13 Questions
Mark Millar

Barb Lien-Cooper

September 1998

As a counterpoint to our in-depth featured interviews, we will be including in each issue a 'Thirteen Questions' column where we try to find out the answers to life's burning questions and just what makes our subjects tick.

On the couch with the light shining in his eyes this month -- Mark Millar. In the straight-backed chair clutching a notepad, pen and a Freud reader -- Barb Lien.

First Professional Project?

I started writing comics in my final year at college, really as an escape route from a degree I had no intention of using. I was studying economics and politics and although really into that stuff now, I despised studying, exams and all the shit you have to put up with when you're at university for virtually no money at all. Both my parents died when I was in my teens and I was living in this shitty little hole of an apartment with debts mounting up everywhere. I had to find some way to make money and working in comics had always been my dream while I was sitting in lectures or waiting in the queue to see the bank manager.

I was very lucky in that the first thing I ever submitted, a black and white maxi-series called 'The Saviour', was picked up by Trident Comics and I earned about fifteen dollars a page PLUS royalties. This led to a couple of awards for BEST NEWCOMER and I was picked up by '2000AD' to write all sorts of stuff like 'Judge Dredd' and 'Rogue Trooper'. '2000AD', at that time, was the poaching ground for the US publishers and this took me straight into the soft, strong arms of DC Comics. The rest, of course, is engraved on the hearts of comics fans EVERYWHERE!!!

Favourite Project you've been a part of?

It's hard to say. There are aspects of everything I've worked on that I've liked and disliked. My 'Swamp Thing' run, for example, made me about sixty per cent happy. There were fifteen or sixteen issues which I really thought worked out well. The River-Run arc, the final storyline with Constantine and the Phantom Stranger and the Swamp Dog issue with Jill Thompson are all books I'm very proud of. However, the best so far must be the radically right-wing Curt Swan issue. I've never enjoyed getting out of bed and working as much as I did when I wrote that script. More recently, I'm very pleased with how my Super-book, 'Superman Adventures', is shaping up and my Jay Garrick issue of The Flash went down well but my big prestige series 'Superman: Red Son' is definitely the best thing I've ever written. I can't wait to see what people think of this. Dave Johnson is drawing the three books and it looks bloody amazing.

What's the best part of writing comics for a living?

The best part of the job has to be a tie between sitting down and adding to the history of characters you've loved your entire life and gauging the reaction from the readers. Like all writers, I'm always desperate to hear what people think and for some reason, I've generally had a good response. I'm probably pretty thin-skinned so it's a good thing the back-lash hasn't started yet.

The worst/most challenging part?

The worst is that writing comics is a really hard, stressful job. I work really long hours, take twice as long as anybody else to write a script and don't spend nearly enough time with my wife and baby.

When you write in collaboration with someone, who does what? For instance, does one person write the plot and the other the dialogue?

Oh no, NEVER like that. The only person I've ever co-written with is Grant and we're extremely close friends anyway. We're almost telepathic and these super-evolved minds make co-writing very easily. We usually meet up in a pub once a week and figure out every page of an issue, then go home and one of us writes the script. However, we speak on the phone around 2 hours every day and there's barely a script written by either of us which the other hasn't given some advice on. It's a very comfortable arrangement basically coz we have a good laugh and we're great friends.

An old fashioned Beatles style 'words or music' question. When you write a comic, how do you go about it? Does the dialogue come first, the panel breakdown, etc.?

I used to draw the whole comic in very detailed thumbnails, type up the panel descriptions and then add dialogue before sending it to DC. I've changed my method recently and prefer writing out a very rough idea of what's happening and then doing everything around the dialogue. Dunno why.

What was the first comic you ever read?

First comic I read was about two years after the first comic I actually bought. The first I ever held in my hands was Superman 297 and I'll never forget it coz it featured Clark Kent getting the shit kicked out of him while Superman looked on and laughed. Not being able to read, I missed the symbolism of the cover and assumed Clark and Superman were two different people. I thought this for about eighteen months and used to get annoyed when watching the cartoon, puzzled why this old fucker with the glasses called Clark Kent winked at the viewer every time there was a commercial break. I was a fool, aged five, and deserve nothing but contempt for this.

Who do you admire in your industry?

Editorially, I admire Karen Berger, Shelly Roeberg, Mike McAvennie, Stuart Moore, Paul Kupperberg and a couple of other guys. Editors can make the difference between enjoying or hating your work and I have a strict policy of only working with people I like. I've turned down lucrative offers before coz I've heard bad things about the editors or felt I didn't click with them. A good editor should possess three qualities; judgement, efficiency and people skills. You can get by on two, but a great editor has all three.

Artistically, I love Alex Ross, Travis Charest, Alan Davis, Joe Mad, Joe Quesada, Humberto Ramos, Phil Jiminez, Oscar Jiminez, Dave Johnson, Steve Dillon, Rick Burchett, Bazza Bolland, Tommy Lee Edwards, Gil Kane, Howard Porter, etc, etc, etc. As regards writers, I'm pretty fussy; Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Tom Peyer, Todd DeZago, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Jim Robinson, Ty Templeton and maybe one or two other guys, but that's it. I'm bored shitless by eighty per cent of the books out there, but the other twenty per cent are better than ever. I don't think there's been THIS many great writers working in the field at any one time before.

What films have meant the most to you?

Perhaps surprisingly, I love mainstream, big budget movies. I'm a sucker for anything costing upwards if eighty million dollars and I'd rank 'Jaws', the 'Star Wars' trilogy and 'Superman: The Movie' as being real turning points in my life. I'm not ashamed to say it, despite the usual snobbery regarding these things. I'm equally at home watching my obsessions from the sixties and seventies, low budget British movies in particular like 'Alfie', 'Get Carter', 'Bedazzled' and anything starring Scotland's SECOND finest export, Mr. Sean Connery. As obvious as it sounds, I really think the first two 'Godfather' films are probably the finest movies ever made; I've pinched the structure for both 'Superman: Red Son' and the upcoming 'Secret Society of Super-Villains'. However, I also ADORE 'Batman Forever', so don't listen to me.

Fave Film now?

It changes all the time, but the films which have meant the most to me over the last twelve months have been 'Starship Troopers' (which worked on so many levels and really freaked me out), 'The Game' (for all the same reasons, a genuine masterpiece) and 'LA Confidential' (if you haven't seen it, you're insane!!!). I went to see 'The Exorcist' last night and really, really loved it. It's been banned in the UK for years and this is the first time I've ever seen it on the big screen. I love films which really grab you by the balls and squeeze. 'The Exorcist' is brilliantly uncompromising and nothing since has ever been so powerfully directed. Genuine freak-out stuff for me coz I trained to be a Priest for a bit, but split when I discovered hetero sex was banned but shagging older, holier guys was actually smiled upon.

What writers/artists outside of comics have influenced you?

In terms of cinema, I love Coppolla, Bertolucci, Paul Schrader, David Mamet, Tarantino (don't care how unfashionable he's become, he's still great) and Kevin Smith. Kevin actually intro'd me to Miramax Pictures and I've since began something which looks like a movie career. Two other movies have been optioned over here and I look set to have a Coke habit, a divorce and a fifteen year old chick on my arm before long. Hooray for Hollywood!

Any current projects you feel comfortable mentioning (that is, any that aren't still top secret so far)?

I'm currently writing 'Superman Adventures' coz I wanted to write a Super-book where I had total control and the Adventures stuff is brilliantly worked out. This book, published in tandem with Ty's Batman title, really is a scream to work on. I love it. Just wrapped up my run on 'The Flash' and will soon be starting 'The Secret Society of Super-Villains', a twelve issue maxi-series which begins in 1938 and brings the DCU villains to life and right up to date. It's going to be a massive piece of work, but should be worth it. Also finishing my magnum Opus, 'Superman: Red Son' and talking to DC about a similar prestige Elseworlds treatment for Wonder Woman. No Vertigo stuff planned at the moment, although Alex Ross and I are talking to Stuart Moore about a possible project. I've also got a Phantom Stranger pitch, set in the DCU, on the desk of the boys in charge. Karen Berger (God bless her) has already given her blessing and it's now down to the bosses at DCU. If I get to do this book exactly the way I want to it's going to be great. Trust me.

What advice would you have for people who want to get into your profession?

Consume information. Books, comics, TV, video-games, maps, conversations with real, genuine people. Absorb as much as you can before you sit down at that keyboard; you're only going to get as much out of your head as you put in, baby!