Ted McKeever is one of many creators that I think really deserved a bigger profile. He has a fascinating body of work that merits detailed examination and his visual style is instantly recognizable. Those qualities were evident even at the early stages of his career and made him the perfect subject for “Palmer’s Picks” in Wizard #18.
After this column was originally published, McKeever actually did snag a few mainstream gigs that capitalized on his unique approach, notably his two-part Batman story from Legends of the Dark Knight and the trilogy of graphic novels (along with wrtiers Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier) that reimagined DC’s heroes in the style of classic German expressionistic films. There were also a few projects at Vertigo that continued the idiosyncratic expression of his initial creator-owned work, including a sequel to Metropol entitled Faith, but McKeever essentially bounced around from project to project for most of the early 2000s.
He recently had a bit of a creative resurgence with a repackaging of his early work and a slate of new projects from Image beginning with Meta4 in 2010, and continuing with Mondo, Miniature Jesus, The Superannuated Man and Pencil Head. Each of these series saw McKeever refine his style into a more realistic yet still expressionistic style, while his stories veered into more personal, introspective territory. Sadly, McKeever decided to quit the comics industry in 2016 after these new books were met with lackluster sales. You can’t really blame the guy—the fickle comics news sites didn’t really pay much attention to his new work and he actually got more press and recognition when he threw in the towel!
McKeever was unique because he dabbled in the world of mainstream comics but never let it dilute his vision. His distinct style shone through even when he got the chance to draw iconic characters like Superman or Batman. And even better, he never let the gigs at Marvel or DC suck the life out of his work—let’s all be thankful he didn’t end up as the regular artist on Green Lantern or something equally pathetic.
As I mentioned in the original column below, I had started to get a response to my plea for help in issue 14. It wasn’t an avalanche of letters, but it was enough to show that there were a few people out there who were paying attention. My editor at the time explained that they wanted “Magic Words” (the letters page in Wizard) to focus on the “Could Wolverine really beat Batman?” type of questions instead of comments directed at specific topics in the magazine, so I realized that it was nice to get the feedback that did start to trickle in. The staff at Wizard continued to forward any mail to me and, shortly after this issue saw print, I got a very nice letter from none other than Ted McKeever, expressing his “heartfelt thanks” and mentioning that “it makes it all worthwhile.” This was the first comment I’d received from someone I wrote about, so it was a great boost and made me think that what I was doing was worthwhile. And roughly ten years later, while I was working at DC Comics, Ted saw the nameplate on my office door and poked his head in to say hi and say thank you again in person!
By Tom Palmer Jr.
Excluding the Image group, comic book creators who leave the big two (Marvel and DC) usually do so to pursue work that strays from the mainstream. Artists and writers who have done so in the past include Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Bill Sienkiewicz. One creator who goes against this example is Ted McKeever, who did the reverse. He produced Transit and Eddy Current for two different independent companies, and then went to Marvel’s Epic line to create Plastic Forks and Metropol. McKeever’s first series, Transit, went virtually unnoticed when it appeared in 1986. The comic, with its stark black and white artwork and urban murder-mystery theme, was lost among the slew of poor quality black and whites. On the other hand, McKeever’s other project at the time, Eddy Current, was able to ride out the glut and survive.
Eddy Current was a unique comic. Billed as a “twelve hour series,” each issue detailed the events of one hour in the life of Eddy Current, a lunatic who was destined to save the world. McKeever’s black and white artwork rapidly progressed over the course of the story. Originally heavily influenced by the art of Central American comic artist Jose Muñoz, McKeever’s art began to take on a life of its own, becoming more expressionistic, yet with a hint of realism. He also experimented with different inking techniques, including cross-hatching and splattering and stippling.
McKeever’s next series was Plastic Forks. It was originally announced as a twelve issue full-color series from Comico, but was met with a series of delays. The comic finally resurfaced in 1990 as a prestige format series from Marvel’s Epic line. Aside from benefiting from increased exposure and distribution by working with one of the major companies, McKeever was able to showcase his expertise with full color artwork. The painted art of Plastic Forks allowed him to experiment with the use of color for emotional effect and to attempt to show how light affects the eye and blurs the way objects are perceived.
McKeever remained at Epic for his next, and most current, series, Metropol. The comic ties together all of McKeever’s previous comics into one story that revolves around the end of the world. An unnamed city is beset by a plague that rivals the infamous Black Death of the fourteenth century, which leads to the appearance of demons around the city. The only people left to save mankind are five people who die to be reborn as Angels Who Watch. These angels are not your typical winged cherubs in white robes. Under McKeever’s unique pen, they become metallic, gun-toting warriors whose main purpose is to rid the earth of evil.
While this may sound like a complicated plot, Metropol starts off simply in its first issue with a murder mystery. Each issue of the series heralds changes that were hinted at previously, transforming the initial story. McKeever masterfully drops subtle clues in each issue, foreshadowing the changes to come. His hints of the imminent apocalypse in Metropol range from subtly placing crosses and ankhs in the backgrounds of certain panels, to even decorating the letters page with original woodcuts recounting the horrors of the plague from the fourteenth century.
Unlike McKeever’s previous books, Metropol relies on his previous works, Transit and Eddy Current. Metropol is accessible enough for new readers, yet provides a neat tying-up of loose ends for those who have followed McKeever’s work. Characters from Eddy Current play important roles in Metropol, like Nun, who is one of the five angels, and even Eddy himself, who is resurrected to help the angels. Some of the characters from Transit figure more prominently in Metropol, such as Spud, who is revealed to be Enoch, the main character of Metropol, and Sam the Meatman and Nigel, two supporting characters. As of yet, McKeever has yet to incorporate themes and characters from Plastic Forks, but there have been hints that he might in future volumes.
In this short article, I have only scratched the surface of the complexity of McKeever’s work. Each of his comics is more elaborate than the preceding one, with Metropol being the most intricate. Metropol can be examined on many levels, each as fascinating and rewarding as the other. One can trace McKeever’s use of symbols, foreshadowing, and biblical allusions, or just enjoy the book for its well-crafted plot. I’m sure if you pick up a copy, you’ll be able to find something to interest you on any level.
Before I go, I’d like to take a little bit of this month’s article to thank everyone who wrote in response to issue #14’s shameless begging for fan mail. I did everything except get on my hands and knees, and to my pleasant surprise it worked. But by all means, keep writing! I still need suggestions for future articles, as well as feedback on what I’ve written so far. Traveling between home and college in Virginia, I can’t list a permanent address, so write to me here at Wizard. I may regret saying this, but if you send an intelligent, well thought-out letter, I’ll do my best to write back a semi-intelligent reply. I’m not promising a great work of modern literature, just a short note to let you know that I read your letter. And I promise that I won’t resort to sending out form replies (at least not yet). Write to: Palmer’s Picks, c/o Wizard Press,
100 Red Schoolhouse Rd., Bldg. B-1, Chestnut Ridge NY 10977.
Transit – Five issues of McKeever’s first series were published by Vortex in 1986. McKeever was virtually an unknown, so the comics may be a little hard to find. There are no firm plans yet, but Dark Horse plans to collect the entire series.
Eddy Current – The original twelve issue run of this series was published in black and white by Mad Dog. Dark Horse collected the entire series in 1991 in one 360-page hard cover volume, including all of the hard-to-find issues under a new cover. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, and there are no plans for a second printing. Good luck finding a copy.
Plastic Forks – Epic originally published this series in five 64-page, full color comics in 1990. The original issues are hard to find, but Graphitti Designs collected all five in one deluxe hardcover edition.
Metropol – Volumes one and two of this series have been published in color by Epic, and there may be trade paperbacks of the comics in the future, but there is no definite word yet. Volume one ran twelve issues, and numbers nine through eleven included an eight page Eddy Current back-up feature illustrated by Mike Mignola. Volume two, subtitled Metropol A.D., ran three issues. More volumes are planned, but none have been scheduled yet.
Other works – McKeever has also illustrated several shorter works for a variety of publishers. Some highlights include: “Dance of the Fetus” – This short story appeared in full painted color in Hellraiser #1 from Epic. McKeever also drew the end pages in issue #3 and the cover for issue #5. Grimjack #47 – This issue contained a short Eddy Current story that takes place as part of the “Eddy Current” story. It was published in full color by First comics. “Survivor” – Dave Gibbons wrote and McKeever illustrated this revisionist Superman story for the first issue of the original black and white run of A1. McKeever and Gibbons switched roles and collaborated on another story for the same issue of A1 titled “Libretto”. McKeever also wrote and drew “The Talk of Creatures” for issue #2 of A1.