Born October 2, 1960; married; husband's name, Karl (a comic book artist and writer). Education: Graduated from college (in drama), 1983.
Office—CrossGen Entertainment, 4023 Tampa Rd., Suite 2400, Oldsmar, FL 34677.
Graphic novelist. DC Comics, New York, NY, former editor; Dark Horse Comics, Milwaukie, OR, began as editor, became managing editor and liaison to "Legends" series; CrossGen Comics, Oldsmar, FL, head writer, 1999-2003, director of creative development, 2003—.
graphic novels: author of text
(With husband, Karl Kesel) Hawk and Dove, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1993.
Elseworld's Finest, Volume 2: Supergirl & Batgirl, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1997-98.
Sigil: Mark of Power, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2001.
(With Mark Waid) Sigil: The Marked Man, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2002.
(With others) Hell Boy: Seed of Destruction, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2004.
Solus: Radiant, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2004.
"meridian" series; author of text
Meridian: Flying Solo, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2001.
Meridian: Going to Ground, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2002.
Meridian: Taking the Skies, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2002.
Meridian: Coming Home, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2002.
Meridian: Minister of Cadador, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2003.
Meridian: The Mystery of Sheristan, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2004.
Meridian: Changing Course, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2004.
"first" series; author of text
The First: Two Houses Divided, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2001.
The First: Magnificent Tension, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2002.
The First: Sinister Motives, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2002.
The First: Futile Endeavors, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2003.
The First: Liquid Alliances, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2003.
The First: Ragnarok, CrossGen Comics (Oldsmar, FL), 2004.
Also author of Savant Garde comic book series, 1997.
Barbara Kesel has been an influential voice in bringing young female readers into the comic-book scene. Working as a freelancer, as well as an editor and story developer at DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and at the Florida-based CrossGen Comics, she had consistently endeavored to create storylines and protagonists that transcend gender and generation. The series titles she has personally written—at CrossGen in particular, where she pens the "Meridian," "The First," and "Solus" series—all feature strong female characters either as comic-book heroes or major secondary characters. Additionally, as head writer and then director of creative development at CrossGen, Kesel has played a large role in directing that more-recently established publishing house in the production of story lines and series that would attract female as well as male readers.
Becomes Comic-Book Afficionado
Born Barbara Randall in 1960, Kesel first "discovered comic books through TV," as she told Jennifer M. Contino in a SequentialTart.com interview. "I remember getting up early to watch Superman (George Reeves) on TV. Then came Aquaman on Saturday morning." From real-life or animated versions of comic-book heroes, Kesel moved on to the real thing, and became particularly interested in "Wonder Woman" comics. Even her Barbie dolls were turned into superheroes in her games. As she told Contino, her childhood was full of "constant motion, rollerskating." But her youth was also full of words. She was fond of "writing stories and plays that the neighborhood kids would put on." And there was in addition her old standby activity, "reading, reading, reading. … I grew up moving just often enough that my childhood 'friends' are certain books that were always in the local libraries." Kesel's taste in books ranged from works by C. S. Lewis to the books of Madeleine L'Engle and Harlan Ellison.
In high school the predominant culture was "antilearning, pro-jock worship," as Kesel recalled to Contino. She found a place for herself in a drama class and was inspired by the energy of her drama teacher, who had the class put on shows with real professional intensity. "It was the only area in my school where I felt like anybody cared about trying to do something to the best of their ability as opposed to the easiest way possible, and it offered me a venue to write, and a group of really good friends who have stayed connected ever since." Kesel took this new-found enthusiasm with her to college, majoring in theater with plans of perhaps becoming a high school drama teacher herself. All the while however, she knew that she also wanted to write. "I never realized I 'wanted to be [a writer],'" she told Contino. "I just always WAS one. I can't remember a time before telling and writing stories."
Initially the urge to write seemed destined to find an outlet in the transformation of Kesel into a famous playwright, but then came a fateful day at the mall in Pomona, California, in 1979. Pestered by a stranger, she fled into a used bookstore and there re-connected with DC Comics. However, through more sophisticated eyes, she now saw how poor the characterization of women was presented in many of these titles. The owner of the bookstore agreed and suggested Kesel write her complaints to DC. With the characteristic naivete of a college sophomore, Kesel did just that, penning a ten-page critique to Dick Giordano at DC Comics demonstrating how such characterizations could be remedied. Her letter was not lost in the void; in fact Giordano replied with an offer for Kesel to write a back-up "Batgirl" story for Detective. Kesel's version appeared in the magazine in 1981.
A Strong Voice in the Comics World
Since updating the image of Batgirl, Kesel has become a major fixture in the world of comics and graphic novels. Graduating from college in 1983, she took a job with DC as an associate editor, moving to the company's headquarters in New York City, where she worked from 1984 to 1989. At DC she had a hand in virtually every series, including "Watchmen." She also met her comic-book artist husband, Karl Kesel, in New York; the couple collaborated on the "Hawk and Dove" series for the company and saw the series published in graphic-novel format in 1993. Soon, however, Kesel found herself spending most of her time working as part of a development group and no longer able to have a direct hand in creating the superhero comics that she loves. Not a great fan of Manhattan in the first place, she decided to leave DC and move west again. After several years spent working as a freelance comics writer, she took another full-time job, this one with Dark Horse Comics in Portland, Oregon, where she eventually rose to managing editor. "When I started at Dark Horse, I was the fifteenth employee and it was a small shop where we all got to do everything," Kesel recalled to Contino. Success, however, changed that. After a few years a more corporate atmosphere evolved, and Kesel again responded by going freelance. Then, in 1999, she accepted a job as head writer for CrossGen Comics after the company's chief operating officer attended Kesel's scriptwriting seminar at an annual San Diego Comic Convention. Once again, she moved from coast to coast, settling in Florida where CrossGen is headquartered. As head writer, Kesel was responsible not only for her own titles, but also for helping to train new writers and building a stable of professionals to generate all titles in house.
At CrossGen Kesel has helped develop a range of titles, mostly in the categories of science fiction and fantasy. As a writer, she is well known for her work on the "Meridian" series. Set on one of the city-states floating above the poisoned planet of Demetria, the series focuses on Sephie, daughter of the minister of Meridian. When her father dies, Sephie inherits his position and his mysterious sigil, a sign that the link between the character and a source of cosmic power has been activated. Sephie's sigil gives her powers of renewal. But her scheming Uncle Ilahn also has a sigil, with powers of decay, and he has every intention of using it in a grand plan to master all of Demetria by controlling its trade. Sephie and Ilahn are soon a collision course in a series of adventures that provides female comic book fans a heroine to respect and identify with.
The "Meridian" series has been published in a number of book-length collections. Reviewing the first collection, Meridian: Flying Solo, Booklist reviewer Cathy Buskar called the volume an "appealing coming-of-age story." Buskar also significantly noted that "young women, a group not usually counted among graphic novel enthusiasts, may be especially intrigued" with the "Meridian" saga. Of Meridian: Going to Ground and Meridian: Taking the Skies, School Library Journal reviewer Susan Salpini wrote, "these titles are a coming-of-age story on a richly imagined world with appealing characters." Also reviewing Taking the Skies, Library Journal contributor Steve Raiteri concluded, "Demetria is the most fully realized of all of CrossGen's invented worlds, and Sephie herself is the publisher's most endearing character." A contributor to Publishers Weekly had similar praise, commenting on the series' "fascinating" characters, and Kesel's scripting, which "gives the action more moral weight than usual in a mass market comic." This same contributor concluded that "Meridian" is a "superior value" within the graphic-novel market because of its "beautiful art and strong scripting." Writing about the fifth installment in the "Meridian" series, Meridian: Minister of Cadador, School Library Journal reviewer Salpini again praised the "lush-colorful artwork" that "complements the text," while a Publishers Weekly contributor was pleased that "the creators of Meridian are not content to endlessly repeat themselves."
If you enjoy the works of Barbara Kesel
If you enjoy the works of Barbara Kesel, you may also want to check out the following comic books:
The "Mystic" series by Ron Marz.
The "Crux" series by Mark Waid.
The "Negation" series by Tony Bedard.
Another major series penned by Kesel is "The First," about a group of god-like beings that inhabited the Earth before humans. These superhumans, however, are not perfect; in fact they are "as quarrelsome and horny as the ancient Greek gods of Olympus," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Bickering among themselves, they separate into two rival houses. The debut "First" collection, published in 2001 as The First: Two Houses Divided, deals with the battles between the House of Dexter, home to the more selfless gods, and the House of Sinister, home to the more selfish ones. The sigil bearers also play an important role in these books, while the action is a bit more intense and dominant than in the "Meridian" titles. Reviewing series title The First: Sinister Motives, a contributor for Publishers Weekly called the volume a "cross between a soap opera and a WWF tag-team extravaganza." Hillias J. Martin, writing in School Library Journal, noted that Kesel "packs all of the traditional superhero-comics tricks" into the story, but the critic also complained that the dialogue contains an overly large portion of "flat cinematic clichés and overbearingly collegiate vocabulary."
Kesel has also created the comic-book series "Solus," featuring pencils by George Perez. The series features a female character, an all-powerful sigil bearer, named Sousandra (aka Andra Radiant), who seems to have lost her memory and also needs increased sigil power. This new series ended prematurely in 2003, as CrosGen Comics reorganized its publishing output, requiring Kesel to find appropriate endings for her books much earlier than expected. With the company's major reorganization, she also had to gear up for a new job in creative development. "What it all means is that I'm now one of these cell-phone people," she told Carrie Landers in an interview for SequentialTart.com. Kesel remains optimistic about her career, however, and continues to view her main role within the comic-book industry as finding ways to attract young female readers to comic books. The "Meridian [series] may be finite," she noted to Landers, "but what's there will continue to be around to draw in other readers, both male and female."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Cathy Buskar, review of Meridian: Flying Solo, p. 1390.
Library Journal, November 1, 2002, Steve Raiteri, review of Meridian: Taking the Skies, p. 66; July, 2003, Steve Raiteri, review of Meridian: Traveler Edition: Flying Solo, p. 68.
Publishers Weekly, September 23, 2002, review of Meridian: Taking the Skies, p. 52; March 10, 2003, review of The First: Sinister Motives, p. 55; August 11, 2003, review of Meridian: Minister of Cadador, p. 259.
School Library Journal, October, 2002, Susan Salpini, review of Meridian: Going to Ground, p. 198; March, 2003, Susan Salpini, review of "Coming Home," p. 262; May, 2003, Hillias J. Martin, review of The First: Sinister Motives, p. 182; July, 2003, Susan Salpini, review of Meridian: Minister of Cadador, p. 154.
CrossGen, http://www.crossgen.com/ (November 17, 2004).
Pipeline Reviews, http://www.nic.com/~augie/pipeline/ (September 28, 1997), Augie De Blieck, Jr., review of Savant Garde.
SequentialTart.com, http://www.sequentialtart.com/ (May, 2000), Jennifer M. Contino, "The Accidental Writer: Barbara Kesel"; (November, 2003) Carrie Landers, "Meridian's Mom: Barbara Kesel."
Silver Bullet Comic Books, http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/ (April 21, 2005), Tim Hartnett, review of Solus #4.
Titan's Tower, http://www.titanstower.com/ (November 17, 2004), "The Kesels on Hawk & Dove II."*