Kieron Gillen has had an incredible career trajectory over the last decade, from Phonogram to Young Avengers, from The Wicked + The Divine to Die and its recently-released sister RPG. His work spans genres, all of it emotive and thoughtful, dancing through the modern magic of the phonomancer scene to the sprawling space opera of Star Wars and back again.
And now, Gillen finds himself in a liminal state: as The Wicked + The Divine draws closer to its dramatic conclusion, and his run with Marvel's Star Wars ended just two months ago.
Newsarama caught up with Kerion Gillen recently to talk about beginnings, endings, and almost everything in between as he dives deeper into his creator-owned work and begins a new phase of his career.
Newsarama: Kieron, I'm excited to get to talk to you, so we'll start of pretty easy. What are you working on today?
Kieron Gillen: Four minutes before when the interview was meant to start, I'd finished WicDiv.
Nrama: Oh, fantastic!
Gillen: I'm halfway through writing a piece about it. It sort of crept up on me, in that I'd sort of finished. I had a draft of it done about a month or two ago, and I'd sort of sat on it. The deadline has been pushed back, so I've sort of saved polishing it until now. I thought I'd actually kind of said goodbye to it already, but actually sitting and doing it is, "Oh, no, it's done now!" I immediately went for a walk, and walked through the graveyard near my house. I've written about a thousand words. No, six hundred words, quickly down now, but yeah, that's sort of saying goodbye to it.
The editor Chrissy [Williams] has it now, so she'll probably go through it this afternoon. No one else has read it. Jamie McKelvie and Chrissy know what happens, how it ends, and then know kind of the beats we hit in the final issue, because it quite literally is an epilogue, but no one's seen it yet. So I really hope they like it, because otherwise it's like, we've come a long way for it to end up something people don't like.
Nrama: That's such a big change. In a recent newsletter, you mentioned that you're no longer doing work-for-hire work for the foreseeable future, after wrapping up Star Wars at Marvel. What prompted that decision?
Gillen: Well, I've been trying to do it for several years now. I'm just not very good at it. My kind of thinking was, what I should be doing more is making more stuff up.
About three or four years ago, maybe four years, I was offered to kind of go and write in this big fantasy universe which was a very big deal, and it's a deal I'd love, but I kind of said yeah, I could do this story, but it'd be far better for me to make a whole new fantasy universe for the world. Because if you're in a position to try to genuinely make useful new myths for people ...
I mean, it's very high-faluting, but if you're in a position to make something genuinely new, you should grab that chance, if you've got something to say. If not, great. But if you genuinely think you can make a useful myth ... because it's one of situations like yeah, I've really liked writing Star Wars, but imagine if George Lucas, instead of doing Star Wars, he did Buck Rogers. You know, he took Buck Rogers and remade it. Yeah, it would have been great. But we wouldn't have Star Wars.
And there definitely comes a point as a creator, if you get a choice, and you've got the brain space, do it. In my specific case at the moment, I've got various things outside of comics I need time for, and I'm also very aware that I've talked forever about doing a novel or whatever, so I need to basically say no to some stuff to create space to think about other things.
Work-for-hire is ... all jobs are different. But that's kind of tautological. But especially work-for-hire, a change is as good as a rest in that way. I always said I couldn't do four books like Die, or four books like WicDiv, or Phonogram, because there just isn't enough human ... that part of me. But I could do a book like WicDiv alongside Star Wars, alongside something else, that way.
Traditionally my creator-owned stuff has been really quote-unquote, "emotionally hard-going." You know what I mean? It takes everything from me. Whilst the work-for-hire is more fun. And I said, why don't I try to do a creator-owned book where actually, it's fun? And that's kind of where Once and Future sits.
Nrama: What if you could do both of those things at once?
Gillen: Exactly. Like I can do it. I could do Die. I can, you know, the classic method, I can do both? So Once and Future, whilst it's still got the kind of serious bedrock of thinking, it's definitely much more kind of emotionally close to something like Aphra, in terms of oh, these are fun to be around, it's high energy, as opposed to Die, in terms of everything Die is. So that's kind of where I am. And part of me, I'm trying to get the kicks I used to get from doing work-for-hire, in my own work. I'm also just also interested making new myths, that's where I am.
Nrama: It’s not a direct comparison, obviously, since most work-for-hire is also freelance, and so is creator-owned, but it feels a little like the moment where you're sitting there and you have your day job to pay the bills, and finally you sit down and you're like, "Oh, I have the capacity to just do all of the same stuff on my own. I can choose my own clients. I can take my work in my own direction."
You mentioned that you'd been thinking about doing this for a while, when you finally sat down and you were like, okay, I'm ready to commit to this, is it kind of freeing in a way? It's kind of like, I'm at a point where I'm ready to make this decision now?
Gillen: I think it's complicated.
I think if you went back to the beginning of my career, I never thought I would get it at Marvel. Not in a kind of, "h, they wouldn't want me." It's just that, this is not a goal. Because I always do books like Phonogram. My ideal career path, as in, when it's ideal, that's the only one I could really see for me, was that Vertigo writer kind of path. That kind of really arch, read about three too many books, British writer thing. And Marvel kind of just ended up coming up, and then me being subsumed by Marvel for five years was entirely unplanned, I giggle. I enjoyed the work enormously and - okay on average, I enjoyed the work enormously, but it wasn't ever the battle plan.
So it wasn't really like I felt I could do without it. My joke is, I have all the careerist instincts of a kamikaze pilot. Traditionally back then I was no good at thinking stuff through. And I used to be a journalist as well, so I'd already gone freelance before, and I've built my own company from scratch before, in terms of Rock Paper Shotgun.
Nrama: The impression that I get is in terms of .. it's a sense of stability. It’s the difference between coming in every day and saying, okay, well, I'm comfortable with other people making these decisions for me because I need that stability versus well, I'm in a position where I'm financially secure enough or financially stable enough that I can do the same thing I was doing with work-for-hire, but I don't have to do it at a company. I could do it on my own, with my own stories.
Gillen: Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, like ... how do I phrase this. The stability of working for the Big Two is illusionary.
Nrama: Duly noted, duly noted. I feel like I should know that.
Gillen: And especially with me, I'm very lucky and very aware of the privilege of where I am in my career. It's not like doing an Image book for no advance anymore. People are offering me decent page rates to do my own work. So in other words, I could probably get paid in safely as much as Marvel would pay me safely, in which case, the only reason to do work-for-hire, really, talking in terms of career advice, is one, literally the cynical argument, it's good for my profile. In other words, it's good for a writer so doing it is that.
The other reason is, the previous - it's a different part of your brain. So maybe you want to play to that. And three, and this is probably the most important one. I mean, it's a giggle, and you want to? It's one of those things, I always look at Fiona Staples on Saga, when she took a break to do Archie. Saga does so incredibly well, it will pay you better than anything any work-for-hire publisher would ever pay you.
So why did Fiona do it? And I don't know, I can only guess because she really wants to do an Archie comic. And that's a good reason to do something. I was kind of down on the whole kind of, you know, if George Lucas did a Buck Rogers movie, but at the same time, I would never deny anyone, least of all myself, an excuse to have a little fun.
Nrama: Right! It's one of those things like, I don't necessarily need to do it, maybe it's not the thing that needs to be out there, but I want it to be out there, I would have a good time, so I might as well.
Gillen: Exactly. In my case, part of me doing Thunderbolt for Dynamite was me saying, okay, am I less burnt out on writing superhero comics anymore. And it was, you do these five issues, play with the form, do you like superheroes still? Because I was quite burnt out the end my time at Marvel universe, just because I'd done so many of them, and it was a hard time for me emotionally. And definitely, starting to write Star Wars, the thing that reminded me that "Ooh, wait a sec, you're enjoying this much more than you enjoying writing the Marvel comics."
So A: get out of Marvel as quickly as possible, because that's going to lead to bad comics.
And B: you know, so that was my thing. I'm actually going back to find what was genuinely a joy.
Like, oh, yeah. I don't know if I enjoy ... I'm not sure I would sign up to do a book for anyone else like, in the short term but this is kind of oh, no, I could, you know, this is fun. I like it. I could see myself doing it again. So if you have this conversation next year, it will be like, Kieron Gillen launching, I don't know, Frogman.
Nrama: Right, and I feel like in your position, there's always the opportunity to go back. If you wake up one day and...
Gillen: Unless I've burned bridges everywhere. I haven't ... I'm in an incredibly privileged position, in that I have not burned bridges with anybody. It's not that I've stormed out the doors. It's like, I don't know, I think I'm done now, you know, thanks for the time, this has been fun. And I still speak to a lot of editors, and as I said earlier, people regularly suggest books.
I did a one page story for Marvel Comics #1000. I'm one of the people in that. That's actually my last Marvel work to come out I reckon. But they suggested me doing a book after that, and it was literally a dream book, it's a character I've always wanted to write, and it was that kind of like, "I'm gonna say no!" I was genuinely laughing, and it was one of those kind of ... you couldn't, if it was a movie, it could not be more so. But it's one of those kinds of like, being offered what you want is a really good way to sort of clarify where you are.
I remember when I back when I was in my early 20s, I covered the music festival for the NME. I'd won a competition, and I did it, and at the end of the weekend the online editor kind of said to me, "You've done great, really nice, you've done great this weekend, please stay in contact because there's freelance work around the area you live." So it's, you are good enough. And I'd spent the last five years working towards being a music journalist, trying to actually gain the skill set that can let me do it, and I walked off like I could fly. And I'd seen the Flaming Lips, and I was literally a human balloon. And I just woke up the next morning and I sort of kind of went, "I don't want to work for the NME though!"
I wanted to be a music journalist, but not for that magazine. And I realized that things ... I was working for a games publisher at the time, Future publishing, and it's like "No, I'm really enjoying my life at the moment. I don't need to be a music journalist anymore. This was my dream but it's not any more.
Nrama: And it's nice to have that moment where you could have done it, they wanted to give you the opportunity, and to be the one who can say no instead of always wondering, am I not doing this because I'm not good enough to do it? Or am I not doing it because I want to do it.
Gillen: It's fun. I wouldn't say I have less to prove now, but I distrust my ambition, you know what I mean. I'm never one of the ... there are certain other sorts of writers who are much more in their face about it, but I'm quietly fiercely ambitious in these kind of very nerdy ways, ways that no one else cares about.
So doing Darth Vader, and Darth Vader being the hit it was, was incredibly freeing for me, because I never have to worry about, could I do a book that sells six figures again. There's that thing in the back of your head, as in, you've never done a book of that scale. And there's a band called the Boo Radleys. And the Boo Radleys, back in the 90s, they did a lot of really cool shoe-gazery records, and some really good Beatle records, and then did a big crossover hit called "Wake Up Boo," and it was a big hit.
And one of the things I got from them was, it's proof that they could do it. As in, it's very subtle, “I could sell lots of records if I wanted to, I just choose to do something weirder”. And after Darth Vader and WicDiv, if I want to do certain things I can, I've pulled it off once at least. Not that anything is certain in creativity, but once you've kind of done that, you know you have done it. So that's sort of like, okay, I can do something else now.
And that's why you end up with stuff like Die and Thunderbolt, which are weird books. They're playful books, but Die especially is, let's do something which I don't think anyone else would think is a good idea. And the whole RPG system, literally ... I'm going to say, I could not say anything more ... a better image of where my head is in 2019 could not be better summed up by the fact that I've written a free 65,000 word document to go with a book. That's not something that's sensible to do. That's at least a whole other comic, probably more.
Nrama: That's a supplement. That's a game book. That's the length of a small guide! Or a novella!
Gillen: It's like a small novel, big novella. And you know, and it's got 20,000 words, 20-25,000 words cut, plus the character sheets. That's a big body of work, but that's kind of where my head is, and I want to dig deeper into the stuff I care about and try to do stuff which other people wouldn't. And I don't mean that in a ... actually, I mean that in every way. There's part of my work, it's like, I want to do a variety of things over here and more, I wouldn't say populist, but in kind of like the generally being accessible and human and trying to reach more people.
But the real part is like the Alan Moore of it, the kind of, "Okay Kieron, what makes you weird." And that's, as a creative ... and I say this, I mean all creators, their most interesting work for me is that kind of stuff which is most them. I mean, I love Lumberjanes, Noelle [Stevenson]'s amazing and I love her. I love all her work. But Nimona, I prefer to Lumberjanes. Because it's a purer burst of her, and that absolutely is not a denigration against Lumberjanes in any way whatsoever. But what I find most interesting as a creator is that pure burst of them, and I want to do more of that.
Nrama: And it's different. I mean, I love both of those books but with Nimona and Lumberjanes, Lumberjanes is one of those worlds where there are a lot of writers who have, and who can come into that world, and be part of that world, and help further the world of Lumberjanes, whereas Nimona is so specifically Noelle, there's not anybody other than Noelle who could produce that work. And that's not a knock anybody else, it's just something that's, it's her. It's a reflection of her versus Lumberjanes, which is, I wanted to make this world where everybody could come and be a part of this.
Gillen: Yeah exactly that. In fact, you've summed up exactly how I feel. And I, you know, we could talk about almost anyone there, because - we could definitely talk about, not anyone, but all our favorite creators. Sort of like Grant Morrison. You know, I love when Grant goes and plays in a big universe, he does really good stuff.
But the Grant I really care about is it the smaller, the stuff which is only Grant. Or the Grant and his collaborators. And that's the kind of work I want to ... the chasing your Nimona. Well in my case, the Phonogram or the WicDiv or the Die now, hopefully, is kind of where I'm at, at the moment.
Which is incredible, actually. The first half of this year has been amazing for me in terms of work. I'm in a different place now. I'm back into anxiety mode, because I'm trying to finish the second arc of Die and it's hard, but the first half of the year, I've been ... I know you talked to a lot of writers, but a lot, they're rarely happy with their work. Quite a lot people can fake it, and some people who literally don't do the introspection, but I'm hyper critical. But the beginning of this year's, oh no. This is, I'm happy. I'm quote-unquote happy, which as I said is rare.
Nrama: I'm going to go back to Die. When you and Stephanie started working together on Die, did you always know that you would want to release the game alongside it, or did you kind of come to that decision after seeing people's reaction to the book?
Gillen: I kind of started work on the game probably a similar time when I started working the comic. They were like sister projects for quite a while, and how they've developed alongside each other has been very interesting. There's been times I've been working more on the game and sometimes I'm working on the book, and there's definitely times where, I've said this before, but there's definitely times I was worried which was the tail, which was the dog? And eventually they became sort of synthesized and the dog kind of ate its own tail and became an ouroboros of dog.
And that eventually came to sort of this sigil. This kind of ... thing, which is kind of outside the story and the game. It kind of has a level of reality in my head, and part of me thinks about the game as a device to think more intensely about the concept of Die. I talk about the WicDiv playlist. It's 500 songs long, and I listen to it constantly on repeat, and it's like a tarot deck. I was constantly listening to songs in different orders and thinking about the characters, so in other words, as I was walking around, it was always working on WicDiv.
And the more time you spend thinking about something, the more angles you can sort of find. In the case of Die, it's almost like the game is a device to thinking about the comic. I mean, there's certain beats. The Fallen, the Die #5 beat with the Fallen where we reveal what's been truly happening with them, that wasn't there. I'd written #1 before, and issue one originally had the Fallen in it, and I had them in there, and it was only when I was working on the game and I realized I wanted to do something with dead players that, wait a sec, and we have something called the Fallen, and that's perfect.
So it looks like that's planned, but it's not, it's much more this weird level of overthinking and coincidence and approaching from different angles. There's a kind of cosmic horror angle in Die, and sometimes writing it does feel like a process of discovering it. There is almost like a Lovecraftian protagonist exploring this device, it's this thing that's always been there, which is really creepy.
So originally when I had the idea for the game, it was, okay, let's release this in the back matter from issue one, so in other words, every issue would have a piecework of it, to build up. And even after I'd done a little bit of work, I'd realize wait, that this is too much game to, even the smallest form, to put in the back. So let's release a PDF in the first issue and then build up as we go along, and then I realized that this, even in the core game, there's spoilers in #5.
Okay, let's save til #5, release them, and then from then on do some stuff in the back matter as well as the essays. So that's kind of why I'm doing it now, in that we did this big release then. And plus, I needed the extra six months. If I'd released it six months ago it wouldn't have been the same game. And from now on, I'm doing something in the back of the issue, is the plug. I don't know what! It's almost like I'm going to read the issue and see, okay, if I've read this issue, what rules would I want to know as a player?
So Die #8 is centered around Matt, and all the other sort of knight orders, and the joy knights are in there. I'm going to do the rules for non-player versions of all the character classes. In the rules, you can't actually have a non-player dictator. They could work a bit, but they wouldn't work. So that's what we're going to do in the back of that issue is, okay. This is how you do joy knights, or other knights or dictators, and do that. And so on and so forth. That's my sort of plan. But I really don't know, I'm kind of making it up as I go along.
But Stephanie's been very kind and let me have kind of, "Okay, Kieron, you go off and do that." Stephanie's got her areas where she's really kind of pushing, because she's got some amazing ideas of what she wants to do with the imagery. Let's be honest, the thing with building tools we have yet to do is a map. The Die map, which, we have to show the map at some point, because let's be honest. It's a fantasy comic, people want a map.
Nrama: People want maps! And Dungeons & Dragons players especially. Anything for the content.
Gillen: Which is something Stephanie wants to do, and I would love to find a way to do it. It would be a GM screen that we were going to do as a special edition of the first issue, so an oversized version of the issue, and have the cover hard stock. And so you fold out the cover and you separate the comic, and fold out the cover to use it as an issue, and that's a really good idea I think. Ridiculously expensive. And the rules weren't ready.
But Stephanie's desperately, that's on her list of, I really want to do a GM screen, and that's kind of something I would love to see.
Nrama: You've said that you'll continue to develop the RPG. I know that on the RPG website, you mentioned that you're specifically working on the Arcana coming up. Would you be interested in working on other tabletop writing? Is that something that you're looking to kind of explore as part of creator-owned work? Or is it really Die that you want to focus on.
Gillen: I'm pretty clear in the intro to Die, I consider myself a gleeful dilettante. I take game designers very seriously, and I'm like a Sunday painter. I'm dabbling, this is a work of an enthusiastic amateur. On the other hand, and equal even with Die, this is kind of - I say I'll develop it, but it's that kind of like, if people like it. And we'll play around a bit and we'll see where it goes.
I mean since the release I've stepped away a bit. The Arcana is actually mostly written. I just need to polish it, and what I would really like to do is actually get ... in an ideal world, around the final arc of Die, something like a Kickstarter for a fancy edition of the rules which include the details of the work, that kind of stuff you have in an RPG manual which isn't in the beta. You know, the worldbuilding and all the other that isn't in the beta basically.
And I would like to get pay for writers which aren't me, that's what I would like. Because there's things that I think would be really good in the game of Die, as in a manual, which I don't think I should write. I'm quite interested in hiring, especially because there's so many designers I love, people I would like to try to recruit and bring in. I have actually done one bit of board games. I've got two bits of writing for the game industry, or the pen and paper industry. I wrote the intro to the story to the new edition of Sigil.
I believe that's online, so you can read that, that's like 1,500 words of me doing a retelling for the prettiest one story. It's basically that story, but instead of like an apple, it's like an Apple phone, which is an idea I really love, I really like that idea because it's so silly. But I'm happy it's that.
And in Avery Adler's amazing game Monsterhearts 2, as part of the stretch goals of Monsterhearts 2, I did one of the - they did these towns, they call them, and towns are basically quick start things. So I did a two-page town for Avery, and that was fun. I think I probably bent the game too far, it's more like me pushing it conceptually to a place I don't think Monsterhearts sits that well.
I should try to run that, that's a good point. I think it's more like I might just do another game. Playing around with my own kind of like, well, I have other things I like to make.
There's actually a Die RPG I want to make it's called The Die... I was chatting to a reader, at the first Die signing, and she was very nervous, and we talked about her being anxious about speaking to people at cons. And I said, we should make this into a game! And your objective is to get a signature, and my objective is to get you past as quickly as possible, and the joke is let's make a one-sheet RPG where basically each person rolls on the sheet to discover what role they're playing, and then me and the person who's in the queue, we play out this interaction and you want to get signature but you're secretly an alien, and just do a one-page RPG about social embarrassment and signings and just have that as a fun thing on a table.
So that's the sort of thing I'm thinking of. If I could find a spare day to mess around and do that.
Nrama: That sounds like it'd be so fun though, because as the person who is getting the signature, my instinctive reaction to that as a player is how long can I make this game go? I'm just sitting there looking at my friend like how long can I keep this session going before they force me to stop?
Gillen: Having a timed mechanic in that could be fun. I mean it's one of those things, if you have actually an egg timer, especially depending on the size of the queue, you could actually mechanize the person behind them to go "tut tut" when they're bored, and that makes it socially hard for people.
There's actually a game I heard on a podcast I became weirdly obsessed with … she interviews game designers. But she was talking with designer about about a hypothetical game, and the idea is that it's a party game, and everybody secretly draws what social importance they are, and for how popular they are. And the entire game is about trying to find the most popular people who was willing to talk to you. And you have no idea how popular you are. You're slowly realizing no one likes you, and even thinking about that game makes everyone I know go, "ahhh." They said that not seriously. Backstory is the podcast, by Alex Roberts.
Nrama: That's so funny.
Gillen: Yeah, she interviews a lot of really interesting indie RPG developers. But yeah, that wasn't a serious game. That was just a thought experiment.
Nrama: And sticking with non-comics projects, I saw your announcement that you're doing a master class for The Guardian. How did that happen?
Gillen: Oh, they just approached me. I've done different podcasts and I've done, I do quite a lot of talking online about craft issues. So I think they just approached me thinking, oh, I'm a sensible person who's London-based to do it, I guess.
Nrama: You've written several comics!
Gillen: I've done some. And I've done some more informal short essay sort of things before, I've done more conversational long tutorial-based ... not, tutorial's the wrong word, but conversation-based things. And the idea of doing something three hours long, and formal. This is interesting.
I mean, I've had people ask previously about, do you want to do a book about comic writing. And especially through the filter of Decompressed, which is my podcast when I did it about interviewing creators about craft choices. And doing something that forces me to formalize my opinions on comic writing, that's what I kind of want to do, as in, okay, here's three hours to fill, what you want to talk about.
And there's definitely stuff I think I could talk about and be useful. One of my things when I'm teaching comics, quote-unquote. A: I'm doing it formally, but B: put in the brackets around what I'm saying - I rarely say comics. It's all about anglophone American industry comics. I like to state your assumptions. I'm very into, and this is the reason why I'm making these choices. These choices only work for this, this, and this. Because there's so much advice that turns you into them, and I think the important part of a creator is actually finding a toolbox that works for you. So I'm always trying to engender critical thought when I'm trying to teach stuff.
But at the same time, there's enough formalism to what I do to possibly be useful. There's one thing I really want to do is break down comics. I'm going explicitly go, okay. This is an issue of - because all the things I used to do, less so now, is I used to sit and count panels. When I was learning to write comics, I was like, okay how many panels on this page, how many panels in this issue. And I used to drive my partner of the time, infuriate her. Me sitting there silently counting one, two, three, four, five, six with my fingers – stop it Kieron!
But even now, it's like, how many scenes in this issue. I mean the example I want to use is like my comparing S.W.O.R.D., which is one of my first books at Marvel, and then when I took over from [J. Michael Straczynski] on Thor, I was aware that I was understudying him, basically. It wasn't, I was starting again. I was basically trying to continue his story, in which case, while I'm only ever going to be me, I can try to ape his phrasing. So I took his issues and broke them apart. How many panels per page, how many scenes per issue.
And I think I had about twice as many scenes per issue as him, and I don't mean that in a bad way, I mean that in a good way, because he left much more space to breathe. So by reverse analyzing his style, you can start to actually codify how things feel, and it's one of the things when you actually can mechanize those sort of descriptions.
Look at how many panels translations. Does this feel longer or shorter? Why is this working? And understanding the mathematic part of it. I mean, the art stuff is hard to teach. The level of basic math that goes into the process of putting together a comic and sometimes it's like intuitive, but same time, the idea that there is a rhythm here, and when you talk about rhythm …
I was doing a panel with Kid Koala and the dancer and animator, Jonathan NG. They were talking about cutting break beats and animation and they were just talking math. I became very aware that when we're talking about number of panels per page, and how much information do you have, how many words to put in a panel? We're also talking math, and those kind of like ... the unglamorous parts of creation, the older I get the more interesting I find them.
Part of it is because after my dad died, I ended up sort of recontextualizing writing in some way as like basically, it's plumbing. When I was younger, I used to have - I mean I still believe in art, in a capital "A" way. But I used to have a fluffier idea of it, even though I was talking at another school and I talked about the rapture of it, and the poetry. And of course, poetry is also math.
And the older I get, the more I look at work in a very practical sense. And I annoy some of my younger friends but "Oh, yeah, I'm basically a plumber." Because narrative is just connecting tubes together. It's tubes of meaning and aesthetic sense. And, you know, I am a competent enough plumber that I can connect these tubes in a way that doesn't end up with shit all over the floor, and that's okay.
Without a joke, that's the fundamentals of writing, or writing a story anyway. As in can you connect tubes together? There's a reason why people in Hollywood describe it as laying pipe, it's because that's a strong metaphor. At least partially it is, because my background is working class. In some ways it allows me to see what I do in the context of what my family has always done. God, that's a very me sentence.
That level of demystification for me is important because there's too much mystification in the world, and people turning themselves into magic people. I think art and creativity is incredibly important and special and powerful, but I distrust anyone who tries to claim ... if anyone's seen WicDiv, the fundamental distrust of anyone who thinks they're special, quote-unquote, is buried deep in WicDiv. There's a fundamental democratic egalitarian nature to my pretension.
Nrama: When you said that, it immediately kind of recontextualized it in the same way for me. My dad is an electrician and a carpenter and my mom is a teacher, and I think ... I mean they make all the jokes about gifted kids online. I came up as part of the "gifted" program and you get that a lot. There's something intrinsic to you, intrinsic to the abilities that you have that other people can't have and that's so pretentious! It's such a terrible thing to project onto other people outwardly but also such a weird thing to internalize. Because then for me at least, you hit that point where it's like, if it's something internal to me, can I get any better? Is this a skill that I can develop?
And it's interesting to think about it in terms of math and plumbing because it reflects .. I mean it does recontextualize even the reading of comics because to go from the early runs on Young Avengers to your and Jamie's run on Young Avengers, to kind of be able to sit and think about it as like, okay. Well, you know, it allows you to identify the ways that things feel similar, which makes it easier then to pick out the ways that things are different, the things that are you versus the things that came from the runs that started before you.
Gillen: I think these are all very contrasting things as well. Because saying no one's special implies that no one's good, and I think humans are fundamentally interesting. I think things are very different about individuals. The things are also very different ... you've got to be, those kind of words always kind of ... the danger of othering varied in those ways of thinking. Same time is recognizing difference, and all these things are balanced. I'm really into the word nuanced. There's a reason why I only make jokes on Twitter anymore. I don't think Twitter is good for having serious conversations.
My Twitter is deliberately, I retweet articles I think of worth reading, or I tried to, you know, use it as a microphone and also use it as a play tool, because I ... anyway, that's well off topic. Nuance. Pro-nuance.
Nrama: Agreed. And I think the more you can make writing and art generally feel like something that's accessible to everyone is ... that's also the only way to invite new voices into any particular industry. If you sit and you set this artificial bar of well, you have to be a writer, you just have to have that writer spirit, or that artist spirit, you have to feel it inside you before you can really be a writer. No! There's varying levels of skill and everybody can improve at it, but if you write something you a writer. If you've drawn something ... if you don't want to consider yourself an artist, you can be an artist, continue to draw.
Gillen: There's such great different ... physical activity, going to the gym or something like that. You don't have to want to go to the Olympics to go to the gym. You don't need to go to the gym to walk, if you want to do that. The idea there's lots of different ways of expressing, and these can be often rewarding things in and of themselves. The few times I've actually been in schools, the thing I always try to imprint upon is the permission that you're allowed to think of yourself in that way.
Many of the people classes it doesn't matter to at all… but I could always see a couple of kids who can have the kind of oh, wait a second. “I can think of myself like that?” Because I always remember, I was actually working professionally as a writer before I was allowed to realize I could think of myself as a writer. Or the idea, when I was 19, I got my first work for a magazine called Amiga Power, which was great. But a few months after that, I was reading the book England's Dreaming by John Savage, which is a history of punk in the UK.
John Savage was there, and Savage was describing being in the toilets at work and like basically bunking off at work with print stick and photocopied pages and putting together his fanzines in the toilet to, I mostly quote, "to let the A-bombs in my head out," and that image of him is when I said, "Wait, wait, wait, that's me." In other words, John Savage did this, therefore I could think of myself in this same way. And I always remember Storm Constantine who was an author from Stafford. When I found Storm in the books in the Stafford library, it was like, "Wait, wait, wait, authors can come from here, as in authors who write the sort of stuff I'm into can come from here." So the idea that you know, that's kind of, "Wait, wait, wait, that's an option?" You're relieved that it's not an impossibility, I guess, which I found, you know, it can be done I guess.
Nrama: You've got Die ongoing right now, Once and Future out this week with Dan Mora, are there any other creator-owned projects that you're working on now that we might find out about soon, or do you have any updates on Ludocrats or Uber Invasion?
Gillen: Uber, I alas have nothing I can talk about. I mean the Uber situation is basically, as soon as I know something I'll let you know. There's four issues to left to write. So hopefully at one point it will come out! And we're so close to the end, it'd be a real shame if it doesn't happen. And I think that's the thing I get asked most regularly is when's Uber coming back, and I wish I had an answer.
With Ludocrats, it's happening! David Lafuente had to step off the book unfortunately, due to a lot of reasons. But I thought who could replace David because he's such a unique talent, and then weirdly a week or two, literally the same week I think as David stepped off the book, another really interesting artist mentioned they were finishing work. Oh, I'll drop them a line. And we've kind of like, I don't actually talk too much about Ludocrats until we're actually probably soliciting it. The problem is it's been such a long time in development, I would rather say, it's going to come out on this date. I don't wanna talk about it that much.
But it's fun. Two of the issues are written. Me and Jim Rossignol, who's the co-writer have another summit next week. We have a colorist, and they're great. The thing I was petrified about was going back to it after so long, and it being bad, and I went to it and I'm still laughing at these jokes. This is a weird book. And it's not weird in a kind of Die, art-y weird, this is a very playful book still. I think it's a broad comedy but it's also lewd. Asterix and Obelix, but put that in the Dune universe. It's really over-the-top weirdness, but you've got these two gleeful people bumbling through the plot.
And there's several of the jokes I like. It's so dumb, but it's dumb in a way of like, with the volume turned up, and trust me. As I said, I wasn't gonna talk about it. I can't wait. I imagine that will be out early next year, maybe March? That's only a guess, March would be my guess. But the artist has nearly finished issue one and that's basically Die, WicDiv's ending, Die. That's about it actually.
There's a bit of space, the stuff I'm trying to do outside comics and also the RPG is going to take up some time. I'm trying to resist doing another creator-owned book and it's hard, because the Thunderbolt team worked so well, I would love to do something again with them, but I've got to at least strike off -- okay, when we finish Once and Future, that and Ludocrats, then I'll probably think about something else. And Once and Future's deliberately designed to have prequel, there's room for sequels. The idea of coming back and doing a Hellboy-esque, here's this year's story. Dan Mora ... it's a beast. Honestly, it's like my favorite.
The idea of presenting a new mythology as good as the best Marvel and DC books is a hell of a thing. Dan has always been really good. But this is for me Dan's best work. Tamra is bringing out really interesting stuff in the material as well.
I'm really into the characters. Bridgette, she's really prickly in that kind of - she's a joy to write. This big dumb, and Duncan's not dumb. He just doesn't know anything? So Duncan, his kind of catchphrase is screaming as he does something. He's always really heroic, but he's screaming in panic as he does it, and that's very likeable, because he's a very normal-looking dude, like a classic hero, but he acts in that kind of, what the hell's happening here? While she is utterly nonplussed. There's a real natural fun comedy dynamic between them, and it's scary as well, when it's scary is good. So like I could not be happier with that.
Actually, CK. I'm having a hell of a time right now. But I'm writing Die #9 at the moment, then straight on to Once and Future #4, and then see where I am.
Nrama: Given that you are having such a fantastic time --this is such an important point in a professional life to be able to move on from something as big as WicDiv and move into just creator-owned and you're having such a great time with it. If you could go back and talk to 2006 early games journalist Kieron Gillen, what would you say? Even if you could just say briefly, here's what you can look forward to the most, here's what you should keep in mind to get through the next 13 years.
Gillen: Well, I'm going to remove any of the personal because basically the most hardest of has been always the personal stuff. I would say be aware that your workload at Marvel is going to be more than you think it is. Because partially it's that the Marvels are going to go up from 12 issues a year to 18 issues a year, so you're not going to get ... and since you're somebody who's driven by creator-owned, you're going to have a three-year hole in your creator-owned stuff. Be aware that you're going to probably have to rethink, and it turns out fine, I should stress. I would say there's a couple of books I would say don't do them. Just say, as in you shouldn't. You do okay.
I think when I said at the beginning of WicDiv, was my advice to myself would be learn to complain slightly more. At least one of the reasons why people tend to like me in work-for-hire is that I solved more problems than I created. People just give me the job, I go away, do the work. They tell me that I don't need much hand holding. For most of my career at Marvel, I didn't have deadlines, because I knew when they needed things. So I noticed I was always ahead of their deadlines and pre-empting them. I mean, that's not completely true at all times, but that kind of stuff. My background as a journalist meant that I was pretty good at organizing this kind of stuff. Complain. I said complain slightly more.
Here's another one. If someone says it would be okay if you stepped off the book at this point, step off the book at that point. I think you can get an increased idea of your competence. The fact you've pulled some things off which are really hard doesn't mean you can always pull it off. There's something I've said to artists, artists do an issue in two or three weeks once, and in their head they can get to the point, oh, no, since I did it once, it means I can do it every single time. And it's the same for writers as well, you can't use your best as your baseline, because that's by definition not sustainable. But at the same time, trying for the impossible is equally what you should be trying to do.
I don't think I've got any good advice. It's like, it's okay, Kieron. Try to be kinder to people, complain more but not too much.
Nrama: It comes up all the time, what would you tell yourself 10 years ago and for me, it's just like I don't know. Be better. If I could start being the person I am now 10 years ago then I'd be twice as good as I am today. I'd be twice as good. I would be a much nicer, probably organized person.
Gillen: I would not be more organized. All the stuff is personal. My work life, yeah, there's stuff I'm not happy with, but talking overall, I said earlier. I'm such a, I've used word "privileged" repeatedly in this thing, but I'm very aware of how lucky I am. Like I am infinitely more successful than I ever thought I would be as a writer.
Any career advice is basically really minor. It's always the personal. You said it about the what do you say to you 10 years ago yourself. In some ways WickDiv is a process of me trying to gather those emotional, intellectual lessons about being a creative, working creative, and putting it in. WicDiv is my own message to self. It's that kind of okay, I hit 38 and said goodbye to my "youth." This is me gathering together my notes on that period of my life, and going "Okay. This is how it was, to me. Go forth. You know, just take what's useful. Make it your own. Good luck, I guess."