The Year of Mark Millar Becomes 2, Part One

The Year of Mark Millar Becomes 2, p1
Cover to Wolveine #72
Cover to Wolveine #72
Cover to Wolverine #72

Though part of him must hate it, the showman inside Mark Millar probably is okay with the idea of his tour-de-force year of comics (featuring 1985, Kick-Ass, War Heroes, Wolverine and Fantastic Four) is now fully stretching into a second due to some scheduling hang ups.  

The body of work that Millar has produced, and is still coming out, is also unique in that it’s all interconnected (well, slightly – see below), and features some of the best artists in comics. Oh, and the two creator-owned ones are being turned into films.  

But before you think he’s strutting his stuff muttering “Damn, it’s good to be a Millar”…well, he’s not. After a long period of good heath, Millar caught a bug and was laid up for the month of January. Now, back to full speed, he’s looking ahead at seeing his stories wrap up, his movie finish filming, and the next wave of projects kicking off.  

Oh, and he found some time to talk to us.  

Slight spoilers ahead for 1985, Wolverine and Fantastic Four

Newsarama: Let’s start with a little catch-up Mark - The collected edition of 1985 hit last week. Looking back on that – it was so long in coming, and now that it’s sitting there as one volume, how do you view it?  

Mark Millar:  It’s weird. Its genesis started, like so many of my comics do, when I was a little kid. I would sit and, instead of doing math homework, would draw my own little comic strips in my school paper. One of the ideas I had that just utterly fascinated me was that of superheroes coming to the real world – at that time, it was a combination of DC and Marvel guys. So it really goes far back for me, and the story had been gestating all that time. So to have it sitting on my shelf, I’m just super thrilled. Red Son was something like that for me as well – something I had come up with as a kid. But yeah, to have this on a shelf so other people can see it is just a thrill, because it’s probably the project I’m most proud of, of all the things I’ve worked on in this decade at Marvel.

NRAMA: At the initial wave of promotion for this, you referred to it as a “Narnia” for Marvel…

MM: Yeah, totally. And it was funny because a lot of people were bent because they were thinking it was going to be elves and goblins and all that kind of stuff, but really what I meant was that it was about someone in the real world meeting an imaginary universe. It’s a Marvel fairy tale - and not in some lame way with goblins and pointed ears, but in a way that my daughter, who’s 10, could read and understand. It’s very dark in places, and very real, and probably the safest thing I’ve written in that you could show it to children without social services coming to ask you some questions.  

NRAMA:   As people who’ve followed this project know, it was supposed to be a photographed story with actors, but changed to traditional comic book art by Tommy Lee Edwards. How did that affect how you told the story?  

MM: The story had been gestating, like I said, and I’d been thinking about it in a variety of formats for many years, and then I found this book by Pat McGreal called I, Paparazzi that was published by Vertigo, and it was a comic book told using photographs, but done in a whole new way. Previously, there had been thee cheesy Marvel fumetti stuff in the ‘70s with guys acting out stories, but this was very sophisticated – it looked absolutely amazing. At the same time, you saw the stuff that José Villarrubia was doing on Promethea, and issues would have photographs blended seamlessly with art to become something just beautiful.  

Image from Mark Millar's 1985
Image from Mark Millar's 1985
Image from Mark Millar's 1985

Being a lowbrow person, I was thinking, “How can I possibly apply this to superheroes?” So I immediately remembered the story I had about superheroes coming into the   real world, and thought that would be an interesting way to tell it – maybe some comic book segments set in the comic book world, and the photographs for the parts that take place in the real world. I feel as if it would have been absolutely impossible just a few years ago, but now, the technology is almost there where you can almost do this and make it look convincing in a comic. Unfortunately it just didn’t work out. The technology maybe isn’t quite there yet to do it with superheroes.  

Most of the first issue was set in the real world with real people, and each successive issue would be more and more superhero-y as more and more villains were coming through . That was the point where Marvel started to get nervous – and I can totally understand it – they said that sure, when Sam Raimi has Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus on the screen, he literally has a two million dollar budget just to make sure those characters look real. We have a bigger budget than an average comic, but immediately, the Spider-Man that would be in 1985 would be compared to the Spider-Man in the films, and it would not be a favorable comparison, because this is two guys having to do this in their bedroom and trying to make it look good.  

And I totally understood – over the course of two issues, you’ve had Cap, Thor, Spider-Man and all the Marvel big villains. If that was a movie, it would cost billions, just to convince people that what they were seeing was real. We were very close on the real stuff, and we were close to moving ahead on it, but the superhero and the super villain stuff just didn’t look quite right, so in the end we just went for a change of tactics. And I was pretty heartbroken – at that point, I didn’t see how the project could be salvaged – I’d pretty much written the whole thing, and I figured that if it ended up with some regular, lame artist, and if it was done in the typical Marvel house style, it would just be crap.  

But John Barber, the editor, had a great idea and came up with Tommy Lee Edwards. You couldn’t cal his stuff photorealistic, because it’s quite expressionistic in places, and adds a real, quiet realism to the story that captured what I wanted from the photo thing anyway, while making it different from the Marvel Universe segments.  

NRAMA: And of course, as you said, what you wanted to do with the superheroes just wasn’t there yet, but like everything else, it will be there someday, and marrying it to the technology of one time period probably would have had detrimental effects on how it aged as a collection…

MM: Yeah, yeah. That’s a good point. Marvel described is as an evergreen project like Marvels – one of those projects that just sells and sells for a long time. You can buy this as a Christmas present for a kid or an adult, and it’s very easy to understand and self-contained, with a touch of a Stephen King creepy horror story woven in it. So, fingers crossed, I’m pleased with how well it did, but I hope it will continue to do well as a collection.  I’d be heartbroken if people just ignored it.  

NRAMA: You’re saying that this is such a personal thing for you, and you’re emotionally wrapped up in its success, how much of you is there in the protagonist?  

MM: There’s not much of me in there, actually. There’s a lot of me in terms of attitudes and likes and dislikes – at that age, I was really into comics, but when it comes down to it, there’s probably more of me in Kick-Ass. The lead character in 1985 is about four years younger than the lead in Kick-Ass, so maybe Tobey was who I was a little when I was 12, and Kick-Ass is more me at 16 – just an idiot kid.  

Cover to Wolveine #71
Cover to Wolveine #71
Image from Mark Millar's 1985

But Tobey’s home life is so different than mine, and I felt slightly awkward about this, because so many people wrote to me about this and said how much it meant to them because I’d been through the same thing they’d been through with the parents splitting up and all of that, but I didn’t. I tried to create as real a character as I could for Tobey and for it to be someone that a modern comic book audience could identify with was very gratifying. My own situation is completely unidentifiable with Tobey – I’m the youngest of six kids, and my oldest brother is 22 years older than me. My parents were in their late ‘40s when I was born, and I live on the West Coast of Scotland, in a rural area. Maybe one other person in the world could relate to that kind of like [laughs].  

So what I did was I based Tobey on friends and people who I knew who were comic fans. One thing I found interesting with many comic fans that are become so emotionally attached to comics is that quite often there is an absent parent. My mother died when I was 14, so there is that aspect in common between Tobey and me, I guess, although it’s usually a dad. There’s a really high proportion of an absent father, either from divorce or other things among kids who get into comics, it seems, so putting that in just felt very real, turning Tobey into someone that you could kind of know in your own circle.  

NRAMA: Broadening out to your other current work, you’ve mentioned many times that all of your latest work has a tie – 1985 ties to Fantastic Four ties to Wolverine ties to Kick-Ass. Now that 1985 is completed, so explain the tie-in as much as you can at this point…

MM: It’s really, really simple actually – the villain in 1985 is Doctor Doom’s teacher. He’s the guy who, when Doctor Doom went off as a young man to learn the mystic arts and all of that kind of thing, this is the guy he found, and the guy who trained him up. He’s the guy who becomes the Marquis in Doom’s Masters, the final four part story Bryan and I are doing in Fantastic Four. Basically, 1985 serves as his origin story – I won’t say his name, because I think it kind of ruins 1985 for people who haven’t read it yet, but that villain there is Doom’s teacher.

Newsarama Note – spoiler warning for the reveal ahead, because he does kind of let it out…skip ahead to the next question if you don’t want to know…

Cover to Wolveine #71
Cover to Wolveine #71
Cover to Wolveine #71

He becomes really, really frightening – bigger than Doom in fact. He also gets referenced in Wolverine: Old Man Logan. If you look at the map in the first part of Old Man Logan, you see a place called “Cylde’s Pit” – it’s really pivotal and ties in very closely with this too. So by the time that you read all three stories, you’ll realize that they all intertwine massively. At first, I was going to be more subtle about it, but as I was writing it, it became a massive tie in – with the different pieces being very integral to each other. But it was important to me that you could read them as self-contained stories too. As I’ve said before, I’m fed up with events where you have to buy rubbish tie ins for books that you like. Usually the core stuff is god, but the tie-ins are 90% crap. As a reader, I hated that – you’d buy a Crisis on Infinite Earths tie in and it was crap, and you just felt ripped off – but because there was a Crisis logo, or an Invasion logo, or a War of the Gods logo, you had to buy it…

NRAMA: You know there will be people saying, “Or a Civil War logo on the top…” 

MM: Yeah, exactly [laughs]. Or a Civil War tie in [laughs]. And it really gets expensive. I like the idea that if you pay $3.00 for a comic book, you’re getting a full story, a full issue, you know?  So 1985 is utterly fascinating on its own, but if you read Fantastic Four, you think, “Ah! Millar’s so clever!” At least I hope you do…

NRAMA: I think every writer has the idea of tying all their worlds together, and probably, the most famous example is what Stephen King has done with The Dark Tower, but where did the idea  come from for you? 

MM: I actually started it with the Millarworld books, because they all tie together as well. The first issue of Wanted references Chosen, and so on. So this is a plan that I started back in 2003. And I admit that I stole the idea from Alan Moore – I remember in an interview that V for Vendetta and Marvelman and all these books he’s done are all tied together, and he has a schematic of how they’re all connected. I remember reading that in a British fanzine, and just being captivated by it. It just appeals to your inner geek you know? I like the idea of all of the stories meshing together.   

There will probably be 15-20 Millarworld books overall, and every  one has a connection. 

NRAMA: So they all actually take place on “Millarworld”…

MM: Ah…I probably wouldn’t go that far especially now with the movies and different studios holding the film rights. I don’t want to give any ideas that because they hold one, they hold them all.  So there’s a very tenuous connection between them all that most people may very well miss. [laughs]

I should have my lawyer in on this call [laughs].

NRAMA: Moving on to Wolverine and Old Man Logan – we’ve seen the reveal of what it was that took him down and broke him – he can survive anything – false memories, reality warping, a million ninjas, but when someone casts a good enough illusion – he reacts, and he basically defeats himself from there?

MM: Right. Wolverine is essentially indestructible – and the only vulnerability he has is a human heart. That’s the one way to beat him – if you break his heart, he’s f___ed. That was the point of it. There are all these things he can do – he’ll re-grow a head or something if he needs to, this just seemed like the best way to do it. I’d imagine a group of villains sitting around wondering how to defeat Wolverine, and they come up with this plan and as a bonus, Wolverine takes out all the guys who’ve defeated the villains so many times as well. So they get Mysterio in there to do it. 

I like that the villains were all helping each other out, like the heroes normally do. The Justice League is a really formidable team, just like the Avengers – much more so than the individual heroes. But you rarely see villains doing something like that and the plan that they have coming to fruition. I figured that if you had a tech genius to up Mysterio’s abilities so that he could completely fool Wolverine’s senses, you had a chance. When you look at the sheer number of villains that there are in the Marvel Universe – it’s just an unbeatable force if they start working together and the plan actually happens. 

NRAMA: It almost mirrors comics fans and the stories – you’ve got one writer and artist telling one story, and tens of thousands of fans guessing, someone is going to figure out where the story is going, just like one of the villains would ultimately figure out how to take down Wolverine. 

MM: Exactly. Even though there was something like six months worth of people guessing, we managed to keep that a surprise, I think for most of the audience. The reaction to it was great, and the leaks about it were minimal, although some people did figure it out. But from here on, there’s a shock in every issue. If you think part 5 was heavy going, wait until part 6 – the book takes a whole new direction. 

NRAMA: We’ll be back on Friday to talk more about Wolverine, so moving to some of your other work – in general, you started off doing well in terms of scheduling, but then things seemed to have hit a snag…

MM: Yeah – the artists seemed to get slow. It was really weird. The only one who hasn’t slowed down is John Romita Jr., but unfortunately we’ve become victims of our own success with the Kick-Ass movie. Johnny, as I’ve mentioned before, is directing a couple of minutes of the movie – an animated sequence that’s going to be done in his style, so he’s had to draw millions of pictures for it. It’s going to be computer animated using his work as the base, so he’s literally directing those sequences. So that’s been a huge amount of work for him on top of his Spider-Man work and all the stuff he does at Marvel – that he had to do contractually, and Kick-Ass was a casualty. He finished the movie stuff in about a week, so the schedule will be back on shortly. Johnny’s the fastest guy in the business. So that was unfortunate, but at the same time, a once in a lifetime experience for Johnny – directing a portion of a movie. 

NRAMA: Knowing John, that just must be killing him not to be able to be doing what he had agreed to do when he had agreed to do it…

MM: Johnny’s got the best work ethic that I’ve ever seen in my life – even outside of comics. I’ve never seen anyone who works as hard as Johnny. He gets up at like 5 am, and does an hour in the gym, and just starts drawing. He’s like a comics drawing machine – he can turn a full issue around in a week, and it’s better than anyone else. Rumor has that he did one issue of Spider-Man in four days one time. There’s no one like him – he’s Marvel’s greatest asset. 

Even Hitch, who’s got the rep of a late guy, has actually been pretty good on Fantastic Four. We had a bit of a hiccup hit around Christmas because the inker left and Bryan had to ink a few issues himself, and it took a little while for us to find an inker that everyone liked, which we do now, so we’re back on schedule. 

War Heroes – I don’t know. I think up to page 13 of issue #3 is drawn. Tony’s got other commitments, so I just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. Old Man Logan has just been killing Steve – he’s drawing Venom T. rexes and all these things he’s never drawn before, so it’s taking him longer…

NRAMA: Not to mention there’s someone sending him scripts that say, “Draw a Venom T. rex”…

MM: [laughs] There is! The funny thing is – the artists are all friends with one another and all chat and say, “We used to be able to draw 12 books a year until we started working with Millar.” They all say that I give them a crowd scene and tell them to make it be the best group of 12,000 people they’ve ever drawn…

NRAMA: But still, with this batch of work, I think the argument that comes out now and then can be used – the collections of Old Man Logan, War Heroes and the rest will be fairly high profile, and will sell, so the art needs to look as good as it can, in the artist’s eyes. 

MM: Exactly. Everything I do, I do try and make special. I won’t do a project unless I feel excited about it myself. Each one of these projects, whether they fail or succeed, they’re quite individualistic. So, in the short term, they may lose a little money in regards to them coming out a little slower, but the books tend to sell well, so the artists make money on royalties, and then they make a lot of money on the trades. 

And for the creator-owned stuff, they’re making a fortune, because all this stuff is being turned into movies. So they keep coming back [laughs]. 

NRAMA: Given the movies that are being made, are you writing Old Man Logan with an eye on the story going in that direction – in the same way you might with your Millarworld stuff? 

MM: I remember years ago, people pointed out that my work was “cinematic,” and I think that’s just my style – that’s just the way I write. I don’t try to make it “cinematic,” that’s just the way I do it. I like clear, linear storytelling that people can understand. And that looks pretty cinematic, it looks like movie  storyboards when I’m drawing it out myself, before  start writing the thing. But Old Man Logan – I’d gain nothing from it becoming a movie or an animated thing. I don’t see anything at all from the Avengers movie, even with Zak saying that he’s going to use the Ultimates as a plot for his film. And I’m fine with that, because it’s work for hire. So, no, I’ve never gone into a project thinking that it will be a great movie franchise for Marvel. I just want to tell a great story. 

Check back tomorrow as we have more news about Wolverine with Millar, and later this weekend for more on a previously announced project.

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