Bill Rosemann & Marie-Hélène Gagnon
“KÀ-smic KÀ-mic KÀ-nversation”

The KÀ by Cirque du Soleil #1 comic book is a new creative endeavor for Cirque, an attempt to expand its show properties into different mediums. Following on their appearance at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con (where they performed the show’s vertigo-inducing battle scene on a local building wall), the comic takes the cinematic story and puts it into graphic form for 20 full-color pages.

KÀ by Cirque du Soleil #1 comes from the Custom Edition division of Marvel Comics (now owned by Disney). Rather than just developing ideas generated inside Marvel, Custom Editions allows outside companies who wish to develop (and pay for) comic book projects that feature their products to contract with Marvel Custom Editions, which creates comic book content specific to the client company’s needs, sometimes including Marvel characters in the storylines. As Mr. Rosemann explained in an enlightening article that can be found at < a href="" target="_blank">

“Since the House of Ideas, like Wolverine, is the best there is at what we do, we often work with other companies to create stories and art in the Mighty Marvel Manner to help them connect in new and exciting ways with their audience. … For Marvel, not only is custom publishing a strong revenue stream, but it also helps us introduce our characters and creators to a gigantic audience. The print and online exposure for many custom projects is often higher than the combined print runs of our top ten titles, while the distribution opportunities deliver them far outside traditional channels. Many readers’ first Marvel experience is through custom comics, which is why — in addition to wanting to provide great stories for our partners — we’re dedicated to making every custom comic as impressive and entertaining as our best books.”

In this instance Marvel was paid by Cirque to create a 20-page comic book depicting the first 10 minutes of the show, with Cirque handling publicity and distribution.. The talented artists includes writer Bryan J.L. Glass, artist Wellinton Alves, colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu and cover artist Michael Del Mundo.

Fascination! Newsletter had the exclusive opportunity to have an email conversation with Bill Rosemann, editor of the KÀ Comic, about its development. Mr. Rosemann first started working for Marvel in 1993 at Marvel Age magazine, and later became known online as “Your Man @ Marvel.” He has been an editor at Marvel for the past six years.

–How did the KÀ comic project come about?

For a number of years now, our friends at Cirque du Soleil have aimed at extending their creative talent to other spheres of activity. It is within that context that Cirque approached Marvel for the creation of an all-new KÀ comic book. From there the creative excitement ignited, and months later we had our first comic!

Our adaptation is of the actual performance as seen on the KÀ stage in Las Vegas. In fact, it’s an adaptation of a specific performance that I was lucky enough to attend earlier in the year. Aside from the narration, we cannot add elements, but hopefully we can capture the essence of the passion and energy that the performers unleashed on that specific night.

The great people at Cirque worked hand-in-hand with us on every detail of every stage of the creative process. In fact, our wonderful friends at Cirque supplied an amazing amount of reference so that our creators could capture every nuance of the current artists, from their faces to their make-up to their costumes. From outline to page layouts to pencils to colors to lettering, we all scrutinized and discussed every line on every page.

–What qualities of the comic artists made them a good fit for this project?

Writer Bryan J.L. Glass, artist Wellinton Alves, colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu and cover artist Michael Del Mundo each have theatrical instincts mixed with that Mighty Marvel Magic. They each deliver that perfect combination of drama, humor, passion and action that allow them to bring KÀ so perfectly to this new medium.

–How long does it take to create an issue? Can you describe the steps in the process?

A traditional comic book takes approximately 6 to 8 weeks to go from idea to printed or digital form, but in this case we took the extra time we needed to get everything perfect. The steps in the process are: Discussing the story, casting the creators, writing the outline, writing the script, penciling the story and then inking, coloring and lettering each page. Also there was a similar process to create our beautiful cover by Michael Del Mundo. Throw in numerous stages of reviewing the content, requesting updates, then approving the final stages and—presto!—you have a comic book!

–What does a comic book “script” look like? Is it like a movie script?

Yes, very much so. A comic book script breaks the action down page-by-page, describing the single moment of action that occurs in each panel on the page. A comic book script also supplies the text (for example, dialogue or captions), so the artist knows both how much room to leave for this and also the emotions of the characters at that moment.

–The issue has no character dialog, only narration. Can you talk about that as an artistic direction?

It was all part of our efforts to best adapt the actual performance. Since there was no dialogue spoken by the artists, we felt narrative captions would best supply the needed information and remain most true to the performance.

–How did the storm scene come to be chosen as the end of Issue One?

A determined Prince swept off to uncertainty…a valiant Princess clinging for her life to a sinking ship in storm-tossed waters…can you think of a better cliff-hanger?

–What has been the feedback you’ve received about the first issue?

So far, the reaction has been very positive, which I attribute to the great work of our creators!

–This comic is available for viewing online. (At < >) It’s how I read it, since the distribution of physical copies is pretty limited. That’s like giving the content away for free, though you can’t print it. How has the digital age affected comic book production and distribution? Has it had a creative impact?

Not only has digital distribution added to comic book readership–bringing our stories to those without easy access to a library, bookstore or direct market comic shop–but it has also inspired us all to rethink how we tell comic book stories.

KÀ by Cirque du Soleil #1 is Cirque’s first foray into the comic book world. We don’t know how successful it’s been, but this might be telling – It has not yet been decided whether it was successful enough to merit paying for production of issue #2. Or how many issues it will take to tell the complete KÀ story.

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Earlier we featured a chat with Bill Rosemann of Marvel about the creation of the KÀ by Cirque du Soleil #1 Comic Book. We also reached out to the staff of KÀ involved in providing Marvel with reference materials for insight into how the comic was created. In the process we learned more about the comic, its purpose, and the future of our heroes left clinging to life on the storm-tossed page.

We were put in touch with Marie-Hélène Gagnon (Mah-RIE – el-ENN gan-YON) who had previously worked for Cirque du Soleil with Saltimbanco in 2000 and Quidam in 2002 as Artistic Coordinator, and has been KÀs Artistic Director for the past six years. In her French-Canadian accent, this Montréal native explained how she first heard about the comic book project. “The first I knew about it was because of a joke. We went to ComicCon (in July of 2011) and did the battlefield [scene] on the stadium wall (at PETCO Park in San Diego). When we came back I was talking to the cast [and somebody said], “So, when do we get the comic book?” (Laughs) And I said well, I don’t know, though it would be great. But the PR person said we were looking into it.”

“It was last spring 2012 when we started discussing it and it seemed that it was going to happen. On Valentine’s Day the people from Marvel came to see the show. We had dinner and spoke about the show and about them. We talked about how many books [we would be creating], so we could pace it so it remained interesting and you don’t get out of breath before you’re done.” It was determined the story could best be told over a total of four comic books. “That was just the first visit, at that time the deal was not yet made, there were probably a series of talks before that between [Cirque du Soleil] Marketing and Marvel that I’m not aware of.”

But a deal was struck soon afterward. “We started working very shortly after they came. One of the things we did was give them a DVD copy of the show they saw (from the static camera that records each show nightly, not the multi-camera version of the show that appeared as a special on the German cable network ARTS). [I also] had to send them close-ups of makeups and costumes when we got closer to doing the coloring, so that it would be more accurate. [But mostly] what they had to work with was the DVD.”

“We did an [outline] of what would appear in Books One, Two, Three and Four. Then we [discussed] the details of what would be in Book One. We got the suggested names of artists [to do the book] before the end of February. A writer from Marvel then sent us a script [describing] what would happen on [each page]. In March we started getting drawings, including the cover which was done by a different artist, and the inside pages. And from there we discussed some of the characters [who needed to be] tweaked a bit.”

Marie-Helen’s responsibility was to ensure the comic book properly represented the show. But it caused her a bit of concern. “This was the translation of the show into a comic book, and I’d never done a comic book [before]. I like comic books but was just a little worried about the translation; [going] from taking care of a show to seeing it on a comic book page and seeing if it’s accurate, if it’s representative, if it’s still in line with the integrity [of the show]. I had a little bit of stage fright – how could I support and help them? Do I have a sharp eye for that? But they’re specialists and knowledgeable in what they do.”

“But you [start the process] and when you get page one, and then page two, you see the action really does [translate]. And the art we got from them was really beautiful, they’re intelligent artists. You don’t often have to tell them when something isn’t working. I might say to them that I was a bit surprised at this or that character, and bang – you’d quickly get another suggestion, and then [be able to] talk about what you meant. I’d say it was a really easy partnership because of their skill and knowledge.”

While there could be no changes to the storyline or characters as it was adapted to the page, so as to keep to the integrity of the show, they occasionally found a moment that needed enhancement. “At one point we were discussing how to have a “to be continued” moment in Book One, so that before we get to the last page we could have a teaser of what’s going to come later. And in the show we have this nanny [character] reading the twins fans. She’s telling them what she sees for them saying, “This is your future”. And so we did a page with fragments of the fans and images of upcoming combats or difficulties or situations, so that readers know after they read Book One what’s upcoming.”

Cirque and Marvel have made the comic available online at (the site also includes behind-the-scenes material). But it isn’t for sale. “We don’t sell it, it’s a marketing tool, we just gave it away. It is a diffusion tool. (a mechanism by which an idea or product can be accepted by the market.) It was [available] in some select comic book stores for comic book fans and all that, [but] it was given [away] with a purchase. [And] the cast got one comic book each as a present.”

Now that the first issue has been released, and sales aren’t a priority since it was created to be given away for free, are there any plans for Books Two, Three and Four? “It’s a discussion we are having. Ideally, the goal is to try to get Book Two [out] at ComicCon 2013. We’re having fun thinking of ideas, pacing our brains and minds for [the] structure of four books. The idea would be to have four books, and then have a book that combines the four. But I’ll probably be 276 years old when it happens!” (Laughs)

Providing input and references for the comic book was in addition to Marie-Hélène’s other duties as KÀ artistic director, which already make for a busy day. “An average day is from around 2pm to 11:30-ish. I come to work and check all the emails from Montréal, either for casting or for changes or for meetings, and respond to those. We have trainings in the afternoon, and I usually go and watch a part of those or discuss with the head coach some of the things I would like to see worked on. Technical setup starts around 4:30, and I see some of the artistic people who have questions and we talk about the line-up for that day. In the evening I either watch a show, do some paperwork, or have one-on-one discussions about things we’re working on.”

Cirque describes the position of Artistic Director in part as being responsible for nudging the show forward by leveraging the individual qualities of each artist, a description Marie-Hélène agrees with. “There’s a responsibility to help the show grow. The job for us is to keep working on it, as much as we can we’re there to help it evolve and change. That being said, the original conceptors remain the ones who signed the show, and if we make changes they’re told, they’re shown, and they can always say yes they agree with [a change] or no they don’t.”

“The show department I work for is called “Show Quality and Integrity,” which means that I need to not change the show into what it is not. But it’s a collective work, and we have leeway. We’ve changed almost all the choreography in the show and put some new elements in. We do a bunch of stuff but we know that the director Robert Lepage will always be aware of what we’re doing. He comes once every year or year and a half to look at the show and lets us know if he’s pleased, if he likes it or if there’s something he doesn’t like.”

Part of the attempt to help the show grow is in the changes both major and minor made as the years go by. Change on an individual level might come when, “You have a new casting and the new person’s makeup [needs to be] adjusted because it doesn’t look as good or [the costume] doesn’t fit as well. So we will work on it and make suggestions – request a costume change, request a makeup change. And sometimes the creator will say, ‘The next time I come and visit we’ll look into it.’ [On another show I worked on] the person I wanted to take one of the major roles was absolutely not in the profile. And we had a lot of discussion but finally it was agreed upon, because it was a good idea for the character.”

One “major” change that was announced by Cirque when it was implemented was changing the choreography of the battle scene. “It was a big change, yes. It’s not a major change – yes it ends up being that because of the choreography – but it’s in line with the original thought. Originally the choreography was very geometric, like figures. [We wanted] to find a way to put [new choreography] in while still having a battle. And if you remember from the early days [of the show] the Firefly character was doing the beginning of the attack. We wanted to have it be more the fight of the two twins, so we gave them their partners, twin brother with his jester and twin sister with the Firefly. But it’s in line with the idea of the show.”

“Is it a major change? It’s still KÀ. This is the one thing that is absolutely necessary. The idea is not necessarily to make it different. When you have a big deck to put up and the show to create it takes time to get to the fine tuning. But then later you can consider – hey, we could do it this way or we could add that character.” But sometimes just making it different makes it better. “For a team that does so many shows per year, a change that is just a change can be very good for the atmosphere. Everybody gets excited because we’re working on something. But we’re not going to do anything that’s different from the original creation of the piece.”

“The backup act is a very good example of things you can discover. You have your house troupe working on stuff and you can find a backup act within your own team that wasn’t [originally] in the show, and then you work on its integration. KÀ doesn’t have that because it has it’s full story and its acts, and does not have a backup act [as] on other shows.”

Reflecting on the growth of the show, Marie-Hélène commented, “It’s funny because I’ve been with KÀ for six years now and I don’t see an act I haven’t worked on. And I think I’ve changed two-thirds of the cast.”

Despite all the challenges, it’s the variety (like occasionally being called upon to work on a comic book) that keeps her interested. “[My day] can go in all directions. The multiple facets of this type of work are so much fun. I can spend all afternoon in wardrobe [for example] when we’re discussing costumes or makeup. It’s a little bit of everything all the time but it’s great, I love it.”

NOTE: As part of CirqueWeek 2012, on December 6, KÀ will be presenting a discussion and overview of how the KÀ comic book was created and the thought process behind it, digging a little deeper, offering a closer look at some of the sketches and more.

Additional Resources:

My sincere thanks go to: Mr. Rosemann for so graciously taking time to answer our questions, Chantal Côte, Corporate PR Manager