Joe Kelly is a prolific comic book writer, with credits on the extended mythos of Deadpool, Daredevil, Superman, and others. But he also penned the graphic novels, Four Eyes and I Kill Giants. which connect the everyday world of our expectations with fantasy-infused realities to create colorful, inventive worlds where our worst fears take on different shapes. Now, I Kill Giants is going where Kelly’s ‘other’ creation, TV’s Ben 10, hasn’t gone: the big screen.
Kelly most enjoys working on his own projects like Four Eyes or Bad Dog that he’s written for Image. But he’s also retooled some of the biggest names in comics for DC and Marvel. Still, he grew up reading horror comics that he was gifted by his uncle, and hopes to one day rework the story of The Spectre… even while he’s already written his childhood hero, Spider-man. Now, he’s about to reach a new audience with another angst-driven teen, dealing with issues of good and evil on a grand scale in Barbara Thorson.
Kelly first wrote the story of Barbara, a young girl struggling with life’s troubles as she sees fantastic forces of good and evil that others can’t see, based on how his young, precocious daughter might handle inconceivable tragedy. Looking back, Kelly chuckles at the way his younger self handled certain passages or moments in the story, but the collaboration with director Anders Walter has allowed him to see the story in a new way.
“It was partly based on my own life experiences, wrangling issues for the first time as an adult,” Kelly shared, “but it’s also about seeing those ideas embodied in the giant. I’d been trying to introduce my daughter to all the geeky stuff I love, and I had the idea of conveying this world of Dungeons and Dragons, and fantasy, through the eyes of someone her age.”
But Barbara is a different personality altogether. She’s different from Kelly’s chattier Deadpool, allowing him to do something different than what people might expect. “He speaks a lot,” Kelly laughed. “One of the challenges was to use as few words as possible with graphic novel because I love dialogue and sassy characters. But we’re trying to keep that to a minimum with Barbara. Whether I’m working on a legacy character like Superman or Ben 10, who is this person and what makes them tick and feel real? When I wrote Superman, he wasn’t married but I was newly married in real life, so it helped me handle his character.”
Kelly said the focus was on helping the audience, reading or viewing, buy into Barbara’s world and the reality of her situation. He admitted that his wife, who’d been Ms. Molle before she married him, grounded the guidance counselor of the same name who reaches out to Barbara’s troubled middle school self. While Barbara battles mystical evil that others can’t see, she’s also wrestling with real-life issues, like the bully at school, a bigger girl named Taylor.
“Rory [Jackson] who plays Taylor is one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met!” the author exclaimed. “Every time she’d go into character, it was like, wow, she’s really turning it on! But that shows the audience that Barbara is fearless except for the giant. She feels like she can deal with anything. Her take on bullies and has the willingness to stand up to Taylor.”
“Barbara might not be the best example; she might not do things in the most eloquent way or go talk to a teacher. She’s not the best role model but I hope she reflects the idea that you can go through the fear and get through to the other side. She can remind people that they can stand up for themselves in the moment. It’s hard to put in the nutshell of a film because bullying is such a complex thing.”
On March 23, in theaters and On Demand/Digital HD, audiences will get to examine Barbara in a new way, and consider how their lives might translate into this fantastic world. Would they make the same decisions? Will they agree with Kelly’s perspective? He hopes they’ll leave the theater asking questions, and consider what that means for how they handle the world around them.