Biff Bam Pop’s The Comic Stop Exclusive Interview: Chris Ryall and Tom Waltz Talk IDW’s New KISS Comic!

A brand new KISS comic is coming???

I’m there, just like I have been for the band (or brand, depending on your point of view) since the summer of 1996, when I first saw the original line-up at their make-up clad best (I did see the band on their 1992 Revenge tour, and while it was good, it’s just not the same as Klassic Kiss). Every since the Alive! Worldwide tour, I’ve been a member of the KISS Army, collecting figures and comics, and buying and rebuying their albums in various configurations.

So when I say I’m stoked that KISS is teaming up with IDW for a new comic books series, you know I’m not foolin’. What’s even more exciting is the fact that the forthcoming series is in the hands of two diehard KISS fans, IDW Chief Creative Officer and Editor-In-Chief Chris Ryall and Senior Staff Writer/Editor Tom Waltz. The duo talked to me via email about the new series, how it ties in to the KISS comic mythology and so much more. So put on your favourite KISS album (I’m hitting play on Sonic Boom) and let’s get this place…hotter than hell!

Andy Burns: As a longtime member of the KISS Army, I’m always thrilled when there’s a new KISS comic on the horizon. What can you tell me about the forthcoming IDW KISS book, in terms of storyline and themes? 

Chris Ryall:  I can tell you that some longtime Kiss fans are working on these books. Not only are Tom and I lifelong fans but it was a nice bit of synchronicity to discover that Jamal Igle, who’s drawing our opening arc, is a member of the Kiss Army in good standing, too.

As far as the stories go, the background story is a big, cosmic battle between two entities, the Elder and the Destroyer. But that’s just the backdrop; the focus is kept squarely on the human avatars who become Kiss throughout different timelines. The opening storyline, called “Dressed to Kill,” is set in 1920s Chicago, but from there, the stories will be set in the dark ages, in present day, and beyond. Along the way, there will be all kinds of familiar names, faces, and settings to longtime Kiss fans. We really wanted the series to appeal to both longtime Kiss fans as well as anyone new to the series as well.

Tom Waltz:  And, like all things KISS, we will be going big, bold, and loud.  When you go to a KISS show, you know you will be blown away from start to finish, so why should KISS comics be any different?  We are working hard to create the KISS comic book we, as lifelong fans of the band and its music, would want to buy ourselves.

Andy Burns: As many comic and KISS fans know, there have been many incarnations of KISS comics throughout the history of the band. What will set IDW’s apart from previous KISS comics, but also, what, if anything, will you guys be drawing from past series for the new one?

Chris Ryall: We’re starting things fresh but also drawing from all the past series as well. Which I realize doesn’t make any sense right now but it will by page 5 of issue 1. I sort of lost the characters while reading some of the different past Kiss comics, and always liked the Marvel approach of transforming regular guys into the super-powered Kiss members more than treating them like cosmic deities. So that was our starting place here, to try to maintain the human element.

But more than past series, we’re drawing from past Kiss albums for the visuals, the other characters and the overall inspiration. I took the imagery from Dressed to Kill as the starting point for the opening storyline, transporting the storyline to 1920s Chicago (I really wanted to put a tommygun into Gene’s hands…), and using characters like She, as well as the Elder, the Destroyer, Parasites… I think longtime Kiss fans will find a lot to like here. Hell, even people familiar with the way Gene and Paul talk should be able to hear their dialogue in the characters, the way we’re writing them.

Tom Waltz:  And wait ‘till you see the surprise storyline Chris has planned for issues 5 and 6 – crazy stuff!

Andy Burns: How are you guys divvying up responsibilities on the new series?

Chris Ryall:  We’re alternating story arcs. We wanted to keep things nice and accessible for people, so every two issues is a new story set in a different era and using a different album as its basis. But all of these stories comprise chapters in the larger ongoing story. So I’m doing issues 1-2, and then 5-6, and so on.

Tom Waltz: It’s like tag team wrestling, only with word processors!  And, in case you were wondering, yes, we wear Kabuki make-up while we are typing away.  No spitting blood anymore, though – that ruins laptop keyboards, trust me.

Andy Burns: How far out are you planning story arcs?

Chris Ryall: We’ve got a good, ongoing idea that could last as long as people remain interested, but we’ve got a good eight issues tightly plotted out right now, with hopefully much more to come beyond that.

Tom Waltz: We’re in it for as long as we’re allowed.  A big key will be early support from KISS fans, getting out there and letting their comic book retailers know they want the comics in stores.  Comic series live and die by pre-order numbers, so be sure to get out there and let your voice be heard.  Shout it out loud!

Andy Burns: Obviously working on the KISS brand means working with Gene Simmons, who is well known to be a huge comic book fan. What’s Gene’s involvement in the series – I would guess he would have some sort of input?

Chris Ryall: But of course! Gene not only knows comics well, but he knows what he wants for Kiss, too. We’ve had numerous conversations with him, really dating back years since we produced the Simmons Comics Group titles with him, as well as Paul. And Tom and I met with the entire band to talk about stories, show art samples and generally kick things off in the right way.

Tom Waltz: I’m not gonna lie – meeting and hanging out with KISS was (and is) a fanboy dream for me, and it only got better when I found out how truly cool and accommodating every member of the band is to our project.  C’mon… we’re talking about living, breathing rock ‘n roll legends here – they don’t have to give a second thought to comic books, but not only do they pay attention to what we’re doing, they provide invaluable input and support from start to finish.  Every time I’m around Gene and Paul, I’m constantly reminded of why they’ve had such long and successful careers – these gents ooze talent, attention to detail, and honest-to-goodness respect for the folks they are working with to expand the KISS name.  All this, and still they never lose the swagger that makes them rock icons.  Same goes for Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer – two uberly-talented professional musicians who couldn’t be any nicer or more down-to-earth in person.

Andy Burns: When will the first issue be out?

Chris Ryall: It’s coming in June, as is the first trade paperback reprinting classic Kiss comics (that one’s called Kiss Greatest Hits: The Marvel Years, and reprints both the Marvel Super Specials from the ‘70s in one volume). Which is nice symmetry to me, having read those as a kid and now writing the new first issue.

Tom Waltz: This summer’s gonna be hot, hot, hotter than hell!

Andy Burns: Final question – you’re at your desk, working on the KISS Comic. What song or songs from the band are you listening to while you’re working?

Chris Ryall: It’s probably either all of Double Platinum or Revenge, or when it’s been a long day and I need a drink, I throw on Paul’s lead-in to “Cold Gin” on Kiss ALIVE, which is some of the best pre-song banter of all time. But I also listened to a lot of Dressed to Kill on this first one, and Rock and Roll Over and Destroyer are never out of rotation for long, either.

Tom Waltz: My Dark Ages tale in issues 3 and 4 has a lot of The Elder in it, but you’ll always find me ripping out KISS ALIVE and ALIVE II when I need a good kick in the pants to get me going.  I love “Love Gun” and “Black Diamond” played live, and, as a born-and-bred Michigander, “Detroit Rock City” is most definitely mandatory listening.

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