Mark Millar was as outspoken as ever at the first comics convention in his home city in fifteen years: the sold out Glasgow Comic Con. After a busy day of signings, portfolio showcases and browsing the indies, Millar fielded questions about the DC reboot ("massive desperation"), the reductive nature of comics, and the thorny issue of women in comics. Plus his tongue in cheek comparison of the new JLA cover to a bad botox job.
Mark Millar was speaking on a writers panel alongside Jim Alexander, Emma Beeby, and Gordon Rennie. Glasgow Comic Con also boasted a top artists line-up that included Gary Erskine, David Lloyd, Jon Haward and many more. Frank Quitely was sadly unable to attend due to an ash cloud over his Brazillian location.
(Mark Millar: Has anyone actually heard of this ash cloud? It's probably a hash cloud!)
Most of the questions were directed at Millar - hit the jump for his thoughts.
Question: With Marvel announcing a plan to kill off a major character every month and DC relaunching their entire line, is there a lack of good creativity and writing in the medium at the moment and is it indicative of increasingly reductive sensationalism and events in comics?
Mark Millar: Definitely. There's no doubt about it. The beginning of the end was in 2006-7. When I did Civil War for Marvel, the sales were about 2 and a half times what they expected, and Marvel were like, "oh, let's go back to the bad old days!" and DC were like "let's copy them!".
And so it was being engineered really by accounts again. That's kinda what killed comics for a while in the 1990s, the early nineties, that things were event driven instead of being story driven. I mean it's a boom bust cycle, it's the way it always goes: in the 1990s it collapsed and then Marvel bid thoroughly in the early noughties, started having good writers and good artists or good characters and made it work, and they built it up over 5-6 years.
But I understand how it works, because quarterly they're accountable to their bosses and they look at what worked in the last quarter – "that big crossover with everyone in it? Let's do another one next quarter", you know? And eventually it is so reductive. The event isn't an event if it's happening all the time.
It's great for guys like us, because I left Marvel two weeks ago, after ten years, to focus entirely on creator owned. All the higher profile creators are heading off now doing their own thing. The smaller personalities are hanging around a little bit. For a few years this will probably be the case, writing and drawing things and then editorial are shaping the stories because they have a financial quarterly, they need to hit a certain number.
It's just the cycle of comics. The same thing happened twenty years ago and twenty years before that. That will wear out and then everything will change again. But unfortunately for Marvel and DC, they're in that kind of boring period just now.
And at DC it seems that there's a massive desperation, they're relaunching their entire line right now in September, all in one month. And I said, why didn't you guys just roll it out over a year so that everybody gets a chance to buy, you know, try out the first issues? And they said, we're actually more accountable to Warner Brothers now than we've ever been before – we need to show some serious profit.
It's a shame that art is coming in second really at the moment. But not in the creator owned scene. In the creator owned scene all the exciting stuff is happening. All my favourite books right now are probably independent books. That wasn't the case five years ago, when the big two were great.
Question: Comics have a bad reputation when it comes to dealing with female characters, particularly with the women in refrigerators problem. Do you think comics are better these days and are there reasons why it seems more challenging for men to write people that have boobs?
Mark Millar: I was in this film meeting in about 2006 and somebody said – I think it was when Aeon Flux came out, and it came out and it was an absolute disaster – we're never commissioning another female led action movie, people don't like female action heroes. And that's when I immediately at the Wanted production thought lets shift this character over to the female character. I don't know why but for some reason I thought it was such a stupid thing to say that I wanted to show you could do it. So we ended up shifting the character, the really cool one, away from being the James McAvoy character into what became the Angelina Jolie character. So that meant the big star who was originally going to be the Wesley Gibson character became the female character so we got a big actress for it. And then I did the same with Hit-Girl as well and tried to make her the cool one. And the new project I'm doing with Frank Quitely has a really good new character we've been doing, a female character, that I think is quite different again, quite iconic.
And I just thought, what a stupid thing to say, that half the population can't be action heroes. And I'm trying to prove it [wrong] with these films.
Question: Now that you've left Marvel, are you tempted to join DC? It's no secret that you are a huge Superman fan.
Mark Millar: It's a tricky one because if you're a fan of something, sometimes it's really alluring, the idea of going and doing it. But then, I love the Clangers, I love the Wombles, I like the Mr Men, but I don't want to write them! I like them existing, I love it as part of my life, my childhood especially, but the idea of doing back and doing it... I don't know, I feel that ship has sailed. Even two years ago I think it would have been a wee bit different but I just feel the exciting stuff that's happening just now is creator owned. Something like Kick-Ass is the most fun I've ever had writing anything and I could never get away with doing something like that at DC, I'd feel as if I was wearing a straightjacket. Dealing with corporate culture, everything that I wanted to stop doing at Marvel is ten times worse with DC
I love owning my own characters. I interviewed Stan Lee a few years ago and Stan said why don't you just do your own characters, I didn't go and write Superman and Batman, I went off and created Marvel guys.
The culture atrophies if we just keep recycling the same thing, and when I saw the new Justice League that's coming out in September, all slightly redesigned, it just felt like when you see Sylvester Stallone's mum with botox?! It just looks weird. How many times can Batman kick the shit out of the Joker? How many times can the Penguin cause grief? If Galactus hasn't destroyed the Earth the last forty times, chances are things are going to be fine!
The End: Excusing himself to leave for his daughter's birthday party (d'aww), Millar made sure to sign something for everyone in the insanely long queue before departing. The newest re-entry on the UK Comic Con calender appeared to be a great success.
Glasgow Comic Con - Be there next year!