Ancient is Modern: Peter Milligan on Greek Street

Peter Milligan on Greek Street

Greek Street #1

In London there’s a street running through the Soho district called Greek Street. Originally dubbed ‘Hogs Lane’, the thoroughfare dates back to the late 17th century and has been depicted in a variety of forms including an etching by William Hogarth to novelist Charles Dickens’ Tale Of Two Cities. But for comics writer Peter Milligan, the road runs further back – in time – back to ancient Greek times.

In the forthcoming series Greek Street from DC Vertigo, Milligan looks at the timeless stories of classic Greek myth through the lens of a modern era crime story. The doomed King Oedipus becomes the homeless Eddie who grew up without a mother, only meeting her when he’s an adult. Stories such as these, catapulted into the modern streets of London to see how they’ll land – how they’ll thrive, and how they’ll change.

Milligan has been a key player in DC’s Vertigo imprint with work on Shade, The Changing Man and Human Target which is being adapted into a fall 2009 television series. In addition to this new series, Milligan is also scripting Vertigo’s longest-running title Hellblazer, but Greek Street is a whole new zip code.

Newsarama: After a bit of break from comics a couple years back, it seems you’ve jumped back into the thick of it with Hellblazer, some work over at Marvel, and now this new series Greek Street. To what would you explain your resurgence?

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Peter Milligan:What it isn’t is some kind of planned assault on the world of comic books. It’s really just worked out this way. Usually it’s story and editor led. That is, if there is a story I’m keen on writing, or an editor I’m keen on working with, things happen. Recently there have been a number of things I’ve wanted to write and a number of really good editors I want to work with.

NRAMA: Good for you, and good for us.

The premise to Greek Street seems pretty straight forward – classic Greek dramas retold in modern-day London. How would you describe the series and what fans can expect?

PM: The premise might be straight forward enough. The reality of the comic is anything but. Greek Street is a very strange beast. I think of it as The Long Good Friday meets Agamemnon. A way of using those fantastically rich stories from Greek Tragedy to take a look at our world, and to explore some of the things I think about this world. I hope readers aren’t put off, thinking that this is somehow going to be dry or demand that they are well versed in Greek literature. The book is very sexy. IT has beautiful girls, beautiful boys, guns, tension, and the supernatural. The aim, or trick, is to forge something new. Something that refers to and echoes Greek Tragedy but that is also modern, new.

NRAMA: What drew you to retelling these greek legends?

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PM: I’ve always been interested in the Greek Tragedies. A few years back a re-read a translation of the The Oresteia and that stayed with me, and slowly this idea of using some of those old legends and plays to tell a new story about modern urban life began to form.

NRAMA: Can you remember when you first became aware and interested in greek dramas?

PM: At school, I suppose. I mean I was aware of ancient greek culture from an early age, trips to the British Museum, the Elgin marbles, those fantastic vase paintings.

NRAMA: Getting into the book itself, there’s a lot of greek mythological characters to pull from – but who’s standing out as the main characters as the series starts?

PM: Our main character is a young guy called Eddie who at the age of 18 has left the childrens’ home. He’s an orphan in search of his mother. Another important character is a girl named Sandy. She's disturbed, prone to visions, and lives with her aristocratic parents, who have their own tragic problems.

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NRAMA: Eddie = Oedipus, perhaps?

Vertigo was kind enough to send me advance copies of the first two issues, and what struck me most about these stories is that even though these are storylines over 1600 years old – the stories can, and do, happen in today’s world. Did you think of that – the idea that humans haven’t changed much?

PM: The idea that what we might call ‘human progress’ is a myth is one of the central conceits of Greek Street. Those ancient stories speak to us, I think, because fundamentally we have not changed or progressed that much. Our gods might be different, or at least go under different names. Our technology has obviously advanced. But when it comes to a lot of the really important human stuff, I wonder if we ever really progress.

Greek Street #1 hits shops in July.

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