Mark Millar may be known for promoting his creator-owned Millarworld comics with an eye towards all-around media dominance, but for his long-awaited team up with legendary artist Dave Gibbons, the writer is playing things a little closer to the chest.
Announced back in October, the February-launching "The Secret Service" is the brainchild of the pair and "Kick-Ass" director Matthew Vaughn. Beyond that, not much about the series is known. Millar has spoken publicly about his plans to unveil the full story of the series after the new year, but until then, the writer is teasing out both the history of the project and some choice first looks in the pages of his newsstand comics magazine "CLiNT" which is now shipping simultaneously in the US and UK.
As a prelude to "Secret Service's" release, Millar and Titan Magazines have shared the inside information on the book's creation from the just released "CLiNT" #12 with CBR News. Below, get a look at the interview with both Millar and Gibbons about their project, some exclusive new art from inside Gibbon's sketchbook and a full scan of the original correspondence from the mid '80s where the then-teenaged writer pitched Gibbons on creating a "Shazam" comic for DC.
"I'm slightly mortified when I read that letter I sent to Dave when I was in Sixth Form at school," the writer explained. "I was a massive fan and it's clear from the letter, but there's also that underlying egomania where I'm suggesting that he's lucky enough to have been selected by me for my first writing project, after working with Alan Moore, and suggesting he fits this in before he starts Give Me Liberty with Frank Miller."
Of course, Gibbons wrote back with a classy response to the upstart teen, but a full go at a collaboration would have to wait another 20 years.
Millar explained to the magazine how some mutual admirations slowly turned into a new comics project. "Dave and I have been talking about doing something together for ages. He sent me some very kind emails when Bryan Hitch and I started doing The Ultimates and I remember being incredibly flattered. It was like a guy in a band getting a note from John Lennon or something," he said. "So when Dave suggested we work together at some point, I was ecstatic. Here was a guy who had drawn some of the greatest books of all time and whose only other writers had been the twin giants of [Alan] Moore and [Frank] Miller. So it was exciting and slightly daunting.
"The only problem was that I had to find something BIG enough. I didn't want to do something with him which could be unfavourably compared to his other stuff. It had to be something really special. We had to do something really different here. I talked to him initially about maybe drawing Superior, but even then it felt too charming for someone who was always breaking boundaries. I love that book, but it almost felt too safe for a guy who was known for doing the kind of thing nobody's really done before. So I mulled it over for about eighteen months. To be honest, I think it was stage fright. And then we started talking about The Secret Service, which at that point was a very rough idea that (Kick-Ass director) Matthew Vaughn and I had been quietly talking about in the background while we worked on other stuff. Suddenly, it all just clicked and here we are."
Opening up his "Secret Service" sketchbook both for character designs and page layouts for the first time, Gibbons revealed that the task of telling the story set by Millar and Vaughn has been a challenge even for a veteran artist. "One of the things I’m enjoying about it is how challenging it is. It’s not precisely what I’ve drawn before. I’m having to stretch my muscles, drawing some fantastic and amazing things, but against a realistic and recognisable background. Which is good fun. I don’t know if Mark wrote it specifically to stretch my brain cells, but they are certainly being stretched. I’m enjoying it; I do like a challenge."
Filling in some of the background for the world of the comic, Millar said, "'The Secret Service' started as two different projects. I had an idea that was mainly set in the US and [Vaughn] had an idea for a similar thing that was mainly set in the UK. I can't give too much anyway without blowing the story, but we essentially fused both characters together and so the Batman and Robin or whatever you want to call these guys really are a genuine co-creation between me, Dave and Matthew. He had some sequences in mind and I had these crazy plot ideas I'd been mulling over for a year or two and we just hammered it out in the pub, really. It evolved naturally."
What the comic turned into was less a typical genre drama and something more in line with what readers might expect from Millar and Gibbons previous work in revisionist superheroes. "Matthew's mentioned a few bits and pieces online and we've dropped a couple of hints, but I think the title lets you know that it's got something to do with the government and something to do with the military intelligence wing of the government," the writer said. "It's not a spy story as such. That would be WAY too straight for a couple of guys who made their names in superhero comics. As much as we love the genre, a simple James Bond or Jason Bourne rip-off wouldn't be especially interesting as a comic book. We've been influenced by that stuff, of course, but this also owes a lot to things like Watchmen and The Ultimates. It's a hero book and there's a sidekick and there's vast headquarters and a secret origin and all the stuff you'd expect to see in a superhero book. But we really, really play around with a lot of conventions here. I think Matthew was on the money when he said in an online interview that it touches on a lot of the things we did in Kick-Ass. It's more ambitious than Kick-Ass. No two scenes seem to be set in the same country and we're working on a scale unlike something as up-close-and-personal as a crime-fighter with no super-powers. But I can see the link, because we're balancing that sense of the real and the outrageous and there's super-villains and so on.
"The Ultimates was about heroes responding to the new America and the new world after the attacks on September the 11th. The Secret Service is the ramifications of that, as America is struggling on the world stage, funding is being seriously undercut to balance the books and some people are trying their best to take advantage of the fragile global situation. The hero and sidekick guys who lead the book are, I think, the best characters I've written. They're completely unique, which feels nice, and Matthew deserves a huge thanks for a lot of that. This started out as one thing, but the moment he started pitching in his ideas and bringing a whole new dimension to the idea the thing melded into something ten times as good as anything we'd have conceived separately. It just works."
For more from the pair including their early exposure to each others' work, their collaborative process on "Secret Service" and the contributions of Vaughn, check out "CLiNT" #12 on sale now.