Mark Millar is a man who is best described as comic book royalty. As well as having worked on a who’s who of comic book characters, Millar has also found fantastic success in his self-created work, with Wanted, Kick-Ass and The Secret Service already adapted for the big screen and a whole load of other Millarworld properties lined up for cinematic adaptations. The Scot’s latest work, Huck, is available now, and we were lucky enough to grab some time with Mark to talk changing attitudes in comic books, superheroes, movies, and why Superman snapping General Zod’s neck in Man of Steel was a step too far.
STARBURST: So the first issue of Huck came out on November 18th. How excited are you about this book?
Mark Millar: It’s quite exciting because I actually wrote it about Christmas time last year. I’ve got this new policy where I write so far ahead so that the artist can’t screw it up. I write it and then get the artist to draw it all before I release a series now, and it’s working really nicely.
We remember hearing that Millarworld was introducing such a policy a little while ago, and that’s clearly working well then?
It’s something that Marvel and DC don’t do because they’ve got sixty or seventy books a month. A modestly-costed book has cost me $20,000 a month, and my book has cost me $35,000 a month. So you spread that out across the line, you’re talking almost $2 million there potentially every month. But I only do two books a month, so it’s not too bad. So what I do is I stockpile them and it’s never late – it’s brilliant! I wish I’d thought of this years ago. It’s weird. I think people used to be more forgiving. Just as a reader myself, I get really annoyed if something’s late. It’s a bit like a television show that’s on incredibly sporadically.
It’s even more annoying when it’s a good story. If it was a shitty story then obviously people wouldn’t be all that bothered if it’s delayed.
If it was rubbish you’d actually want it delayed as long as possible. Unfortunately it’s always the good stuff that’s like that. I think it’s because the good stuff takes time, but it’s the same with art in general. You can get guys drawing two issues a month if they’re crap, but if they’re really brilliant then it does just take forever.
Sticking with Huck, having read the first issue, it’s a really refreshing read. Given how comic books have had their profiles raised thanks to the success of comic book-based movies, everybody seemingly wants to see the anti-heroes, the badasses, the grey area heroes. With Huck, it’s almost a hark back to years gone by in the way that there’s a kind, silent, compassionate hero who saves the day and also cuts people’s grass.
It’s the anti-anti-hero. The anti-hero was absolutely essential in the ‘70s, when it became popular by the time you’d been reading stuff like The Punisher. Then it had seeped through to Batman by the ‘80s. Even now, it was probably up until 2013 when Superman solved a problem by snapping General Zod’s neck, that’s when you think “Okay, we’ve taken this anti-hero as far as it can. All we can now is having Mickey Mouse beheading a guy.” I just think the anti-anti-hero is traditional heroism and it’s actually really exciting to write. And people are reading it and realising that this is what it’s supposed to be about.
We’re glad it’s not just us who took umbrage with that neck snap. But thinking of it, that was around the time that Batman ’66 launched and people took an interest in brighter books and what made heroes great again. Yourself, you’ve certainly done some dark work over the years, even the stuff with Civil War or Superman: Red Son or Kick-Ass. With more recent work, like Superior and Starlight, you seem to have taken a more back-to-basics approach. Was that something that you purposely did or was it a case of trying to fit in with the world now?
I’ve always kind of flipped between the two. I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to do these things, there’s just a different away. And when you get bored with one thing, you just move on to the other one. For example, before I did The Authority and The Ultimates and Civil War, the stuff that’s a bit harder, I was doing Superman Adventures which was aimed at 6 – 9 year olds, and I loved it. I had a great time doing that book. Then when I was doing Kick-Ass I was doing a thing called Marvel 1985 which was like a Marvel Comics meets Steven Spielberg kind of thing. Then there was Nemesis and Superior, so I always like to mix it up. But I’d say that there was certainly a shift in the zeitgeist. I would say it began round about 2012 and I think that’s probably the first Avengers movie - you know, the good one? There were jokes and it was almost as if we were allowed to laugh again. After September 11th, everything had to be very serious. It was like the world was in mourning, there was constant war, there was constant recessions. There was just bad news all the time. It was kind of like superheroes responded by being very serious about everything. Then suddenly it was almost like it was time to lighten up a little bit. The Avengers was full of great jokes, so everybody came out of it in a good mood. And that’s why I thought Man of Steel seemed so odd, because it felt so out of step with how we were all starting to feel. Then 2014 saw something even more than The Avengers, which was Guardians . I remember going to see Guardians and looking at the people coming out of Planet of the Apes, the second Planet of the Apes movie, which was incredible. Then I went and saw Planet of the Apes and saw the people coming out of Guardians. What was amazing was everybody was buzzing coming out of Guardians but everyone was depressed coming out of Planet of the Apes. The primary focus of entertainment should be entertaining, so things like Starlight and Chrononauts are all kind of upbeat and make you feel good. If you’re spending $3.50 then you want to feel a lot better after you’ve read that book. It’s the same with the movies. I think one of the reasons that Kingsman made over $400 million was because it was good fun. Huck is probably the ultimate though. I tried to create the ultimate feel-good comic with that.
With the first issue of Huck, it’s almost operating on a community level. Is the plan to take the scope wider and operate on a world level going forward?
Something would be really odd if it was just like a kids’ TV show or something. It’s got to be dramatic, in the same way that Forrest Gump was dramatic; there were moments in Forrest Gump where you wanted to cry, then there were moments in Forrest Gump that were very exciting. These scenarios are dangerous at times, the problems he’s solving are real problems. That’s what makes it interesting; it’s not a 1940s movie, it’s a traditional hero character who we’re really worrying about because of learning difficulties and this kind of thing, and he’s put in these frightening scenarios. That’s the secret of the book, it’s like a Frank Capra character in the modern world for me.
Where did the initial concept for Huck come from then?
Well there were a couple of things really. I’d had the idea in my head for a few years now. I liked the idea of a character who was just a nice guy. I got in to the superhero comics not because the guys were badass. I didn’t think Batman’s so cool and so driven and so tormented, I just thought Batman’s awesome, he’s got a cape and a cool car. I could only see the positive aspects of growing up like that. I think I liked their kindness. The superheroes were out there doing something for no money. That’s what drew me in as a kid. But everything that’s been created, certainly in my time, they seem to become increasingly dark and more tormented. I just thought that for a little change it would be good to do a complete 180 on that and create a character that you worry about. I don’t really worry about The Punisher, I feel The Punisher is gonna be okay. If he’s in a bad situation, I know that the people around him are going to come off worse. But to create a character that’s such an affable person, somebody who you really worry about, that was the challenge and I just thought I’d try it and see how it goes. What I’ve learnt, I think I’ve discovered probably on Starlight, is that if you make the character incredibly likeable, and I know this sounds so obvious, but if you make him incredibly likeable then when he’s in a bad situation you can’t wait for the next issue to make sure he’s alright.
With Starlight, it was a great concept to have this old man who’s poked fun at, then his old life again becomes his new life, and he’s always the hero at the end of the day. Thinking of favourite heroes, Spider-Man is one that comes to mind, and you make a great point about how we all initially like these guys because of how good a hero they were and how relatable they could be.
I think it’s their niceness. I never once read Spider-Man as a kid and thought that he was such a badass that I wanted to see him mess guys up. But that’s the fundamental of modern superhero comics, like to make the guy as troubled as possible. To me, it’s been fun. It’s been fun to read it and it’s been fun to write it.
And what’s the release schedule for Huck?
It’s three books, it’s gonna be three volumes and each one is six issues long. It runs from November through to April, then there’ll be a break and we’ll come back for Volume 2. It’s very exciting. I’d like to have all three done by the time the movie comes out. We’ll hopefully be going with the movie by the end of next year.
With Jupiter’s Legacy and Jupiter’s Circle, that’s another series that’s different in terms of the modern landscape of comics. There’s the capitalism and recession angle, there’s the old heroes handing over to new heroes, there’s groupies and endorsement deals, parties, etc. Where did that concept come from?
That’s from hanging around Hollywood. What I discovered was that there are so many people who are massively successful and super rich yet their kids are a nightmare. I know that sounds incredibly obvious, but there were guys who were the nicest guys on the planet but their kids are a disaster. It’s kind of like if you become super famous and super wealthy and super successful, you have to pay a price – and the price is probably your family life. I saw it and it inspired me to go and write something about it. Just imagine your mum and dad were Superman and Wonder Woman, and that was the starting point for me. Carrie Fisher’s book was very influential to me as well – the idea of a very famous mother and a very famous father, and it’s impossible to live up to either of them. I put that into a superhero dynamic and thought about these kids not being happy; they’ve got everything but they’re not happy, and what they’re missing is the sense of altruism that their parents have. So by introducing altruism into their life they’re forced to be heroes. Again, another weirdly upbeat thing.
You mentioned Kingsman before, and we’ve all agreed in the office that it’s one of the best films of the year. How happy were you with that adaptation? And with a sequel now confirmed, does that put pressure on you to write a follow-up or are you happy for the guys on the film to crack on and do what they want to do?
No, I’ve only written the one book, and I wrote it back in 2010. I wrote it so long ago. Obviously I was a producer on the film and I suspected this would be happening, but I didn’t expect the movie to be as big as it was. I thought it was going to be big because it was good, but I didn’t expect it to be $412 million big. There was no guarantee of a sequel so I booked myself up for the next three or four years, so Matthew . It’s really exciting. I was up at Matthew’s house recently and got to see some of the screenplay. Him and Jane have written about half of it now and blocked out the second half, and it looks great.
Our big boss man, Mike, probably described it best by saying that it’s what he’d want to see from a James Bond film in certain ways. Bond is doing huge numbers these days even though the quality of the films aren’t always that great, but with Kingsman it made spy films cool again and just kept your attention for the whole movie.
I agree with just doing a big Bank Holiday fun thing. If I took you to watch Skyfall and Quantum of Solace on a Bank Holiday Monday then you’d all be depressed. The idea of just doing something that you can sit with your dad, apart from the ass joke at the end, but the idea is to sit with your mum and dad and just enjoy a good spy movie.
Obviously there’s been two Kick-Ass movies to date, and the last time we talked to you there was a possibility of Kick-Ass 3 or a Hit-Girl-based spin-off movie to come. Despite being generally well received, Kick-Ass 2 didn’t hit the heights of the first movie, so do you think the chance of any further films is gone now?
I’m a great believer in the market, and I think if the market wants something then the market gets it to happen. If the people want another Avatar movie then they all go and see Avatar. Online, people say they’d love a Kick-Ass 3 movie, but I always say to them that the honest truth is that the second one didn’t make enough money. That’s entirely what it comes down to. It’s an investment essentially. You get a certain return, and if something doesn’t make as much as the first one did then you won’t get another one. I think the first movie cost $28 million and made $100 million. The second movie cost $24 million and made $60 million. It was still in profit but it’s just not worth their while to get back in and do a third one. You never know. Matthew’s very keen to do a Hit-Girl movie, to do a prequel film. I’m not sure as I’m not a great fan of prequels; I always think prequels are weird because you know what’s going to happen, you know who’s going to die and everything. I actually said to him to name one good prequel movie ever, I said every prequel’s crap, there’s never been a good prequel, and he said to me, “X-Men: First Class, you dick!”
With your other Millarworld properties, it seems that so many of them are in the process of big screen adaptations. Where do things stand with that stuff right now?
American Jesus and Supercrooks are both being done by the same people, actually. I was in Los Angeles about two months ago and we had a handshake on both of those. They’ll be formally announced probably over the next few weeks. The ones that are still in development, in order, the Kingsman sequel’s going to start shooting at Easter, we’ve got Superior and Starlight shooting at the end of summer, we want to get Huck and Chrononauts shooting early in the next new year if not before, then Jupiter’s Legacy the following spring, spring 2017, and American Jesus and Supercrooks are around that time as well. Over twenty-four months we should’ve shot eight films.
The last time we spoke to you, you said that the aim was to have two or three Millarworld films in production each year. That was certainly ambitious, and it’s clearly paying off.
Some things will come along and be outside your control, like a director will walk off a project, somebody will read a screenplay and say it’s not right so you lose an actor. We could have four or five shooting in one year because of all the different studios. It’s kind of funny really; it’s not like Marvel where they do two or three a year. We can do tons as they’re spread over several studios.
You mentioned earlier how you’re a fan of superhero movies being bright and exciting, and you’re also the Creative Consultant on 20th Century Fox’s Marvel movies. With that said, Fox put out Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four earlier this year, which was very dark and gloomy and ended up bombing despite some initial promise. What do you think went wrong there?
I honestly can’t really say. It would be so unfair to do so. As somebody who sits in the room with people before they start a movie, you’re given a certain level of trust.
Can you say whether the initial idea changed a lot by the time that it came to the screen?
I think Josh had his own version of it. He’d just done a terrific movie, Chronicle, and one thing I will say is that Fox hired him because they loved Chronicle. It’s just things don’t always go to plan.
Is there anything you can say about the third Wolverine movie and whether there’s going to be at least an element of Old Man Logan in it?
I know everything but I can’t say anything because I’ve signed an NDA. What my job really is is I sit in a room with the execs and we talk about potential storylines or potential directors or potential writers to come in and do stuff. So you’re really doing ultra-top secret chats, so that’s weirdly the stuff that I almost can’t chat about. I know exactly what happens with the final Hugh Jackman movie, and it sounds great. It should take me to the end of my contract, actually.
Taking the discussion back to your own properties, out of all of the Millarworld properties that are being developed into movies, which one has you most excited?
I think Superior’s going to be gigantic. I think that’s going to hit it on the head – we know the actor for that one, we’re hopefully zeroing in on a director, and I think it’s the best screenplay that I’ve ever had on any of my adaptations. It’s just genuinely funny. It feels very much like one of those 1980s movies where it’s just a good night out. Kingsman tapped into that a little bit, but this feels like a big family film that everybody can enjoy, everybody can laugh about. The guys who did the screenplay, they’re called the Riley Brothers. I’d never read any of their stuff before, they’re both new, but one of them’s a stand-up comedian. I think that’s the one I’m most excited about because I think it’ll be the biggest surprise. It’s kind of everything I want in a superhero movie. It’s big in scale, a good laugh, and you leave the cinema hopefully feeling great. I can’t wait!
Are you particularly looking forward to the Nemesis adaptation as well?
Nemesis should be really good but a very different kind of movie. Nemesis will feel more like the ultimate cop versus the ultimate bad guy. It’ll be darker, but I think where my head is now is I’m more excited about Superior. Nemesis is actually over at a different studio right now, it’s actually over at Warner Brothers. What’s great about that is that we’re getting a really, really high-end team on this, which is exciting. But what is does mean is that because we jumped studios we’re starting from scratch.
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