REVIEW: Kill Shakespeare Vol. 1

Writers: Conor McCreery & Anthony Del Col

Artist: Andy Belanger

$19.99 / 148 pages / Full Color

IDW Publishing


Two mediums, both alike in digity.

In fair iFanboy, where we lay our scene.

From ancient tome break to new 'zine.

Where civil color make white page unclean.

From forth the fatal minds of two Canucks

Issues of an arc begin to take life.


I don’t know how you read comics but when I get a new trade I tend to dive right in. The pull quotes and back cover synopsis seem like little more than window dressing to the goodness I’m eager to devour. So you can imagine my annoyance when while reading Kill Shakespeare Vol. 1 my thoughts continually returned to “Man, this is so much like Fables in all the right ways!” only to look at the pull quotes once I was done reading and see that my observation had been made and utilized. Thus, the central premise of my review was destroyed.

So here’s the comparison that I can provide which I have yet to see from another source: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged. If you’re not familiar, the Cmpt Wrks o’ Will Abrdg is a hilarious play by the Reduced Shakespeare Company that successfully manages to condense everything it claims in the title into a two act show (the poems are handed out on notecards during intermission, in case you were curious). It’s performed by three men and that’s it. I was an understudy for all three roles, so I can do the entire Othello rap by myself, as well as remembering a fair bit from the show as a whole, giving me a passing familiarity with the entirety of the bard.

William Shakespeare has always been a passing literary interest of mine, wouldn’t have signed up for the production otherwise. I’ve read a fair number of his plays and even a biography, if only to engage my father with hard facts when he pokes fun about conspiracy theories to his Bill’s “true” identity. So now that I’ve established my bona fides I can proceed with my experience reading this book.

For the first third of this book I had Wikipedia at the ready; any time I saw a character I was unfamiliar with I typed it in to try and provide myself with context and insight. Then I gave up. I’ve had this same experience with Fables, at a certain point you learn to trust the writers. They get it right enough time, you realize they’ve done more than a cursory glance at Wikipedia and either the context of each character will become clear. If not, hopefully by the time I reread Kill Shakespeare I’ll have been to the theatre a few times and I’ll glean added layers unnoticed before.

I am inclined to bring back a trope of the iFanboy audio podcast when I remark, “stuff happened.” This book was engrossing enough that I didn’t want to put it down, however, life and circumstances necessitated that I did. I found this was a testament to the density of the book. Every time I sat down to read a bit more I was engrossed by the experience and couldn’t believe I still had more left to read from a single trade. The story seems to be the journey of Hamlet as he’s forced to choose sides in a battle against or with the mythical figure of William Shakespeare. There are so many twists and turns along the way that you’ll just need to read it for yourself. All the ancillary characters seem wonderfully fleshed out, and they all generally act like real people within the context of the story; which is an impressive feat for such well established characters.

To go back to Fables for a minute, Kill Shakespeare is a harder book to pull off. In the world of Fables Willingham can pull from many different myths from innumerable cultures around the world. And those myths morph and evolve through time, so he can furthermore pluck the bits he likes for immediate use and discard or save the rest. I’ve seen people from cultures all over the world walk up to Willingham and offer him books of their nation’s mythology in hopes that they’ll get a part to play in Fables. It’s kind of incredible, but not something the creators of Kill Shakespeare will ever experience since the entirety of their source material can be collected in one volume. It means they’re opening themselves up to so much more potential criticism but they navigate their way between homage and novelty with a deftness only brought about by expertise.

Now the artist, Andy Belanger, is a man I do not envy. His task is almost more herculean than the writers. He has to take characters who are at one iconic and emblematic yet at the same time have no real definitive look, having been portraying by many actors and actresses over literally hundreds of years. Yet he pulls it off. Falstaff is exactly the portly, red-nosed, lover of life you’d expect him to be. Othello is like Luke Cage in a doublet. And the Lady Macbeth is so hot that her manipulating ever male character in her sphere makes total sense. But it's about more than just character, because while stage fighting has it's place, a comic can take things up quite a few notches in terms of action. Belanger is who makes this book have action movie level stunts while the writing keeps it from feeling action movie level dumb.

After finishing this hefty and well-produced first trade I feel like I’m merely seeing McCreery and Del Col lining up the pieces for the rest of the story, which is terribly exciting. If the tale of simply getting our principle players introduced to us and each other, with nary a view of the titular character and his quill, I can’t wait to see where things go from here and am definitely in it for the long haul. So don’t be intimidated, just trust the Canadians and enjoy some comics worthy of a showing at the Globe!

Story: 4 / Art: 4 / Overall: 4

(out of 5)

Go grab it on Amazon.


Ryan Haupt thinks Christopher Marlowe was probably kind of a dick.


  1. I love this book and approve of this review!

  2. I heard some really negative word-of-mouth on this book when it came out in singles. As an English major who studied a lot of Shakespeare, I think I’d enjoy it based on this review. Time to buy it!

  3. great review! think i saw a patton oswalt quote on one of the issues, he could sell me my own shit, so i think i’m gonna check this out!

  4. @kennyg  I would save your cash until you’ve at least read the two free digital issues IDW offers. This comic is not very good and like you I couldn’t find anyone who liked it. Strangely though, if you go online it’s mostly very positive reviews. I’m not sure why but it’s a media darling. Not a particularly good comic though. Art’s solid but the story feels forced. I completely disagree with the reviewer on the characters which came across as two dimensional puppets enslaved to contrived plot.

    If you don’t like Shakespeare already, you won’t like this. If you love Shakespeare you’ll be horrified by it.

  5. I wanted to like this book, I have an english degree myself and loved any opportunity i got in university to read the Bard, but the first issue was difficult for me to get through. I do love your method of trying to remember who is who, i have the same problem myself sometimes. 


  6. This is a really gorgeous book.  I kept reading it, for the art, for a while after the story had lost me.  Unfortunately the characterizations didn’t really work for me.  I don’t know how you can claim your main character is “Hamlet” when he’s not noticeably crazy or hung up on his mother. . .you know? Just not for me, but the creators seem like good guys and I’m glad it seems to be doing well.

  7. @kennyg  I have to agree with @Rickets3000 – try it before you buy it. I bought the trade because I love Shakespeare (I also majored in English and now I teach it to 15-year-olds) and couldn’t find the single issues. I tried to read it, but I ended up putting it down about half way through and have no desire to finish it.

  8. I didn’t know about the free preview but yes, by all means read as much as you can before deciding to buy. That being said, I just read issue 8 and it was my favorite thus far. They’re really getting a handle on Shakespeare’s dialog that makes the stage versions so much fun. We’ve all read comics that took a few issues to get rolling, for whatever reason no one seems to want to give this book the same courtesy and that is something I just don’t understand. I guess the Bard is  more charged topic that I would’ve thought. Then again I’m just a science buff, English Lit is tough. 😉