Though he's now best known for his work on high-profile superhero books like "Teen Titans" and the current Captain America tie-in "Nomad: Girl Without a World," ten years ago Sean McKeever was building his indie cred in a touching and nuanced series called "The Waiting Place," published by Slave Lavor Graphics with art by Brian and Brendon Fraim and Mike Norton. This week, IDW Publishing releases a deluxe trade paperback collecting the entire eighteen-issue series, along with a new epilogue by McKeever and Norton. CBR News caught up with McKeever to discuss "The Waiting Place" collection and share an exclusive look at the new story.
"The Waiting Place" focuses on a group of teenagers in a small town called Northern Plains, with new student Jeffry taking center stage, at least initially. Over the course of the book, the reader is witness to a series of subtle dramas, from disappointed love, to unrealized potential, to fading friendships, eventually interspersed with more significant personal crises including teen suicide and pregnancy and a fatal conflict amongst the town's drug dealers, among others.
It's easy to stereotype small-town life, but in "The Waiting Place," McKeever provides a well-rounded cast of genuine characters in a rich and complex suburban setting, complete with the sort of "bad stuff" that doesn't get discussed in polite society. "What was important to me was to start with what appeared to be stereotypes, but then start to peel back the layers early on so as to show that they're really three-dimensional people," McKeever said. "I had Jeffry as the hesitant fish out of water; Jill as the freshman way too eager to grow up; Lora using sex and rebellion as escapism; Scott daydreaming about the future while spinning his wheels in the here and now.
"One character I had a ton of fun writing was Kyle, who was the requisite good ol' boy/bully. I wanted to show that there are reasons for his behavior, and that there are things he fears and desires and loves; that he isn't just a redneck. Not that I wanted to excuse or explain away bad behavior. It was a great opportunity to illustrate how we all hide some aspects of ourselves form everyone else - some more than others. I got to do something similar with Flash Thompson in 'Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane,' elevating him beyond the jock who likes to pick on nerds into an interesting person who also happens to be a jock who likes to pick on nerds."
The teenage landscape McKeever creates in the book is supported by a soundtrack of the times, quoting tracks by Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, and other bands that were influential when "The Waiting Place" began publication in the late 1990s. Though some of these references may be dated, the high school experiences McKeever shows are near universal, and of course the specificity of music might give this book an added resonance for readers who came of age during this period. "A big part of my using lyrics was because I was finding myself influenced by TV shows like 'Homicide: Life on the Street,' which often employed popular music over dialogue-free scenes and montages, and I wanted to try and capture that sense in comics," McKeever said of this storytelling device. "It's odd, looking back at those earlier issues now, where the Fraims and I did that. It still works, but there's something surreal about it. I think it's that I'm not the person I was in '96-'97, and the music I chose doesn't have the same meaning to me now as it did then. I mean, I still like those songs and I'm still a big NIN geek, but it all speaks very differently to me now.
"In general, though, music has been and will likely always be a huge influence on my writing," the writer continued. "I rarely write without music on in the background or piping through my earbuds. The right music can strike just the perfect atmosphere in my mind and put me where I need to be. And sometimes I can put me in places I didn't expect to be, which can be even more rewarding."
McKeever said that he had long wanted a single-volume collection of "The Waiting Place," and IDW's handling of other large archival editions such as "Polly and the Pirates" and "The Rocketeer" made them a good fit. "They were doing good work collecting a wide variety of older material, and I was impressed with their bookstore-market presence," the writer said. "The time finally came last year when I had an idea for a new coda to the series and got the approval from DC legal for Mike Norton and I to step out aside from our [exclusive] contracts to make the new story, so I contacted Chris Ryall and that was that."
That epilogue, titled "Seven Years Later...," appears in for the first time in this volume. "I first had the seven-year coda idea maybe four years ago, but it couldn't be more appropriate now that the final issue of the series came out in 2002," McKeever told CBR.
"Plotting the thing was a bear. The characters were speaking to me just as easily as they used to, so no worries there, but it was really a shift in gears from my mainstream work. One day I was out driving and I finally figured out the last third of the story, and then everything clicked perfectly," McKeever said. "Seeing Mike draw the characters again was a huge treat. I can't wait for long-time readers to get a chance to see it, and I think it serves as a nice final chapter to new readers as well.
"But if they want, they can read through chapter 18 and then hold off on the epilogue until 2016 to get the full effect."