Actor Mike McMillian may have a few successful TV shows under his belt, but he's a little intimidated by the challenge of selling a comic book.
As the Rev. Steve Newlin on the HBO television series True Blood, McMillian plays a character who is totally dedicated to saving humanity from vampires. But the actor behind the role is more interested in making comic books. A reader since childhood who actually considered a comics career while pursuing acting, McMillian is getting the chance to write his first comic thanks to a friendship with Star Trek and Heroes star Zachary Quinto.
As announced at Comic-Con International: San Diego, Quinto and his company, Before the Door Pictures, is developing comic books in a partnership with publisher Archaia Comics. And among their first releases is Lucid, a four-issue mini-series written by McMillian that is set to debut in comic shops in summer 2010.
Newsarama talked to McMillian to find out more about why he's so interested in comics and how he thinks Lucid will fit into the comic book landscape.
Newsarama: Mike, a lot of people will know you as Steve on True Blood, but you've got to have a lot of people recognizing you as Henry from What I Like About You. It seems like that show's always on in reruns.
Mike McMillian: It’s so funny because in San Diego, I think there were just as many people who came up to me that were Henry fans as there were True Blood fans.
Nrama: Well, as a fan of both series, it's good to talk to you.
McMillian: It’s good to talk to you too. You should know that I’m an avid reader of Newsarama.
Nrama: You are?
McMillian: It’s bookmarked on my browser.
Nrama: Mutual admirers. So I take it you’re a comics' reader?
McMillian: Oh, yeah. Big time. I've been an avid reader since the third grade.
Nrama: Are you a Marvel person, a DC person or an Indie reader? Or all of the above?
McMillian: I have my moments where – I mean, I’ve always been a Marvel zombie, but I’m really into Green Lantern and the Blackest Night stuff going on in DC right now, and I love the new Batman and Robin. I’ve always got my core DC books, but probably, if I had to pick one at the end of the day, I’m more of a faithful Marvel reader. But I also like a lot of independent stuff too. I’m a big Jeffrey Brown fan, and Adrian Tomine, and Chris Ware. I like a lot of the stuff Top Shelf puts out. Now I’m reading Archaia's books, which is really cool.
Nrama: As a comics fan, is this pretty exciting for you, getting to write in a medium you've loved for so long?
McMillian: Yeah, it’s funny because we were at Comic-Con, and I was running around a bit with the True Blood crew, and that’s been a dream come true working on that show. But I have to say, I think I was more geeked out about being at Comic-Con announcing a comic, you know, which is something that is the other thing I wanted to do my whole life. So I don’t know; it was a really good week.
Nrama: It's funny that it would be a TV actor's dream to sit on a panel and talk about their comic book.
McMillian: Those actors, they just think they can do anything they want! [laughs] No, but I was talking about this yesterday, and I was saying, man, I could sit up on a panel and talk about a TV show until the cows come home, but getting up in front of a sea of comic book and science fiction fans and saying, like, "hi, I'm an actor and I'm going to be writing a comic and here's my idea and I hope you like it" is probably one of the scariest things I've ever had to do.
Nrama: How did you get involved with Zachary Quinto and the guys at Before the Door Productions?
McMillian: Well, Zach, Neal [Dodson] and Corey [Moosa] and I went to college together, Carnegie Mellon University, and it was one of those things where we used to sit around in each other’s apartments and talk about what we want to do once we got out of school, and we got to Hollywood or New York or wherever. And I think it’s always a journey when you go to school with people. And when you’re all studying theater together, part of the dream is being able to work together one day and fulfill these schemes that you’re whipping up when you’re 18. And I’ve always wanted to write comics.
It’s something that – I grew up writing. I used to write comics and draw comics when I was a kid. I had a comic strip that I wrote and drew for the school newspaper in high school. Acting kind of took over for awhile. I went to conservatory and studied classical theater, so that kind of filled up all of my focus later in my young adulthood. But now that I’m out here, and I’m sort of primarily established as an actor, I have the freedom to write, which is great. And once Zach and Corey and Neal put together their company, the first thing that they did was – which I think was really cool, because I’m not sure a lot of other actors who have become really suddenly successful would do the same thing – they reached out to their friends for ideas for projects.
They brought in a bunch of friends that they trusted as writers, and said, "Okay, well, we have the ability now to make some of this stuff." So we came in and pitched ideas for films and TV shows, and Neal and Corey and Zach specifically asked me what kind of comic I would want to make. So we sat down, and we kicked around a couple ideas, and Lucid was one of them. When it started off, it was a little bit different than it is now, but as it evolved over the past few months, it really turned into this sort of high action adventure, which I think is really, really great.
Nrama: So what's the story behind Lucid? What's the comic about?
McMillian: I'm a huge fan of action and high adventure and fantasy. I grew up on Indiana Jones and H.G. Wells and James Bond, you know, probably a lot like many of your readers. And I’ve also been, in the past few years, really fascinated with counter-culture, and the history of magic.
And so Lucid sort of springs out of the love of those worlds, and it takes place in an alternate universe where major world powers have black ops agents working for them that are trained in the mystic arts, sorcery and magic. So it’s kind of like this world where James Bond has been matched up with Harry Potter in a way, and magicians are working in the interest of national security.
Nrama: Whose point of view is it kind of told from? Is there a black ops agent who we follow?
McMillian: Yeah, our main character is this guy named Matthew Dee, and he's the go-to man for the new president of the United States, President Jefferson Monday. And I kind of wanted to play with the idea of what happens when the President gets into office, and then discovers that all the conspiracy theories or counter-culture ideas are true, that there is this hidden world out there full of mystery and magic and supernatural, and the government has a responsibility to protect its citizens against these things.
And so this new President is coming to power, and along with him, Matthew Dee, who is an agent of the Secrets Department, as his new go-to guy in this, sort of our country’s James Bond. Matthew is a descendent of this historical figure named John Dee, who was Queen Elizabeth I’s court magician.
Nrama: So this spins out of real history?
McMillian: Yeah, John Dee, and this guy’s actually a pretty fascinating character. You can Google him, and look at him. Elizabeth I had her own personal magician, who figured out astrologically the date of her coronation, and was attributed with sinking Spanish ships in the Armada when they’re invading England by conjuring a tempest. It's the inspiration for Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
And I really wanted to take that idea and modernize it, and so we’re kind of playing with that parallel, that our President has his own magician to help protect the United States.
Nrama: Where does the title come from, "Lucid?"
McMillian: The title stems from the conflict of lucid dreaming, and having the ability to change and control your environment. And also, it conjures up sort of, you know, inherently mystical images, and colors and symbols, so I wanted to have the title tie into that theme that this is the character that is in a reality that he is able to manipulate, and take some control of. And that will feed into some of the larger themes of the book as we go along.
We start off in this black ops action adventure fantasy world, but hopefully, as the book progresses, we’ll be able to take a look at the nature of reality itself. I’m an avid reader of all sorts of things, but I’m a big fan of Graham Hancock, who wrote this book Supernatural. And I was reading last summer around the time I was putting together this idea, and there’s some really cool stuff in there that's inspired by him that I’m hoping to incorporate.
Nrama: Is it going to focus on a darker, more frightening side of magic, or is it going to have fun with the concept?
McMillian: I think it's going to have fun with the whole thing. As dark as it will be at moments, it really is a lot of fun.
This is going play with a lot of familiar themes of conspiracy and the supernatural, and we’ll dip into the realm of sci-fi, but through the lens of fantasy. Audiences have had at least 10 years with The X-Files and other shows like Fringe. I’m a fan of all of that stuff, but it’s a bit gloomy. And Lucid will be dark at times, and there’s definitely going to be inherent danger, but for me, I think overall, comics have been a bit gloomy.
Even if you look at the Marvel Universe around the middle of this Dark Reign stuff, which is really cool. I love this concept that Norman Osborn is sort of taking over as the leader of the free world, but it’s a bit depressing at the same time. We’ve had Captain America die, we’ve had heroes that used to be friends killing each other off in Civil War. I feel like we’ve lost a little bit of that sense of fun when it comes to comic books. I came into it in the age where Amazing Spider-Man, you know, Todd McFarlane was hiding little spiders on the covers of the books.
There was just something that was inherently fun and enjoyable about comics when I was younger. And so it’s important to me as a writer that Lucid do that as well.
I’m really excited about exploring this combination of action movie and fantasy because I haven’t really seen that – it’s been done a little bit, I guess, but I can’t wait to see how it turns out. It's going to be big, sweeping, adventure, action and fun. I’m hoping it’ll really have this sort of heart-pumping pace to it at the end of the day, and that readers are just going to really love picking up the book and enjoying it.
Nrama: You know, you mentioned before that you were scared to get in front of comics fans and share this idea. Is that because we tend to be suspicious of people from Hollywood coming into the comic book zone?
McMillian: Yeah, and I relate to that 100 percent because I'm that guy too. It just happened that I've been very lucky in my other passion, which is acting, to find myself in a fortunate position to do something in comics. I completely understand the cynicism that's born out of that. I feel the same way every time I see a new movie come out that's based on a beloved character. I'm like, "Okay are these people going to get it right or are they going to bastardize it?" And, you know, I think readers should feel a little protective of this form of art that they love.
But I'm on their side, which is my side, you know what I mean? If there's any assurance that I can say to comic fans out there that are feeling a little skeptical about the situation, it's that I'm on it. And Zach and Neal and Corey and everyone at Archaia are very aware of the need to approach this the right way. The first thing that I said to Stephen Christy at Archaia was, "Look, I know I'm somebody from Hollywood, but before we get started, you should know that I'm 100 percent dedicated to making a great comic book." And he said, "So is Archaia." And that's not BS. It's true.
Besides, like I said, I'm scared crapless [laughs], so I'm going to be working really hard to make this a great comic.