The first time I met Kenny Keil was while wander the exhibit hall at San Diego Comic-Con, back in July 2017. He was there promoting his new activity book STAY AT HOME SCARFACE and, having just recently published my own book AL PACINO: THE MOVIES BEHIND THE MAN, I was instantly drawn to his table and his awesome book.
Kenny and I stayed in touch because of our love of all things Al Pacino and SCARFACE. But really, how much did I honestly know about the guy? So I decided to interview him about his work – I started out with the tough questions…
MARK SEARBY: Hello. Can you tell me your name, please?
KENNY KEIL: I can. It’s Kenny Keil.
MS: What is your job?
KENNY: What is my job? That’s a good question. I’m a freelance writer and artist. I do a lot of comics. I do independent publishing. I do a lot of work for MAD MAGAZINE. I did a book with Devastator press called STAY AT HOME SCARFACE.
MS: Safe to say, we’ll come back to that. Let’s go back to your early years. Why did you want to work in that industry?
KENNY: I had no others skills, so that was a big thing [laughs]. I always loved drawing and telling stories and telling jokes. I was constantly drawing as a kid. I went to school for graphic design and did some work in other industries for a while, in advertising and book-making and printing, then about eight or nine years ago, I just started pursuing the freelance thing.
MS: So, was Mad Magazine your first big gig?
KENNY: Yeah, probably! That was the first case where people looked at me a little less crazy [laughs]. The first piece I sold I was the artist and writer. I had a little quarter page piece. I used to draw my pieces and then after a while they said “That’s enough drawing. We are going to leave that to the professionals!” [laughs].
MS: What were these pieces? Would people remember them?
KENNY: Oooo, I’m not sure. The first piece was a small thing that was called SUPERHERO ORIGINS GONE WRONG. It was two panels. They put baby Kal-El in the escape pod to Earth but, in this version of the story, they mis-estimate it and it took millions of years for him to arrive. The next panel is the Kent’s finding an adult skeleton in the escape pod. That was the first one.
I think probably the biggest thing I’ve done was a character, that we have done this continuous story on, called DEWEY DERWIN DESTROYS THE WORLD. We’ve done about seven of them and they are four-page stories. It follows the story of a menacing super-villain who has a time-travel accident that winds up with him being sent back into his high school self. He spends every issue trying to scheme his way back to his timeline. It usually blows up in his face. I’ve been writing that one for the past two years and that has been a regular occurring thing.
MS: Mad Magazine has such an iconic status. What is it like to work for them?
KENNY: It is just cool. You are definitely aware of that iconic status. I grew up on it and I’m a second-generation fan because my dad grew up on it. I remember my first issue and I try to remember that kid when I write because that’s when it corrupted my mind [laughs]. I was joking earlier about not drawing the pieces but that turned out to be a cool thing because they have an amazing stable of illustrators.
Some of the greatest cartoonists are working for MAD MAGAZINE right now. I get to write jokes, which I love to do, and then I don’t have to draw it. They give it to some amazing artists. Also, the editors are amazing to work with. They find the good jokes in the pile of jokes. That’s the best thing because I can write but I just can’t edit. I need that other person to be like: “OK, these fifty… keep those. We’ll take these three jokes.”
MS: How tough are they on accepting jokes?
KENNY: They are quite nice. They don’t use the word “crap” too often [laughs]. It is tough. They are selective. I’m still like the new kid but even after five or six years I’m still surprised. If there is a science to it then I don’t have a degree in that science. You have to write a lot and my approach is to over do it.
MS: Have you worked with anyone who’s work you loved to read when you were growing up reading the magazine?
KENNY: Yes. The one that immediately comes to mind is Paul Coker. He illustrated a couple of pieces I wrote. But I’m a fan of everybody in there. If they’ve been there thirty years of six month’s I get excited for pretty much everyone.
MS: Beyond working on MAD MAGAZINE, you published STAY AT HOME SCARFACE. How did that idea come about?
KENNY: Long story short, I was doing a writing project and was doing some research. At this point I’m a new father and I am over in the corner of my apartment watching Scarface clips on YouTube for this reference. Meanwhile my son, is watching BLUE’S CLUES. I was thinking how much of a weird juxtaposition that is because I have Scarface in one ear and Blue’s Clues in the other. The more I thought about it the more I thought about Tony Montana’s journey, the stress he is under and he is crazy and not sleeping. He is building a drug empire and I’m just trying to instant an infant car seat but there are parallels.
I saw the character of Tony in a new light from that moment. Here is this guy who is trying to keep it together but is actually losing it and I can kind of relate on some level to that. Just the craziness that he is going through. He is in over his head. I made a few comics for my own entertainment and they stayed on my hard drive for about a year. Then I showed it to Devastator, they are a publisher in L.A., and I said: “I think I could do eight pages of this” and they said “Can you do sixty-four pages of it?” and I was like: “That sounds crazy. Let’s go!”
From there I started to see how I could remix the movie and tell his story but not becoming the best kingpin he wants to become the best dad. He is very competitive. He wants to take out the other dads, he wants to get in the best day care. It is a colouring, activity comic book. So, you can help Tony do his quest.
MS: How long did it take you to get Tony’s look correct? Because let’s be honest, he does have a unique face.
KENNY: That’s a good question. It was not something that came to me instantly. There is a homicidal Bugs Bunny to him, the facial expressions, the haircut. He was a very easy caricature. I couldn’t do it with Michael Corleone. But you can do it with Tony Montana because he has the crazy outfits, the tropical shirts, he is almost a cartoon character. So that made it easy. Getting it just right? That was tricky.
MS: How difficult was it to expand from eight to sixty-four pages?
KENNY: Surprisingly, not that difficult. The physical act of drawing was time consuming. As far as getting the ideas down, it just flowed. That was one of the things that was so satisfying about it. I like to think I’ve thrown some surprises in the story. You say “Scarface is a stay at home dad” and your brain instantly forms some sort of book based on that premise alone. It picks up just where the movie ends. He survived! Surprise! Spoiler! He is meeting Elvira for dinner and she tells him she is pregnant. Then it just takes off from there.
You see how he has to prepare for being a father. He has to babyproof the pet Tiger, so he wraps it in bubble wrap. He can’t get the car seat in his Porsche so he has to buy a mini-van, so you get to see Scarface driving around in a mini-van.
MS: I really enjoyed the maze in it.
KENNY: I tried to make the activities accessible for all [laughs]. I like to think people are doing the activities.
MS: Do you get sent completed pages where people have coloured in Tony?
KENNY: Yes, I love that. I have this one… well, it’s disgusting but… Tony’s changing a diaper and someone sent it to me and they had coloured rainbow sparkles coming out of it. Very creative and I’m all for it.
MS: So, what is next for you?
KENNY: Well, can I run some titles by you for potential STAY AT HOME SCARFACE sequels, maybe?
MS: Yes, absolutely.
KENNY: I want your feedback. I’m thinking another children’s book based on Al Pacino movies: I’ve got SERPICO GOES TO SUMMER CAMP. DOGGY DAY CARE AFTERNOON. CARLITO’S WEB, maybe? RICKY ROMA: TEAM DETECTIVE AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING LEADS? Tell you what, you get back to me on those.
MS: So, we are not going to have a direct sequel?
KENNY: I think I’m going to do something different. I’m still in MAD MAGAZINE. I’m working on some other projects as well. I don’t know if they will be colouring-in books. But you didn’t colour yours in so this is good news for you [laughs]. You won’t feel pressured [laughs].
Kenny has his own website, which you can visit here:
https://www.kennykeil.com/ He is also rocking the Twitter with his jokes: @kennykeil, and can be found sexing up Instagram:
Most importantly, you can buy his book STAY AT HOME SCARFACE from Amazon, here. Get it bought. You won’t be disappointed.