Mark Millar knows his audience.
Aside from being one the biggest hype men in comics, the Scottish writer has earned a rep for bombastic and over the top action tales like "Kick-Ass" and the currently running "Nemesis," all of which give the core superhero audience what they're looking for. But with his latest project - the monthly UK comics magazine "CLiNT" going on sale September 2 in Britain - Millar has set his sights on turning non-comics readers in his native land onto the form again. While his big pitch for the anthology series involves serializing his own properties and signing on big time British television talent to anchor the effort, the writer is also looking to let his already dedicated audience scratch their itch to become comic creators.
"I'm hoping 'CLiNT' hits the British mainstream in a big way," Millar told CBR News of his intended readership. "It's been years since anyone tried a really wide, new launch in the UK and I feel there's an enormous gap in the market for something like this. In the last 100 years, boys comics have been massive in the UK, and it's partly because we have a unique distribution system in this country where we have newsstands within walking distance of most homes. Most people are a five minute walk away from a magazine retailer, unlike the United States where you often have to get into a car to go buy one. For children, that's especially attractive, and what I wanted to do was create a comics mag again, because for the last 25 years, there really hasn't been a massive amount of work available for UK creators, the cream of the talent head-hunted by Marvel and DC."
Filling that gap in British comics talent is a large part of the mission-statement for "CLiNT," as Millar noted how much the country's comics industry once was able to bank on homegrown creators. "All the guys who worked in the '50s and '60s were replaced by a brilliant wave of creators in the '70s and '80s like John Wagner, Alan Grant, Pat Mills, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and so on, but the downside of the success - and these comics sold like crazy over here - was that the big American companies came in and snatched away many of our best guys. This meant that the talent pool was depleted enormously in the '90s and sales on the comics either collapsed to a fraction of what they were or the comics just disappeared. The guys doing books like '2000AD' right now are doing a great job, but the collapse of the market twenty years ago when the brain-drain happened made supermarkets and newsagents forget about boys comics. We were a victim of our own success in the sense that the creators often went to America and got paid more for their work, receiving wider recognition, but an industry that had been thriving here for generations has now been limping along for two or three decades. There just isn't nearly enough work in this country for an enormous number of talented people who are looking for a showcase. Even '2000AD,' probably the greatest British comic of all time, is only selling about 10 or 20 percent of what it used to hit. I want to give people a place they can work here without going to the States. I want to try and rebuild the UK scene with an entirely new business model from what's been tried in the past and get the supermarkets (where 70% of todays sales are) excited about comics. I'm going after a whole new audience here, people who've never been in a comic book store before. I'd like to create a whole new generation of British fans who will hopefully love this stuff and then try comic stores as they become more addicted. Like most people, I started as a newsstand reader too, and I want boys today to do the same."
To that effect, aside from including his own serials like "Kick-Ass 2" and the upcoming "Superior" as well as UK celebrity series like Jonathan Ross' "Turf" with Tommy Lee Edwards, "CLiNT" is embarking on a new open submissions process for aspiring talent wishing to break into British comics. "What I also want to do is find all that new talent in the comics industry. There must be another Alan Moore or Dave Gibbons out there for this generation, but he's working in his day-job and doesn't know where to pitch," Millar said. "It'd be nice if they were British, but they wouldn't have to be. There's great talent in the States and beyond we're already using in the first few issues. What I'd like is to see submissions from people - they can post their work on my Millarworld site. I'm editing this as a part time job. My full time gig is my comics stuff and my movie stuff, so I don't have time to read script submissions or work at developing artists. What I'm asking is for people to create three, four or five-page stories in the style of 'The Twilight Zone' and showcase their talents in an easier and faster way for me to look at. That's why I created the 'Space Oddities' format, similar to what '2000AD' did years ago with "Future Shocks'. This was a wonderful training ground for new writers, I started there myself. Alan Moore started there. Peter Milligan, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison and all these guys started on 'Future Shocks' and graduated onto bigger things once they proved they could tell a story.
"What I propose is writers getting together with artists - and you can find them on Millarworld's creative forum if you don't meet any somewhere else - and submit one of your story ideas. If it's good, we'll buy it. It's only five pages or so - not a massive commitment on anyone's part and worth doing if you're serious about being seen. It might not be bought, but if you're serious about creating comics, you'll do what everyone else does, which is work for free on an art and story sample and see how it goes. Post the story up on my website, and if the writing is better than the art or the art better than the writing, we'll pair you up with someone else. So be prepared that whoever you pitch with might not be the person you're collaborating with, because you might be stronger than they are. We're just going to pick the best ones to run in the magazine, not as a competition but just to find new talent."
Millar points creators with stories ready to submit to this thread on his Millarworld Forums.
"We've bought five already," the writer went on. "I'm going to make sure there are four or five pages in every issue that features new talent, and if somebody is consistently good the first year, in the second year they can get a regular series in the book. The book at the moment is a combination of reprints of American stuff (which the UK mainstream has never seen) and original material, but we'd like to get it in the second year to be at least two-thirds original material. Although, things like 'Turf' or 'Nemesis' or 'Superior' that I run in the first year are going to be new to people, because I'm not going after regular comic fans. This is for people who don't go into comic stores, you have to remember."
Aside from the previously mentioned "Kick-Ass" sequel and Millar and Ross' other strips, "CLiNT" will launch with the new series "Rex Royd" by British comedian Frankie Boyle. "It's like a really like a fucked up version of Lex Luthor," the writer told CBR, noting that the other major piece of the magazine puzzle was building up new star characters to anchor ongoing stories. "We're also looking for a new iconic character who can get his own strip outside the short stories, so what I'd suggest for anyone who fancies it is to write the first 11-page episode of what they'd like to be a continuing series, and again, link up with an artist. If there's anything good enough, we'll buy it and use it. Try to think in terms of a 33-page story, but give us the first 11. If it's good, we'll buy it. It's that simple. But it has to be a real iconic character in the way that Kick-Ass is iconic or Judge Dredd is iconic. It's got to be a good title and a good vision of a lead character. Post your ideas here."
Millar went on to say that while most of his new works will also see their solo issues printed and sold in comic shops via Marvel's Icon imprint and other publishers he works with, attracting bigger media talent like chat show host and avid comics fan Ross was key to locking up distribution in the UK. "I thought long and hard about the launch of this book and came up with a plan for Titan Books. We needed new writers and artists and characters and so on, but in a market where you're competing with literally hundreds of different magazines you need recognizable names, too. 'Kick-Ass 2' goes some way towards that as the character has permeated the mainstream with the movie and we're doing half a million flyers for the comic in the DVD case. It's the first place you can get to see the sequel, for example, if you enjoyed the DVD. But we also have an enormous advantage in that two friends of mine wanted to write comics and were good enough to lend their time to the magazine itself with 'Turf' and 'Rex Royd', both planning other strips as the months progress. Jonathan Ross and Frankie Boyle are about as big as you get in terms of UK name recognition, and having their work in here is an incredible advantage when talking to distributors for Tesco and ASDA (our version of Wal-Mart). Jonathan is like our David Letterman and our Roger Ebert rolled into one. He's the biggest chat show guy, the biggest movie review guy, and he's got a radio show as well. He's our Howard Stern too! So he's probably Britain's top celebrity, and Jonathan writing a strip is a huge deal. Frankie Boyle is the country's biggest standup comedian. I can't tell you how big he is right now - he's just colossal. So to have those two doing this magazine in the same month that we launch the 'Kick-Ass' DVD is about as big a launch pad as you could get."
So far, the writer reports that his plan seems to be working. "The buyers just went crazy for it. They couldn't give a damn about me or any of the guys that draw comics because they're not fans like we are. But they loved 'Turf' and 'Rex Royd' and got excited when they saw the talent involved, realizing this is going to hit big with 16-24 year old guys in particular. The mix in the mag is really good, all very mainstream and fun with vampires and superheroes and robots and so on. It's exactly the kind of thing you'd like if you liked the 'Kick-Ass' movie, and we have so many other tricks up our sleeves. I want this to be as valid a purchase for someone as 'FHM' or whatever. Just something to read on the train or the school common room. It's for people who don't know their 'Infinity Gauntlet' from their 'Crisis On Infinite Earths' - newbies, I guess, but newbies is what comics needs right now because it's where we all started. It's great having graphic novel sections in bookstores for people who can drop ten or fifteen quid to try something out, but we need to get down in the trenches too. This is 100 pages of magazine with 70 pages of comics every month, plus features, for 3.99 [$6.99 U.S.]"
Published through Titan Magazines, "CLiNT" will be available both in the UK and the U.S., including via subscription. Fitting his plans for the monthly into the magazine newsstand distribution system has meant a steep learning curve for Millar, however. "What's interesting is that in the U.S. in comic book stores, books can ship a week late or two weeks late...or in my case, sometimes three months," laughed the writer. "But if you try any of that in the UK newsstands, you're dead because you have to book the shelf space six months ahead of time. So six months ago, we knew the release date for the first issue was going to be September 2, 2010. It's just got to be, otherwise we'll get charged thousands and thousands of pounds. So it's September 2, and every four weeks after that."
For curious comics fans who may already be buying or have bought some of the comics material in "CLiNT," filling out the magazine each month is a series of text features crafted to suit Millar's sensibilities and interests. "I originally sat down and thought, 'This is going to be easy! I'll just sit down and put together a bunch of comic strips I like and put together a bunch of features I like' - because it's going to be about 1/5th text features - 'It'll be so easy, and we'll just sit back and smile and read it once a month.' What I forgot is that nearly every creative person is eternally late and coordination has been an absolute nightmare [Laughs]. I'm just now seeing it from the other side - how horrific it must have been for every editor we've worked for over the years [Laughs]. You're just sitting there waiting on this stuff and looking for constant updates on it all. It's absolutely horrible, but at the same time I'm absolutely loving it. Somehow it just always comes together at the last possible moment, mainly down to the good people at Titan.
"I've got a team of seven feature writers, and they're going to be writing about 15-18-pages of each issue. Fun stuff, like interviews and stuff that reads like 'Esquire' or 'Bizarre' or whatever. It's stuff that people like me and you are interested in. It's more mainstream than 'Wizard,' but at the same time it's full of geekiness in some form. The first issue, for example, has a feature on the Chinese Tom Cruise and the Indian Angelina Jolie, the people who dub the voices for those actors in other countries. So anytime you hear Tom Cruise in a movie in China, it's always the same actor because they have to have the same voice. It's got to be consistent. There's one feature on who Charles Manson was going to kill next after Sharon Tate. He had a whole death list, running through Frank Sinatra and Doris Day and Dean Martin and everyone. So it's a feature on the secret Hollywood death list in the same magazine as 'Nemesis' and 'Turf' and 'Kick-Ass 2.'"