Hey folks, first with the news, here’s a report on a talk Mark Millar gave last October. It was in Coatbridge Library and you can view a selection of pictures from it over yonder alongside a much smaller version of what you’re getting here. I wanted to bring you it sooner but I only blog when I can and you can’t do this when you’re down the pub having a pint. Since Mark’s blether in his home town he has announced The Secret Service with Dave Gibbons, Hit-Girl with John Romita Jr, Supercrooks with Leinil Yu and Jupiter’s Children with Frank Quitely. I encourage you to click those links and check them out.
So, better late than never. Enjoy.
When I first met Mark Millar over a pint of Guinness in a Coatbridge pub back in 2000 he was just on the cusp of breaking through. He had picked up heat from his run on The Authority, enough to get him a contract with Marvel that would see him retooling their characters for the 21st century, but those first issues of Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates hadn’t yet appeared.
Of course we know now that they landed on the shelves with a seismic thud, but back then the Ultimate Universe could just as easily have been another New Universe. And Millar was acutely aware of this. He had been in the industry for perhaps a decade by then but had never really cracked it. This was his big chance and he knew that if he blew it, he might not get another.
And he was planning ahead. At one point Millar began talking about a plan he had, whereby he would grasp his chance at Marvel and then hopefully branch out into creator-owned projects that would carry those readers over.
Back then I guess Kurt Busiek had done a similar thing with Astro City, but we were emerging from a decade where the artist had been king I can’t really think of any other writer who had managed to pull the trick off at that time.
Flash-forward to 2011 and Millar is arguably the most successful comic book writer of the last decade. His landmark Civil War mini-series was Marvel’s biggest event of the new millennium, his work on The Ultimates reverberates across films like The Incredible Hulk and the upcoming Avengers, but perhaps most impressive is the way he has championed, and succeeded with, the creator-owned model. He delights in telling the story about how he drew Spider-Man’s mask on his face before his first communion and you can still see the outline in the pictures. He genuinely loves the characters from the House of Ideas and their Distinguished Competition, but he now loves working for himself more.
And who can blame him? Launching the Millarworld imprint of titles in 2004, Wanted became the biggest independent hit for ten years and morphed into a film starring Angelina Jolie barely a year later. Kick-Ass would sell even more comics and also be adapted for the big-screen. Although it didn’t make as much money it was still a huge payday for everyone concerned and I suspect its influence will be more lasting. The film deals kept coming as the rights were sold for Chosen, Nemesis, War Heroes, Superior, Supercrooks and The Secret Service, often before a single issue had been published.
In 2009 he announced he was directing a low-budget superhero flick set in Scotland and called Miracle Park. The following year saw him launch anthology title CLiNT into the notoriously tricky British market, as he also spearheaded the KAPOW! convention in London. His own film production company was set up late last year and he shows no sign of slowing down.
It seems simple now. Looking back on the last decade, Millar’s career trajectory seems obvious. But first he had to actually help redefine comics for the 21st century with The Ultimates and become Marvel’s go-to guy on Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Fantastic Four . He’s a modern-day mixture of Joe Simon and Stan Lee; the work ethic and business acumen of the former, the unabashed hucksterism and zeitgest-tapping creativity of the latter. And like both Simon and Lee he’s endlessly creative, trying to stay ahead of the curve and blessed to be working with the finest artists of his time.
And so it was with all of this behind him that he rolled up to the newly opened and futuristic looking Coatbridge Library for a gab.
“What happened to the old building, the one round the corner? We should just get a carryout and head round there,” said Mark Millar as we settled down to listen to him in Coatbridge’s plush new library.
He now lives in Glasgow, but returning to his home town it’s clear how much he enjoys being back. It feels like it’s something which goes beyond the obvious ties of family and friends. A couple of months prior he had been in Coatbridge for the unveiling of a superhero archway, public art partly inspired by his work, and he had spoken then too of the importance of his upbringing there.
We’re all products of our environments to some extent but the newsagents of Coatbridge nourished the young Millar with stories from Marvel and DC, a collection of black and white reprints for the UK market and, perhaps if he was lucky, actual titles from America.
“Genuinely it gave me comics,” he says of his home town. “There were seven shops, and I know this because I used to go around them every Saturday, that sold Marvel and DCs, mainly DCs. I lived in Townhead and would have to walk as far as Carlin’s at the canal to get DC comics and then there was a procession of shops up to Airdrie, which I didn’t go to, because I was a bit scared, I would always stop at Coatdyke. And every Saturday I would go and buy comics.
“And to me the town is synonymous with comics because my childhood memories are of playing Spider-Man with my pals, all my pals were into it, all these shops dotted around, to me it kind of feels like Gotham City or Metropolis, it’s where Spider-Man lived in a weird way. And I love the fact now that because I come from Coatbridge the town is sort of semi-associated with comics, because for me it always was, and I like the fact it is now for other people too.
“It’s only when I look back that I think I was quite tenacious. Coatbridge Library was a big part of it for me. I remember just having absolutely no money. My parents had died, I was living on my own in a tiny flat and had no money to pay the most basic rent. I had a cat, and the cat and I ate alternate days. There wasn’t enough money for me to eat every day because I gave the cat something.
“Hunger is a brilliant motivator, it genuinely is. I couldn’t afford a computer, this would be 1988 or something and I remember I eventually got an Amstrad on a loan. Everything was done on disc and I had to print it up and send it in. I used to sit in lectures as a student and write down ideas and then come to the library which had an old typewriter up in the records department and sit and write proposals for 2000AD on that typewriter.
“I sold a series called The Saviour and I got £240 for my first script , I remember it exactly because it was so important, and then I sold a Futureshock for £135 and I couldn’t believe I had two cheques in one month, it was absolutely amazing. It was literally just writing to survive and I remember at the time somebody told me Harlan Ellison said the best stuff is written on an empty stomach and I remember thinking it was a nightmare, I can’t even concentrate on work because I’m worried about paying bills.
“But you’re writing for your life because you realise there’s no other option and you have to make some money fast. I chose writing, I wanted to be an artist as well and I chose writing because I didn’t have the money to get the art materials. Whereas the typewriter in the library was free and they would even change the ribbon, I didn’t have to pay for the ribbon. And I would sit and do a script a day pretty much because I would sit and hand write them in lectures and then go to the library and sit up in the records department and bang it out. And I got tons of rejections but there kind of wasn’t any alternative as well , it was the 1980s, there were no other jobs around, I was dropping out of university and there was no choice. It was either that or nothing. So that’s my advice, get really poor.”
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in a council housing scheme in the West of Scotland, a career in comics and Hollywood would have seemed as probable as becoming an astronaut. Yet, buoyed by the inspiration of British comics creators like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison he had the nerve not just to utter his Mickey Mouse dream aloud but to act upon it.
“I think the comics industry was quite in parallel with the film industry, around the time of David Putnam, those Oscar-winning writers and directors, there was a swoop for those guys at one time and the comics guys kind of got picked up at the same time,” said Millar.
“It happens in cinema every ten years or so, Russian directors will be in vogue, then British directors, Hong Kong directors or whatever. And when I was growing up in the town, I was about 13 and I remember reading British guys like Alan Moore and then Scottish guys like Grant Morrison, and I found that immensely inspirational because I remember going to the careers office in Corsewall Street and she said ‘What do you fancy doing?’ and I said ‘I’d like to write Spider-Man’ and she looked at me like I was one of those mental X Factor contestants, and I remember saying ‘Someone must do this’ and she said ‘No-one does this, it’s not a job.’ But I said ‘Someone must do it, I buy the books, a robot doesn’t write them.’ And she said ‘Do you never fancy going into medicine or something?’ and I said ‘No, I want to write Spider-Man.’
“And it was nice seeing people from the UK doing this because you realised you didn’t need to live in New York, which you used to in the 1960s. In the 1980s geography kind of became history, it didn’t matter where you lived. Then in the 1990s with the advent of the Internet you could work in Hollywood or anywhere just by the press of a button. You might as well be writing in a spare room in Coatbridge as a spare room in Los Angeles. In 1983 I remember seeing Alan Moore living in Northhampton and selling things to New York and I rememeber thinking ‘If he’s doing that then I’ll start sending in submisisons.’
“There’s a career path that you follow sometimes quite without realising it. And it tends to be that you start out small in the UK scene working for free. I was working for £10 a page when I started and my first check was for £240, and that was amazing because it paid my rent and ten nights out or something like that for a month. Then you work for 2000AD generally, then you graduate to DC, then you graduate to Marvel. And I thought I’d be content with that, because that was the sum of my aspirations as a kid. I wanted to write Superman and I wanted to write Spider-Man, but beyond that I didn’t have any plans.
“Then I got bit by the comic creator bug, which is to create your own characters. It’s kind of weird, once you’ve done that it’s hard to go back. I worked on the Iron Man movie and I‘ve done some work with the Avengers line-up of characters that are being made into a movie just now, I ‘ve worked on Marvel creative committees and sat in on those meetings and come up with ideas; they used a lot of stuff I did from a book called the Ultimates in those movies too. It’s nice and it gives you a satisfaction to see that happen but I know I’m just a cog. And even the guys who created these characters got replaced, and the guys who replaced them will certainly get replaced.
“Sometimes that’s enough, it’s great, I did that for ten years. Then I did Wanted and I realised no-one could come in and do a rubbish sequel to it, or if they did it would be me that was going to ruin it. Then with Kick-Ass and so on, it’s kind of like giving birth, you’re creating something that didn’t exist before you, in a way you’re not when you’re writing the Green Goblin fighting Spider-Man for the tenth time. It’s really exciting to have something that was a scribble on your page suddenly be in a book that someone is reading and then maybe be in a video game or a movie.
“I realised when I did an interview with Stan Lee, I interviewed Stan Lee for a mens’ magazine about five years ago and I was quite pleased with myself because I had three books in the top five. And Stan said to me: ‘Why are you just doing old characters?’ But I was like: ‘They’re your characters Stan.’ And he’s like: ‘But I didn’t go and write Superman or Batman, I put something new in the pot.’ Imagine if culture froze with the stuff you had read as a child. If he had done Tarzan or Superman instead of creating Spider-Man and the X-Men we would never have the Marvel Universe.
“And it was a really good point, so then I had a plan to create my own wave of characters and Stan is really inspirational to me because I realised that JK Rowling, who I love, created Harry Potter, and James Fleming created James Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but Stan has created literally 15 franchises, he’s all these guys put together and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for that. I know he created it with the artists like Kirby and Ditko, but he’s behind about a quarter of Hollywood’s takings recently. And I found that massively inspirational, I thought how great to add something to the cultural pot. I don’t want to give Stan’s characters Botox injections. I want to learn from what he did and create my own.
“I loved my time at Marvel and I left Marvel after about ten years, but I left on such good terms. I was lucky that all of the books were top sellers and I got on with everybody at the company. It was a lovely way to leave the company and they said the door is always open.
“Unlike at DC, where I left in such a terrible way. I wrote to the guy who was the president of the company about changing one of my scripts, and I said to him ‘I cannot believe that out of all the sperm that left your father’s testicles, you are the one that made it.’ It was the worst resignation letter ever. I’m still barred from DC ten years later.”
Leading the charge of the MillarWorld titles is Kick-Ass, the imprint’s biggest-seller so far. The second arc of the planned trilogy is wrapping up right now, a spin-off Hit-Girl mini-series is heading our way in 2012. And although the big-screen adaptation never made the coin that Wanted did, for me its influence will be more lasting as it helped redefine the superhero movie and give a shot in the arm to a genre that was perhaps sagging with a glut of Marvel franchises.
Millar said: “Kick-Ass is s a little guy up against up against impossible odds and he puts on a suit and goes out to help people. That basic human story, superheroes carry that off better than anyone. To me when I first came up with idea of Kick-Ass I wondered whether it was too far-fetched, the guy with no powers taking all this stuff on, but in a weird way it works even better because unlike Batman he doesn’t have that 20 years of training, he’s just a wee guy who could get into trouble at any time so I like showing the world at its most messed up but somehow good wins in the end.
“Kick-Ass 2 is funny because the guy who’s drawing it, John Romita Jr, is under contract at Marvel so instead of coming out monthly we were getting two books out a year it’s been that slow. Thank God the schedule has worked out okay now and we should be finished in January. The final issue should be out in January and I’ve had a great time doing it. I can’t say anything about the film just now because someone here will be on Twitter tonight, but all I can say is now I’ve finished the book things can get rolling on that.
“Growing up I was obsessed with Star Wars and Star Wars is the best structured movie I’ve ever seen. The journey of going from a farmboy we all identify with to being the greatest Jedi ever and he goes to some dark places along the way. So for Kick-Ass 1 I nicked the structure from Star Wars entirely, no-one notices this. Kick-Ass 1 is entirely Luke Skywalker’s journey. Han Solo and Chewbacca are Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, R2- D2 and C3PO are the two friends. I pinched it entirely, and Kick-Ass 2 has a big cliffhanger ending like The Empire Strikes Back and it goes really dark so that with Kick-Ass 3 you’re really delighted with the resolution.
“There’s definitely a father and son thing, or father and children thing running all the way through it. It’s funny, there’s parts of your life you find yourself writing into these things without even realising, it’s your subconscious, things you’ve picked up that have happened to your friends. In Wanted for example the opening scene is the lead character’s girlfriend getting off with his best friend. And the friend of mine who this happened to, I never thought this was going to become a movie and he was at the Glasgow premiere looking round at me. So you do find yourself nicking tragic things that have happened to your friends.
“But Kick-Ass, there was stuff from my life in it too. The Hit-Girl/Big Daddy relationship started off as a thing between my daughter and I. When my daughter was eight, maybe nine, I came up with the idea of Kick-Ass. And I said I’m going to create a lovely thing, it’ll be like us, a dad with a little girl who is a superhero, and it’s going to be for children. And then it just went horribly wrong. It’s funny you do see things creeping into it.”
And talking about the sequel to the Kick-Ass film, Millar said: “They all still look pretty young. Kick-Ass 2 the comic is set about eight months after Kick-Ass 1 but we could get away with it being a year or two older. Chloe is the tricky one, she was maybe 4ft 7in when we shot the first one and I saw her recently and she was 5ft 5in and her brother is 6ft 7in.”
Tony Scott is the latest director beating a path to Millar’s door and the movie rights to Nemesis were snapped up before a single issue had come out, the tale of two men pitting themselves against each other possibly being the reason it attracted the helmer of Crimson Tide and The Taking of Pelham 123.
“Nemesis was a really simple idea,” said Millar. “I remember going to go see Batman films thinking Batman is the most boring guy in these films. Everyone else was more interesting than Batman. I’ve noticed, these stupid facts stay in my head, the box office on the ones that the Joker isn’t in, they either lose money or just break even. Even Batman Begins just broke even. And it kind of lost that money if you look at the marketing budget and so on.
“But the ones with the Joker in it, like the Jack Nicholson one and the Heath Ledger one, insane, proportionately over a billion dollars. People seem to like the Joker more than Batman, so I remember just sort of thinking what if the Batman was the Joker, if the billionaire with all the cash and all the cars and planes and so on was a city’s worst nightmare? How would the police deal with someone like Batman if Batman was a bad guy? So it’s such a simple concept, and we sold it as a movie quite fast because of that, and the guy who is directing it, Tony Scott, he said it really appealed to him because he loves those plots where it’s two brilliant men up against each other. And this is essentially Batman versus Commissioner Gordon.
“For those of you haven’t read Nemesis, I always think I go too far and then someone repeats it back to me, so there’s one scene that might not make it into the film I imagine. I have a brother and sister kidnapped and the sister is sedated and then impregnated with the brother’s sperm and the womb is booby-trapped so they can’t get rid of the baby and this is one of those times where I know maybe an editor would stop me doing these things but that’s never going to end up in the film. It would end up in a Korean film. But all the fight scenes will be there.
“If something makes me laugh, I’ll put it in usually. My own self-censorship is pretty poor. I think it can be a good thing. on the one hand it’s like giving a monkey a machine gun, anything can happen, it can be a bit dangerous. On the other hand, maybe you’ll get something great out of it. And even if you make a fool of yourself it’s worth it, because you might feel so unrestrained you come up with something great.
“I remember for example, one of the guys at Marvel, who are publishing Kick-Ass, although I own Kick-Ass Marvel have a distribution deal with it, and he said ‘Don’t call it Kick-Ass.’ And I was like ‘How come?’ and he said ‘It’s got the word ass on it.’ And I was like ‘I realise that, I came up with it.’ And he said ‘But no shops in America will touch it if it’s got the word ass in it.’ And I realised that it’s nice working for yourself and you can overrule daft decisions.
“My favourite one was we had a really hard time selling Kick-Ass as a movie. No studio wanted to make it. I had a nine-year-old girl dropping the c-bomb and cutting the heads of drug dealers. When the screenplay went out to the studios, unreservedly every one of them hated it. They said absolutely no way. One studio, Sony, came back with some notes saying ‘We might consider it if you take out all the swearing, take out all the violence, make Hit-Girl 25, and she can’t kill people.‘ And we were like ‘You’re missing the whole point.’ So what ended up happening instead is that Matthew Vaughn, the director, funded it privately and then sold it to a studio after he made the movie, which I don’t think has ever happened in film history for anything that cost more than about 20 quid. This was a $28million movie. But luckily he’s married to Claudia Schiffer and has tons of rich pals so he literally had a dinner party and raised $28million.”
If you’ve read the Making of Kick-Ass book that accompanied the film you’ll get a sense of how collaborative the process was and it’s easy to understand why Millar is so keen to combine comics and film.
He said: “It depends on your relationship with the director. I’ll always stay on as a producer on the films and have some kind of input. Matthew Vaughn, the guy who directed Kick-Ass, was great, he and I spent pretty much two years together, if not in person then on the phone. And they would send me up casting tapes and send me up codes to get into casting websites where I could watch the 50 people who auditioned for Hit Girt, so it just became part of my daily routine. During the day I would work then at night I would watch the auditions and they would call and ask who I liked.
“With Wanted it was less so because it was my first film but they literally phoned up and said ‘What do you think of Angelina Jolie being in it?’ and I was like ‘Sounds good’ and that was it. Kick-Ass was much more personal. Matthew made sure I was really hands-on with it and ran through loads of different possibilities until we got something we were all happy with.”
Next up for Millar is a new wave of collaborations that include The Secret Service with Dave Gibbons, the afore-mentioned Hit-Girl mini-series with John Romita Jr, Supercrooks with Leinil Yu and an epic superhero tale with Frank Quitely called Jupiter’s Children.
“What my plan is now, I did ten years at Marvel and I was doing Millarworld part-time, what I’m doing now is I’m full-time Millarworld. It’s sounds awful but we’re using the movies, utterly using the movies as a $100million advert for the books. The books are where it all begins, that’s what it’s all about. It’s not a stepping stone at all, we want to do the books. The books sell better if there are movies out there, it’s absolutely crazy the numbers a book will do if there’s a film attached to it, like the Da Vinci Code and all these kind of things. But all my focus is really on the comics.
“So what’s going to happen is that in January we’re going to have a wave of publicity for all the new books that we’re doing. Next year we have Kick-Ass 2 finishing up, we’ve got a Hit-Girl mini-series that will spin off into her own book, I’m doing a massive project, a Lord of the Rings superhero thing with Frank Quitely, about 12 issues, Dave Gibbons and I have a new series and it’s going to launch in February.
“And I’m doing a Spanish film believe it or not, also a comic, it will be Hollywood money but it’s going to be filmed in Spain called Supercrooks. I’m doing it with a guy called Nacho Vigalondo. Nacho is an Oscar-nominated Spanish director, he’s the next del Toro, and it turns out he’s a massive comic book fan and he said ‘Do you fancy doing something together?’ I had this idea that was perfect for him, a bunch of supervillains in America who say ‘Why do we always go up against Spider-Man and Batman and all that we get sent to prison every time. Why don’t we go and rob a bank in Spain?’ It’s a heist movie with supervillains, Oceans 11 meets the X-Men is the basic idea. So Nacho and I got together, he came over to Scotland. He can’t speak English and it was insane, he stayed in our house, it was like having a wee monkey. We were communicating with our hands, and I don’t speak any Spanish and he doesn’t speak any English but somehow we got a 120-page script written.
“The one thing I’ve learned from George Lucas is never go back. Nothing will ever be as good as your memory. If I go back and do Kick-Ass 9 in 20 years people will say it’s not as good as the first one. Even if it as good it’s going to be disappointing because you’re never going to recapture what it felt like to be 25 and see that for the first time. That’s what I’m trying to do with this, do maybe three or four books and then leave it, the way JK Rowling did with Harry Potter. And then someone can come in and re-tell them maybe in 20 years time, so the books can be reissued like Lord of the Rings gets reissued, and the movies can be remade for different generations. I’ve already been thinking what the Wanted remake will be like in the year 2030. What’s nice is that I can almost sit back and the work I do over the next ten years and the work I do, let other people re-interpret it. I think there’s an age cutoff as well. Spielberg , Coppola, Lucas, all those greats of the Seventies they somehow lose that little edge that the David Finchers and Matthew Vaughns have . There’s something about being in your 30s and 40s that just has you a little bit more on the money.”
Anyone who follows Millar either on his MillarWorld forums or Twitter page will know that he genuinely is a film nut. He’s even steering a monthly geek film get-together at the Glasgow Film Theatre right now, and you can tell how much he now loves working in something he’s always been a fan of, as film has always informed his own work in comics.
“Two movies that massively influenced me as a kid were directed by Richard Donner.” said Millar. “One was The Omen, which I did my own version of really with a book called American Jesus and another one was Superman The Movie, Richard Donner’s interpretation of Superman. It was the first time I had ever seen a superhero in our world, like whenever he was supposedly flying through Metropolis you saw the Twin Towers and the Empire State Building and it felt like a world I could totally identify with, with one character in it who changed everything.
“I think I’ve always tried to do that with my work, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the super-normal in the world of the normal, it just seemed interesting. The phrase Donner bandied around was verisimilitude, which was the idea of just treating something very seriously, making it seem real and that’s probably a theme running through all my work, I try and make it quite socio-political when I can, ground something that’s fantastic in the real world. A movie that’s very underrated I feel is The Omen, because he takes the most difficult concepts from the Book of Revelations and turns it into something that could be a thriller, so it’s something that your granny could watch and totally understand it. To me that’s terrific writing, it’s very easy to be obscure and show off references and make the reader work but I think the best writing is something that simplifies the hardest things into something anyone can understand. I watched The Omen when I was 11 and loved it and I still love it now.”
It’s clear that no matter how many Hollywood deals come his way Millar remains committed to comics and any big-screen adaptations that come out of his burgeoning MillarWorld stable are gravy.
He said: “It’s funny, I wrote an article for The Times about ten years ago and I remember my brother phoned me up and said ‘That’s amazing, you can give up comics now.’ And I was like ‘What do you mean?‘ And he’s like ‘Well you’ve got a real job.’ And I was like ‘Just because I’m in my pajamas all day doesn’t mean it’s not a job.’ People always think it’s a stepping stone for something else so the minute I sold my first Hollywood film, I sold Wanted in maybe 2004, people were saying ‘Are you off to do Hollywood?’
“The thing I love is being unrestrained by editors and unrestrained by budget. It costs as much for me to write ‘A million space ships crash into Los Angeles’ as it does for me to have a talking heads scene. In cinema it’s not like that, sometimes you have to lose really good stuff because there isn’t enough money to get it made. What I love about comics is you’re only restricted by your imagination.
“As a writer I love retailers because we wouldn’t get to do our job without the fact they actually sell comics to people. So I feel very protective of retailers and it’s a very hard job, tough economic times, there’s a lot of stores in danger of going under. So the fact that the DC reboot has increased sales, it hasn’t been as big as possibly hoped, the market share was 0.4 per cent ahead of Marvel in their biggest month so it hasn’t been massive but it’s been good enough. It’s putting money in the pockets of retailers.
“Again, it’s that thing I was talking about of the culture atrophying. It’s like a 75-year-old prostitute, it just seems awful. I would rather see something new, and that’s why you guys like The Walking Dead and stuff. These are the kind of books that excite me, from guys like Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman, these are guys who are doing something new.”
Yet as much as he admires innovation in others, Millar admits that many of his biggest hits are heavily influenced by stories he enjoys; Kick-Ass is his take on Spider-Man, Chosen riffs on his love of Richard Donner’s The Omen, Old Man Logan pays homage to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
“An original story is a funny thing, you think of Batman for example being very original and you think there’s nothing else like it because superheroes as we know them weren’t created until 1938, so Batman felt new in 1939,” says Millar.
“But you can trace the lineage of Batman through Zorro, that was created in 1919. And you can trace it back further into the Scarlet Pimpernel which was over a century older again, which was the idea of the foppish nobleman who is representing the people secretly, dressing up in a mask and helping people.
“So there’s always a little line running though all these things. Superman can be traced all the way back to Hercules really. So Kick-Ass, which a lot of people think is quite fresh, is my sort of interpretation of Spider-Man, even the structure was quite like Spider-Man, the guy living with his dad, nervy kid at school, he puts on a costume and goes out and fights crime, but he doesn’t have webbing or special powers so I think the trick is to put your own little twist on it and that’s what I try to do. Anything I’ve created there’s already something a little bit like it but I’ll try and put a new spin on it. That’s what Stan Lee did, and that’s what Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster did . I would say don’t feel to intimidated if you feel it’s like something else already.
“I think it just happens and then you notice these things after the event. For example I wrote a Wolverine story called Old Man Logan and I just had an image of Wolverine as an old man, I saw him as a farmer like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven and Wolverine had been based on Clint Eastwood in the 1970s so I got to take it to the logical conclusion and have him as a peaceful old man on a farm with a family and then the story started to evolve out of that. I started to think ‘Why has he retired?’ and you grow the story organically sometimes out of an image like that.
“In Kick-Ass I had a really simple idea as well which was I liked the idea of superhero in a costume showing up at a crime and being shot or stabbed immediately and being hit by a car and then being in hospital for six months . Then I could move the story around that, who was this wee guy, why did he do that? It was only after that someone said ‘Did you give him no superpowers because you were making a comment on the economic times we’re in?’ He’s a recession superhero, he doesn’t have a Bat-Cave and he doesn’t have a Bat-mobile, he just has two sticks and I think it probably is true that your subconscious comes up with that but to me it was a simple as ‘I’d like him to have no powers because it’s then funnier when he’s hit by the car.’
“Sometimes things go away for a long time and then come back and are massive. Sherlock Holmes is a perfect example, nothing was more dead than Sherlock Holmes five years ago . The idea that a Sherlock Holmes film would make $600 million theatrically was insane. I know a guy who was trying to greenlight a Sherlock Holmes TV series and he couldn’t get it done. The idea of Sherlock Holmes being massive was crazy.
“They lost $200million making the last Superman movie when you think that’s a sure thing. Hopefully the new one will be better. You can just never tell. Sometimes the time is right for something . I think Kick-Ass will be big for five to ten years, we’ll get the movies out of it, three books, and it will probably go away and then probably in about 20 years time somebody who’s maybe 12 or 14 just now will think ‘I’d love to remake Kick-Ass,’ because it tends to run in cycles like that. Like Richard Donner, he enjoyed the Superman TV show as a young guy in the Fifties, so then he made the movie in the Seventies, Bryan Singer loved the movie in 1978 so he did his version of that 20 years later. It’s a very generational thing so I see my characters being big or small way into the future and there will be times when nobody cares and times when they’re fashionable.”
As much as he loves working in comics and maintains that is his main focus, it’s clear that these days much of his audience at events like this one are there because of his films. I’ve attended a number of talks he has given over the years and I’m seeing more and more young filmmakers stick their hands up in the air to ask him how to get ahead in the industry.
“I would say get something made,” he tells someone who asked him just that question. ” I know that sounds silly but I would actually make something short. I think it’s quite hard to sell a script but if someone can even see a five-minute short then they might get something picked up.
“I’ll give you an example. Sam Raimi, his company bought something about two years ago from a guy who made it for literally $200 and it was a wee four-minute short about robots attacking a harbour and he just did it in his bedroom on his computer and shot it with little models and things. And he was 19 or whatever and Raimi gave him a film contract because he could spot from those four minutes that the guy had talent. Everybody has access to actors who will either work cheap or work for free, there’s always actors who are looking for scripts , there’s always directors who want actors to work for free.
“I would say get a five-minute short made and if it’s good it will lead on to other things. It’s a lot easier than getting a script together. Trying to get someone to read a 120-page script is quite hard because it takes two hours to read a script and it’s really hard to get noticed if someone has a pile of them arriving every day. But if you put something up on YouTube if it’s good it goes vital and everybody can see it for nothing.”
However he did tell one tale that proves you don’t actually need to get something made to get paid.
Millar said: “This was 1999 and my big break in comics, although I worked in comics in the 1990s things never took of for me until when The Authority #13 came out and I remember thinking ‘I have to get some work’ because the comics industry was going through a little trough at the time and I sold a thing to Channel 4, it was a vampire series set in Coatbridge. It was called Sikeside because I always thought Sikeside was a great word, it’s a kind of hard word.
“I sold it to Channel 4 and because I came from a working class town and was doing something kind of realistic that was set in the real world, Channel 4 were like ‘Yeah. you’ll bring a real authenticity to this’ and I couldn’t believe that I literally sold this thing without even trying, I couldn’t believe my luck. And I remember I really needed the cash at the time, they had just and paid me for all six episodes and I got this really big cheque and banked it and then the department in Channel 4 that commissioned it went bust and they never asked for the money back. To this day I wrote half a script for episode one and then it went bust and I still got the money. So hopefully it will never get made because then I’ll have to finish the scripts. I shouldn’t have said that!
Some of us are still there for the comics though, and the advice for people trying to break into that world is just the same; to persevere and actually sit down and make something.
Millar said: “Genuinely, as a kid I drew Spider-Man’s face on my face the week before my first Holy Communion and if you look at the pictures you can still see it. The black webbing is still visible on my face on the communion photos. I made Iron Man’s costume out of paper and stapled it all around my body. So, I always wanted to do this stuff.
“I’ve got to the point now where I’ll switch my phone off all day. Even if I don’t have a deadline I’ll have it on silent and I’ll turn it around so I can’t see it. If someone has died and you need to get a hold of someone, I’m the last person to call. I go into a wee bubble and I just write, sometimes you can get half a page done in nine hours but I’ll do nine hours every day and some days I’ll get ten pages done .
“I’ve done this for 20 years now and I’m really strict about my time because I appreciate so much what I’m doing that I never slack off. I realise I’m doing what I wanted to do when I was five so I never take it for granted. I’ll get up about 8am and usually I’ll be working within 15 minutes and that will be me through until after 6pm. I’ll give you an example; a movie I really wanted to see, I had been after it for about ten years, came by Federal Express a couple of years back and it arrived at 11am. I was desperate to see this film for years and I sat it on my desk until 6.30pm and I watched it then. I couldn’t enjoy something if I was meant to be working on a script.”