This week, I caught up with Coatbridge-born, internationally acclaimed comic book writer Mark Millar. I was very fortunate that Mark could fit me into his incredibly busy schedule as he was heading for London just hours after our interview to spend a few days on the set of his new film, Kick-Ass 2, which is set to be released in summer 2013.
This was a great opportunity to pick the brains of a man who is at the top of his industry, to discover a bit more about his opinions on the comic book world and the Mark Millar that not everyone gets to see.
Q: Do you still remember your first comic book?
A: I can actually tell you exactly what it was. It was my big brother that bought it for me; he loved comics but was too embarrassed to buy them for himself, so he would buy comics and would pretend they were for me. The first one he got for me was a reprint of an American Spiderman comic that came out in 1973, and I got it in 1976. As it turns out, this is a really pivotal comic; it’s a real classic. Peter Parker actually breaks his own girlfriend’s neck, finds out that the Green Goblin is his best friend’s dad and then accidentally stabs the Green Goblin in the chest and kills him. To top it off, he then goes home and finds his best friend on acid. I was a kid and didn’t know what acid was, but I remember thinking it was unusual and that this was the greatest thing I’d ever read!
Q: What was it like being a comic book geek at school?
A: It’s funny, actually. When I was at school everyone was into it. For you it was like an equivalent of Pokémon; everyone had the cards and would swap stuff at lunchtime. I was in primary three when British Marvel really took off in 1977, and there was literally not a kid in my class who wasn’t into it. We were all very literate, looking back on it. We all knew Superman and Spiderman but we also read a lot of the obscure stuff. I just remained into it. Other people drifted off by about primary six from the comic book scene but I was savvy enough to keep it quiet – I was an undercover fan. I suppose it was a survival mechanism, especially in St. Ambrose. When I was in third year, one of my teachers was really into comic books, which was really cool. This really showed me that it wasn’t something you had to grow out of and could, instead, develop it.
Q: What is your favourite comic book that you own?
A: I actually lost a lot of my comics when I was a kid. Thankfully, eBay exists for middle-aged men to get things back that they had when they were kids! I tracked all of my favourites down and framed them all. Having these comics framed really powers me up and reminds me of why I’m so into it. Even when I’m tired after having done an all-nighter, it reminds me that I’m living the dream.
Q: If you were to take one comic book and one album on to a desert island, which ones would you take?
A: My absolute favourite band of all time is Queen. I remember I would actually buy albums to put at the front of my collection just so I could hide the stuff that I actually listened to! I love the early stuff and my favourite album is, unashamedly, Queen II. Comic book wise, I’d take The Dark Knight Returns. I read it when I was 16 and it was the comic book that made me realise that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
Q: What do you do on a daily basis? Take us through the daily routine of an internationally acclaimed comic book writer.
A: I sit at my desk from nine until six every day. The only days I really take off are Christmas or if we go away on a family holiday — I’m really religious about it. Everybody always assumes I’m at premieres, but it’s not the case. If you’re not at your computer all day, you’re not a writer- you’re a part time writer. In the evenings I always go out. On Saturdays and Sundays, I don’t even pick up a pen; I don’t do emails – nothing. Normally, I don’t let anyone call me after 6 just so I can relax — I’m usually quite strict about that. When we’re making a film, I usually go on-set for a couple of weeks, but I’m usually more involved with the preparation. Basically, I spend most of my time at my computer — it’s a bit like being unemployed!
Q: What is the biggest achievement of your career?
A: Probably starting my own thing — going off and creating my own thing, really. It was actually Stan Lee that asked me why I never created my own characters. It wasn’t really something I’d thought about. It was a real moment for me. It was like Moses with the burning bush – I realised that this is what I had to do with my life. I phased myself out of Marvel a few years ago. I was doing The Avengers at the same time as I was doing Wanted; I tested the waters, it went massive, and I knew it would be fine. I then went from part-time Millarworld to going full-time Millarworld in the past year or so.
Q: What would you say is the biggest disappointment of your career?
A: I’ve actually been really lucky that any disappointment has been compounded with something good that’s going on, throughout my career. Even when it hasn’t worked out, I’ve always left companies before they’ve wanted rid of me. It’s an important lesson to learn that sometimes you’ve got to get off the stage while they’re clapping! I’d probably say that the first ten years of my career was my biggest disappointment. I came into the industry when I was 19 at a time when it was collapsing; I just came in at the wrong time. Our jobs were constantly on the line, and a few hundred comic book sales, one way or the other would make or break us every month. Five shops closing around the world would have been enough to put me under. My whole life has been avoiding a proper job and I made it by the skin of my teeth for the first ten years!
Q: Just to talk about Wanted, the comic book is really quite different from the film – how do you feel about that?
A: Oh, it’s great. It wasn’t like they snatched it from me and changed everything! I was involved in every big decision. I sold Wanted to Universal in 2004 after the comic book sales went through the roof. To be approached by Universal with the proposition of making this into a film was just amazing. Even if they’d offered to set it in 15th century Paris, I’d still have leapt at it. I almost thought it was a prank because it was my first ever create your own book, it wasn’t even out yet and I had a film offer! The book was really aimed at comic book fans and not the mainstream. This is what prompted a lot of the changes because the mainstream just wouldn’t have got a lot of the in-jokes and references.
Q: Wanted is quite a violent film. You’ve also got a few violent scenes in Kick-Ass, in particular, Hit Girl’s infamous use of the ‘C’ word. How do you feel about censorship in films?
A: I think censorship is a good thing, as long as they don’t censor my stuff! I’m really quite conservative when it comes to censorship. I think there’s a time and a place for everything. If it’s a 15 or an 18 movie, anything goes because you’ve already censored the number of people who can come in to see it. When it’s a kid’s film, you’ve got to bring the shutters down. Although, I was shocked when Chloe Moretz, who plays Hit Girl, told me that when she was 11 she loved Wanted. She told me her mum took her to see it and I was absolutely horrified! Even though I had her saying the ‘C’ word!
Q: The Kick-Ass 2 comic was fairly controversial and you have said that every controversy will be included in the film. How well to you think these controversies will transfer from paper to film?
A: Great! We’ve gone over the screenplay meticulously and it works. To see it drawn is slightly different to seeing it happen to real people. There’s a few things which have been slightly toned down because it can just be too much sometimes. Basically, the comic is the movie. There’s a couple of bits that have been toned down, a few scenes added; but, largely, it’s the same thing.
Q: How do you feel about your cameo role in the film?
A: I’m still not sure what it is! It’s this week and I still don’t really know. They’ve told me I might be fighting my friend John Romita Jr. who is a martial arts expert and does two hours of bodybuilding every day! He has veins popping out everywhere and is in insanely good shape. Genuinely, a week ago, I started a high protein, low carbohydrate diet and I’ve been doing push-ups and running and stuff. Unfortunately, he’s got 56 years of bodybuilding behind him!
Q: What’s your favourite cameo role in any film?
A: I like the ones that you don’t know it’s the person themselves. I love the one in Diary of the Dead where Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright from Sean of the Dead are all in there as zombies, but you don’t really realise it because of the makeup. In Kick-Ass 2, I’ve done a really sneaky thing. I’ve given every one of the Millarworld books a cameo: so, in Mindy’s bedroom, the superhero headquarters, in Dave’s bedroom there will be giant Millarworld posters. It’s subliminal advertising!
Q: Is the comic book industry what it used to be? How is it doing today in comparison to how it was?
A: It’s totally different. Growing up in the 90s, if I was reading a comic in public, I’d be genuinely embarrassed. I could even have seen myself putting my comics on the inside of a Playboy on the train home just to make it acceptable! It’s just so different now. I think Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie in 2000 changed everything. It had a whole different tone. This was followed by the Spiderman movie in 2001 and all the subsequent movies helped that too. It’s got to a point where I don’t know anyone who is between 18 and 25 who isn’t into comic book movies — they’ve all got at least 5 on their DVD shelves. This is a great period we’re in right now and I reckon that it will last until the end of this decade then video game movies will take over. Things like Assassin’s Creed and Halo seem to be an indicator of this.
Q: Is the future bright for comic book films?
A: Anything that isn’t Batman is going to struggle. I think the characters are a bit too old. The Green Lantern is a man who has a magic ring that makes green plasma manifestations of thoughts he has; I mean, how can you market that to kids? Spiderman seems like a real person who has been bitten by a spider, and things like Kick-Ass are even closer to the real world. I think we will get a good five years of experimental stuff and there will be a bunch of good movies. I think in about 2018 comic books will go away for a while and will become a bit more niche. I’ve also noticed that comic books tie in with economic trends. Superheroes were created in the depression; were massive in the Cold War; were massive in the oil crisis; were massive in the 90s when George Bush Sr. had his first depression. However, in good economic times, nobody wants superheroes. Thankfully, the world is in chaos right now and everybody wants them! That’s another reason why I think they’re so big just now and another reason why I think it will die down towards the end of this decade. That being said, I don’t think we’ve peaked yet and I think we’ve got a good few years to enjoy in the future.