January, 2008. After bending his ear about something or other, Mark Millar signs off on a flurry of emails by dropping me a sneak preview of his latest project with John Romita Jr.
“Just got my letters and inks in for Kick-Ass issue one,” he says. “We have a good feeling about this.”
The following chat is from a talk Mark Millar gave in the Glasgow Film Theatre last month about Kick-Ass, the big-screen adaptation of the comic. It was hosted by a dapper gent from the Literary Supplement of Scotland on Sunday whose name I forget but was dressed like Doctor Who. I was in the audience, drunk.
IT’S the late 1970s and somewhere in a Coatbridge classroom a little boy is experiencing acute embarrassment as everyone around him discovers that he is in fact wearing a Spider-Man costume underneath his school uniform. Years of mickey-taking no doubt beckoned for our hero. Would he buckle under the shame?
Flash forward 30 years and far from being a social leper that same lad is now grown up and standing in the kitchen of supermodel Claudia Schiffer after the European premiere of a film that is based, in part, on the memory of that awful day. Kick-Ass is the hottest ticket in town and it seems that the geeks have inherited the earth.
“The inspiration is, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, entirely autobiographical,” laughs Mark Millar.
“I had two Spider-Man moments at primary school. The first was my holy communion. I remember I had a magic marker and I drew Spider-Man’s webs right across my face about a week before my holy communion and my mum appeared and said ‘Oh my God, your holy communion!’ and I said ‘It’s alright I’ll wash it off’ and she was like ‘Magic marker does not wash off!’ It just wasn’t coming off, so my one holy communion photo that exists you can vaguely see Spider-Man.
“And another time, I don’t know if you remember back in the Seventies, Marvel, any money they could get they would just give out their licences to anyone and they would get everything wrong. I used to have a t-shirt with an orange Hulk, and the Spider-Man costume I got for Christmas one year, it said Spider-Man in big letters across it first of all, with sort of red jammie bottoms and a Spider-Man mask and it was made of rubber. I liked the fact that superheroes wore this stuff under their clothes so I wore it under my school uniform in primary two or three.
“It was a hot sunny afternoon and I remember someone siting next to me saying ‘Mark you look funny’ and I said I was going to faint. I stood up and she was going to undo my tie and I said ‘No! No!’ and even at the age of seven I understood shame. She undid the buttons and the costume was revealed. It was like the cover to a Marvel comic.
“I think growing up reading superhero comics as a kid, that was basically my education. It seemed perfectly normal to me for someone to put on a costume and go out and fight crime. I saw that as a career option. In a way it probably seems weird to everyone else but I probably spent an hour every night reading about that, and the films I liked were like that as well.
“I think it’s an American thing, in our culture we have anti-heroes where in America they have heroes. Even our detectives in dramas like Rebus and Taggart and so on, you wouldn’t really get an American equivalent of that. They like things a bit more clean cut and idealistic and for some reason I responded to that, I don’t know why.”
That love for comics would eventually be parlayed into a career in the industry penning stories about Superman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Ultimates, Wolverine and many more. But after guiding other people’s characters he decided to create his own five years ago. His first creator-owned title Wanted morphed into a bona fide summer blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie that grossed over $300million and when Kick-Ass is released this Friday box office figures north of $400 million are being comfortably predicted by the bean counters.
In the film a teenage nerd called Dave Lizewski dresses up as a vigilante, the titular Kick-Ass, after asking the question: “How come nobody has ever tried to be a superhero? I’m not saying they should do it, I’m just trying to figure out why nobody does.”
Luckily for us, Millar did. Years after that embarrassing episode in primary school he actually went a step further. Unable to fight crime in Metropolis or Gotham City, he decided to give it a bash in Coatbridge instead.
Inspired by the comics he would pick up in Glasgow’s legendary AKA Comics, he really did try to get into the superhero business. Millar said: “I would go down there to AKA as often as I could. Any time I had enough money to get the train into Glasgow I would go in and just chat to the guys about comics, and I remember at that time it was like a golden age of British comics.
“A friend from school actually got into it as well. We loved superheroes so much, particularly the Frank Miller/Alan Moore kind of stuff, on the back of things like Daredevil and Batman: Year One, we just thought ‘Let’s do this, let’s try and be superheroes’.
“And we were about 15, 5ft 8in, so we went to the gym for six months, but luckily we were in rural Scotland . I created a character for myself called Mr Danger, it was a Rorschach rip-off where I had a hat, a scarf and a trenchcoat. My pal, he came up with Batman and he showed me these sketches and it was exactly like Batman. And I said ‘You can’t do that, that’s a copyright infringement!’
The film’s real-world take on superheroics has Arron Johnson plays the teenager with no powers who decides to become a costumed hero and tackle street crime as Kick-Ass. Nicolas Cage is another vigilante called Big Daddy, who crosses his path. Chloe Moretz is his nine-year-old daughter, the scene-stealing Hit Girl, who he has trained to be a killer in their war against a mob boss. Christopher Mintze-Plasse is the gangster’s son and fakes a superhero called Red Mist to lure Kick-Ass into a trap set by his father.
BBC film critic Jonathan Ross has called it the best superhero film ever made (although in fairness his wife Jane Goldman did co-write the screenplay) but it is undeniably something that the genre has never seen before. Blood-soaked, ingeniously choreographed and set to a powderkeg soundtrack it’s a 21st century streetwise reboot of superheroes showing what would really happen if someone donned a mask to fight crime. Some critics have even asked if it makes billion-dollar franchises like Spider-Man redundant.
Millar said: “I think we’re coming to the end of these 20th century heroes. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are massive brand names, like Mickey Mouse, but like Mickey Mouse they belong to another era
“I think it’s an age thing. If you think about it 100 years ago Sherlock Holmes was a phenomenon, that was like Hannah Montana. And then it just fizzled out, after the Thirties and Forties with the Basil Rathbone films it just fizzled out.
“One thing people always say is that Superman and Batman are forever, but they’re not forever. We all grew up with them but things belong to their time and they evolve and grow into other things. What started off as Hercules 5000 years ago eventually ended up as Superman and it will be something else in 2000 years time.
“I’ve been very lucky and I think a lot of it has to do with the timing as opposed to the quality of the work. I genuinely think that it’s just the timing, this generation doesn’t have its own Spider-Man and all that yet. Nature abhors a vacuum, they’re just looking for the next thing and my stuff was just happening at that time. Wanted got picked up quickly, Kick-Ass was insanely fast, I’ve got one out next called Nemesis and I’ve already had directors on the phone. Hollywood eats up ideas so fast.”
That director Matthew Vaughn knows talent when he sees it is beyond question. He is married to Schiffer after all, which is why Millar came to be standing in their kitchen at the film premiere’s after-party. Vaughn loved the Kick-Ass comic so much that he convinced Brad Pitt and a few of his other mates to cough up $50million to finance the film after every studio balked at making it. That was mostly due to Hit-Girl, who swears like a trooper as she cuts people’s heads off.
Millar added: “Whenever we took this movie to the studios, everything they hated about it was everything that made it good. What’s interesting now is that the stuff they didn’t think was work is what’s making it work
“When they found out every scene had someone getting shot in the head or getting stabbed and one of the characters was a girl assassin they said ‘Right, we love this but we want to change everything!’ and they gave Matthew a list of notes, but he said ‘Right I’m not going to do it through the studio, I’m just going to do it through my own cash.’
The casting, of all the young actors in particular is perfect. Millar said: “One of the things that worked so well with Christopher Reeve playing Superman was you had no preconception who Christopher Reeve was, it just looked like Superman. And in cinema I think if you’re seeing someone doing something unbelievable then they can’t come with any baggage.
“With Hit-Girl, you really need to believe that this little dynamo could pull this off. It was really hard. There was two really hard pieces of casting, Aaron and Chloe, but when you saw Chloe it was like discovering Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver 1976. She’s so good it was like an adult in a child’s body, it was just incredible.
“The casting of her, we looked at about 300 little girls, as awful as that sounds. I actually phoned back home to family when I was coming back from the auditions. I was going to a wedding in Hull and so I was on a train in a crowded carriage and you know when you’re on a mobile you’re in that wee bubble and you don’t really think about what you’re saying? I was saying ‘Yeah, Matthew and me have had a great few days we’ve just been watching DVDs of little girls, and there’s one I really like, she’s 11 but she can do anything and her mum says it’s no problem.’ And the worst bit is, this is absolutely true, we had a Korean midget to do the fighting and stuff and I said ‘And anything she can’t do we’ll just get the midget to double up.’ And I was so aware suddenly of where I was and I’m like ‘I’ll call you back.'”
Moretz undoubtedly hijacks the film. I’ve seen it twice now and each time that the audience first seen her in action there were gasps all around. The character’s language does shock but the actress brings so much more substance to the role. Her scenes with Nicolas Cage are very tender in parts, and she sparkles throughout.
Cage is a revaltion, giving his best performance in some time. Millar said: “For Big Daddy the role itself was a bland one almost, he was just a tough guy, a foil to the interesting characters, he was Chewbacca to her Han Solo. But what Cage did was he brought an amazing depth to it that we didn’t have in the script. We saw it as a tough guy, we didn’t see the vulnerability.”
I’ve spoken on the blog before about how some scenes and dialogue in Kick-Ass the comic seemed to be paying homage to early issues of Spider-Man, and how it felt like a reboot of those streetwise Marvel superheroes.
Millar admitted: “I saw this as 21st century version of Spider-Man essentially. In my conversations with (Spider-Man co-creator) Stan Lee, he was my absolute hero growing up and I interviewed him twice, and one time he said to me he thought it was weird that no-one was creating new characters. If he had just been writing about his childhood favourites he would just have been writing about Tarzan, Superman and Batman instead of creating Spider-Man and the Hulk. And I thought that is quite odd, everyone now just wants to do Stan’s creations and they should be doing their own. And it’s quite hard, I’ve been quite lucky, the ones I’ve done have worked out.”
What has also worked out is the seemingly effortless way Millar has segued from comics into movies. And what’s more, if you read Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic/Making the Movie, you’ll see that his experience on his second movie was a blast.
Millar added: “When you work in comics and your comic gets translated into film you need to let go of your ego a bit. Sometimes a direct translation works brilliantly, and sometimes you have to play around to make it work. I think Watchmen is a perfect example. Watchmen the comic is probably the greatest comic ever, certainly in the top three, but to the mainstream now it’s just an above average movie because they stuck so laboriously to Alan’s work. And I love the fact that it was made with a good heart and the best of intentions but I think sometimes you have to be ruthless when you’re adapting something. No James Bond film other than Casino Royale is like one of the books, and what works in prose and works in comics doesn’t always work in cinema.
“I think I have a relatively cinematic style and Kick-Ass is very cinematic so it made a good translation. Some directors like to put their own imprint on something and other directors are comfortable adapting material; they believe in the project and want to bring that to life. Matthew Vaughn the director of this movie did Neil Gaiman’s movie Stardust previously and prior to that he did Layer Cake, JJ Connolly’s book, and what he did was he said to me ‘I’ll be as faithful as possible.’ It’s probably as faithful as a comic book adaptation has ever been.”
The speed with which Kick-Ass was turned into a film was remarkable, and surely speaks of the close working relationship Millar has developed with Vaughn. Work on the movie started before the comics eight-issue run was completed and the final issue hit the shelves well after principal filming had completed.
Talking about the process of working with the director, Millar said: “In the first issue on page four there’s a flash forward to issue seven where someone is getting tortured, but you can’t start a story without knowing where it’s going. So many people have said to me that the film makers must have been baffled, but I had written the first four issues and the script for issue six. I wrote issue six first, and I sent Matthew plots for five, seven and eight. They were so incredibly accommodating, they kept letting me look at the screenplay, little changes, it was such an easygoing process. We’re all the same age and generally have the same influences, I wish I had some brilliant, bitchy story but I don’t.”
When I first met Millar around 2000 I was interviewing him for his local newspaper. Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie was imminent but the idea that superhero movies would become the biggest thing in Hollywood was bonkers. Millar was just about to begin a remarkable decade at Marvel with his work on Ultimate X-Men and had a plan to bring the fans from his work-for-hire projects along to his future creator-owned properties, but I doubt if even he thought things would go so well for both him and the industry. Now, with Wanted and Kick-Ass made, and other Millar titles like War Heroes, Chosen and Nemesis in various states of development, it seems like everything he touches is being gast-tracked to your cinema screen.
He said: “The Joel Schumacher Batman films were terrible, but in 1989 Stephen Norrington made Blade and it was the first time, well Superman the Movie did it too, that they did it with a bit of dignity and respect and made a straight move that just happened to be inspired by a comic book character, instead of making it cheesy. Now I would say the best filmmakers are attracted to comics.
“When you think about it they’ve made 20 or 30 big comic book movies over the last decade and the hit rate is astonishingly good. You’ve got Bryan Singer who made two great X-Men films and Sam Raimi who made two great Spider-Man films, and the other one was okay. Pretty much everything has been okay outside of Elektra and Catwoman. There’s no other genre outside of superhero films that has that hitrate. Most gangster films are rubbish, ten per cent are amazing and the rest have Danny Dyer in them. When you look at it we have an astonishing hitrate and that attracts the cream of Hollywood talent.”
Wanted was of course the first Mark Millar comic to make it to the big screen, but he said: “I never really meant for it to have a widestream audience, there’s a lot of injokes, so as a producer I sat in those meetings where they said ‘We want to take out that stuff and bring in this stuff’ and I was happy to get a film made.
“The Hollywood thing happened kind of accidentally for me. I never had that thing about going out to LA and pitching, I always thought it was slightly demeaning, The thing I liked about comics was that it seemed slightly more dignified, you generally send your script in by email, I never had that hunger. As much as I’m a film geek I never wanted to live in LA. But what happened was comics crossed over massively with Hollywood when the X-Men movies and Spider-Man movies and so on became big, And as a guy at Marvel I was very lucky my stuff sold well at Marvel and they made me a consultant at the company, and it meant that whenever they were making movies I would sit in on meetings about developing the scripts and costumes and things like that, And it was great. With Iron Man we just spent two days chewing over the plot.
“But I try and do half my year at Marvel. I love comics, I never got into comics as a stepping stone to film but I love comics and I love cinema so I try and spend six months of the year doing my own stuff, and six months of the year doing Marvel stuff.”
Just this week Millar turned down the offer to get involved with the fourth X-Men film, but last year fans were excited about the prospect of him teaming up with Vaughn to revitalise the Superman franchise.
For a man who has one of Christopher Reeve’s Superman capes hanging in his home it was obviously a disappointment but Millar said: “One of my friends has got the chance to do it, a guy called David Goyer. He’s the guy who wrote the Dark Knight, Batman Begins and the Blade movies, which I love. I was so into Blade as a kid that I talked my friend’s dad who painted characters on the side of ice cream vans to put Blade on the side of a van. This was like 1979 and he drew a cone in his hand instead of a blade. Anyway he’s doing Superman and (Christopher) Nolan is staying on as a producer.
“We pitched for it. Matthew Vaughn and I who I’m doing Kick-Ass, with we pitched for it about a year and a half ago, but for a million reasons we didn’t get it. And we were quite sad about it. We really wanted to do it and had a great plan for it. But in a way it’s also quite liberating to do things outside the system. We thought ‘Why go back into meetings and sit with guys who really are accountants, and you as a filmmaker or writer are trying to justify your scenes?’ The guys who made the last Superman said ‘Great idea, let’s have him in bed for the last 20 minutes’ and you don’t want to sit and justify yourself. So working outside the system is very exciting. If we had done Kick-Ass with the studios, Kick-Ass would have been a sanitised mess.
“I might do it as a book so I won’t give it away too much, I’d quite like to take the idea and do it as a big graphic novel, an original graphic novel, not a monthly comic, just do it as a Superman magnum opus. It would be quite unlike anything that has ever been done with Superman before. I’d almost prefer to do it as a book because I could take it in ways that we couldn’t with a movie. I wanted something, big, huge, grand in scope, it should be everything you ever wanted to see about Superman in one story. The idea of the movie was to do something like the Godfather that covered one man’s life story, so it starts off on Krypton 10,000 years ago and ends with our sun going red and Superman being the last man left on Earth.”
The Man of Steel may not have worked out for Millar but with Wanted under his belt and Kick-Ass likely to make people part with hundreds of millions of dollars, his forays into cinema seem to resonate with audiences. However, he also realises he owes a huge debt to others who paved the way for his success.
He added: “My very first interview when I was 19, I was working for 2000AD and I was asked to name my favourite three films, and I was so embarrassed to say Jaws was my favourite film because everyone else was saying Cocteau and Truffaut, and I realised everybody lied in interviews. So I thought, just be honest and admit you like Jaws. My favourite films growing up were the same as everybody else, I like Jaws, The Godfather all pretty mainstream stuff. And I realised that what I used to be embarrassed about was having mainstream tastes, but it’s actually an asset if you want to work in films, comics or any kind of pop culture, because then you reach a wider audience without selling out. Kick-Ass is exactly the comic I want to write. I’ve never had to sell out to do something I enjoy doing and I always feel kind of sorry for the guy whose favourite film actually is a Cocteau film and they have to do Star Wars to pay the bills. To me, Star Wars is the ultimate aspiration.
“Until the year 1999, Stan Lee said to me ‘You have no idea how hard it was to sell this stuff”. They wouldn’t even have meetings with us, they wouldn’t open the door, because you were in the most despised media. I realise that those guys did such amazing, ground-breaking things in opening up the studios to guys like me, And now, if you write Spider-Man you can have a meeting with Steven Spielberg, you can probably have an hour of his time, which is mind-blowing to the guys just a generation previous. So things like the 2000AD stuff like Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, amazing characters, but if they came along a generation later they would be picked up immediately, but they were probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
But how do you find yourself in the right place at the right time? Millar’s advice is: “Personally, just try and find the cash yourself and then you don’t have to answer to anyone. Kevin Smith maxed out his mum’s credit card to make Clerks. He gave her the money back when the film was a hit. There’s part of me that thinks artists just need to be more pro-active, we’ve just got to do it ourselves. A great example is Paranormal Activity,. It was made for $10,000 and those guys who made it personally got $120 million. Martin Campbell who directed Casino Royale got $5million. But those guys made $120million. So I just think the risks are there but the rewards are huge.
“I know what it’s like. I went to Channel 4, they commissioned me to write a thing, and I wanted to do a vampire show. And I remember going into this meeting with a guy saying I want to do a vampire show, and he was like ‘What are you talking about?’And I was like, instead of watching something about transvestites down a coalmine, whatever Channel 4 make, I want to do something I’d actually want to watch, with vampires. And he was like ‘Preposterous!’ and a year later Buffy is the biggest thing in the world. I was quite annoyed at the time, thinking that’s awful, but then I thought I should get off my backside and just go and find the dough myself and go and make it. If you want to make mainstream stuff you just should just go and do it yourself,. That’s what I’m doing. Try and get hold of some rich guys or do what Sam Raimi did, he gave people stock in the movie, the local butcher, the local newsagent in his hometown and he got them all to own little pieces of the movie. And I thought, what a brilliant idea.”
And what of the future of comics in film, or even on the small screen? Millar added: “I think the costumes like Batman and so on, they almost don’t work. I don’t think something like The Flash would work on film. Things like the wing-tips that work well in the comics, I don’t think it would translate well to the screen. I actually think in the Batman movies that Batman is the least interesting and the least believable character. Everyone else in those films seems so fascinating to me, but Batman himself it’s almost like Nolan is embarrassed by Batman and keeps him in the background and doesn’t let him do anything cool.
“Comics didn’t translate that well into television because the subject matter tended to be expensive. To have a guy flying in the past would be really expensive to do. But now it’s so cheap to do stuff like that. Heroes looks amazing, it looks like a Hollywood movie. So now, you’re not limited at all. What TV does is it brings depth and substance in a way that movies sort of can’t. When you think of The Sopranos, you’re talking 22 hours of character study for one arc. And you can’t compete with that. Even something like The Dark Knight with all of its sophistication can’t possibly compete with it. So I think that’s where comics will go next, and I think Spider-Man would make a great television show. X-Men would make a great television show as well, and I think eventually they will appear on television.”
Creatively and financially, it seems clear that working on his own projects is now what gets Millar’s juices going. While announcing his decision to turn down X-Men 4 to his MillarWorld site he admitted: “I’m having so much fun creating my own characters and enjoying the control this gives you over the comic-books and the movies, that handling an established franchise seems odd to me now. It’s tempting, so tempting for a guy who’s been a fanboy as long as he can remember, but I need to stick to my guns. I want to create the next generation of superheroes over the next few years and going back would, I think, be a mistake. Vaughn is being offered everything you can imagine too in the wake of Kick-Ass, but we both agreed that keeping complete control is what made Kick-Ass such an amazing experience for both of us.”
One of Millar’s biggest hits with Marvel was of course The Ultimates. A critical and commercial juggernaut, it forms the basis for Marvel’s long-term movie franchises but beyond some pride, Millar won’t be getting much from it.
He said: “The Ultimates is a book I wrote back in 2002, it should have taken two years but the artist is really slow and it took six years. The artist started writing it as a single man and by the time he finished it he had three, or four, children. It was a big part of my life. Now this seems to be becoming a movie, Marvel have based their eight-year plan on The Ultimates. There’s going to be an Ultimates movie in 2013 but it’s going to be called the Avengers and they’re basing it on Ultimates # 2 to 13, and I think I’m going to get about £800 out it.
“For anyone who is into comics, if you read them for a few years you see patterns, things get wiped out and started over again, it’s just the nature of the beast. If you work for Marvel or DC, the two big comic companies, you have to be aware that you’re a caretaker. You’re looking after something and hoping not to damage it, do the best you possibly can and then pass it on to the next guy. Massive multi-national companies own these things and don’t want them messed up. I can respect that because I grew up loving these characters and there’s that child part of my brain that really loves them so I love to take care of them and do the best job that I possibly can, but there’s nothing more liberating than doing your own thing. Kick-Ass really starts where Spider-Man draws the line. You couldn’t have a Peter Parker masturbation scene. Well, he shoots his webs but outside of that, you have a ceiling on your imagination. Sometimes creatively it’s nice to work within parameters, it can be exciting, a challenge, but to do it all the time I think would be boring.
“My Marvel contract is up in a few months time and I imagine I will re-up it, I think I will because I really enjoy it and what I like is jumping between the two. I love doing Kick-Ass and then going off and doing a Marvel character again. I imagine if I did any kind of exercise it would be like exercising your arms and legs at the same time, it works different sets of muscles.
“I love Batman and Superman but I sort of see it as a period in my life that I’m done with. I have the urge to create new stuff now. If someone’s thinking of starting a family they don’t think let’s try and resuscitate that old man. You should maybe just have sex and have a baby.
“Every generation needs its own thing. One of the reasons Kick-Ass became a movie within months of the comic book is that there’s such a hunger for it. The reason it’s outselling Spider-Man is not because it’s had it’s day it’s because people are craving new blood. I’ve been very lucky in that, like Stan was in the Sixties.
“DC in particular is a very conservative company with their characters. I love Superman, I have Christopher Reeve’s cape hanging up on my wall. It means so much to me, but I see it as particular period in my l ife.”
And what does Millar read himself? He said: “As a kid I followed characters, and as an adult I follow writers. Anything that had Superman on the cover I would just buy it automatically. As an adult I follow all the usual ones. The best writer in comics for me, hands down, is Garth Ennis. I absolutely love Garth, he has the best ear for dialogue, he paces his stories so brilliantly. He’s never credited for this, he actually revolutionised the way comics are told. I think Garth is the most innovative writer. I absolutely love his stuff. Warren Ellis when he’s on can be very good. I like some of Robert Kirkman’s stuff, Walking Dead is amazing.
“I think superheroes work so well in comics. The only things that excite me in comics are horror and superheroes. I think crime comics, I actually find them kind of dull, and western comics. Sometimes if it’s guys like Garth Ennis or Brian Azzarello you think that’s great, but I’d rather watch a TV show or a Martin Scorcese film or something. I just think the one thing that comics does better than film or television is superheroes. Superheroes are amazingly visually interesting. Not only their costumes but what they can do. You can have a spread with someone pushing over the Empire State Building. It’s great stuff to draw but with crime comics it tends to be just conversations. As an artist it doesn’t excite me as much, I think cinema does it better. I’ve never read a crime comic that was as good as GoodFellas. I think superheroes still have the edge in comics. I think superheroes is the apex of what comics can do.”
Any talk Millar gives will of course have people there who want to break into the industry, who are hoping to glean a little nugget of advice to get ahead. At the Glasgow Film Theatre last month there was a young lad about 13 or 14, whose birthday happened to be on that day. The youngster and his family were invited to sit down with Millar after the talk and he actually got the boy a birthday card which all the geeks in the bar signed.
It was a lovely touch and I found myself imagining how excited I would have been if I was that age and I got to chat with Gerry Conway, John Byrne or Marv Wolfman. And who knows, the encouragement might be that nudge the youngster needs to try and make it in the business.
But what advice does Millar have for aspiring comic book creators? He said: “I remember in school going to the careers officer and saying I want to be a comic book writer. And they looked at me is if I wanted to be a mime artist. They said nobody did that as a job but I showed them evidence and said here you go, someone must be doing this stuff.
“You were limited by geography then. When I was at school you couldn’t work in film or publishing unless you lived in Los Angeles or New York. People ask me why I still live in Scotland but I literally send a button and my scripts are sent in. So you can live here and do it. You can do it as a hobby. The best thing is to do you hobby because you love it and then eventually hopefully you’ll get so good at it that someone will want to work with you. In publishing it used to be very expensive, my first stuff was independent, black and white, and it was really expensive, it cost about £2000, which is a lot of money. You don’t need to put samples out in print any more, you can put them up for free online
“When I was 13 I wrote a proposal to DC and I got a five-page letter back, it was so encouraging. And I thought I was ready but I obviously wasn’t ready. I don’t think I got any good at all until I was about 27.”
Talking about his own creative process, Millar said: “The thing I do which is different I suppose from people who don’t write comics is that I start with a drawing. Every single story I’ve ever written, I’ll start with an image. For example on Kick-Ass, there was two drawings on Kick-Ass, I drew a picture of Hit-Girl holding a button crushing a man in a car crusher, and I drew a picture of a superhero getting shot to pieces, and it just started to come from that. I think of an interesting visual and it just grows organically from that. Whereas to write a novel you can’t start on page 127, in comics you kind of can, you can start your story where you want and work back from that. So with Old Man Logan I drew a picture of Wolverine looking like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. I thought about what he would be like if he hadn’t popped his claws in 20 years like Clint hadn’t picked up a gun in 20 years and the story grew out of that. I like to start with avisual and grow out form there. And if you look at my pads, it’s usually doodles of someone being hurt, it’s pictures of people with spikes coming out their mouths and stuff. I actually went to the casino in Sauchiehall Street a few years back, and I had all my Kick-Ass visuals and I left my pad in coat and left it behind. And when I came back the next day to get my pad I said ‘I left something here last night’ and the girl is like all helpful, saying ‘Great, what was it?’ and I said ‘It’s a pad’ and she said ‘Right.’ Obviously they had all been looking at it before they handed it back to me and no-one thinks oh he must be a comic book writer, they just think he’s a nutter.”
Would he ever let someone else write his creations? “I’d hate it,” Millar said. ” In the 1950s as you know if you created a character you got paid and someone else came in and wrote it six months later. The nice thing now is that you own it, so it will just never happen. Nobody will ever write Kick-Ass, nobody will ever write Wanted or Nemesis or War Heroes, they’re just mine and the artist’s, we own it 50/50. It’s funny, there is an argument for doing it because eventually someone will do it who is better than you. There’s been some amazing Spider-Man stories after Stan Lee but if Stan had been precious and hung onto it we would never have got these great runs. It’s interesting. If I’m ever really broke in the future I’ll licence them out and let other people do them.”
Kick-Ass goes on general release in UK cinemas this Friday, but I believe the rest of the world will have to wait until April 16. Nae joy. You’ll love it though. I took my girlfriend to see it and she can’t even go in a comic shop with me, and she had a blast.
Let’s wrap thiis up then. Talking about the future of Kick-Ass, Millar added: “Kick-Ass 2 the comic comes out in September. I wanted to do Hit Girl like A History of Violence. I like the idea of this wee girl who has this massive history of violence but she’s only 11. I like the idea of her having Bratz dolls, watching the Disney Channel and she’s trying to have normal conversation with girls her own age bit she could kill everyone in her street if she wanted to. And the idea of Clint Eastwood in The Unforgiven, when he picks up a gun after 20 years, the idea of when she does pick up a gun again, at the best possible moment, it’s so exciting because she’s been trying not to be bad. She promised she would stop killing people.”