Interview with Mark Millar

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Mark Millar is a man that doesn’t really need an introduction. Having received an MBE in 2013 for his services to film and literature, the Scottish writer has had a lot of his work made into block-buster films, including those such as Kick-Ass and Kingsman: Secret Service. Having worked with big publishers like 2000 AD, Marvel and DC over the years, he set up his own company Millarworld in 2004, which he still successfully runs today. BGCP admin Louise was lucky enough to interview Mark at the recent Glasgow Comic Con.

LS: How did the formation of Millarworld come about?
It was a phone call with Stan Lee in early 2003. I was interviewing for a magazine called SFX and Stan said why are you doing all of my old characters instead of creating your own ones? I was so proud of myself because I was writing Marvel’s top 2 books at the time, and he said that’s great but I didn’t create Superman and Batman I went off and created my own stuff. He was saying as a writer you should do your own work and Marvel should be your training for you to go off and do your own thing. I gave it a lot of thought and thought every generation has their own heroes, but we’ve been living off Marvel and DC for half a century and I thought maybe it was time to create some new stuff. There’s a gap in the market. Once I’d made enough money from films and things I was able to start my own company so that’s where Millarworld came from, it was Stan Lee!

LS: Does the violence in your comics come from your 2000 AD roots?
It probably comes from the era I grew up in. In the early 1980s the comic books were just really violent, the Alan Moore and Frank Millar stuff. Things like Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were really grim and pretty dark. As a teenager I really loved it, and that’s to me what comics were, but there’s also the other side of my brain that likes doing the light stuff as well. I love Tarantino and Steven Spielberg, so something like Starlight and Chrononauts or any of those books are just as exciting to me as doing something like Kick-Ass or Nemesis. I like to mix it up between the 2. As a writer you never want to be pigeon-holed and when I see people saying ‘oh well he just does violence’ I think well that’s the time to start rolling the sweet stuff out as well. The books I’ve written for the last 2 years, I don’t even think there is any swearing in them! That’s my plan over the next year or 2, just to do sweet things.

LS: Have you ever thought of going back and doing another story for 2000 AD?
Not really because I didn’t grow up with it. I was very unusual in British writers in that I didn’t grow up with 2000 AD. Although I was the perfect age I was never cool enough. 2000 AD fans were into music magazines and that sort of thing, whereas I was much more of a traditional comics fan. I liked superheroes and that kind of thing, so growing up I liked the uncool stuff like Superman, so for me that’s my roots and what I grew up on. As an adult I recognise 2000 AD is brilliant, and I really appreciate it.

LS: Working for Marvel versus working for your own company, how does it compare?
It’s amazing. I loved working at Marvel. My books sold really well so no-one messed with my scripts and literally not one full stop or comma got changed. I had such a positive time at Marvel, but there does come a point when creatively you want to spread your wings and do something new. Stuff like Starlight or Chrononauts are books I couldn’t really have done at Marvel, and I own them which is amazing. Things like Kingsman and Kick-Ass, I own them.

I wanted to build an ethical company where the guys I loved were OK when they were older. I split everything 50/50. My plan is to get 25 artists that I love to have these deals, so that he next 30 to 40 years they will be fine. People like Jack Kirby created things worth billions of dollars but died penniless, so my plan is to create a company where everyone does well.

LS: How do you feel about most of your stories making it on to the big screen, and the changes that get made?
A lot of the time I’ve made those changes as I’m involved in that process as a producer. For example James Bond, there has never been a James Bond film that is anything like the books. A comic is an 8 act structure so you need a twist at the end of issue 7, so that issue 8 is more dramatic. Every episode of a comic has to give you new information, whereas a movie doesn’t work like that. A movie is a 3 act structure where the audience is there from minute 1 to 120, so you don’t lose them; they are structured differently. If I didn’t like a change I could just stop it.

LS: You can make changes for things like Kick-Ass, but how do you feel about not being credited in the upcoming Civil War film?
When you work for Marvel and DC they have gigantic offices that are paid for by the writers and artists. The artists and writers can’t be paid the money they’re due to maintain those offices and staff, so there is an element of being slightly ripped off, but you have to accept that when working for them. When you go in and work for those companies you’re essentially like a painter or decorator. Ultimately you are being paid to do a job, but you don’t own the house at the end of it; that’s the way I look at it when working for DC or Marvel. It’s an amazing experience but I know I’m never going to own those characters. On Kick-Ass and Kingsman I was ultimately in control as the movies are mine. Marvel was a wonderful step towards being your own boss, so I’m very relaxed about it.

LS: Did you expect Kingsman: Secret Service to be as successful as it was, and can you tell us anything about the planned sequel?
It made twice as much money as I expected! I thought it would make about $180 million, and Matthew thought we could do $200 million, and then it made $410 million with it still to open in Japan. It only cost $81 million to make so it has a great profit margin. I never wrote a sequel because I never expected it to be as big as it was. Matthew and Jane are putting a sequel together just now and as a producer I’ll have conversations with them and bounce ideas about. Matthew and Jane together are such a formidable team I feel totally relaxed about it.

LS: What do you think of the reboot of Old Man Logan for the Secret Wars saga?
I was pleasantly surprised, because it could have gone to a rubbish guy, but it went to Brian who’s great, and now Jeff who is one of my favourite writers, so I’m really excited to see where it goes. I created the world, and Marvel asked if I was coming back to do a sequel for it and I said no, so they asked if someone else could. As long as it’s good I’m happy. What’s sad is to see something not be good, and I’ve had that happen. I’ve written books I’ve loved and then people have come in and done a bad job on it, and that’s a shame. It’s like having a kid and someone adopting it who’s a terrible parent. I’ve been fortunate with Old Man Logan and I’m pleased they handed it to them.

LS: Will you have any part in the new Wolverine film, considering it is rumoured to be based on the Old Logan storyline?
I am in the sense that I work at Fox as a consultant. I’m only there for another year so we’ll see what happens. We’ve talked about plans over the next few years. What’s amazing is Fox had a reputation of doing the less good Marvel movies such as Daredevil and Fantastic 4, but they’ve now doing awesome ones like The Wolverine and Days of Future Past. Deadpool is going to be the best of the lot; I think it’s going to be amazing. I’m proud of the period that I’ve been at Fox where the movies have been awesome.

LS: Can you tell us more information about your new story Huck?
Huck is an interesting one. On Fridays I do volunteer work, and one of the things I do is I help out people with learning difficulties. I met 2 guys who were an inspiration for Huck. I like the idea of having a superhero comic about an unlikely subject. What made Marvel different from DC is that they had characters that were more human like Peter Parker; they’re not quite as cool as Bruce Wayne and have vulnerability about them. Working with people with learning difficulties I’ve seen people who have an amazing attitude to life, who have what I would regard as a difficult time. I thought it would be nice to have a hero who is kind of like that. It feels very much in the Marvel tradition to me.

imageI like the idea of an ordinary person who was less cool than everybody else in town. A guy with learning difficulties works in a garage in his local town in Maine, who goes out and does a good dead every day, and I based that on a guy I met in Hamilton. Every day he wants to do something nice, like pay for the McDonald’s of the person behind him, or roll up £10 in a library book for the next person to find it, and I thought that’s like a superhero idea. I wanted to do a guy who has super abilities that was as sweet as that in a small town, and everybody in the small town protects him. He’s very small and very fast, so when the local people see something on the news that’s cool that’s happened they know it’s him that did it. Nobody knows he exists; if anybody in the world asks questions people in the town protect him.

When my agent read this he thought this could be a big movie, so we’ve sold it to a big director which is really exciting. Every now and again in your career you find something special, like when I did Hit-Girl, I knew this was going to work, and I feel the same about Huck. I think this will catch fire. I describe it as Forest Gump meets Captain America!

LS: Who have been your favourite artists and writers to work with over the years and why?
Artist wise I would say Frank Quitely and Goran Parlov are both amazing. I’ve been really spoilt with the fact that everyone I’ve worked with over the years has been amazing. Bryan Hitch and Adam Kubert were the first 2 superstar artists I worked with when I was doing Ultimate X-Men. I’ve never worked with a bad guy in 15 years because I was lucky that my stories sold well, so Marvel gave me whichever artist I wanted. It was a lovely position to be in because a writer is only as good as his artist, a good artist can make a bad story good but a terrible artist can destroy even the best stories. My favourite guy at the moment is Sean Murphy, as well as Rafael Albuquerque. They’re amazing and at the top of their game, but they also deliver on time and can do up to a page a day!

LS: Any artists or writers that you’ve not worked with yet that you’d like to?
I’ve been very lucky in the fact I’ve always managed to get everyone, but Adam Hughes is someone I’d like to work with. I’ve also stolen a big artist from the big 2, but I’ll be announcing who in December.

LS: What was your favourite storyline to work on so far and why?
Kick-Ass was a very good one. I enjoyed doing Wolverine, something about the character I really liked. There was something about the Enemy of the State storyline that just clicked, and the fact that John was drawing it. John is a small Italian who is extremely dangerous, so he feels right for Wolverine! I also enjoyed doing Starlight and Chrononauts. Everything I’m currently working on is genuinely my favourite thing, or else I wouldn’t do it! If I’m not enjoying it I think no-one else would enjoy it so I’d stop.

LS: So talking of Kick-Ass, what happened to the Kick-Ass sequel?
The second one simply didn’t make enough money. If a movie makes a big profit you do another one, if a movie loses money or just breaks even you don’t because it’s not worthwhile for the investors. Matthew is really interested in doing a Hit-Girl prequel but I’m not sure because I’m not a big fan of prequels. I couldn’t think of a good prequel, and then he went silent and made a very good point in mentioning X-Men: First Class!

LS: Apart from Huck, what are your future plans?
MM: I’m doing Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 2, which will wrap that up. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who worked on the Transformers movies, is making them into films. These will be the biggest movies we’ve ever done. Kick-Ass has the ceiling of $100 million, Kinsgman is at the $400 million range, and this will be at the $800-900 million range. Chrononauts will make around $700 million, but I think these will be the really big ones. We’re planning this as 3 big movies. We’ve got a director, we’ve got huge actors that we’ve got planned for it, and I think out of everything I’ve ever worked on these will be the biggest ones. We have the final issue of that to write and I’ve got the prequel series Jupiter’s Circle which there is still about an issue and a half to do. I finished Huck in the summer, and I’m about to start the project with the guy I’ve stolen from the big 2 so it’s quite exciting. I’ve also got the sequels Starlight 2 and Chrononauts 2.