C2E2 2019: Interview with Daniel Kibblesmith

Daniel Kibblesmith is a true dual threat, who has written for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Onion News Network as well as comics like Marvel’s Lockjaw and Valiant’s Quantum and Woody. He also has a hilarious Twitter account. At C2E2, I had the opportunity to chat with him about the connections between comics and comedy, his work on Black Panther vs. Deadpool, and his upcoming picture book, Princess Dinosaur.

Graphic Policy: Is it harder to be funnier in comics or prose, and why?

Daniel Kibblesmith: I think it’s harder to be funny in comics because everything has to serve the story and the characters, and in most mainstream cases, the action. So, when you’re funny in comics, I think it has to either have information in it that moves the story forward, or it has to be an icing on the cake. If you’re writing capital “C” comedy, then the comedy is the end that you’re trying to get to.

In narrative stories, it’s one of the tools in the toolbox. I think with superheroes it works really well. It’s one of the reasons the Marvel movies are so popular. They do a great job using humor to explain things and to break tension and to make exposition a little more interesting. So, it’s always a bigger, more diverse project when I have to write something that’s a story instead of writing a humor column, or in the case of Twitter, a million bad jokes.

GP: Do you find parallels between writing for a famous comedian like Stephen Colbert and writing stories in a big, shared universe like Marvel or Valiant?

DK: I think that, at the end of the day, you’re a collaborator with a person or a brand that people have an emotional relationship with so the audience is expecting a certain thing from that person or those characters. You want to make sure that you know their voice inside and out, and that you can deliver what the job requires. In a weird way, I think it can be similar at times. But the subject matter is so different so who can really say?

GP: Let’s talk Black Panther vs. Deadpool. I know Deadpool has these team-up books that pop up every now and then. Was there already a “Versus” story set up, or did you pitch it?

DK: My editors, Wil Moss and Sarah Brunstad, brought the project to me. We had just finished Loki and had a really good time. They were looking for another project to put me on, and in 2018, given how many “Deadpool Vs” titles there were, it seemed weird there wasn’t a Black Panther one. So, it seemed like a project we could get everyone to buy into very quickly from both a behind the scenes and audience perspective.

It was really easy to get excited about this. It was always going to be Black Panther vs. Deadpool. I think the other big decision we made was giving Black Panther top billing because, one, we could make jokes about it, and Deadpool always gets top billing in these. Which I guess we made jokes about it. I think Hawkeye got top billing in one of these though.

GP: That was my favorite “Versus” series.

DK: I really liked the Hawkeye one. I really liked the Gambit one. I read all of them coming into this. For “research”. Because it was Saturday. I had a blast reading all of them, and everyone’s take on Deadpool is slightly different. I loved seeing all the interpretations. I think people think he can be very one note, but if you look into all the different writers, there’s a lot of variation there.

GP: One thing that I found interesting about Black Panther vs. Deadpool was that you decided to focus on T’challa more as a scientist than a superhero. Why did you decide to do that?

DK: It wasn’t really a decision. To me, that’s the character. I grew up reading Silver Age comics from my dad’s collection, and T’challa’s first appearance is when he sends a fake out siginal to the Fantastic Four, hands them their asses with his traps, and he defeats them as a scientist and as a king. I love Black Panther as a superhero. But I think that the Black Panther superhero adventures I really like are when he’s doing stuff in Wakanda that’s either pertaining to being a king or a deposed king, or he’s in Manhattan. Then, he’s much more of a conventional superhero.

But, to me [the scientist] is Black Panther. He’s as much Reed Richards as he is a Daredevil type.

GP: So, Black Panther vs. Deadpool was actually a serious story about curing death. How do you balance the fourth wall breaking jokes with the heavy stuff like death, mortality, and legacy?

DK: People have asked me that a lot, but if you read the [Jonathan] Hickman stuff that I’m a big fan of, Black Panther is King of the Dead. And Deadpool has “dead” in his name. These are two characters who are obsessed with mortality and legacy and indestructibility. Deadpool literally, and Black Panther needing the project the image of being more than a person.

I think all good comedy has an emotional core where the stakes are very real. Whether that’s as dark or sad as I took it or just something human you can relate to. But [both Deadpool and Black Panther] needed to be coming from a real emotional place. And it’s a “versus” title where they’re both protagonists so they both had to 100% know they were in the right even if Deadpool’s version of “in the right” comes with a healthy layer of denial.

GP: Deadpool has been written so many ways. Some write him as a kind of hero, and some as completely amoral. Do you think that he can ever be consistently written as a hero and change, or is he completely set in his ways?

DK: So, my book is about two men. One who is resistant to change. One is desperately pursuing it and is terrible at it. You can guess who’s who. My point of view is that the whole underlying philosophy of superhero comics is that they’re all on a very slow path to change. It might take 75 years.

Because the whole point of serialized storytelling and making sure you stay true to the characters, hitting the beats fans want, and doing it cyclically is that there all protagonists in a story on a journey. They’re looking to change. Or solve some unsolvable problem. Or repair the damage from their childhood.

I definitely believe that Deadpool could be a full-on hero, but it’ll take a minute because of the things people like about him is that he’s relatably flawed. I don’t think Deadpool will ever be Black Panther, but I think he might be a better Deadpool.

GP: I had a lot of fun reading the interplay between Black Panther and Deadpool in this comic. What do you like most about writing “mismatched” heroes?

DK: I realized that I had just finished doing Quantum and Woody. I just realized I had done another odd couple story where one of them was really straight laced and by the book while the other was this criminal wild card. It didn’t even occur to me until I was deep into the Black Panther vs. Deadpool scripts.

I think what’s fun about these characters in particular is that we all know them so well. When you pick up Black Panther vs. Deadpool, you know what it’s like for them to be in a room together. So, as their writer, I got to put them in the room together, and let would naturally happen happen and allow the conversation that I assume would happen to unfold.

I liked getting to bounce them off each other, and getting to test their limits a little bit like getting T’challa to bend a little bit and crack a joke here and there. He’s kind of softened to Deadpool a little bit. Then, the same with Deadpool to express some real melancholy and uncertainty and let his vulnerability show.

GP: I was definitely getting some Gerry Duggan vibes from the way you wrote him.

DK: I’m a huge fan of all of Duggan’s Deadpool. I read so much of it even before I got this gig. What I wanted to is synthesize what I liked by other writers. That’s the fun of writing characters that came before you.

GP: That are icons.

DK: The fun of writing icons is that you get to come in and be like “
I know what Black Panther would do if he had this problem because he’s the Black Panther.

GP: I had one last question about your upcoming picture book, Princess Dinosaur. What are some of the challenges of doing a picture book versus a story for adults or even an all ages comic?

DK: I would say in some ways that a picture book is easier because it’s not necessarily sequential storytelling. There’s less directing. But the artist of our two picture books, Princess Dinosaur and Santa’s Husband, is my friend Ashley Quach, who is just a master illustrator. She does this incredible cartooning in watercolor, and she has done a lot of comics. I think that she and I speak the same language about what we’re going for, and how we’re able to tell jokes with body language and facial expression.

The biggest difference is probably the audience. Princess Dinosaur is aimed at toddlers. So, you want everything to be boiled down to its simplest, most archetypal ideas. But, in a weird way, that’s not that different from comics with these big characters that embody their themes. People who are representative of who their characters are on the inside.

In some ways, it’s really similar because you’re writing these iconic character whether they’re capital “I” iconic because they’re created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, or they’re instantly recognizable, self-contained archetypes.

Follow Daniel Kibblesmith on Twitter.