While perhaps not as epic as the Odyssey of Odysseus, Peter Milligan has enjoyed a long and fruitful history with Vertigo Comics.
Since he re-imagined Steve Ditko's "Shade, the Changing Man" 20 years ago for the DC Comics' imprint, the British writer has been nearly synonymous with the publisher, delivering critically acclaimed runs on an incredibly diverse range of titles, including "Human Target," "Animal Man" and "Enigma."
Earlier this year, Milligan started writing the ongoing adventures of John Constantine on a monthly basis in Vertigo's longest running title, "Hellblazer." Later, in the summer, he launched a new creator-owned project for the publisher, entitled "Greek Street," which re-imagines classic tales from Greek mythology using modern day London, England as a backdrop.
In celebration of Vertigo re-releasing the first 12 issues of "Shade, the Changing Man" in trade paperback this week, CBR News checked in with Milligan to discuss his work, new and old, with Vertigo Comics.
Today, in the first of a two-part interview, Milligan discusses "Greek Street" and reveals details of what's to come in future storylines in the creator-owned book. And if you thought diving into a life as complex as Oedipus' was heady ground to begin with in the first arc, wait to you see what Milligan has planned for the residents of Soho in the months and years ahead.
And don't forget to come back tomorrow for the second part of this interview, when Milligan looks back at his time writing "Shade, the Changing Man" and how the story of a dream warrior from another planet ties into an upcoming storyline in "Hellblazer."
CBR NEWS: Greek mythology is pretty dense source material, Peter. Do you enjoy the classics or did you have to research specific myths to retell as modern day stories once the idea for "Greek Street" came to you?
PETER MILLIGAN: I love the classics. So no, I didn't have the idea and then do the research. My life has been spent doing the research. This stuff, which I love, infiltrated my other areas of interest, like James Joyce's "Ulysses." He's an author that I'm obsessed with, and he dealt with the same principles through these echoes that go down through time, these classic archetypes. Greek mythology really grips me. I've always been interested in seeing the plays put on live, but actually, I think they often don't work for modern audiences because culturally, we're not there. But yes, I have a massive interest in this kind of stuff. I just thought, "Is there a way of telling stories using this as a resource? Is there a way to be influenced by this amazingly rich world?"
What about the real Greek Street? Have you been there before?
It's a fairly un-lovely street in the middle of Soho. They called it "Greek Street" because there is a Greek Orthodox church there, but I think the church is gone. I don't know if you know Soho. It's one of those streets with lots of restaurants, but it's also kind of the red light district of London. It's a place where you can still find doors with little signs that say, "Swedish Massage, Second Floor." Not that I ever frequent them, but as a kid, Soho was kind of a strange area that suggested it was full of forbidden fruits that only adults are able to pick.
Your main character, at least for the first arc, is Eddie, an obvious nod to Oedipus. Did he come to you quickly, or did you create him slowly as your series ideas developed?
What we're trying to do with this stuff is have characters at different times representing different types of Greek hero. Obviously, with Oedipus, I wanted a character that was young. I wanted a character that meant something and had an emotional impact. The important thing is that you don't have to have a deep knowledge of Greek history, tragedy or myth to understand or access the story. That's what's most important. So I wanted to do a story that would resonate, and orphans, or people who grew up in difficult situations away from their parents, that seems to be a human condition which resonates whether or not you're in 500 B.C. Athens or 2010 A.D. London. I really wanted a story that was very immediate and very visceral.
As someone who makes a living as a writer, do you ever stop and try to comprehend how incredible it is that these stories have lasted for well over two thousand years? And beyond that, that you yourself are adding to that rich fabric and bringing these stories to another generation?
The idea of that is fantastic. I mean, I think it would start to get above my space in life to consider there is a line from Euripides to Sophocles to Peter Milligan [laughs]. As much as I'd like to suggest that there is some kind of connective tissue linking us, there actually may be one. We're all human. And we're all dealing with the human condition. One of the theses of "Greek Street" is that we're full of progress and we live in a world where we're continually told that we have to progress in terms of things like iPods and MP3 players. There are lots of things that actually don't change which concern us and would have concerned the ancient mind too. That said, the ancient mind actually dealt with things very differently, which is one of the things that are running through this very complex book called "Greek Street."
At this point, how far along do you have "Greek Street" plotted out?
I have the next couple of stories figured out. I like to work with the general plot figured out, but then I like to give my characters time to go off and do things on their own that surprise me slightly, particularly when you are drawing on myth. For example, in the "Cassandra Complex," the next book, which is the second half of the first storyline, we'll learn more about Sandy's powers – Sandy is obviously an echo of Cassandra – and she finally gets to be a part of the vision that has tormented her.
And Eddie finally comes face to face with Dedalus, the cop whom he hopes will get him out of trouble.
And the other story line will be Medea, the woman who has been brought back from death and is now killing people. She'll finally come face to face in this next story with Jason, who is also Lord Menon. And Lord Menon is an interesting figure. He's the head of this family, almost like the head of the house for Atrius. So he's Agamemnon. But when it comes to Medea, he represents Jason, someone who has thrown aside this girl because she's no longer right for him. There's just so much stuff.
So that's the next book. After that, I want to explore the story further using the myths of Ajax, Achilles and the Trojan War. And then there's the Minotaur, who is also lurking in the shadows of Greek Street. The Minotaur is an amazingly interesting character.
I guess that's the beauty of being knee-deep in this world you've created. There are so many classic stories to be retold, and now you get to weave them into your own epic, using your modernized characters and plot devices.
There is just so much. What's also great is that it gives me the opportunity or the necessity to re-read a lot of this stuff. It always changes. Good literature always changes when you understand it better. That said, the important thing to the tragedies or the myths is that they are starting points, and I think there comes a point where you have to allow the characters that you've created room to breathe. You have to give them room to go out and create their own myths, because there are themes running through the book, which are the same things that run through a Greek tragedy. There's transformation, pollution, transgression and metamorphosis.
Is the plan for Davide Gianfelice to continue on as artist following the next arc?
Well, I hope so. It's easy for me to keep doing stuff, because I'm a writer. But there will come a time when Davide will want to take a break and do something else.
How did you two hook up for "Greek Street" in the first place?
Will Dennis, the editor, and I looked at a lot of artists, but Will had been working with Davide on "Northlanders," which is great. The artwork on it is fantastic. It didn't immediately strike me as "Greek Street" because it didn't seem very urban. It seemed different. But then Will said, "Have a look at this guy. What do you think of Davide?" And I said, "Fantastic. Let's look at some of his stuff."
I think one of the amazing things about what he's done with "Greek Street" is that, he's made it look slightly not like how Britain is and the characters kind of look like they are a bit more Italian. And London, kind of looks like London, but this is really kind of an idea of London, which I really like. It's not like the cars drive on the right side of the road. There are not too many obvious anomalies. But I really like that it is almost like London, but pushed off-center just slightly. I like that, because this is fiction. And I like that it's an interpretation, sort of Sergio Leone's movies about America have an Italian image of what America is. I think this is what Davide's idea of Greek Street in London is. Obviously with copious amounts of reference built in. But there still comes a time when the characters kind of look like they may be hanging around Naples rather than London, but I love that.
"Cassandra Complex," the title's next arc, begins in "Greek Street" #6 on December 2.