'd like to mention?

Kelly: I wish I did [laughs]. I actually don't know what I'm doing next. We're so far ahead on Elite, it's crazy. I have three more issues of Elite and I have a couple of things in the pipeline at DC, but I'm not sure which of those is going to be approved first. More on that to come.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Kelly: We have a lot of cool stuff coming up from Man of Action within the next year which I'm very excited about. [Note: Man of Action is a development/production house comprised of Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Duncan Rouleau & Steven T. Seagle.] All of the guys have something going on. Hopefully we're going to be able to make some announcements soon about other media which I'm really excited about. But there's a lot of comics coming, not just from the guys but from myself, for next year that are going to be really different. You're going to hear more about that too in the next couple of months as things get solidified. 2005's really going to kick butt.