Some stories just have staying power. Image Comics’ Skybound imprint knows a bit about that, seeing as its founder’s series The Walking Dead is one of the longest-running out there. But for their latest launch, they’re going for a story that has been around much, much longer.
Kill the Minotaur is a new comic book series by writers Chris Pasetto and Christian Cantamessa and artist Lukas Ketner that retells the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur for a modern audience. Cantamessa was one of the writers behind video games like Red Dead Redemption and also directed the movie Air, which he co-wrote with Pasetto. Ketner is best known for another a supernatural medical series called Witch Doctor. They’re teaming up to put their twist on the tale of the labyrinth and the half-bull half-man that lives within.
It’s a myth that has stood the test of time, but Pasetto, Cantamessa and Ketner think they’ve cooked up a take that will have readers looking at it in a new way.
The creative team was kind enough to share a five-page preview and answer a few questions for us, discussing their personal connections to the myth, their approach to the series and much more! You can check out the preview and interview with the Kill the Minotaur team below, and you can find Kill the Minotaur #1 in all good comic shops this Wednesday. As always, please be sure to let us what you think of the comic in the comments below.
You’re working with a story that has survived thousands of years. Does that make your job as writers easier or harder?
Chris Pasetto: Both? The Minotaur myth is a very primal story, which certainly makes our job easier, working with material that resonates so strongly. Whether or not you're familiar with the original myth, you've probably been exposed to it in some form. All those great horror movies where the killer stalks you through the dark house? That's the Minotaur. Classic tug-at-your-terror-strings stuff. In terms of sticking to the original story and potential difficulties of a faithful recounting ... that's honestly never been our goal. In researching the myth — all the varied, inconsistent versions — we gathered a lot of ideas, picked what we liked, discarded what we didn't like. This is our take on the myth of the Minotaur. Hopefully readers will forgive the liberties we've taken with the source material in order to tell our own version of the story.
Christian Cantamessa: It was obviously great to start from such a beloved myth that is also a foundational archetype in storytelling. That is the easy part. However, like Chris said, we always saw this as an opportunity to tell the story in our own voice and give a new interpretation of the original material.
Obviously you think there’s some potential to be mined in this particular story, what led you to choose Theseus and the Minotaur over another legend or myth?
CP: I've personally been a huge fan of the Minotaur myth for a long time. There's something different about it — no great armies, no drama between inscrutable gods. It's contained and macabre. The Minotaur has always been this strange tragic monster, too. In most accounts, the Minotaur is imprisoned in the Labyrinth, just because he exists. King Minos couldn't bring himself to kill this abomination, so he has Daedalus construct an intricate prison. Then — because the Minotaur presumably eats people — Minos feeds him the neighbor kids. Why a Labyrinth as opposed to a traditional prison cell? I mean, could the Minotaur have survived just as happily on pork or chicken? I'm only half-kidding. Because part of what we enjoyed working on this was deconstructing the myth and the choices that our characters made to drive the story forward. And I'm not even getting into the whole "King Minos' wife lay with a bull" conception of the Minotaur.
CC: The core story is so quintessentially mythological — hero goes in a maze to kill a monster — and we quickly realized we had a lot of room to build everything around it, from the characters to the origin of the Minotaur, down to the nature of the labyrinth itself.
Lukas, what is compelling to you as an artist about this myth, and how did you become involved in the project?
Lukas Ketner: I loved Greek mythology as a kid and, no joke, Theseus and the Minotaur was my favorite. I've been tempted to have my folks dig up the hundreds of minotaurs that I drew in grade school (they were always very supportive of my being an artist, so they have binders of just about everything that I would like no one to ever see). As soon as Skybound first floated me the possibility of pairing me with Chris and Christian on the idea, I knew I was in. From there, I met them via email. I started sketching for the book long before I signed anything. I was just really into doing it.
How much research do you do for this book? I’d imagine the ancient setting could be challenging to portray accurately.
LK: It was challenging for sure. I did quite a bit of visual research in particular, and had to shape the look of the 'story history' we were portraying from there. I took a few liberties in order to set the Athenian and Minoan cultures apart from one another, but everything was grown from available reference. I did a deep dive online and bought up everything I could from my bookstore. I was amazed at how much more good stuff I found in children's history picture books than the adult variety. National Geographic illustrations were also a great source.
In the preview, we see a bit of where the Minotaur is kept, and it feels more like H.R. Giger than ancient Greece. Can you talk a bit about what’s behind that artistic choice?
LK: I'm sorry, I really can't this early in the story, but there is a reason for it. I will say that the labyrinth is under construction when we first see it in the prologue, which is years before the 'story proper' takes place.
Christian, you mentioned in the announcement that you grew up in Italy. How were you first exposed to Greek mythology as a kid, and how did your upbringing influence this comic?
CC: Italy is a really old country and history literally is everywhere you are, from ancient Roman ruins to the bedtime stories that parents tell their children. I was first exposed to classical studies and mythology in middle school and really dug into the material in high school, where I also took Latin classes for five years as part of my curriculum. While Kill the Minotaur is the most obvious embodiment of mythology, I think the influence can be seen in a number of other projects I have written for.
Chris, you and Christian have both worked with Skybound — and its head Robert Kirkman — before on your movie Air. Did he approach you about doing a comic, or was it something you’ve been interested in doing?
CP: Kill the Minotaur was a story we had brewing in our minds for a long time. I think we had the skeleton of the idea before Air started filming. Christian and I had this great relationship with Skybound, and we were eager to continue working with them. We actually first pitched Kill the Minotaur to Skybound as a comic at an Air preview event. Robert Kirkman walked us over to Sean Mackiewicz, Skybound's Editorial Director. That's pretty much how it all started.
Lukas, you have a relatively long relationship with Skybound as the artist on Witch Doctor. What do you enjoy about working with them?
LK: Just about everything, honestly. There's a lot of trust there, in that they have such a spectrum for what works storytelling-wise. They really support the books they produce and the creators who make them. They're probably one of the best companies you can work for considering their cross-media reach as well, and their great editorial know-how. They just know how a good series works, and how to get a story to reach its potential. Also, they sent me a free hat.
You’ve both written for film and video games before, but this is your first time doing a comic. What surprised you about working in this medium compared to your previous ones?
CP: Video games are their own storytelling animal due to the level of interactivity (unless you're writing a canned sequence or cinematic). Film and comic writing runs closer, but we had to think about panels on a page rather than scenes and shots. Even when writing for film, it's bad form to do a lot of camera direction in the script. Writing for a comic, you need to at least consider the visual composition of the comic page as you're writing. One of the pleasant surprises in doing a comic is that you don't have the same budget restrictions as a film or video game. If you want to pull off a big spectacle in those other media, it can be very costly and time-consuming. Writing a comic, you're mostly reliant on the talent and vision of the artist. Fortunately, Lukas has those in spades.Once we provided him with the proper story set up and real estate on the page, Lukas delivered some truly breathtaking spectacles.
CC: There was a lot of learning involved, as this is our first comic. The process itself was intense — pencils, inks, coloring, lettering ... a lot of iteration and collaboration. And it was also incredibly rewarding to be part of this adventure. A big shout out to Jean-Francois Beaulieu for the amazing colors that bring everything to vivid life, and Clem Robins for the lettering.
If someone is a fan of your video game work, say on Red Dead Redemption, what would you tell them about Kill the Minotaur to get them to give it a shot?
CP: Whatever medium we work in, I think we focus on strong, relatable characters first and let the plot flow from them. Our hope is that anyone who enjoys great stories with great characters in any medium — books, TV, movies, video games, comics — will enjoy Kill the Minotaur.
CC: I share wholeheartedly what Chris just said here. I hope people will enjoy the spectacle and come back because they love the characters.
Without spoiling anything, what do you think makes this comic unique from other versions of the myth people might have read or seen before?
CP: When we say this is our twist on the myth, we really mean it. Theseus, for instance, is a different take on the traditional Greek hero. He has a much more contemporary, cynical view of those mythic stories. "Leda had sex with a swan? Really?" At the same time, Theseus wants a reputation as a great hero. "A place in the songs." I don't want to spoil too much, but there's a lot in Kill the Minotaur that's radically different from the original myth. At the same time … there's a lot that parallels the original myth. It's sort of like re-mixing a classic song to make a fresh new version that echoes the original while standing on its own.
CC: The characters are inspired by their mythological counterparts but should definitely resonate with a more modern audience. Also, part of this is an origin story, and we also get to know a little about the labyrinth, which is a character in itself and something that has always been overlooked in the more classical versions.
LK: Kill the Minotaur is unique in that it gives insight into why those events might have been affecting to the peoples of the time, and why they warranted remembrance and recording. It's a really different take on what happened back then, and it pulls the whole mess out of myth and into a possible reality.
If this book is a hit, is there another myth (Greek or otherwise) that you’d like to adapt?
CP: I sincerely hope that readers like this series and want to see more! We'd love to continue mining Greek myths against the backdrop of the world (and rules) we've established in Kill the Minotaur. There are a lot of amazing myths to choose from! Where would we go next? Hmmm ...
CC: It could definitely be a recurring anthology if people dig what we are doing here.
LK: There were lots of other things that needed killing once upon a time! There's at least one that's 'reflective' of our journey on this story that I'd like to see happen.
Kill the Minotaur #1 is in stores on June 14 from Image Comics’ Skybound imprint. All art by Lukas Ketner with colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu.