Chris Claremont isn't exactly what you'd call a low profile kind of guy. Hailed by some as a creative genius and by others as an egotistical blowhard, comic book fans are bitterly divided when it comes to the man responsible for rescuing the X-Men from obscurity in the 1970s.
I dropped by his corner office at Park Avenue South on a stiflingly hot summer day in New York. Pleased with the success of the X-Men movie (which, he happily pointed out, uses many of his original ideas), Claremont relaxed behind his cluttered desk and opened up about his current run on the X-Men, his thoughts on angry Internet fanboys, and changing his mutant superheroes into a fundamentally different concept by January 2001.
Josh Roberts: Now that you have a few issues under your belt, how does it feel to be writing the X-Men again?
Chris Claremont: Mixed feelings. It's a lot of fun, but it's also a big challenge. I'm reading all these Internet reviews telling me how absolutely loathsome and rotten my work is. But, on the other hand, it gives me something to strive for.
JR: Assuming you're not going to say "loathsome," how would you evaluate what you've done this time around?
CC: Well, I think we're just sort of getting our act together in certain respects. It will be interesting to see how the book evolves now that Salvador [Larocca] is taking over the artwork on Uncanny.
JR: Do you think you'll work better with Salvador, having teamed up with him already on the Fantastic Four?
CC: I felt a pretty good synergy with Adam [Kubert], too. I think Adam's stuff is just wonderful. I have nothing to complain about in that regard. It's just some of the designs and some of the sketches I've seen out of Salvador are very much in synch with what I had in mind.
JR: How hard was it to wade through the continuity established after you left the titles in 1991? A lot has changed since you left.
CC: I wish we were starting from scratch, but we're not. We're starting with a tremendous history in place already. For example, we used Stryfe in the annual. And the interesting thing is that while there's a tremendous enthusiasm for the character in-house, fan reaction has been incredibly vehement.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of affection for Stryfe as a character, which to me is a big red flag in front of a bull. It's like, "You don't like him? OK, by the time I'm done --" Nobody liked Rogue when she first showed up, either, so we'll see.
I think part of it is that readers are still responding from their preconceptions. A lot of people didn't like the Fantastic Four for the first year and a half. It took a certain measure of time for me to find my feet in terms of what I wanted to do with the concept. It took the right synergy of writer and editor, but it also took time for Salvador and I to get a little more in synch.
By the time we got to the last few issues, the Doom arc, we had a lot of converts. And the fact that the book is stronger today in terms of sales than it was when I started is a measure of that.
JR: You talked earlier about the negative reaction to your first few issues on the Internet. Are you an active participant online?
CC: Who has the time? Tracking down all the various websites and chat groups is a challenge in and of itself. But, even when you go to the basic ones, the tone of discourse is so sour and angry and hostile, it's like who needs the aggravation? If anyone wants to e-mail me, I've posted my e-mail address here at Marvel. I'll happily read the letters. I'll reply when I can.
I actually tried replying to what I thought were some unfair comments on the Internet once or twice, and I never heard back. What seems to happen with some people is they're very much interested in voicing their own opinions, but not in having them challenged. It's almost like the creator is irrelevant.
People would much rather argue their own visions and conceptions about a book than engage in a dialogue with the author, because the author could always trump you with, "I wrote it." And then everybody gets pissed off. It's not to say there aren't good comments, too, but you tend to remember the sour ones.
I have no problem debating a point with anybody. I do have a problem with guys just hauling off and saying, "This stuff sucks. The guy sucks, he's a hack, he's a has-been, he's a schmuck."
JR: Do you think the success of the X-Men movie will have an effect on the comics? Are you trying to make them accessible enough for someone to jump from one to the other?
CC: I hope so. That's been the goal -- not just accessible, but enticing. It's not just a question of making sure they understand each issue, but they get to the end of the issue and want to know desperately what happens next.
I think the biggest challenge is going to be finding a place that sells comics. Ideally, you want someone to come out of a movie theater, look across the street, see a newsstand, walk in and find a copy of the X-Men sitting there. But that's not what's going to happen.
I'll walk out of the mall and see a Barnes and Noble with an X-Men rack. Or, a special comic book shop in the mall. And then be able to go in and say, "Hey, I'm looking for a copy of the X-Men," and not have the sales clerk say, "What do you want to read that shit for? Here, read this book, it's much more interesting."
It would be nice. But, whether they do or don't, we're still going to keep hammering away.
JR: What do you have up your sleeve for future story lines?
CC: A Summer's family reunion.
JR: How many Summers?
CC: That's the question, isn't it? [Laughs.]
JR: What else?
CC: Assuming all goes well, the X-Men at the end of January 2001 will be a fundamentally different concept than the X-Men right now -- in ways, hopefully, that the readers will wonder how the hell we're going to dig ourselves out of this one. And for the first time in their career as super heroes, they are going to be seriously, seriously on the defensive.
They're going to be up against a set of foes who know them better than they know themselves, and are probably stronger than all of them put together.
JR: Are these foes that we've seen before?
CC: They are characters you've seen before, yes.
CC: Certainly within the last five years. Or less. And some of them may surprise you.
JR: Do you feel like you have complete freedom to do what you want?
CC: No, there's no such thing. There are 11 titles in the core continuity. Eleven titles, three production offices, a half-dozen writers. That doesn't even count mini-series and specials and all the rest of it. So, no, everything has to be coordinated.
A case in point: This October is Maximum Security, which is the big Avengers event. The X-Men are major players in that event. In the X-Men's own continuity we are bringing back Professor Xavier, we are bringing back Bishop, and we are setting in motion the resolution of the Cyclops/Apocalypse story. All of which has to be coordinated out of the two X-Men titles.
From a purely logistical point of view, we've got characters coming in, going out, turning around. Everything is literally set up on a weekly basis. And if anybody misses shipping, we're all screwed. That's as much a logistical challenge as a creative one.
So there's no such thing as complete freedom. On the other hand, you find a way to make the restrictions work for you, which we're trying to do.