Monday, March 17, 2014

Case Study No. 1303: Barbara Randall Kesel

Caricature of Barbara Randall Kesel speedpainting_0001.wmv
The subject of today's caricature is Barbara Randall Kesel, a comic book writer, editor, artist. I chose to develop the most extreme and wild preliminary sketch today because I felt it would fit Barbara's personality better. The drawing took about 40 minutes and I used a wacom bamboo digital drawing tablet in photoshop 7.
Tags: caricature barbara randall kesel speedpainting speed paint william fiesterman photoshop wacom bamboo
Added: 3 years ago
From: WilliamFiesterman
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Caricature of Barbara Randall Kesel
Speedpainting by William Fiesterman
May 9, 2010
(draw time: 40 min.)

This was done for my "One Painting or Drawing per Day" album on Facebook.
I used a Wacom tablet & Photoshop.



However, the writer most responsible for the "rebirth" of Barbara Gordon in the guise of Oracle has been Barbara Kesel. Ms. Kesel's affinity for the character is understandable, as she is one of the few writers (indeed, perhaps the only one) currently working in the mainstream comic book medium who possesses a degree in library and information sciences. Thus it is not terribly surprising to find that Oracle offers an extremely positive depiction of a librarian in the comic book medium.



The Accidental Writer
Barbara Kesel
by Jennifer M. Contino

I guess you could say most of Barbara Kesel's opportunities came from the San Diego Comic Con. Kesel didn't set out to become a comic book writer. She had dreams of being a fantastic playwright or something along those lines. However, when she escaped into a bookstore one night, she rediscovered comics and began, for the first time, to collect new comics. Moved by the bad stereotypical way that most female characters were portrayed, she sent DC Comics a ten-page letter informing them of her views and suggestions for how to 'fix' problems and make improvements.

Dick Giordano was impressed with her suggestions and asked Kesel to meet him at the San Diego ComiCon to talk about her suggestions. Giordano offered her the chance to write the Batgirl back-up feature for Detective Comics. The job only lasted one issue– Giordano got promoted and the series changed– but that job and meeting led to other work!

At DC Comics, Kesel worked in a variety of capacities from writer to editor to developer. She crafted fine stories that were attractive and welcome to all readers. Her work on Hawk & Dove with husband, Karl Kesel, was fantastic! She never settled for anything, and, when she thought there was nothing more she could do with a job or project, she moved on.

After a few years of freelance and working with other comic companies, including Dark Horse , Kesel was waiting for the next challenge. That opportunity came at the 1999 San Diego Comic Con when she was offered the job as Head Writer for CrossGen Comics, after Gina Villa heard Kesel's seminar on scriptwriting. Kesel accepted.

I'm a big fan of Barbara (Don't call her Barb!) Kesel's work. I feel very fortunate that a few years ago she answered the goofy email I sent her, and continued to answer all the others. I'm excited and looking forward to reading and watching the world of CrossGen develop and grow. I've wanted to interview her ever since I started writing for Sequential Tart, but just never seemed to have the nerve to talk with one of my 'heroes.' However, I finally worked up my nerve – along with some swell questions – and spoke with Barbara about her views on comics, life, and the future.

Sequential Tart: When did you discover comic books?

Barbara Kesel: I first discovered comic books through TV. I remember getting up early to watch Superman (George Reeves) on TV. Then came Aquaman on Saturday morning. A coverless copy of Aquaman #7 was the first comic book I ever bought. It was three cents: cover price halved and rounded down because of the missing cover.

ST: What comic books were your favorites?

BK: Historically, the old Legion stories, the Nick Cardy Aquamans, Claremont/Byrne X-Men, Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, the old Wonder Woman reprints. Currently, the Alan Moore books, The Sandman "family" of Vertigo books, the very lamented Sandman Mystery Theatre, Hellboy, Transmetropolitan, random Elseworlds, anything by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, and I'm probably forgetting something I'll wake up in the middle of the night and scream out "How could I have forgotten FITB!"

ST: What other hobbies did you enjoy as a child?

BK: Being in constant motion, rollerskating, Barbies (Mine were all superheroes), writing stories and plays that the neighborhood kids would put on, exploring wild territory, reading, reading, reading.

ST: Have you always liked to read?

BK: Oh, yeah. I grew up moving just often enough that my childhood "friends" are certain books that were always in the local libraries.

ST: What non-comics was your favorite stuff to read?

BK: Just everything I could get my hands on, but Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, Roald Dahl, the Lang "add color here" fairytale books, all of those kid mystery series like my fave, Trixie Belden, every Scholastic book I could beg my parents for, C.S. Lewis' Narnia, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Andre Norton, every Peanuts book, Lois Duncan, Madeleine L'Engle, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Raskin's The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon, I mean Noel (a big childhood favorite!).

ST: You've got an acting/theater background, correct? What was so intriguing about a career in this field?

BK: I went to a shitty high school at the wrong era, so education wasn't a priority, FOOTBALL was. There were a few really great teachers, but the general atmosphere was anti-learning, pro-jock worship. I ended up in a drama class, and the drama teacher was really inspiring: he took the play as a starting place, and made us work hard building a show from the inside out. It was the only area in my school where I felt like anybody cared about trying to do something to the best of their ability as opposed to the easiest way possible, and it offered me a venue to write, and a group of really good friends who have stayed connected ever since.

I went to college to study theater without really thinking the whole thing through (I think I originally planned to be a high school drama teacher myself, but I always thought of writing as what I would end up doing, so any "job" was really just a temporary thing.) and ended up realizing that in the grown-up world, my scattershot "I want to do EVERYTHING" approach to life didn't work in a world of micro-specialized unions. I was doing costumes and lights and box-office management and writing and props and construction and in the real world, I didn't want to pick "just one."

ST: Who influenced you as an 'artist?'

BK: All the writers I listed before, plus the incredible number of plays I've read and studied. My particular favorite is Lanford Wilson. I've only recently been introduced to David Mamet, but I love what I've read. Shakespeare, the center of the playwriting universe. Christopher Marlowe, Neil Simon, Lillian Hellman (and/or Dash Hammett!), Agatha Christie, Thornton Wilder, etc.

ST: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

BK: I never realized I "wanted to be one." I just always WAS one. I can't remember a time before telling and writing stories.

ST: Was comics your first choice?

BK: Nope. I was going to be a prolific playwright.

ST: Who were some of your influences to pursue a career in comics?

BK: The question doesn't really apply to me. It wasn't a career I pursued; it happened to me by accident.

ST: By accident...?

BK: I'd always liked comics, but I never planned on a career in comics. Fate did that. I was on break from my job in the city library in Pomoma, California, and I was walking through a local open-air mall that had been converted into antique shops. I heard this guy come up behind me, but was suddenly startled when he put his arm across my shoulders and started talking to me like he knew me and liked me. He had no weapon, and said nothing overtly threatening, but a stranger who's suddenly talking about what you're going to go do and see is a threat. That's when it dawned on me that all the shops were closed, and I had no way to escape. I stayed calm until I saw an "open" sign. I launched myself off this guy and dove into the shop. It was a used book store.

There was a nice couple behind the counter. "I'm not here and you don't see me" I yelled, disappearing into the stacks and hiding behind a big open book, trying to stay invisible. The guy runs in, saying "have you seen my girlfriend?" The woman behind the counter says "She went out that door and that way" as she gestures toward the street-side door. They asked me if I wanted to call the cops, but this was 1979. This guy had no weapon and made no threat that wouldn't sound ridiculous when reduced to words on paper. (Twenty years and several Ted Bundy clones later, this would be taken seriously, but not in 1979.)

But, I said, "Can I have one of every one of those DC Comics behind you?" Thus began my relationship with the late, lamented Pfeiffer's Books 'n' Tiques and Carl and Frances Pfeiffer (they're still around, but not the store), and my first opportunity to purchase new comics on a regular basis. Which led to Frances listening to me bitch about the sad characterization of women characters in comics and suggesting that I write a letter to them about it. Since I'd always gotten my comics by trading or through used book stores, I'd completely failed to realize that since I was now getting new comics, I could play, too.

So I wrote a ten-page diatribe to Dick Giordano at DC in all my college sophomore arrogance outlining how he could "fix" this problem. Dick called me and asked if I could come to San Diego to meet him at the Con. He hired me to write a Batgirl back-up series in Detective, then got promoted so that my "series" got replaced after one story.

I got my degree (Drama, 1983) and then (rather than figure out what I was going to do as my "real job) accepted Dick's next offer to go work as Marv Wolfman's Associate Editor at DC. I never liked New York, though, so I toughed it out from 1984 to 1989, meeting Karl and getting married in the process, then moved back to "where water means West."

After a few years freelancing, I was intrigued by a job offer from a new little company in Portland, Dark Horse, and worked for them until things evolved there to the point where I didn't feel like I fit in anymore.

Then I freelanced again, doing a lot of volunteer community work also, until I was "discovered" at San Diego in 1999 by Gina and Mark and was made an offer to come to CrossGen.

ST: How did you prepare for your writing career?

BK: I read, and I wrote, and I read, and I wrote. During high school, I wrote a lot of fiction, then moved into playwriting. In college, I did extensive deconstruction of plays and stories, plus wrote my brains out in the days of dyslexia and no Macs and many typos. I filled a lot of three-ring binders with stuff.

ST: I've read that your first professional work, a Detective Comics Batgirl back-up feature was written while you were monitoring a play. Wow, that's talent! Are you always inspired to write while you're in the middle of something else?

BK: Actually, the second Batgirl story, which was never produced, was literally written in a light booth while I was running lights for one show with my shoes off. We had a Forties-era subdimmer board, and I had to snap on one set of lights while fading another, and my armspan just wasn't long enough to rach, so I did one fade with my left hand and the other with my right foot. Multi-tasking! (That behemoth was replaced by a computer-governed board the next year.)

ST: What was the end that you had planned for Batgirl? Your last tale never really got to be told. How were you going to end the series?

BK: Well, when I first did the backups for Dick Giordano, I didn't think in terms of an ending– that was long before Alan Moore. Years later, when I did the Secret Origin and the Batgirl Special, we had the script and some pages from the Killing Joke in house already. My job was to make people give a hoot that poor l'il Babs had her spine shot through.

ST: How did you and Karl Kesel meet?

BK: Karl and I met at DC Comics in November of 1984. I'd just been hired as an Associate Editor and was working mostly with Marv when this round-headed kid who looked like Linus with a cute button-down shirt and skinny tie came in and I hated him for being too young for me. Then I found out his real age, which was about ten years beyond his looks. We both felt the zap right away (at least, that's what he says NOW) but, in bad ironic fashion, both of us have very good friends of the opposite gender, and both of us got the wrong impression: he/she's TAKEN! Figuring that if we couldn't be the true love, we'd at least be the best friend, we started spending all of our time together. I'd rush home for my 7:00 phone call, we'd spend weekends "checking out the city" together– in our obliviousness, we were the last to know.

ST: A lot of men propose to their loves in weird ways. How did Karl propose to you?

BK: I got a formal ring and knee-bend years later, but early on I got a "You make me think it'd be nice to be married" and I thought so, too.

ST: Have the two of you ever competed for the same assignment?

BK: We haven't competed, but I have picked up a couple of assignments that people actually were calling KARL about...

ST: Who's idea was it for Hawk – Hank Hall – and a new Dove – Dawn Granger – to make the scene?

BK: When I was looking through one of Karl's sketchbooks, he'd done a sketch of a female Dove. "Who's this?" I asked. "Oh," he said, "I always thought Dove should have been a girl character." We chatted, I wrote up the proposal, and poor Carlin got badgered into the series.

ST: Was that the first time you and Karl had worked together? What is it like co-writing and working on a project with your husband?

BK: That was our first project together. We actually got married during the series. "Barbara Kesel" appeared in the credits before I was, I think.

ST: Did you ever argue over parts of the story?


ST: How did you settle disagreements about a particular point?

BK: I pouted, and Karl usually got his way.

ST: I HATED the ending of Hawk & Dove. What was the real reason that Hank Hall became Monarch and Dawn Granger died? What was the ending that you and Karl had planned for the series?

BK: Let's get one thing clear: that wasn't a planned ending of Hawk and Dove. That awful story was an Armageddon 2000 special created after somebody at DC spilled the beans about Captain Atom's being Monarch. Then, a small number of people worked feverishly to find some other character to sacrifice, and since H&D had just been cancelled...

If you've ever pitied anyone, pity Jonathan Peterson, the poor person who had to give me the news. I wasn't pleased, and wasn't shy about sharing. If there's anything I hate with a passion, it's characters behaving out of character, especially when it involves a smart woman being stupid for no reason. H&D becoming Monarch could have been a clever idea: if they BOTH became the character, their innately opposite natures could explain a schizophrenic villain. As it was... it was a last-minute fix that sucked. The ending closest to what I have in mind was in the Unity story in the H&D Annual #2, but it's all water under the bridge.

ST: You've held a lot of different jobs in your comic career. Which was your favorite? Which one did you dread?

BK: I've liked everything I've done, for different reasons. I was so excited to get to DC, and really liked it until I got shunted over into the "Development" group and was told I couldn't work on the superhero books anymore. Since I don't like Manhattan to begin with, that had me looking for other options.

When I started at Dark Horse, I was the fifteenth employee and it was s small shop where we all got to do everything. A few years and the transition to a more "corporate" structure later, I ended up being an odd leftover piece with a full-time job but half-time work and I hate being bored.

Since I was no longer allowed to write, I left to write. CrossGen appealed to me for the audaciousness of trying to do comics this way: with all the creative people in house. They wanted somebody like me to help train new writers; I wanted to be here to help make it happen.

ST: Elsegirls Finest was awesome! Are there any plans for a follow up series? What was your inspiration for that story?

BK: We've tried pitching two follow-ups, but neither was accepted, and now I'm off the market. Tom and Matt brought the basic idea to me. I fleshed things out and tied up loose ends and made the characters talk. They made it all look good.

ST: When did you first hear about Cross Gen Comics?

BK: They found me in San Diego last year. I'd done a scriptwriting seminar, and after hearing me do my patented spiel about how "anybody can do comics, here's how," Gina Villa told Mark he should hire me for the Head Writer job. I ran screaming from the idea of a full-time job. They just made such a compelling case... The rabid wolves gnawing at my knees helped seal the deal.

ST: How hard was it to take a 'chance' on the untested waters of CrossGen?

BK: I'm in Florida for the winter. This is hard?

ST: Once you were hired, what happened next? Did you select Marz as the other writer, or did he already have a position?

BK: Ron and I were hired at the same time. We then met in the conference room with Mark and Gina and Brandon to tear apart, rebuild, and then flesh out each of the prototype titles. We've been writing like rabid monkeys ever since.

ST: How did Karl feel about moving from one coast to the other?

BK: Boy, does that cold-weather, Portland, and car-free life-loving guy love me.

ST: Did Mark Alessi already have the concept for Cross Gen or did you and Marz create the CG universe?

BK: Mark and Gina had studied what worked across the generations of comics (get it?) and had worked up some good core ideas. Then the other three of us ripped them apart and put them back together as comics.

ST: What genre are the stories you are telling?

BK: The books would roughly fall into the categories of science fiction or fantasy.

ST: You're not unfamiliar with templating worlds and regions that are fantastical in nature. How is this different from your TSR works?

BK: Well, we made up all the details; there aren't big "Monster Manual" books to pull references from. There are similarities, and that's one of the things that made me an appealing candidate for my job – the fact that I'd bridged fantasy and comics once before.

ST: What is the Sigil?

BK: A sign that the link between you and a source of cosmic power has been activated.

ST: How does one marked by the Sigil change?

BK: Duh! You suddenly have this logo thingy somewhere on your body! Okay, to elaborate: a Sigil-Bearer gains a link to power. How that power manifests, both in style and amount, has a lot to do with what kind of person you are and how you decide to wield it.

ST: What is the universe of Sigil like?

BK: There's more than one world. We start on Tanipal, which is the "Las Vegas" of the Sigil universe: out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but lose money.

ST: Which character in Sigil is your favorite?

BK : Roiya, with her Eeyore voice, is winning me over. Sam's a bumbler, and he's got a bit of a drawl, so he's fun, too. Zanni's a harsh gal, even though her life has been soft, and JeMerik's a charming opportunist, the flirt. I don't have a favorite yet.

ST: What are the Human/Saurian wars?

BK: The two races have been at war for a long time because they basically can't understand each other. Since they can't bridge the gap, they want to kill.

ST: What is the Planetary Union?

BK: A confederation of the human homeworld and the four colony states.

ST: What is Meridian?

BK: The fourth monthly title and a floating city on the world of Demetria where Sephie lives.

ST: What is the world where Meridian is a city like?

BK: Demetria is the world, Meridian one of the floating city-states. Meridian is what you'd get if the Roycrofters, or another of those turn-of-the-century arts and crafts studios, were placed on a fantasy world.

ST: What was intriguing about having a world with floating cities like those of Demetria? How did the cities come about?

BK: The floating island idea was Brandon's. Mark wanted a book themed around commerce and intrigue. The initial conference group brainstormed the basic ideas. The specific islands and their specialties are coalescing more as I write new plots.

ST: Who are the craftsmen of Meridian?

BK: Meridian is a city-state of shipbuilders. Since ships are the only form of transportation on Demetria, what's created here is commercially important. Other state have found ways to make boats more quickly, but they don't last as long as the ones crafted on Meridian.

ST: What can you tell us of the main cast of Meridian and how the Sigil mark affects them?

BK: There are two Sigil-Bearers on Demetria, Sephie and her uncle.

ST: What's up next?

BK: We're currently working on the development of "Title 5" which will feature a group of characters called the First. They are very interested in what is going on with the creation of sigil-bearers. They also get to have their own stories.

ST: How is working for CrossGen different from working for the 'Big 3'?

BK: Well, the job's very different for me because I'm creating full-time, not just policing or polishing. There's a "business" element to the job, but there's the constant charge of kicking around ideas until they become something.

ST: What is the advantage of having the whole team under one roof?

BK: Artistic differences can be resolved through foosball.

ST: What's a typical work day like for you?

BK: Come in, read and respond to e-mail, have meetings, do plots or dialogue, read posts on the web site and respond, read submissions and respond, argue with Mark over breast size, blame any current problems on Ron, drive Gina crazy with memos and suggestions, work toward beating Ian at foosball, make the Lai brothers crazy by putting in too many "frames," watch Josh careen from beautiful drawings to psychotic behavior, borrow Brandon's DVDs when he's not looking, trade practical jokes with Caesar, write new practice plots for Steve McNiven, call the costumer to consult on the Mystic costume, listen to Dexter's wonderful range of music, go outside and watch for the alligator, think up new ideas... the usual.

ST: Are you working on anything 'non' comics?

BK : One big ol' quilt, a small novel (I'm finally one of THOSE people – you know, the ones who are "working on a novel"!) organizing my life, and training the sweet but uncontrollable dog. I'm exclusive to CrossGen as a writer, so there are no comic book projects for other companies on my desk.

ST: Any last thoughts?

BK: Yes, the Nature Conservancy. One of the most efficient non-profits, out there saving the world one acre at a time. Comics eat up so many trees we should make sure more are there for the next generation's issues.

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