Mark Millar

Kapow Diary 4: Frank Quitely, the Guinness Book of World Records and the Trouble with Gibbons (Pt 1)

You should always try to meet your heroes. There is a reason they’re your heroes. Frank Quitely is a genius. Capable of mixing line work with beautific composition like a parisian master in between the erratic highs of victorian period heroin and a sharp dose of Absinthe. Man’s a magician of the highest order and I respect him greatly. He is an Alan Silverstri. One of those artists that you pull out of the drawer when you want to make a million bucks on a comic book. You could write about Ingrid Bergman’s feet – nobody cares because Silvestri or Quitely’d make them look better than Ingrid’s herself!!

It should also be said that there is a fine art in the meeting of your heroes. One of them is not to tell them loudly about your mate’s baby’s unnaturally hard head. But I did and that was the least of it. I didn’t even limit it to my all time hero, I scattered my absurd intros to any legend of comicdom that’d stop and listen. For f@ck’s sake don’t make eye contact with me – I’ll tell you my Nan’s name!

I arrived at the Kapow Comicon on Saturday with a zen-like attitude towards what would take place. As far as I was concerned I’d roll up with the kit, set up the tables, sell some books and make our way. But this plan was shot to buggery. Firstly, its important to understand that artists do enjoy a certain degree of anonymity as they move around these comic cons. People know them for their work but they don’t know them on sight. Some artists defy this by looking exactly like you think they will. John Romita Jr looks like he’ll plug yer as soon as look at yer on some newspaper strewn street, Dave Gibbons looks like the friendly old penciller you’d expect to see sitting quietly and calmly at a drawing board under a arm lamp finalising the finishing touches on his latest piece, Brian Bolland looks like a gentlemen who can’t let a page go ’til he has lovingly and caringly cross created it like a kindly Gepetto fashioning his wooden boy and so on. Simon Bisley looks like a biker etc, etc. But only when you know who they are – by dint of they’re career they are an invisible presence. They’re an unseen hand, leaving a slap mark on the rump of the comic industry without anybody getting a good look at them.

But they are also the bass guitarist to the Writers lead singer. The artist, at his height is what gives the fans what they need and drives the lyric and lead guitar forward. You get an action sequence, that my friends is the artists guitar solo. Pyow, Nyoooow, rooooooow. (Ahem). They have the capacity to enthrall and infuriate. Its on the strength of their work alone – except for extremely gifted autistics who can read a book front to back in a second – that a book is initially picked up. They’re the good guys who never say a wrong word – cos they never write one down. And I was about to run into a few of them.

The Guinness Book of Records event was being set up at the far end of the event, by the IGN stands and the entrance. An intention to create a comic book using the greatest number of artists in one day. The original script being written by Mark Millar and then possibly expanded upon, I later overheard, by other script writers. It was a great idea. The pages split into three panels, an artist taking on one each and producing a full length comic book to be printed by Marvel comics that afternoon.

Having missed the E-mail I went down to the stand it was all taking place at (by the IGN stand at the front) to sign up which I did. Up on the stage was Leinil Yu and Frank Quitely, quietly finishing their panels. This was a quiet sight with not many people around and the Guinness Book of Records crew oblivious to who was sitting there. They didn’t care. They don’t read comic books. They read the Guinness Book of Records and the Roy Castle Autobiography. Anyway, I found myself in a strange predicament as I was the only one aware of the importance of the two gentlemen sitting in front of me. These were giants of the industry. These were the poster boys for the industry I’m trying to break into. However, they were also practitioners of the art I want to be part of and so should be afforded professional courtesy right. Professional courtesy probably extends to not bothering them while they’re working on a taped off raised table but what the hell – this was Frank Quitely and Leinil Yu.

I said to one of crew ‘, Woah. That’s Frank Quitely and Lienil Yu.’
‘Oh’, he replied politely in a way that I would if someone had said ‘Woah. That’s Tamara Beckwith and Natalie Pong,’ (I made the second name up which gives you some perspective).
‘Who are they?’ The Guinness representative inquire, helpfully, realising he might need to know.
I did well here in keeping calm but I mentioned ‘All Star Superman, X-Men, Hulk, Wolverine’ ‘Geniuses, ‘ and ‘in awe’ at least once.
‘You should meet them.’ the Guinness representative said. What a prick. What f@cking unhelpful, cheerful, friendly prick.
‘No I shouldn’t,’ I said – thinking on some level that I shouldn’t.

In this discourse Leinil Yu stood up. signed off on his panel and started moving off the stage. As he did so Lucy Unwin, the organiser, moved in to shuffle him off. Yu seemed kinda placid and calm. I moved forwards with the intention of talking to him. I stopped short of saying touching him. What would I want to touch him for? Weird. Whatever. It actually wasn’t about touching but by now Lucy was very efficiently whisking Leinil away. However, still sitting unguarded by the surrounding Guinness Book of Records representatives, still oblivious to the pure legend they had sitting amongst them quietly unaware, was Frank Quitely. Now I could be properly mental. As the Guinness representative insisted ahead of me that I should introduce myself as he’s my hero – I felt that pull. The feeling I get when I’m entering uncertain psychological territory and the edges of my behaviour begin to thin. I focussed sharply, trying to occupy my mind on simply introducing myself to my long time hero. So I went the other way. Not wanting to be a fanboy.

So I caught his attention. ‘Vincent,’ I said.

The thing you have to understand is that I had written about Quitely, and Leinil Yu and many other of the other Practitioners present at Kapow (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, Brendan McCarthy, Dave Gibbons) in a series of articles I’ve written for this site – never once thinking about what it would mean when I met them. I can tell you right now when you’re faced with a hero and hopefully, one day, a colleague you admire and respect the weirdest thing to know – and something I don’t usually – is what school they went to – or their real name. Frank Quitely’s is Vincent, Vincent Deighan. And I’d just used it like I knew him. And I don’t. Never met him in my life. And obviously, neither has he. And now he was looking at me wondering if I knew him.

So things had changed now. I knew Frank Quitely by name and he’d turned and expected a mate or a colleague but it was a man, scruffy like an ancient sheep who came to tell him he loved him. Using your actual name and then telling them you love him didn’t seem apt. So my brain opted for another angle. One that justified the use of his personal name…

BEN MORGAN! Ben Morgan was my partner on the original Beyond the Bunker and lived in Edinburgh. He had claimed a short while ago that he had been drinking with Frank Quitely. ‘If you’re lying Morgan I’ll fly to the South side of the Forth and nut you you bear tree mother f@cker’ I thought at that point. Frank acknowledged the association and said he hadn’t seen him since before he had his son. He then waited quietly while I told him that ‘ things have been rough for Ben recently, he’s only just got a job.’ Who the f@ck cares about Benjamin Morgan my brain was telling me on some level – give him your book, tell him you love him – his WORK – YOU LOVE HIS WORK (F@CK’S SAKE!)

This was supposedly enough of a connection for me so I asked if he was going for a drinks tonight and he said ‘yeah, he most probably would,’ and he asked where was good to go. I didn’t know. I’d been drinking round the area in recent weeks and had completely forgotten the name of any pubs. So now I was arranging to go for a pint with the guy on the basis and that he had had a drink with one of my mates in Edinburgh and a three minute conversation.

I chucked him Moon 1, saying we were making it available to legends (thereby swinging back into fanboy territory again). He seemed to like it, politely flicking through it and nodding occasionally saying it was good.

It’s hard to know what the right response you’re looking for is. ‘This is the finest piece of artwork I have seen for some time! I would like to mentor you and introduce you to the commissioning editors of DC,’ would be nice. So I accepted his acknowledgement that he could see a marked improvement in the work as the book progressed which was nice of him.

I maintained the pub talk and suggested I’d let him know where we were all going if I saw him about the place again. As I maintained the conversation I could feel the dread moment, I could feel mysef heating up as the steady realisation that I was maintaining a sensible conversation with one of my heroes began to dawn on me. I had to back out before I said something stupid (something I proved was an accurate concern later on) and I’m pretty sure my eyes went all boggly. I’m not sure its a visible tick but they were definitely wider than they were meant to be. So I legged it, booked in at 3.30pm to come back and do my stint on the Guinness Book of Records stand.

BE BACK HERE TOMORROW TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED AT 3.30PM

Kapow in Pictures

Evening all,

I’m still recovering somewhat from the mania that was Kapow Comic Con. We got a lot of interest in the book over the weekend and it looks like we’re gonna be pretty busy for some time to come, which is rather nice. I’m pretty neck deep in work on the Clancy Wallencheck Fallen Heroes spin off this week, but I have managed to find time to upload some of the many photos from the event so that those of you who couldn’t make it can feel like you were really there.

Seems like everybody took this photo at some point during the day. It’s rare that you get such a good vantage point and can really appreciate the scale of an event like this. It also shows of just what a lovely venue the Business Design Centre really is. I know the temptation is going to be to move it to a bigger venue in years to come, but I really hope they stay put. It’s a splendid place.

The Warner Bros Stand was directly opposite the Beyond the Bunker one. This meant that not only were we driven insane by the Arkham City Trailer but we got glared at disapprovingly by Superman for 2 days straight.

One of our fellow exhibitors drew this fantastic pic of our Moon headed hero which I sat grinning at for the rest of the day. I genuinely love it when people do stuff like this, especially when it’s as good a pic as this one.

The BTB stand at the end of Saturday. We sold almost every copy of the book that we brought with us on the day (and we brought a lot of em). I probably could have retaken this one so it was less blurry, but I don’t think I’d have gotten as good an expression as Steve is pulling here. Really sums up the mood at that time.

Bidding a fond farewell to Kapow at the end of a busy day. It’s odd, I’ve been doing stand up gigs around Angel for years and yet I’ve never once noticed the BDC before. This probably has something to do with it not having a massive Hal Jordan slapped on the front of it during that time but it could also be because I don’t pay enough attention to exhibition centres.

We’ve got a few more pics still to go up (including some of the Beyond The Bunker stand itself) so check back later for those. In the meantime, if you want to really recreate that Kapow experience you can go to the BTB store and buy a copy of Moon for yourself. Always working. 😉

D
x

Kapow Diary 2: What we didn’t see…

Inevitably as an exhibitioner, even one doing the wander around – you miss things inevitably and there was a hell of line up over the course of the weekend. The day was high end and everyone involved (from IGN, Millarworld, Clint and the Business Design Centre) – had pulled out all the stops. Behind us was Markosia, run by Harry Markos. Markosia is effectively the mainstay of the independent comic book scene. I’d been lucky enough to meet up with Harry once before. We didn’t realise he was behind us until half way through the first day. I arrived at the 2000AD stand too late for a portfolio review because I hadn’t had a chance to find out where it was. The way to define a convention is not just by what you see but what you miss. Turns out, after a little scraping away it becomes clear there were some genuine diamonds just out of sight (if heavily sign posted).

Of course, Mark Millar was present but was effectively operating on an entirely different level to the rest of the place. Like a machiavellian god with Postman Pat hair he was only spotted by us once throughout the entire event. News I had back however was that he was friendly, cordial and helpful about the place. Millar is on a pedestal in an industry populated by people who are often happier being ashamed of themselves and both myself and Dan, when presented with an opportunity to meet him – didn’t want to bother him – advice I could’ve given myself earlier in the day (more on that in another blog). It was inevitable that Millar was going to take some flak across the bows for having the gall to elevate comic books above the level it has been stuck at over the last ten years. Regardless of his intentions or reasons, Kapow was a massive success with things popping out of woodwork all over the joint if you were looking.

Jonathan Ross reportedly nailed a show over on one side of the room while Quitely and Leinil Yu quietly began the proceedings on the Guiness World Record attempt to involve the most people in a single comic book in one day on the opposite side, down by the IGN stand (something I managed to be involved in). The sheer scale of what was taking place was enormous. Chris Hemsworth was in the building at some point for the Thor launch and there was talk of a mystery movie – which clearly was so unimpressive that we still don’t know what it was. Highlighted as Movie X, myself and Dan distracted ourselves from the replaying Batman/ Green Lantern game promos playing repeatedly in front of us by taking guesses as to what it’d be about.

X-Men: First Class? Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Jonathan Ross’ wife) have close connections with Millar following Kick Ass last year. Thor? Chris Hemsworth in place you’d think they wouldn’t bother flying him over for that one if they could preview the film. Kick Ass 2 was suggested at one point though the liklihood that messrs Vaughn and Goldman knocked out a major sequel quietly with no PR or evidence of production seemed a little far fetched. Things turned again when it was revealed (by a bloke somewhere) that it was an 18 and involved a guy in cape. At that point we gave up. If anybody’d taken a look at the Kapowcomiccon site it clearly said there was preview footage of Hobo with a Gun. Starring Rutger Hauer as the aforementioned hobo it looks like a breakneck ‘Braindead’/ ‘Bad Taste’ mash up. Someone even lets ol’ Rutger do a little ‘burning off the orion belt’ ad libbing while staring at a baby. Nobody expected this? This looks like a great movie! Why don’t they just call it Rutger Hauer is a vengeful tramp! You wouldf have had to have chained me to something to stop me from kicking the doors down to see it!

But there was bigger news in that the Green Lantern movie looks like its back on track. 8 minutes were played of the film – in excess of the 4 available online and everyone was turned as a result. CG more intact, tone a little heavier and more intelligent and obscure images from the original trailer resolved in the new material. This is good news as we here at the Bunker had dismissed the Green Lantern movie as a disappointer of the masses based on the previous output but right now we’ve got the focus back on. I’ll admit Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re took me by surprise. The whole thing is

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnSicg5eRsI

Also out there was Attack the Block’s writer and first time director Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe who was doing signings and photos at the IGN stand while I was drawing. The crowd was being ‘entertained’ by a guy who looked and sounded like he’d be happier at the X-Games than a comic convention and locked onto the idea that Spider-man 3 was shit to exactly one person’s noisy agreement. Meanwhile, pleasant man-child Joe Cornish (responsible for my favourite Radio 6 show by the way) was out of sight making geeks happy. Attack the Block is the story of hoodies battling Aliens in South London and was inspired by Joe getting mugged. The empathy of that man is astonishing. But it looks fukkin’ bo muvver! Bare Good! Check it out.

There were folks from Misfits (Iwan Rheon (Simon) and Lauren Socha (Kelly)), Merlin (Colin Morgan (Merlin)), Bradley James (Arthur), Angel Coulby (Gwen) and Katie McGrath (Morgana) as well as folks (Dakota Blue Richards (Franky), Sean Teale (Nick) and Jessica Sula (Grace)) from Skins, World Exclusive Pilot of Falling Skies and Toby Whithouse, the creator of Being Human. Games previews for Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Nintendo 3DS, Lego Star Wars 3, Operation: Flashpoint and Dirt 3 from Codemasters.

Present were Mark Gatiss, Lienil Yu, John Romita Jr, Bryan Hitch, Simon Bisley (which was so last minute I couldn’t find him) Olivier Coipel (apparently), Kevin O’Neill, Paul Cornell (sporting a comedy beard for charity much to his own embarrassment), Noel Clarke, Mick McMahon, Brett Ewins, Brian Bolland, David Lloyd, Andy Diggle, Liam Sharp, Sean Philips, Adi Granov, Chris Weston and Eric Stephenson. Not one of these people I saw.

The important thing is who I did….

Kapow Diary 1: View from the desktop.

We arrived at Kapow comicon early ready to set up and were presented with a full scale building front featuring Hal Jordan (photos on their way). I’d been in the hangar that is the Business Design Centre, Islington before for a job interview for a creative recruitment consultant position at a neat little place at the back of the hall. Its an enormous hangar space with windows running across the ceiling and the business centre placed in rectangular office spaces at its centre. While there was IGN gaming stands at the front – and a massive red balloon – the convention proper took place on the top of these office spaces underneath the curved hangar roof. Talking about it now we’re pretty sure – given the success of the weekend – it’ll likely upgrade to Excel at some stage but this was the best venue I’ve stood inside for a long old time. The difference was that this time we had a convention under our belts and more than a hundred sales. Kapow was where we were going to prove that Moon can shift against the best of the best – lined up against Gosh! and Markosia et al this weekend was our testing ground – and its fair to say it went well.

Not faultlessly. While Dan was his usually damn organised self I was still me and while I did the things I do best – I also made sure – in order to keep things even- that I create a little weird. In a weekend in which a famous director would refuse to sign our book because it wasn’t his, in which I got a stick of rock I couldn’t get rid of and created a distinctly awkward air around some of my heroes, its fair to say there was an incredible amount of weird. Finding my name on the front of a book I had nothing to do with was a highlight. Over the week I’ll fill you in on what my weekend was like…. I was planning a straightforward single blog but I’ve listed them down and I’ve got a surprising amount of material. A lot of it involving Frank Quitely. Sadly for him. Poor bastard.

But taking to table 72 we were facing the DC stand – I wasn’t aware of a Marvel one. While I sidestepped out pretty much for all of Saturday thanks to my low threshold on caffeine and my attention deficit issues, Dan sat manfully slowly losing his mind to the gods of unreleased gaming. On the opposite view screen, between a table selling fairly lacklustre and pretty unmemorable DC images and a fairly grim looking plastic Superman statue which we began to think was staring us out, was playing three trailers – totalling no more than 5 minutes material in total – on repeat. For the sake of completeness and in order, partially, to drive Dan even more mental I’ve posted the three up below. Trailer for Arkham City (already posted here by Dan), an in game footage preview of Arkham City and the CG trailer for the Green Lantern game.

While all three (the Arkham trailer) in particular are a work of CG art, advancing the cinematic further than its ever been before – if me or Dan see one of these again we are going to take whatever its playing on and send it stone age. We like you IGN but more hour and a half trailers please in future – with musical interludes. Maybe episodes of the Muppet show. Just a suggestion.

The view from above at the Business Design Centre, Islington. Photo by Mitch Layden from Glasgow.

Day 1 of Kapow: Lesson Learned. Leave Frank Quitely alone.

Day 1 of Kapow came and went very well frankly. I have decided to leave Frank Quitely alone tomorrow and I will allay my suspicions that Dave Gibbons stole my pens. My suggestion that Brendan McCarthy doesn’t look much like his picture was a master stroke in introductory conversation. I will now appear in a Marvel comic book (by tomorrow) on a page with Dave Gibbons (artist on Watchmen) as well as The Guinness Book of Records (whenever that’s out). I was given a stick of rock by a child care assistant in a low cut top who got it from a burlesque dancer from the Isle of Wight. I gave it to a Scotsman. Oh, and we sold some books.

That is all.

GIVE ME BACK OUR PENS, GIBBONS!!

(None of this will make any sense until Monday when all will be revealed – possibly with pictures but needless to say its all going very well.)

Prepping up for Kapow!! Things that might be available at Kapow!

Look - badges!! (possibly)

Now you might well think that we were just going to wander up to Kapow with a box full of books and try to push them off onto any unsuspecting soul walking by. But no – we plan (hope) to offer choice!! CHOICE!! That’s right. Not only the heady goodness that is a copy of Moon 1 but you can (perhaps) buy badges of various designs AND the First Beyond the Bunker DVD – a collection of mine and Dan’s short films (mostly Dan’s if I’m honest – I was drawing things). 6 of the best from the BTB Film collection no less with The Devil’s Fork, Cock, the newly minted Wild Watch – fresh from success at the 2 Days Laughter short film competition – some children’s television entertainers sanguine too with Edd: Ducking the Past, (Box):Fresh and the film that spawned the legend – The Day the Moon got too Close. All on 1 DVD! Plus extras! Plus I think there’s a trailer on there somewhere- WOOHOO!! (Ahem).

However, the badge company have informed us there are delays to the delivery and the DVD covers are currently with an unnamed supporter of the Bunker who is risking all to complete them all and get them back to us tomorrow night… so we’ll have to see what happens…..

But who cares because we have Moon 1 and Fallen Heroes will be available to all comers (limited supply of FH 1 so get in quick at the Fallen Heroes table!!).

Practitioners 25: Mark Millar (Pt 2)

Mark Millar is a media operator, while his peers have a natural talent for recognising the effect of what they do and cross mediums in their choices of content (Morrison in particular can ascribe a lot of his success to his cinematic, literary and popular culture referencing across his comic book work) noone gives you the feeling that they’re not operating on a comic book scale – that the medium is considered too small for the individual involved. Indeed, Millar has expressed a want to break out of the confines of the comic book industry. A belligerent creative child at the heart of commercial companies, it was unlikely that the traditional and watchful Warner Bros (home of Bugs etc) would tolerate such an enfant terrible. Indeed, where novels are a breeding ground of controversial and broad opinions and a fevered battleground of freedom of speech, Millar made clear that comic books at the turn of the century enjoyed no such freedoms.

Nemesis, Superior, Hit-girl and Kick-ass (Millar's most recent characters) by Leinil-Yu

Detailed in the last part on Tuesday, there were offered a couple of examples of Millar’s run on the aggressive and controversial Authority title for Wildstorm (an imprint of DC, a subsidiary of Warner Bros). At this stage, with Millar’s Authority pouring in money from buoyant sales DC balked at the destruction of cities and high death tolls in the aftermath of 9/11. With ferocious fan interest and critical acclaim Millar’s Authority suffered an unexpected at the height of its popularity, internal editorialism. DC misjudged the mood of America. While there was shock and anger from the events in New York, networked globally, the general American was facing new realities that European, Asian, African and Middle Eastern nations had long been aware of – that their borders were no longer safe. The war machine beginning to roll into slow motion under the Bush administration, looking for targets belayed a more mature attitude in readerships in the US. A renewed awareness of their vulnerability to powers greater (or more insidious) than their own. A culture of wry and interested fatalism and assured realism was born in the wreckage of 9/11 among certain sections of American society – particularly in the more informed and connected East and West coast and in comic readership. Embryonic at the time – it is now perhaps more visible in the lack of interest in Marvel’s attempts at introducing a new Golden Age of Heroes. Finally, that period in comic books has passed and Millar represented it far better than most with his aggressive, edgy and deliberately sardonic style. DC didn’t agree and Millar began to bite at the chains that bound him, eventually swapping, following some well paid projects for Marvel, to the New York entertainment giant in 2001 to create the Ultimate Universe.

The Ultimate line was an imprint of Marvel comics introducing the Marvel Universe if it was formed today. What was created was a much more hardbitten and edgy number of heroes engaged in political, military, social and personal strife – though the imprint of Stan Lee’s original concepts of character fuelled titles was perhaps put at the bottom of the list of priorities – this was more a love letter to the movie industry and may well have instigated the wholesale redevelopment of major Marvel characters; Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and the Avengers to the big screen.

To begin it was Marvel’s most commercially successful title; the X-Men that was renovated to Ultimate status. The characters now more belligerent, obstinate and teenage than Lee’s incarnations, Millar imbued them with the all-knowing arrogance of teenage Mutants. A total reboot, X-Men was the first title to begin to represent its predecessor as the title inevitably followed the numerous characters plot to the most obvious conclusion; a coherent team of mutants trying to battle the world. While recreating many of the scenarios and plots from the original series; Weapon X, the Nuclear Plant detonation from Issue 1; Millar struggled (perhaps unsurprisingly) to supersede the mainstream series, most likely because it had been the home of some of the foremost artists and writers of the previous quarter century and Marvel’s most innovative title. It was fun though, bitter and harsh at times but with a self conscious teenage cool and a moral ambiguity in the leaderships of both the X-team and the Brotherhood of Mutants (sensibly without the somewhat detrimental ‘Evil’ in the title). The title proved popular and Millar moved to expand the Universe with his incarnation of the less developed Avengers. This was to be his best move.

While all this was taking place; an independent book written by Millar and drawn by J.G. Jones was in preparation. Wanted was released in 2003-2004 and tore a hole a mile wide across conservative comics, kicking them and DC firmly into touch. The lack of belief DC had shown in its readership was proven by the success of this book; featuring a world only populated by Villains – the heroes wiped out some years previously. Opening with bisexual orgies, graphic assassinations and cheating girlfriends the protagonist secretly hates; the patented anger brewed up with the previous years of censorship came spewing out. Featuring characters like Shit-head (formed from the fecal matter of the most evil people in the history of man), Mr Rictus (a skull faced sadist) and Fuckwit (a superhero clone with Downs Syndrome), the protagonist Wesley Gibson electrocutes and rapes celebrities, kills hundreds while ingratiating himself with the Fraternity of Super-villains. It went astronomical, a readership hungry for a challenge snapping it off the shelves as quickly as possible. The intention of Millar was to create a wry and morally and ethically void space in which to populate his darkest writing to date. Ferocious, unforgiving and incredibly unapologetic Millar is every parent’s worst nightmare and every kid’s dream writer. Any book that ends with a full page spread with the central character’s top half leaning in aggressively and shouting ‘This is me fucking you in the ass!’ is to be reckoned with.

James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson in the much-toned-down movie version of Wanted (2008)

Millar is troubling for that reason – his bouts of self control working for commercial giants are interspersed with pure filth and its hard to tell who he is. The knowledge he goes to church every Sunday only deepens the confusion as he represents so little of what is good or ethical about comic books. He represents shameless populism and crowd pleasing. His thinking far deeper than content, Millar has proven, having now been given a stage big enough, that he will stop at nothing to crowd please. Although a great and powerful writer, he lacks the sensitivity and at times subtlety of peers like Morrison and Moore but will stoop as low as the public needs to. His books are the equivalent of throwing the christians to the Lions at the colliseum and feel at times like the breakdown of the medium at the same time as being the bleeding edge and the expansion of it.

His take on the Avengers, the Ultimates, represents the epitomy of modern, advanced and knowledgable writing that transcends the format of comic books and expands its reach. Where the Avengers title – holding tight throughout the nineties and naughties to its showcasing of Marvel’s most heroic and impressive characters – was losing steam, the Ultimates upped the ante and caught the popular edge of the characters within the title. What ensued is a high concept, high octane, gripping and effecting story of disparate heroes representing many fields, Military, special ops, science, media, big business, liberal politics and mainstream politics trying to get on. Brilliantly, Ultimates shows that the characters that have cooperated so effectively in their time in Avengers would create such strain amongst themselves that they represent a larger liability than the threats they pose. Effectively the tale of a political / military complex trying to justify its own existence it spends most of its time fighting off threats within its own ranks. However the set pieces, rendered beautifully by Bryan Hitch – in which the team occasionally rally to combat real threats to the world are truly monumental. There is some poignant character writing within too, most notably involving the emotionally crippled Bruce Banner and the man-out-of-time Steve Rogers.

A scene from Ultimates 1 Volume 2 (2003) by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

After 33 issues, Millar left Ultimate X-Men and wrote the number one hit title Marvel Knights Spider-Man in 2004, He also co-wrote the first six issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four with Brian Michael Bendis. He later returned to that title for a 12-issue run throughout 2005-2006, and created the Marvel Zombies spin-off title in his first and final storylines.

But it is his Millarworld movements that interest us here at Beyond the Bunker as Millar is using his considerable weight to focus the comic book industry back towards Britain. Writing Kick-Ass, while in parallel, British film makers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman made a motion picture version secured the success of both by shoring up the other. Both were british made (though Kick-ass was published as a Marvel Imprint) and have kick started a smaller, more quiet UK invasion back from the US. From the success of this Millar launched Clint, in association with Jonathan Ross and Frankie Boyle (both oddly British comedians), an anthology title in the style of 2000AD. Largely hyper-violent and named deliberately to look like the worst kind of swear word from across the room it can’t be accused of being high brow but it does appear to be working. There is no doubt that Millar’s efforts are reinvigorating the UK comic industry and whether this is sustainable is up to him and us frankly. While his motives are unclear and open to great speculation in the halls of comic conventions in the UK – he has reopened a door thought closed by being the most highly valued writer of the last ten years. His writing has excited, enthralled and challenged a very wide generation and expanded the interest in comic books to the wider population (though unfortunately not to 90s levels) but why are we putting all this on one man? Perhaps because he has proven he can handle it and come back with more. Millar might be the revolution we’ve been looking for and like all revolutions you have to applaud its effect if it moves things forwards and not linger too long on the man forcing it forwards and his motives except to applaud that he has and achieved something something special for himself and potentially for the entire UK comics industry. You can’t be bothered by Iconoclasts if you’re not an icon and within this industry that Millar is absolutely an icon for the 21st Century.

Kick-ass with his ass kicked... (Kick-ass, 2010)

Practitioners 25: Mark Millar

We here at Beyond the Bunker hope to list the greatest and best creatives in the history of comic books. In a continuing series (available every week on Tuesday) the most innovative, inspirational and important comic book visionaries will be appearing here. Check on the link below to see if one of your favourites has been included yet.

Mark Millar (born December 24, 1969) and is a Scottish Comic book writer. Millar was the highest selling comic-book writer working in America in the 2000s.

Millar was born in Coatbridge on Christmas Eve, 1969 in Scotland and now lives in Glasgow. In case you figured that this goliath of writing formed at the writing desk the beginning of his career was as a teenage fan. Millar was inspired to become a comic book writer following a meeting with Alan Moore (creator of V for Vendetta, Tom Strong, Watchmen and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) at a signing session at AKA Books and Comics when he was a teenager in the 1980s. It was not until experiencing financial problems after his parents died that he chose to leave University and become a professional writer. This tragic turn of his life and the introduction to writing as a result presents evidence of what made Millar different from many creatives. Upon suffering financial difficulty he understood that for someone determined and capable enough, writing of comic books could potentially represent a career.

His first job as a comic book writer was while he was still attending school, with Trident’s Saviour with Daniel Valley on art duties. Saviour was one of the most popular titles produced by Trident, mixing, even at that age a postmodernist blend of religion, satire and superhero action in the mix that Millar would become known for on later titles.

During the 1990s, Millar joined the creative team on 2000AD, Sonic the Comic and Crisis. In 1993, Grant Millar, Grant Morrison and John Smith presented a controversial 8-week run called the Summer Offensive in the pages of 2000AD. Morrison and Millar created a street pugilist in the chaviest sense in the pug faced Big Dave, xenophobic, ignorant, thug like man mountain who pummelled and battered his way through absurd and uniquely British threats to civilisation not the least of which a replacement boot-leg robot royal family which he battered blithely into submission to save the British isles. The first part (prog 842) saw Big Dave go up against Saddam Hussein trying to take over the world and turn everyone into ‘poofs’ with the aid od some scary aliens. Terry Waite helps him.

This mental blend of faith in your readership to get the joke, populist WAM BAM and whip crack satire and lack of fear of diving unceremoniously into the draker side of the human psyche (frankly where we are more interesting) is what set Millar apart from all the rest. Even Morrison can often loop back away from pure cynicism but Millar sees the scars in society and picks at them making him a gritty, brave and challenging writer. Which may be why he finally converted Captain America into a soldier who doesn’t kill to a one man weapon of mass destruction with a moral code firmly fixed on the defence of the weak.

Millar’s British work inevitably caught the attention of DC Comics and 1994 Millar was offered the traditional proving ground of new talent and Moore’s most sentimental character tenure some years before, Swamp Thing. Morrison aided with first four-issue run of the title to settle Millar into the title. Predictably however, while Millar’s work on Swamp Thing gained critical credit it continued to perform poorly and the series was cancelled by DC not long after Millar’s introduction. Millar continued to work on DC titles (aided occassionally by Grant Morrison – an unusual arrangement for an established writer – on titles such as JLA, The Flash and Aztek: The Ultimate Man) and working on unsuccessful pitches for the publisher. In the same period, Millar was speaking publicly and candidly about abandoning comics and had begun to mention a horror series named Sikeside for Channel 4. Sikeside was cancelled in pre-production and has recently been optioned by Crab-apple productions for a planned theatrical release.

However, with the ’90s closing down behind him, unceremoniously and with little advancement the decade in which Millar will find his niche and launch Millar into the limelight began. In 2000, Millar recived his big break replacing Warren Ellis on The Authority for DC’s Wildstorm imprint. Assigned with Morrison cohort Frank Quitely to the title, The Authority launched into a more polemic style while continuing Ellis’ original big screen, broad and boundless ideals for the title. This was a team now that wouldn’t tolerate the small minded or the morally dubious powers on earth traditionally ignored by other Superheroes. Now – under Millar the Authority truly represent exactly that – unforgiving, resilient and willing to absolutely do all that is necessary to stop that which they see as wrong. The more severe and militant characters were now brought forwards as the main focus, the Midnighter even more savage and militantly cold, contentedly torturing through electrocution the former Doctor while mysteriously managing to present an entirely different image to the passing guards in a super villain prison at the end of time.

In one short scene, the newly empowered Doctor, having been handed elemental powers over creation in return for restoring the Earth to its former self overwhelms one of the female characters, the Engineer in one of the darkly subtle and emotionally affecting ways ever written in comics. The Engineer is capable of morphing technological acroutements to deal with almost any situation and presents a difficult physical threat to overwhelm for the Doctor. Until the Doctor reminds her of a medical professional at her school as a young girl who kissed her on the back of the neck while they were alone in the school nurse’s office. It is the Doctor, having travelled back, killed the nurse and planted his lips on a vulnerable and undressed little girl – leaving her with ‘a funny feeling you’d carry around for the rest of your natural life.’ This is achieved in three panels. The effect on the reader lasts significantly longer than it does on the Engineer, as a character already referred to as a genocidal maniac tips over into a more insidious and familiar evil. A hero is only as impressive as the enemy he/she overwhelms and Millar is uniquely ambiguous enough in his writing to allow his enemies to represent the worst kind of evil.

He takes this to one hell of a conclusion; because if the threat is overwhelmingly total and unremmiting what need is there for soldiers, warriors and heroes to maintain outdated and realistically outmoded perceptions of moralism in the face of global or personal threats. For thousands of years – as civilisation has prospered and gained increasingly ethical and moral positions, it has always been defended by those willing to push through the boundaries of acceptable conflict. The Second World War heroes were not made from pacifism or saving cats from trees – they were born sadly by meeting carnage and horror with strength, bravery and a willingness to push back just as hard as they were being pushed. From this idea, what would a Captain America realistically forged in the battlefields of Northern Europe and the Pacific be? A pacifist believer in all Human rights or an efficient and exacting defender of the American way. With the creation of the Ultimates – a modern and frankly more realistic interpretation of Marvel’s most iconic American hero would step to the front of the fray, at the forefront of one of the most popular series in the history of comic books. The Avengers everyone has been waiting for.

Step aside for… The Ultimate Universe.

CONTD IN PART 2 (THURSDAY)

Hank Pym was NOT a Wife Beater!

Just stumbled upon this article on Jim Shooter’s blog and it’s quite an interesting read so I thought I’d do a quick share before heading to bed. Hank Pym hitting his wife is pretty much the most definitive moment in the character’s history so to hear the writer who created it admit that it may have been an accident is rather curious. Accident or not, it shifted Pym from from a character whose only defining trait was his bad pun of a name (He’s giant, he can control ants, he’s Gi-ant Man!) and turned him into one of the more interesting members of the Avengers. So in that regard I guess we should be thankful, though that sounds all kinds of wrong now that I read it back. Anyway, here’s the full text right from the Shooter’s mouth:

“Back in 1981 I was writing the Avengers. Hank Pym aka Yellowjacket was married to Janet Van Dyne aka The Wasp and things had not been going well for him for a long time.

Before I embarked on the storyline that led to the end of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne’s marriage, I reread every single appearance of both characters.  His history was largely a litany of failure, always changing guises and switching back and forth from research to hero-ing because he wasn’t succeeding at either.  He was never the Avenger who saved the day at the end and usually the first knocked out or captured.  His most notable “achievement” in the lab was creating Ultron.  Meanwhile, his rich, beautiful wife succeeded in everything she tried.  She was also always flitting around his shoulders, flirting, saying things to prop up his ego.

As I was developing the storyline, I discussed the potential pathology of their relationship with a psychologist who happened to be sitting next to me on a five-hour flight.  The story made sense, he thought.  I went ahead with it.  During the time the story was running, I got a great deal of hate mail.  It worried me enough to ask Stan what he thought.  He said he got the same kind of mail in the ‘60’s regarding Peter Parker’s various romantic travails.  He asked me how Avengers sales were doing.  They were in fact, increasing by 10,000 copies per issue.  Stan said that people obviously cared passionately about what was happening to Hank and Janet, as if they were real people.  That’s the key.  And he said, “Don’t worry about the mail.”

In that story (issue 213, I think), there is a scene in which Hank is supposed to have accidentally struck Jan while throwing his hands up in despair and frustration—making a sort of “get away from me” gesture while not looking at her.  Bob Hall, who had been taught by John Buscema to always go for the most extreme action, turned that into a right cross!  There was no time to have it redrawn, which, to this day has caused the tragic story of Hank Pym to be known as the “wife-beater” story.

When that issue came out, Bill Sienkiewicz came to me upset that I hadn’t asked him to draw it!  He saw the intent right through Hall’s mistake, and was moved enough by the story to wish he’d had the chance to do it properly.

By the way, I was too busy to finish the story, so Roger Stern took over two-thirds of the way through.  I thought he did a great job.  He’s an excellent writer who doesn’t get enough credit.”

Fascinating stuff…and before you ask. No I don’t think Mark Millar’s ant-rape take on the event in Ultimates was an accident.

Don’t make me feel small, Bunkerites. You won’t like me when I’m small.

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Thor Will Be At Kapow Comic Con – Buy Your Tickets NOW!

We’ve known for a while that Mark Millar was holding back some surprises for next week’s Kapow Comic Con, but even I’m a little shocked by this one. Chris (plays Thor) Hemsworth, Tom (plays Loki, looks too much like Alan Cumming) Hiddleston and Kenneth (f*ing) Branagh have just been announced as surprise guests at the convention!

The trio of stars will be heading up a panel on Saturday in which they will be taking questions about the film as well as screening a selection of never before seen footage. Hopefully Hemsworth will also smash a coffee cup for our amusement.

Understandably, given the announcement, ticket sales for Kapow have just gone cosmic and they’re down to about 200 tickets for Saturday and 400 for Sunday (though bear in mind that I’m taking this from the Millarworld forum post which was updated several hours ago so that number may have gone down by now). If you want to go to Kapow and you don’t have a ticket YOU NEED TO BOOK ONE NOW!

Look out for this stand while you're at Kapow and be rewarded with sweet Moon merch!

With guests from shows like Misfits, Being Human, Attack The Block as well as the first screening of a currently-still-secret-summer-superhero-movie, Kapow honestly looks like it could be the geek event of the year. Most importantly of all (astronomically speaking) Moon will be there as well, tearing up the stands with his big Mooney goodness. If you want to see Steve and I running around like headless chickens and attempting to force Jonathan Ross into a Moon head, then this is about your only chance.

You can buy tickets for the event HERE!

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