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Millar Talks Avatar's The Unfunnies By Alexander Ness
Come in December 2003, fans can look forward to an industry-wide crossover event dealing with darkness and unpleasant behavior. So what are we talking about? Well, part of it is Avatar Press' The Unfunnies, a creator-owned project from Mark Millar, the acclaimed writer of such best-selling titles as Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates.
With plans to create several projects running concurrently, in an interesting twist, each of Millar's creator-owned books will be published by a different company under the Millarworld banner. Along with Avatar's The Unfunnies, other publishers tapped for this event are Top Cow, Dark Horse, and Image Comics, with advertising for the books running in all of the titles, regardless of which company is putting it out.
Slush spoke with Millar and Avatar Press' Editor-In-Chief William Christensen about The Unfunnies, and the event as a whole. Be sure to check out the exclusive art sprinkled throughout, including a six-page preview at the end.
Alex Ness: Who proposed this union of publisher and talent?
William Christensen: I had been hounding Mark for a new series and he was trying to fit something into his schedule. Once he unleashed his mad plan of this interconnected month, it mad perfect sense for us to work together on it.
Mark Millar: The trick was really finding the appropriate publisher for each of the projects I'd devised. The books are all very, very different so the publishers really had to be different too. Wanted (Top Cow), for example, is an adult superhero psycho-drama that could be a big budget action movie with an intelligent spin. The Unfunnies has cartoon characters being shagged up the arse. Luckily, William is very interested in such things and I knew we wouldn't have problems with the content. I didn't want the headache of having a publisher reviewing everything I wrote in advance.
AN: Mark, tell us about the larger scheme of your multi-publisher event? Was it to further establish yourself or has it been an artistic desire of yours to stretch your work across the publishers valley?
Mark: I wanted to do this for a number of reasons. The first is the most obvious and that's the sheer ambition of something on this scale. Nobody had ever really tried something as pan-industry as a multi-company crossover before and that appealed. Being the first to do something like this also registers a lot of attention that the line might not have gotten if all four books had just appeared from one company.
The breadth of the potential readership is also a factor. My natural reader-base tends to read Marvel or DC comics. However, if I can expand this to Top Cow or Avatar I'm helping the sales, however small, on my Marvel books because I'm almost certain to pick up some new readers. The Marvel books also feed into the smaller publishers and the fact that this is happening in the same month we're launching Ultimate Fantastic Four is no coincidence. All the Millarworld books carry ads for the other books and, even though I know Wanted, for example, will sell a great deal more than The Unfunnies, tying them together like this is going to help the smaller, more personal books and hopefully give the line a nice, varied look.
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AN: William, are you poaching the United Kingdom for excellent writers, or is the fact that so much of your serious work being published is coincidentally Euro (Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, etc.)?
William: I really love the different sensibilities that the top British writers bring to their craft. They have just been exposed to different stimuli growing up and so much of that comes across as a very fresh approach to comics. I don't have any prejudice against writers from other countries, it just happens that there is an amazing cauldron of talent in the UK.
AN: Give us a nutshell version of The Unfunnies and tell us about your co-creators on the title.
Mark: For some reason, I've always wanted to tell a very dark, multi-charactered story (along the lines of Magnolia) with funny animals. When we sit and watch a horror movie we know we're watching a horror picture and come to the story with a certain level of psychic defence. Our subconscious kicks in and warns us in advance that this is supposed to be frightening and so we're prepared for any shocks.
However, imagine you rented It's A Wonderful Life Part 2 starring all the same people as the original or The Little Mermaid 3 animated in exactly the same style, but the opening scene had Arial's dad busted for child molestation or James Stewart sneaking into a mortuary for a little skull-fucking. It would be an assault on the senses because you weren't prepared for it. I wanted to portray very, very dark subject matter and a deceptively complex story in the brightest colours and simplest lines possible to leave the readers reeling.
Please note: This isn't a funny animal book, it's a horror book. It's a supernatural title. In terms of story construction, it's maybe six or seven little short stories interwoven together with a strong Gothic horror element running through the spine of the book and articulated via a combination of photo-strip story and traditional Hanna Barbara animation.
That's why [artist] Anthony [Williams] was such a crucial choice here, having a background in both animation and DC's hanna-barbara titles. He's really done a wonderful job and here, to be honest, I think this is the book that's going to hit the mainstream biggest. When I talk to Rolling Stone or the other magazines that aren't as obsessed with superheroes as the comic-medium itself, this is the book they're most interested in because it's a simple high concept anyone can understand and the only thing you need to bring to it is a childhood brimming with low-quality 1970s animation.
AN: If this is successful can we look for more books by you at Avatar?
Mark: I'd love to do something else for Avatar after this. I'm planning the whole Millarworld line as a very long-term project. At the moment, I have it planned as a six or seven year experiment, but the books will only ever appear in bursts like this every couple of years and only with the best quality artists. I've already starting putting together my teams for the NEXT wave at the end of 2005/ the beginning of 2006 and Avatar will hopefully be part of that plan just as they are here.
The next two years will be focused exclusively on Marvel-owned properties because there's a lot of those things I really want to get out of my system and the whole Millarworld line has been an enormous recharging process for me. It's been the most creatively liberating thing I've ever done and so I'm bringing some of that mad enthusiasm to Marvel for the next couple of years as they let me loose on some Marvel Universe titles you'll be hearing about soon. So that's the plan; produce the personal work in a tsunami every other Christmas, sell them as video-games and movies and then plunge headlong into the top ten books again for a little while.
AN: William, that OK with you?
William: Yep, I'd love to have Mark for more projects!
Comics talent and publishers If you are interested in your works possibly appearing in my column for review, please send them to:
Alexander Ness Land of Frost Box 142 Rockford MN 55373-0142