On Wednesday, we posted the first chunk of our chat with writer Mark Millar, discussing the conception of the Stan Lee Awards, set to debut at the inaugural Kapow Comic Con, scheduled for April 9 and 10 at the London Business and Design Centre.Millar's a guy with a lot going on, so that left us with a lot more to talk about, including more on what to expect from the convention itself, his film directorial debut Miracle Park, his recently launched magazine CLiNT, and his controversial comments about the current fisca viability of digital comics. Newsarama: Mark, as far as the Kapow convention itself goes, the reports are that advance ticket sales have been pretty strong — something like two-thirds, three-fourths sold out?
Mark Millar: It’s almost three-quarters sold out, inside of what, seven weeks or something? Which is crazy, because we thought we’d be selling right up until the last moments, because it’s a new convention. We know it’s cool, we know it’s got all the big studios and TV people and all the big names in comics and the companies, but at the moment, people have never been. It’s an unknown quantity. We thought it would actually be a harder sell than it has been. But I think people have seemed excited, and it just caught on. I think people sort of knew guys like us wouldn’t be involved unless it was going to be good. It would be a waste of our time otherwise, because we could be using our time much more constructively, doing comics, if it’s something mediocre. We want this to be special.
There’s a music festival here called Glastonbury that is very, very finite — there’s only a certain number of tickets sold, and they sell out usually the day they go on sale. We want this to be like that every year. OK, you maybe get 10,000 people there at the weekend. It’s a beautiful place it’s going to be in, it’s not like a regular con, this is a stunning place called the London Business and Design Centre. We want it to be every year, with the day tickets go on sale, people go nuts to try and get this. Hundreds of thousands or millions of people hear what’s happening at it, but it’s a privelege to be there.
Nrama: It seems like there’s also probably just a great demand, that people have been waiting for a show like this in the UK for a while. In America, there’s a relatively major comic book convention nearly every month.
Millar: There are conventions here, and some very good ones, some that get really good attendances and so on, but we’re trying to do something very different. Likewise, the American shows, there’s a lot of conventions, there’s a convention almost every week in the states, but they tend to follow a very specific formula. They maybe get a few headline creators, they get a few guys from a television show or whatever, and a lot of people from old movies and things like that, and charge money for autographs. But I really, really wanted to do something entirely different here, which is to make everyone who comes have to talk about next year’s movies, and next year’s comics, and next year’s television shows. Nobody really who’ll be there is there to sign photographs for what they did in the past. It’s going to be a very unusual convention.
The thing I love about San Diego is you have the fans sitting there, waiting for Jim Cameron to come on the stage and talk about Avatar, and he’s nervous, because he knows he’s got to try and sell it for them. When I was out there doing Kick-Ass, I saw Jim Cameron kind of trembling slightly before he went on in front of 7,000 people, and I just thought that was brilliant. That was the thing we wanted to do with Kapow, where we had the biggest names in the industry trying to sell their product to the core demographic. That just seemed exciting to me, and very, very unlike anything we’ve ever had in this country.
And plus, I’m in quite an unusual position because in comics, I know everyone because I’ve worked in this industry since I was 19, and now in movies, I have five movies in development, so I know a lot of the studio people. And the Kapow team has massive experience in movie marketing. We’re in quite a unique position. We’re not just calling cold. We’re able to call out friends, and say, “Hey, listen, are you filming next week? If not, do you want to come up to Kapow and talk about your stuff?” You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck. Nobody’s charging any money autographs, people are signing for free. Everybody. If you want something signed, you just wait in a line and get it sign. All you’re paying is your admission fee. All the panels are free, the costume parade’s free, the big movie previews that are going to be there. There’s going to be a thing called “Movie X,” where one of the summer superhero movies is going to get screened as a premiere at Kapow. That’ll be free to get into. The whole show is actually incredibly reasonably priced, but also stuff that you’ve never seen in a UK convention before.
Nrama: Speaking of movies, the initial word was that your directorial debut, Miracle Park, was going to be screened at Kapow.
Millar: I don’t know how much of it we’re actually going to have ready, because we’ve had terrible snow here. We shot some of the movie, and then we had to stop for six weeks. The one thing I never considered when we were shooting in Scotland is that it gets dark very early in winter, and the weather is very unpredictable, so all lf the exterior scenes we have to just sort of stop at the moment. We’re going to start again next month, and hopefully we’ll have as much of the movie as we possibly can there.
Nrama: I was wondering, because I was thinking that a trailer should be hitting soon.
Millar: We would like to get the trailer up and running in the next few weeks. I want it to be right before I release anything. Stupidly, we shot the interior scenes when the weather was good, and our exterior scenes when the weather’s been terrible. [There’s been] four feet of snow here, it was just absolutely nuts, so unless everything was going to be a snow scene, we had to just stop.
Nrama: I guess you could change the script to take place exclusively in the snow.
Millar: Like that Alpha Flight issue where it all took place in a snowstorm. [Laughs.]
It went to -17 here for quite a while. Just absolutely crazy.
Nrama: You’ve been jugging a lot lately — including your magazine, CLiNT. It’s been about six months, how has that been going so far?
Millar: Great, really good. The thing that’s quite nice is that it got a lot of attention, because it’s unusual now for someone to launch a magazine. Everybody’s talking now about how magazines are in decline. There are a lot of mags out there, but I think if you do something quite unique, then people are going to notice it.
We were very lucky as well, that we had a lot of big names attached, like some very big television personalities in the country were doing strips for it. We had the Kick-Ass movie out on DVD just before it, so we were able to do half-a-million flyers in the DVD for the comic, because it has Kick-Ass 2 inside. We had a lot in our favor that made it a lot easier than it would be for others to launch a magazine in this country. It’s gone great, and we’ve tapped every single friend that we have to be interviewed or whatever, profiled. It’s just been fun. And the thing I love about it is that it’s so different from what I normally do. My job is generally sitting at a computer, writing stories. It’s been quite fun, actually, setting meetings and talking about things like paper, and talk about new distribution chains and things like this. It’s kind of like I’m almost using the other side of my brain, which I’m really enjoying.
Nrama: You made reference to the novelty of someone starting a print product in this day and age, and just recently you’ve made some much-discussed comments online about the viability, at this point, of digital comics. Is it fair to say that you’re maybe skeptical about the practicality of digital comics?
Millar: No, no, I think a lot of people misinterpreted the comments. What I was saying actually a very specific argument. The big thing that creators are being told with digital comics is that the creators are going to get a better deal than they did from print. I was saying to people, “Why is that the case?” And they said, “Well, you’re not paying for paper, you’re not paying distribution, you’re not paying a comics store,” all these sort of things that you don’t really realize come out of the price of a comic. But what you are paying is 30 percent immediately to Apple, and then the online distributor takes another 35 percent, on average, as well. So 65 percent’s gone immediately when something becomes a digital comic. Then it goes to the publisher, and then the creator gets a cut of that. So the publisher actually gets a smaller percentage back from digital, very slightly smaller, than they do from paper. Which is something nobody was talking about, but there are these hidden costs. And I only realized that when somebody sent me a list, “Millarworld books were 8 of the top 10 downloads. You must have made a fortune with this!” “Uh, I think I made, in total, for all of them added together for the entire year, something like 600 dollars.” You have to put this in perspective.
Nrama: I think your exact quote was that it was much less than you made for an issue of Superman Adventures you wrote back.
Millar: Yes, exactly! [Laughs.] I used to get paid nineteen-hundred and eighty dollars for an issue of Superman Adventures, and this is a fraction of that. And that’s all the Kick-Asses, all the Wanted, every issue that was downloaded last year. But what you also have to remember is the iPad is only six months old, this is something that’s very much in its infancy. When Bill Clinton and Al Gore entered the White House, there was only a few hundred websites, but by the time they left the White House eight years later, there were millions of websites. So it is something that starts out small and could go very, very big. I love anything that gets comics in the hands of more people, so I’m very, very open to it, but at the same time I’m also very, very aware that it’s hard for creators to really know how much they’re due. It’s much, much easier to keep track of paper. With digital, you have to take people’s word for it a little bit more. I’m still chasing up some sales figures for some books, one week later, in a way that I don’t with paper books.
I’m optimistic, but I’m also very cautious at the same time. Creators have a history in this business, going back four generations, of being ripped off. Artistic types tend not to be very savvy, fiscally. I think it’s something that we have to be aware of and to realize that what could be our best friend, could also be our worst enemy. But at the same time, every generation has a new thing that makes a comics boom, and I do think that digital could be a great friend to creators, and also to comics stores. I think if we time it properly — as long as we’re not competing with comics stores about getting the comics out there digitally — then I think we could be in good shape. Hardcore fans are buying the books immediately in the comics stores, and the more casual readers, people who normally never get near a comic book store, can read it months later online. There’s everything to play with at the moment, but my side of the story was hey, guess what, I had eight out of the [top] 10 and I made 600 bucks.
Nrama: It seems like, for right now, different things work for different publishers. Like Archie going same-day digital makes sense for them, since they don’t have a huge presence in the direct market as it is.
Millar: People have said for years, “all comics are going to die.” There is something apocalyptic within the souls of comic book fans sometimes. I remember in the ‘90s, people saying exactly the same thing. When the market halfed one year, and then seemed to half the following year, they were, “Oh my god, it’s the end of comics!” Then suddenly everything comes around in the year 2000. Things go through peaks and troughs, and business models have to be modified.
I don’t think paper is going anywhere in comics anytime soon, because the experience is such a unique one, and there’s also a collectability factor. And the fans are very loyal. We’re not transient like Pokemon fans. We have guys who have been doing this since we were five, and will probably still be reading them when we’re 80. If you’re still reading them after 10 or 20 years, you’ll probably be reading them for the rest of your life. Nobody can tell, but I actually think there’s going to be a benefit, let’s keep our eyes open.Keep reading Newsarama for the final part of our talk with Mark Millar, covering where his comic book work now fits into his career, his current projects, and what's coming up next.