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Thoughts From the Land of Frost:
A Discussion With Mark Millar By Alexander Ness
Mark Millar is a Marvel writer who has gained a fair amount of popularity (as well as notoriety) with his work on The Ultimates. Along with his current gig on Ultimate X-Men and his previous chores on Superman Adventures and Swamp Thing, he also had a small unfortunate occurrence on his well-written, if controversial, The Authority, following the tragedy of 9/11/01.
Mark talks to Slush about his past and current career, as well as such upcoming projects as Trouble and Wanted. He is a very outspoken and interesting fellow, so please read on.
AN: Hello, Mr. Millar, and welcome to my column, THOUGHTS FROM THE LAND OF FROST.
MM: Very kind of you to invite me in.
AN: Please tell my readers where you are from, where you live, are you married, kids, cats, etc.?
MM: No cats, no dogs, but I do have a toddler. I'm married and live (most of the time) in Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow, for anyone who's only heard of Edinburgh, is where they filmed a very large chunk of Trainspotting and, yes, it's exactly like that.
AN: Did you attend university, and if so, where and with what kind of degree field?
MM: I did politics and economics up until the final year of my degree and then dropped out due to severe poverty (as in I couldn't even afford my travelling expenses there anymore). It's the best thing that ever happened to me, though, because it forced me to do something desperate and stupid like try to be a professional writer. Also, every single person I've bumped into from university has been unemployed for the last ten years except for a guy who became a priest. This was a surprise, actually, because he was shagging his way around every girl on the course when I knew him.
AN: God works in mysterious ways. What comic was the one that you read as a child that you best remember fondly now?
MM: I don't remember the actual number, but it was an issue of Action Comics where Luthor had turned Batman, The Flash and Superman into eight year olds so he could kick the shit out of them.
The disturbingly-realistic Neal Adams front had a teeny Flash and Bats lying in rubble, supposedly dead, while Luthor punches a really upset looking Superbaby across the back of the head. Ah, happy days.
AN: How did you get into the comic book industry?
MM: Sheer blood, sweat and determination. I started out doing black and white indie stuff and this landed me a job at 2000AD after about a million rejected submissions. This landed me a couple of Best Newcomer Awards and, after much conspiring on the part of Grant Morrison, I landed Swamp Thing at DC Comics. They weren't interested in looking at me until he offered to co-write my first four issues of Swamp Thing with me -- which was a very kind gesture I'd never make for anyone.
AN: If I might, I didn’t start receiving offers of review product except for the generous CrossGen and Avatar Press until after I landed a number of bigger names for interviews. Whatever the quality of a work, I think some industries do not pay attention unless there is a name attached to the project.
What was your first published work in comics?
MM: The Saviour #1 (black and white, Trident Comics)
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AN: In comics who has had the most influence upon your writing?
MM: Probably a combo of Moore, Morrison and Ellis. Moore got me hooked, Morrison (mostly through conversation) taught me the fundamentals of how a story actually works and Ellis is someone I swipe from endlessly in terms of the actual technical layout of the story, the beats, etc. I think Morrison and Moore have a very sequential style, quite classic in the tradition of Eisner, etc, whereas Ellis, Garth and I are a bit more like movie story-storyboards. The other discipline, I think, is the screenwriting style employed by Gaiman and Bendis. It's really different from the way I work.
AN: How about your other influences (life, politics religion...)?
MM: You're influenced with everything from what you saw on TV last night to the tea you had with your breakfast this morning so it's impossible to say. The current political climate, as nightmarish as it is to live in, is actually a very rich source of inspiration for cartoonists, writers and artists much like the Reagan years of the previous boom.
AN: Who are your closest friends in the industry?
MM: I talk to [Brian] Hitch every day. He lives 500 miles away and we see each other maybe two or three times a year, but we talk every day. Up here, I used to socialize a lot with Grant [Morrison] through the nineties, but haven't really seen him in a couple of years. Vince (Frank Quitely) and I are pretty pally, both around the same age and with really young kids. Our wives are really good friends too so we see quite a lot of each other. Some guys I really love and hardly ever see at all, but email and phone lets me stay in pretty regular contact.
Marvel's new managing ed Dave Bogart is one of my closest pals and I really, really get on with [Marvel President] Bill [Jemas] and [Marvel Editor-In-Chief] Joe [Quesada]. We're in daily contact. Loads of people, really. Comics really is a good crowd. They're nothing like the wanks everyone thinks they are. 99% of people you meet or deal with are great because we have this insane common interest.
AN: You had a successful, if often underrated, run on Swamp Thing. Did you have a blast with it, or did you and everyone before you and since work with the ghost of Moore's run hanging upon your shoulders?
MM: I came along ten years after Moore and several writers had worked on the characters in-between so I didn't have the same problem the others had. Obviously, I was aware of his presence because they rank as some of my favourite comics ever, but people were kind enough in their reception that I lost the jitters pretty quickly.
AN: At Marvel, your work on The Ultimates really seems to break the rules that had developed on really any of Marvel's books. Was that your goal?
MM: No, definitely not.
There's a rule, I suppose, that The Flash ISN'T a pedophile, but it's not one I'd break just for the sake of it. It has to make sense in terms of the story. Again, I keep telling people that these characters seem radical because Marvel WAS radical. It's all become foggy in the memories of some people, but Marvel upset parents in the 60s because the characters were too real. The Ultimate line is just an extension of this same idea.
AN: Ultimate X-Men has been great with you at the helm. How much of the concepts for different visions of the team came straight from you and artist teams and how much from editorial dictat?
MM: There is no editorial dictat in the Ultimate line. They've been the most liberal people I've ever worked for. I can't speak for the Marvel Universe because I have no experience of this, but my Marvel career has been the most easy-going relationship I've ever had in the business.
AN: The Authority was under new management with you. What happened to it, and why is it not still being put out with you writing it?
MM: Well, I always just planned 12 issues. Like Warren, I wanted to write a great twelve and then I nominated Az to replace me for the next twelve. Everything that happened with my tenth issue and beyond has been horrendously well-documented. As heart-breaking as it was at the time, I honestly prefer not to think about it now. They've reaped their reward.
AN: Superman: Red Son has been a long-awaited series. What took so long and how did it become reality.
MM: It's funny, but nobody knows how long this has REALLY been bubbling away. I started thinking about it aged six and only just finished some of the dialogue very recently. It took a while (six years) because Mister Dave Johnson, although a brilliant artist, subscribes to a fashionable New Age philosophy where you literally just draw one line a day and then spend the rest of the day in prayer. Over time, the book was completed, but not without the incredible, but Irish Killian Plunkett jumping in to finish book two and complete book three. It's bloody good-looking, though. Up there with Ross as the best visualization of Superman ever.
AN: You are a columnist over at Comic Book Resources. What’s your goal with that work? And frankly, weren't the columnists unsuccessful defeating capitalists? (Admittedly a poor attempt at humor)
MM: I'll ignore that and just explain that I wanted to give an account of what it's like writing inside the top ten. Any sensible person would just focus on their output in these years when they're hot, but I'm an idiot and like to get my opinions out there so I spend a few hours a week thinking about this and putting it out (almost) every Friday. It hasn't been around for a few weeks because I've been snowed with the non-comics stuff, but it'll be back soon.
AN: Millarworld.biz is a fine site to become acquainted with your work. Do you have any further plans for it?
MM: Oh, yes. See June. Very, very exciting and that's all I'm saying for now.
AN: Any upcoming projects you feel comfortable sharing?
M2: Well, Trouble follows Ultimate X-Men and features the brilliant, brilliant Dodsons on art and this will be followed by my creator-owned superhero projects. You've seen me being a very good boy for the last couple of years and playing the game, much like I did when writing Superman Adventures. However, all that Mister Nice Guy stuff exploded into The Authority in early 2000 and towards the end of the year you'll see what I've REALLY got planned for superheroes. It's horribly, horribly adult and probably the most disturbing superhero comic you've ever read in your life.
It's racist, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-human, really. It's called Wanted and it's probably the most liberating thing I've ever written. This is one of two superhero projects I've got planned and there's three horror projects you'll hear about around the same time Trouble #1 launches. It's really good stuff.
AN: Thanks Mark!
MM: No problem, big fella.
Publishers of comics and talent in that industry are invited to submit their products for review:
Alexander Ness Land Of Frost Box 142 Rockford MN 55373-0142