Between the Balloons

Welcome to another installment of Between the Balloons! Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely are the creative team of Image Comic’s THE HUMANS . You may also know Tom Neely as the creative voice behind Henry and Glenn, a comic about the fictional lives of Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig. The Humans: Volume 2: Humans Til Deth comes out this week on March 16th,  collecting issues #5-#10, plus some extra back matter and pinups. I had the chance to talk to them about all things Apes, Music, and of course The Humans.

Ryan Mount (Two-Headed Nerd): King Kong or Planet of the Apes?

Keenan Marshall Keller: I Love both the original and the 1970s King Kong movies a lot but Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is my favorite of any of these films, so I’d have to go with that.

Tom Neely: That is a tough one! I love Planet of the Apes, but I have to go with King Kong because I am a huge fan of stop-motion animation and Willis O’Brien inspired one of my favorite artists Ray Harryhausen!

RM: Are you more excited for War of the Planet of the Apes or Skull Island in 2017?

KMK: I’m not too psyched for either but I’d rather see War of the Planet of the Apes.

TN: I’m stoked for both! Especially Skull Island! I’m a bit of a Godzilla-geek.

RM: Favorite Apes Universe Movie?

KMK: Well, like I said above, Conquest of The Planet of the Apes is my favorite. It has a kinetic energy to it.  I also like Apes in Time which is a weird Japanese Planet of the Apes knock off that is better in many ways. Mighty Peking Man is my favorite “KONG” type movie. It’s insane. But my favorite monkey/ape movie ever is GOING APE.

TN: Every Which Way But Loose.

RM: Best music show either of you have been to?

KMK: There’s been a lot… Static Static, Wizzard Sleeve, and MIDNIGHT played a wedding in New Orleans at Quintrons Spellcaster… DEVO at a racetrack in L.A… Smelly Tongues and The SPITS… I love The SPITS… Wanda Jackson in some tiny bar with my friend Jason in college…. Jesus Lizard in Chicago…

TN: I’ve seen all kinds from Bon Jovi to a Japanese noise band that actually had a bulldozer on stage as an instrument… Last year I got to see Judas Priest and hang out with Rob Halford afterwards (he wrote the intro to my book Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever) so, meeting The Metal God would have to go at the top of the list! But top three that immediately came to mind as amazing shows: Inquisition at the Vex in LA; This Runs On Blood in a basement somewhere in Portland, OR; The last ISIS show in LA before they broke up…

RM: One of the most understated joys of The Humans is getting to listen to the tracks that accompanied each issue. Looking back on the music that came out of The Humans, do you think of the soundtrack as an accompaniment to the book or do you find yourselves listening to the tracks while driving down the highway?

KMK: Oh, some of the tracks I listen to a lot. I think some of the tracks are made stronger by knowing The Humans story while others can stand without that. I’m really happy with how the soundtrack came out and we still hope to release a 12 inch some day.

TN: I love having the soundtrack! It’s so much fun to get songs about our comics from bands I love! It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

RM: You both are about to go The Humans West Coast tour.  You will be visiting not only a couple comic conventions, but also some local comic book stores as well.  Where did that idea come from?

KMK: Well, cartoonists and authors have done book tours for ages, but my wife is a musician and I used to travel on the road with her on tour a lot, so for me it’s trying to emulate a band’s tour, where we can fill in stops on the road with enough events to make it worth it. It’s important to try and get the word out there directly about The Humans and about us creators. We wanna meet our fans and show them we appreciate their support.

RM: How is working with local comic shops?

KMK: GREAT! The shops are REALLY important! And knowing and meeting the peeps that slang your book is always important. If the shop owners and workers like your book, then they’ll tell the customers.  They are the people that spread the word. We would love to visit more shops if we could. We’re asked a lot by shops to come out and do signings and events, but it’s just not realistic for us to get to some of the Mid-West/East Coast shops but we hope to in the future.

RM: Does this tour seem different than the one you did a year ago for the first volume?

KMK: Yes this is different because it’s more of an actual tour, where we have multiple Festivals events as well as signings up and down the west coast. Should be fun.

TN: I’ve done a few tours and most of them were a bit rough, but I’m hoping this one is better.

RM: Anything anyone should know about coming out to the events?

KMK: Tons. First off we have The Humans Volume 2 coming out, that’s why we’re doing the tour… We also have a series of 4 enamel pins coming out from Yesterdays at WonderCon. Plus all sorts of new prints, tees, buttons, butterfly combs, roach clips…

RM: Also, I saw that there may be a Humans toy for sale during the tour?

KMK: YES! We got a Karns action figure sculpted by the awesome Marc the Ultra and released by a Shop Called Quest. It’s limited to 35 (25 regular/10 variant edition). We are having a toy release party at SCQ’s Claremont shop on March 19th! It looks so good and we’re psyched!

RM: The Humans have a very specific look and no two really look alike.  Were there any inspirations for your character choices?

KMK: Yeah, that was very important. We wanted each character to stand out. Tom and I work hard to make sure they have the feeling of real people in the fact that body types, hairstyles, postures and attitudes were all unique.  Some have ticks and quirks… Tom really out did himself with the designs.

TN: It was a ton of fun to design ape-bikers! There’s so much you can do with either subject, and I’ve been collecting old biker mags and photos for reference. Some of them are also inspired by friends.

RM: This one is for Tom… I noticed you did not have a letterer listed in the book, does that mean on top of all the normal art duties, you were your own letterer as well? When given the script, are you writing in the dialogue as you go or is that put in after most the pencils have been put down?

TN: Yes, I hand-letter all the comics. It’s an integral part of the art. The dialogue comes from Keenan’s script, but gets edited along the way by me. When I complete the pencils, Keenan approves the final script as it is laid out on the page and then I begin inking. The lettering is usually the first step of the inking process.

RM: One thing you often hear is that artists struggle when having to do car chases and horses, yet you centered Vol 2 completely on driving and chases.  Just par for the course or by the time you reached the end of issue #10 were you asking yourself and Keenan why you committed to that story?

TN: I’d honestly never drawn a car chase before. I’d barely ever drawn any vehicles at all before tackling this series. But I’ve always thought I can draw anything if I put my mind to it, so I just went for it and gave it my all. I’m always happiest when challenging myself as an artist. I definitely needed a break by issue #10 but I’m ready for more in the future!

RM: Your other partner in this is colorist Kristina Collantes and it is clear she really added another layer to the book.  How did she become involved in the project?  How was it working with her?

KMK: Kristina was great. She brought a lot to the book. Tom was friends with her first and when we hooked up with Image to put the book out, and she asked to be the colorist. She understood what we were going for and hit the psychedelic moments really well.

TN: Bringing Kristina on to the team really added a lot to the book. It allowed me to open up my art to collaboration and allow her to bring her own sensibilities to the project. The psychedelic scenes were amazing, but also her subtle use of color shift to tell the mood of the story greatly impacted the entire series. We’re lucky she lent her skills to us for this series.

RM: At the end of Issue #9, you have Johnny grab Crispin and exclaim “The Human Code.”  Was that something that came up organically or something you wanted to insert into the story for fans of all things Apes?

KMK: Both actually. I wanted to hit that one Apes “reference” because it did fit so well. The HUMANS and most outlaw biker gangs have a code of ethics and conduct amongst themselves… It just worked so perfect.

RM: You have posted some original sketches on  Can we still get some of those original sketches?

TN: Yes, I hope to be adding more of those as time permits. I’m not good at doing custom commissions, and I’m not selling the original pages from The Humans yet, but I like doing little sketches of the characters and hope that people will enjoy them.

RM: What can you tell us about The Jungle?

KMK: We will follow The Humans stories as some of the surviving members are sent off to one of California’s toughest prisons, The Jungle. It’ll have shivs, snitches, solitary, and so much more! The Humans saga will continue with The Jungle, but we don’t know exactly when that will be.

RM: Anything else either of either of you are working on?

KMK: I’m working on developing a lot right now with several different artists… Tom and I are figuring out our next step together and we got a couple ideas that we’d really like to do outside of The Humans world.  We should know more about what we will be doing moving forward after our tour is finished.

I just starting working with Fantagraphics artist Jeremy Baum on an idea. A surreal nightmare-ish fairy tale. Could be really twisted if we finish it. We are just in the beginning stages but hope to start work on it this summer.

Also working on a super secret project with Benjamin Marra (O.M.W.O.T.) that I am CRAZY about… But it’s a long ways off.

Other than that I’m continuing to work on numerous ideas while looking for more artists to work with. I also draw my own self published comics. Working on the 3rd issue of my on-going kung-fu cop vs. killer cult series Force Majeure. It should be out by late summer. Maybe for Comic Con…

TN: I’ve been working on some album covers for a few bands lately while Keenan and I figure out our next step with The Humans and other projects. I’m also working on a graphic novel of my own, and a porn magazine… but they are in the early stages so nothing to talk about yet! There are a few future Henry & Glenn projects on the horizon, too, and I have a couple of other top secret music-related comics’ projects that are in the works as well.

RM: Thank you both so much.

Remember everyone to pick up The Humans: Volume 2: Til Deth on March 16th and if you are on the West Coast catch them on tour soon!  And check them out over at!