It's been two years since a new Chris Claremont comic book came out.
For someone that's been an industry mainstay since the 1970s, it's a conspicuous absence. Claremont, of course, is most famous for his storied X-Men run at Marvel from 1975 to 1991, where he wrote some of the franchise's most beloved stories and co-created many of its most recognizable characters.
He returned to the X-Men in 2000 and stuck around for about a decade on various books, from the flagship Uncanny X-Men to spinoffs like New Excalibur and X-Men Forever, something of an extended What If?. The second volume of that series ended in January 2011, along with two-parter Chaos War: X-Men. Though his work continues to be influential — "Days of Future Past," by Claremont and John Byrne, is the named inspiration for Bryan Singer's 2014 X-Men sequel; this summer's The Wolverine film is adapted in part from his and Frank Miller's 1982 Wolverine miniseries — those issues were the last new comic book material from the writer to date.Newsarama talked to Claremont, and though he's not ruling out a return to the medium in the near future, it doesn't appear to be something that he's specifically clamoring for, either.
"My relationship with Marvel is that I work for them," said Claremont, whose work has also included Fantastic Four, the original run of Ms. Marvel and the creator-owned Sovereign Seven. "Each editor, I think, has their own sense of what the book should be, of who they want to utilize in the book. What writers they like, what storytelling they like, who the people higher up the food chain like. And that sort of thing evolves."
Specifically, Claremont, 62, acknowledges that tastes unavoidably change, and that it's not anything new.
"A talent that was blisteringly hot in the '60s might not be as effective in the '80s," Claremont said. "If a Buscema came in today — John or Sal — would he be welcomed the same way? There's no way of knowing."Plus, it's clear that Claremont — the co-creator of Rogue, Gambit, Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost and many others — is cognizant of the inevitable effect that the passage of time has on any professional career.
"No matter how good of a ball player you were, you can't keep going forever. You're not going to be able to hit .300 when you're 60," he said. "You still look around and you think, 'This is weird. Have I missed something?' Well, yeah, you have. Every generation has its own preferences and their own ways they want to tell the story, and not every creator fits in as comfortably as once they may have."
The writer, whose famous tales include "God Loves, Man Kills" and "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (which heavily influenced the second and third X-Men movies, respectively), told us he hasn't really kept up with recent X-Men storylines or current comic books in general, "simply because there aren't enough hours in the day.""I find these days I'm much more interested in non-fiction, how the structure of things fit together both in terms of the political dynamics of the world and the economic/social dynamics," Claremont said. "And quite frankly it is a lot more fun playing with prose."
To that end, Claremont has recently ventured into the world of ebooks, recently releasing his previously published novels Dragon Moon and FirstFlight in the format for the first time.
"I'll be intrigued to see how that's received by the audience," Claremont told Newsarama last month. "It's a fascinating world to drop a finished product on the marketplace without the intercession of a publisher."
Beyond pre-existing material, Claremont is also considering publishing new material digitally. He's currently working on a "dark fantasy set in New Orleans," which he says he could end up as a novel or a short story collection."The really nice thing is, going digital doesn't foreclose any other option," he said. "If a publisher came knocking at the door, that's intriguing. Having electronic books out there might make things more accessible to other forms of presentation — film, TV, radio, whatever."
The writer is also enticed by the format possibilities inherent in going digital-first, saying it would free up some of the constraints of traditional publishing.
"Do you have to be restricted to publishing a novel? Do you have to do a hundred thousand words to offer your story to the public? Or can you do a 40,000 word short novel? With a beginning, a middle and an end, all the elements that would go into a larger, more complex package, but this is more focused," Claremont said. "While it might be difficult for a prose publisher to invest the paper, printing, binding, money necessary to bring it to an audience, if you do it electronically as a download, maybe it becomes a whole different, more acceptable/accessible alternative."Though his focus may be elsewhere right now, Claremont keeps ties to the comic book world. He's got a busy convention schedule this year, with appearances at Wizard World Portland, Emerald City Comicon and MegaCon in Orlando already in the books, and shows in Ottawa, Houston and Montreal coming up.
Beyond work-for-hire at Marvel, he says he might also be open to future creator-owned comic book projects, though admits the risk involved can be a deterrent.
"Maybe it'll sell, maybe it won't, maybe it'll be great, maybe it won't," he said. "The problem was, Marvel and DC paid the same. And you were guaranteed it. Guaranteed payment, guaranteed royalty. "
Though he stresses that he hasn't been reading current releases, he expresses potential skepticism over what he's heard about some recent developments, like the "Phoenix Five" — the Phoenix's power dividing between Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik during last year's Avengers vs. X-Men."For me, the relationship between Phoenix and Jean is primal and unbreakable, and transcends the brief interlude of Jean's physical existence on Earth," Claremont said. "That there is a much larger back story and future story than anyone can imagine that would, in my personal vision, culminate umpty-bump billion years down the line, when you get to the last sun going out against the darkness, and on the last bit of rock you find Logan patiently sitting and waiting — probably playing chess with Kitty, who's been watching over him 20 billion years — for Jean. Who shows up. And then she and Logan have their moment of privacy, and the fire of their passion ignites the big bang. That's my vision of how all this fits together."
That idea may sound fairly fully realized, but Claremont says he knows that, despite his lengthy stint on the books, these characters are ultimately no more his than they are any other creator's.
"That's the nature of the game," he said. "The fundamental reality is that the characters and the concepts are the wholly owned property of Marvel, which is the wholly owned property of Disney. And nothing we say or do will change that. So you have to accept that whatever contribution you make to the canon or to the craft is transient, and move on."In general, Claremont says he would like to see contemporary mainstream comics integrate stories more with the real world, rather than staying cloistered in the world of superpowered affairs.
"The one thing I have never been comfortable with in the modern presentation of character — and it may have changed, this is some years ago — is their total isolation from the rest of the world," he said. "It's all about superheroes interacting with superheroes. There's no normal life. No normal people. That was the whole point, for me, when I had Kitty in her miniseries working at the University of Chicago. Because life goes on. She's not there forever. None of them should have been there forever, because that way leads to stagnation."
It's evident that Claremont still has an interest in comic books and what fans want, and appears open-minded about the current direction of the X-books."That's part of the reason, actually, for starting this year's convention run," he said. "Finding out what's going on, finding out why it's going on, finding out what readers like and don't like, and most importantly, why? Figuring out, OK, if this is where you're at, how can I surprise you?
"If Brian [Bendis, writer of All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men] comes up with a vision that hooks you on Page 1, and keeps you going, and makes you want to come back for more, then the argument's over. He's got it. That's always been the case, with every writer. That's what we are here for. It's what makes this fun."More from Newsarama:
- What We Learned From MARVEL's JUNE 2013 Solicitations
- CHRIS CLAREMONT's X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Movie Musings
- BLINK Added to X-MEN DAYS? Singer Tweets Out Casting Pic