Ted McKeever's latest comic might feature angels, devils and a diminutive messiah, but it also helped the creator deal with some of his own demons. The mind behind such indie comic classics as "Transit" and "Metropol" as well as recent Image Comics/Shadowline books "Mondo" and "Meta 4" deals with everything from sobriety and reconciliation to mummified cats and a literal angel/devil duo of the shoulder-sitting variety.
"Miniature Jesus" stars Chomsky, a recovering alcoholic trying to put a new life together for himself, a task made more difficult by the actual presence of the aforementioned shoulder advisors and the title character, who really does happen to be Jesus returned to a world that doesn't think nearly as much about him as the one he previously inhabited.
McKeever pulled from his own experiences when figuring out the story, putting many of them on the page transmogrified through a lens that involves zombies and the like. With such an interesting tale in the telling, CBR News talked to McKeever about Chomsky's life, his own working methods and how a mummified cat fits into the whole thing.
CBR News: You just did "Mondo" last year and now you have "Miniature Jesus" in the works. Do you work on the projects simultaneously, or one at a time?
Ted McKeever: Well, technically, one at a time. 26 years ago I attempted working on "Transit" and "Eddy Current" simultaneously. Which I came to the conclusion that if I kept that process up, I'd have ended up in a loony bin. I'd laugh here, but I'm not joking. It was extremely rough, because then, as even more-so now, I don't take my stories so lightly that I can just jot down plots and dialogue without caressing and developing almost every scene and word to the point of insanity. I had every intention of completing my obligations regardless of the outcome. But "Transit" ended sooner than expected due to Vortex Comics going under.
And so I was able to complete "Eddy Current" with 100% focus. I learned then that I never again would work on dual projects at the same time.
That said, I'll clarify the "technically" comment. Having just completed the very-personal and mentally taxing "Meta 4," I wanted to do something a bit more fun -- a bit more stream-of-conscious. So I started to develop "Mondo." The operative word is "develop" as it was just notes, scribbles and doodles. But nothing of weight or depth at the time.
Then, same as before, only towards the end of "Mondo," I had scattered ideas to work next on a "zombie" series that would be told from the perspective of a zombie. What I found was a dead-in-the-water idea that had about as much enthusiastic flow as a turd nailed to a wooden floor. I dropped it like a bad habit. With the individual issues of "Mondo" behind me, and while working on the trade edition, I started to develop the foundation of what would become "Miniature Jesus." So basically, towards the end of the project I am working on at the moment, the following series' tone and subject are dictated by what I just went through, and where I want to travel next.
Can you explain the title? Who or what is the Miniature Jesus?
Without putting the cart before the horse, I'll say this much: "Miniature Jesus" is basically a metaphor for how the world is no longer based on a man's word or handshake that matters. Those values have sadly been replaced with this cynical, rude, callous way of behaving that most of society now finds "acceptable." This isn't a book about religion, or any kind of preachy "be good boys and girls" crap. It is NOT a series about "organized religion." It's about the icons and symbols that represent a philosophy as old as man. That said, I asked myself what if the second coming happened today? What if Jesus showed up in a world filled with all this Twittering and Facebook and texting garbage? In my opinion, hence the title, he'd be physically dwarfed and spiritually dehydrated. So, the miniature Jesus is exactly what the title entails, an 8-inch Jesus that descends from the cross in a run-down church, and... well, any more said would be telling too much.
Tell us about our lead character, Chomsky. What kind of world is he dealing with and how does he react to his new situation?
Chomsky is a recovering alcoholic that has basically had to strip away his previous life and start over. Part of the recovery process of an addictive mind is to distance oneself from the people and places that caused the desire to drink in the first place. His addiction and destructive behavior was so severe (as will be revealed in a future issue) that his need to wipe the slate clean was all-encompassing. The range of emotions that plague someone getting sober is beyond description. One minute all is calm and focused, the next a wired ball of self-doubting mental turmoil. The need to hold onto to something...anything to keep one's feet on the ground is like gripping barbed wire with your teeth. You feel somewhat stable, but the tighter you hold on, the more painful it becomes. The secret, then, is to let go. Sounds like an oxymoron I know, and it took me many years to finally understand that contradiction properly. So, being that I am writing this from my own personal experiences, I'm attempting to convey it in a fantastical, yet realistic way, so that there is truth behind the parable.
What Chomsky is faced with, in this series, is that the demons that plague his tortured mind, at first, are self-inflicted. But then comes the point that what were once tormented figments of his imagination actually start becoming truly real. If a true, albeit small, embodiment of Jesus has appeared in a small midwestern town, then so can the Devil, and all his demonic minions as well. So what we have is Chomsky, wading through the quagmire of sobriety, and as he becomes more sure of his footing, the plane of existence shifts completely out of balance, and the already fragile world he lives in becomes a big steaming pile of flux. Both figuratively and literally.
What made you want to deal with the angel/devil on the shoulders element and how prominently does it work into the story?
Those two elements are the core of the story. I mean seriously, how many times during any given day do you have a situation that offers two directions? Good path. Bad path.
For example, someone cuts you off in traffic. You can either shrug their crap off and go about your day or speed up and go postal on their inconsiderate asses. You have micro-seconds to make that decision. Like in the old cartoons where you see the little angel pop up on one shoulder that says, "Do the right thing" and then the little devil shows up on the other and says, "Rip their friggin' heads off."
Those weren't "cartoons," those were brilliant metaphors that, as a child, were imbedded in my mind as visuals to what is really real in each of us. And why I decided to take those two opposites and develop a story about a fractured individual dealing daily with what is right, and what is wrong. And then what happens when one of those "voices" isn't there to counterbalance the other when he needs it the most.
The mummified cat is, at first, a sort of come-to-life apparition that is as real as Chomsky chooses to see. But said cat spouts out a bit more specific information than is usually normal for a hallucination. So is it real, or just his over-developed sense of introspection? Basically it hints at the beginning of the end of his reality. What he perceives as a hunger-hallucination, is actually -- dare I say -- deity-based. Now whether it's entirely actual or not isn't for me to say at this point. What I will say is it's not the last time you're going to see this crusty feline.
The Egyptian element stems from my interest in the world's perception of "God." How many cultures worship a God that looks, behaves, originates, or has laws that are different from the next? Are they all wrong? Are we wrong? But, what if they are all right? What if God isn't a perception based entirely of individual diversity? What if there were that many Gods and all of them exist in one heavenly-location or another.
The Egyptian God is just the beginning. There's a whole bunch more higher-powers sitting in the wings. So sit back and relax. They'll all be out shortly.
Is it cathartic or therapeutic for you to tackle issues like this that sound so close to your own personal experience?
Both actually. Cathartic because -- I mean who in their right mind would intentionally want to go back to some of the worst times in their life? Add to that having to not only recall it all in explicit detail, but then go and spend weeks, even months illustrating it. It's not pleasant at all.
And there are times I felt maybe I should just candy-coat it, or even take a completely different path avoiding it completely. But then I'd be who I was before: a man living in denial and behind false facades. I've always written from the heart, and this series is no different. So it's my responsibility to myself to be honest and clear, no matter how painful it is.
That all said, the therapeutic part comes from something someone said to me during the first years of my sobriety attending meetings. This guy said to me, "It's easy getting sober, and it's hard staying sober." I was like, "What the hell are you talking about? Getting sober is like climbing a mountain of glass with no arms." 12 years later and I now look back and see how right he was. As time passes, all the drunken stupid bastardly dumb crap I did fades and all that remains is the laughing and parties and disconnected feeling of (pathetically induced) euphoria. So what I do now is remind myself of how poisoned I was. How it almost literally killed me. But by opening myself up in a story like this one, allows me to remember all the dark times and in turn, helps me go through another day knowing I'm on the right path.
Ted McKeever's "Miniature Jesus" #1 debuts from Shadowline and Image Comics on April 17.