Audiences don’t want to wake up: Comic book writer Mark Millar interviewed
Mark Millar has a raging hangover, but he couldn’t be more cheerful or enthusiastic. “ People say they get worse with age, but I have a reverse hangover where I feel amazing. I wake up at four or five and I’m good to go!
I caught him on a Sunday morning on my way to mass after three grueling weeks in which he did up to 45 interviews a day to promote Jupiter’s legacy, his hit superhero series for Netflix. He should be nervous: This is his first big project out of the blocks since (in 2017) the studio bought out its publishing company Millarworld for $ 50-100 million. Instead, as always, he sparkles with energy, enthusiasm and optimism.
The reason, he explains, is that he was born with some sort of superpower. “ I never felt I could fail, ” he says, comparing his boundless self-confidence to that of World War II fighter ace Douglas Bader “ who never had the feeling like he was going to die on the plane because he was Douglas Bader. “.
Having a warm, loving and supportive family has also helped. “ Although we belong to a poor working-class community [on an estate in Coatbridge, outside Glasgow] – Mum was a housekeeper, dad a steelworker – there was always incredible optimism and joy in everything. No one ever told me it was time to grow up.
Even his older siblings were like a league of superheroes, each with their own special power. “One has incredible business acumen; another likes showbiz; another is very, very social and everyone in town knows him. When Mark showed an interest in a career in comics (he made his debut at age five), his family came together rather than telling him to get down to business and find a decent job.
So for ten years, from the age of 19, Millar worked as a writer for comics like 2000AD, earning just enough money to be able to party every night. Just as his career seemed to be going nowhere and he was considering moving into TV scriptwriting, someone gave him an assignment that would be his last chance at comics. It was a ‘naughty version’ of Justice League called The Authority.
For a change, Millar decided to write the kind of comic he would like to read himself rather than one he felt he should write. “It was outrageous: supervillains having sex with corpses; abortions with superpowers. It was also a MASSIVE success.
On the strength of The Authoritysuccess, Millar was recruited by Marvel – then on the verge of bankruptcy – to revamp its comic book catalog, which included X Men and the Avengers. Millar was so successful that these went on to grow into massive movie franchises. In one screenplay, he had the character of Nick Fury drawn – without the actor’s permission – to look like Samuel L. Jackson. A decade later, after Jackson was signed up to play the role, Millar met him and said, ‘Sorry I stole your head. Jackson replied, “ Thanks for the nine movie deal, motherfucker! ”
In 2004, he felt secure enough to go independent and started Millarworld, which produced a series of successful comic books to films, including Research (with Angelina Jolie), Kick assand Kingsman. No studio wanted to touch Kick ass (they were especially put off by the pubescent sworn killer called Hit Girl – who will later be played by Chloë Grace Moretz), so her friend, director Matthew Vaughn, did the unthinkable and funded it himself. It cost $ 28 million and grossed $ 240 million. Point proven.
Although Millar sees himself as a far-left Corbynista and supports the idea of massive redistribution of wealth, he also strongly believes in market power. What the market is saying on television and to producers right now, he thinks, is that the public doesn’t want to wake up; they want edgy, entertaining, dark, surreal and subversive. In the genre of superheroes, he quotes the blackly cynical dead Pool (who made $ 850 million. Millar likes to talk about budgets and big ones); and his dark and ultragory friend Garth Ennis The boys, which attracted at least 40 million viewers on Amazon.
While his Jupiter’s legacy(and its sequel Circle of Jupiter) is not as nihilistic or slyly postmodern as The boysit always looks daringly different – not least because of the powerful moral fable that lurks under drugs and violence. Its hero, the Utopian, is a God-fearing Christian who insists his family say mercy before meals and bind his fellow superheroes to a rigid code that forbids them to kill, no matter how bad their enemies may be. evil and destructive. He is so dignified, indeed, that he threatens to get a little boring. It’s only after many episodes that we’ll see how fair Utopian is – and how wrong its critics are.
“I’m completely traditional,” Millar says, recalling the time he shocked a Hollywood dinner – “there were atheists and Buddhists and a few Satanists” – admitting he was a Catholic at mass. “Everyone was speechless, even the Satanists. The only thing you are not allowed to be in Hollywood is traditional.
When Christianity is portrayed onscreen, he says, it’s invariably “harsh, with someone quoting the Bible and slapping you.” But Millar finds nothing but joy in his Catholic faith. “ All of my buddies that grew up were altar boys which could have been quite difficult in a tough subdivision but we all got along, a real mix of people. I was in Basil Rathbone; another friend of mine was stealing cars all the time.
This partly explains the unusual range of tone and mood in Millar’s work, from cheerful irresponsibility and childish love of outrageous violence to a mature, meditative moral philosophy. “I absolutely love to cheat on everyone. People think they put you in a box and then you say, “No no no. I can do that too… ”“ Entertainment, however, he thinks, should be paramount. When he wrote Kingsman, for example, he was trying to recreate the playful spirit of the early James Bond films. That ITV holiday Monday feeling, rather than that suicidal feeling you get after watching one of those brooding Daniel Craig acts. When I was little I slept with a toy gun under my pillow because that’s what James Bond did. Today we seem to miss those male action heroes – where are the John McClanes, the Rambos? – and I want to create a lot more.
He is extraordinarily prolific: where does all this come from? It sounds pretentious, he says, “but it’s kind of like having a shoot. The stories are out there in the ether wanting to be told, waiting to be born – and you just have to tap into that. All ideas have their moment, he thinks, which is why creatives often have the same ideas simultaneously but independently of each other. His inspiration seems inexhaustible. “I could sit down today and if I thought about it, I could offer three franchises. He has always admired creatives who can do more than one thing. ‘Ian Fleming didn’t do that James bond, he also did Uncle man and Chitty chitty bang bang, so that’s three things, which is pretty awesome. But what really impressed me was when I learned that Stan Lee had created 15 great ones.
Stan Lee, creator – among others – of Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk is one of Millar’s greatest heroes. “He always worked standing – he created one of those standing desks in the 1940s – and he lived to be 95 years old. I like this enthusiasm. It keeps you 20 years younger.
Jupiter’s Legacy is available on Netflix.