Just in time for the opening night of the Comic Book Theater Festival tonight at The Brick in Williamsburg, we asked three writers to tell us about their three very different plays, and to name their favorite comic books and theatrical productions.
MATTHEW THURBER, “Mining the Moon”
June 8, 10, 21 and 26
The play: “It’s fantasy-based story about the president, who is a werewolf, and who has halted the spinning of the moon, so the moon’s always full and he can stay in power. He’s deposed, and with the help of his friend, who’s a talking horse, he tries to find his way back to the moon and to the source of his werewolf people. It’s very much a satire and a fantasy in a humorous way, about power and corruption and environmental themes. It’s a weird blend of puppet theater and kabuki theater.”
Favorite comic book: “I love Little Nemo in Slumberland. I love a lot of turn-of-the-century comics like Crazy Cat. I love Ben Katchor comics—he’s another cartoonist who also does stage stuff, who’s contemporary. I love a lot of stuff around the turn of the century when comics were actually really vaudeville influenced.”
Favorite play: “‘Ubu Roi,’ by Alfred Jarry. I’m inspired by it because it’s basically a symbolic play. It’s a living puppet theater that actually started as a puppet play, then Jarry translated it in totally artificial terms. It’s in complete suspension of disbelief, and the audience just has to agree with that, and that’s part of the fun.”
FRED VAN LENTE, “King Kirby”
June 20, 21, 25, 28, 29
The Play: “’King Kirby’ is a play about the life of Jack Kirby, often called the ‘king of the comics,’ who had a career and a life that spans almost the entire 21st century. Every important moment in comic history is pretty much relatable back to him. He drew his way out of the Jewish ghetto of the Lower East Side, he fought in France during WWII, and he created or co-created characters like Captain America, the X-Men, Thor, Avengers, and for that matter, he helped create romance comics. It’s a drama that takes place from when he was about 12 to 80. He died in 1992. And the point of the play is that a lot of people think that entertainment and pop culture just kind of gets cranked out by this faceless corporate machine, when in fact, it’s real human beings with real flesh-and-blood stories who make this stuff happen, and this is one of the most important people doing it, and yet very few people know his name.”
Favorite comic book: “I loved Marvel quite a lot as a kid. My favorite Marvel is probably The Amazing Spider-Man. And so when I got to write The Amazing Spider-Man, that was a huge, big deal. Comics that I’ve done—I might as well just plug this because it’s directly related to the subject matter—it’s a book I did with Ryan Dunlavey called The Comic Book History of Comics. That is what it sounds like.”
Favorite play: “The play that influenced me the most, and was the most direct influence on ‘King Kirby,’ is this play called ‘Tom Paine,’ about the guy who wrote Common Sense, the American Revolution figure. And that was a very experimental, kind of surrealist play by a guy named Paul Foster, that was produced with La MaMa on the Lower East Side. And that really blew me away. Most of the staging and conceptual concepts behind ‘King Kirby’ come from ‘Tom Paine,’ although this play’s nowhere near as angry as ‘Tom Paine’ was.
KELLY JEAN FITZSIMMONS: “No, YOU Tell It!: Legacy”
The play: “We like to call it a switched-up storytelling series, where we gather together a group of four people from very different walks of life: writers, actors, directors, sometimes people in advertising that want to be a little more creative. We work with them to develop a non-fiction, true-life tale based around a theme. And we meet two times, first to develop it on the page, kind of like a writing workshop, and then eventually, based on the people and the similarities in the story, we pair and flip the stories. So when you come see the show, you see them perform each other’s stories. You see the swapped stories performed for the first time in front of an audience.”
Favorite comic book: “I really liked Y: the Last Man, that whole series. I got so sucked into the stakes of it, and this idea of women left running the world, and all the different problems that arose from it. It’s epic, and a little bit more accessible to me.”
Favorite play: “I want to be hugely original, but I just love ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ It’s one of the first plays I heard read out loud. Then I also really love ‘As You Like It.’ That was one of the first plays that I directed with students, and we just brought it to life in such a different way.”