Mark Millar hadn't planned on becoming a creator-owned comics powerhouse, but it happened anyway.
"My only real ambition since I was a kid was to write and draw comics. That was it. I just wanted to do Superman and Spider-Man," the writer told CBR while discussing the week of exclusive previews of his Millarworld titles which started earlier today with a six-page look at "Supercrooks." "Over the course of the last decade or so, I've managed to write all the characters I wanted to write. I never ever really expected movies or any of that to come from it. It sounds crazy, but I also didn't get into comics to do 'Kick-Ass' or 'Wanted' or any of those things. I got into it to do the established characters I've loved since I was five. But there just comes a point where you suddenly think, 'Yeah, I love this stuff, but I'm a little bored of seeing The Joker escape from Arkham or Lex Luthor sitting in a room thinking up plans to kill Superman. What comes next?' I've realized that creator-owned is what comes next."
In 2012, that next step will run the gamut from film projects to a new era for his "CLiNT" comics anthology magazine and at least five new comic titles. On top of March's launch of "Supercrooks" with Leinil Francis Yu, Millar also has plans for the continuation of his "Kick-Ass" saga in a "Hit-Girl" spinoff drawn by co-creator John Romita, Jr., a "Nemesis 2" sequel series with Steve McNiven, the impending "Secret Service" project with Dave Gibbons and the still unnamed collaboration with Frank Quitely. Most of those projects will publish thought Marvel's Icon imprint, except for the Quitely book which will hit through Image along with a few other projects in the offing.
And on the other side of entertainment from publishing, the creator is also taking an active role in film development for his new comics properties. "As we've been working on the movie adaptations of the various Millarworld books, I've realized that I like having control over the production side of things too," Millar said. "'Kick-Ass' was such a wonderful experience, and 'Wanted' was really an amazing first taste of Hollywood. For your first movie to go out and make $350 million, that was just incredible luck, and I suddenly understood the movie had to be at least as good as your comic or your reputation was going to take a hit. Look at 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' or 'Constantine' or any of those brilliant Alan Moore comics that are now regarded by the public as naff movies.
"The only way to guarantee some kind of quality control in your adaptations is to make sure you're a big part of the production team and the best possible talent is involved in what's essentially big adverts for your books. Would we have had the superhero boom of the last decade if 'Catwoman' and 'Elektra' had led the charge instead of 'Spider-Man' and 'X-men'? I really lucked out with Timur [Bekmambetov] and Matthew [Vaughn]. Now I just want to make sure I keep getting the best talent attached to these things. We're lucky that there's been an extraordinarily high consistency with comic book adaptations from 'Iron Man' to 'History of Violence' and I want to keep that level up."
As the final element to his 2012 plan, Millar will introduce new content into "CLiNT" coming this March. "The nice thing about 'CLiNT' being an anthology is that every strip has a different flavor," he said. "In the UK in particular -- especially on the newsstand -- anthologies have always had a home. And I like the idea of it not all being me (laughs). It's great having Jonathan Ross and Frankie Boyle in there too, but one of the things I also wanted to do was have new talent in there, and this new strip 'Death Sentence' is fantastic. I absolutely love it. I actually met the writer at KAPOW last year, and he gave me an eight-page preview of it, and I just stood there in the street and had to read it. It starts in issue #15 of 'CLiNT', which is a great jumping on point as all the old strips finish in issue 14 and this is the beginning of a load of new stuff.
"I'm pleased we've managed to keep it so cheap, too. I insist we keep all the Millarworld books at $2.99 and I'm really chuffed about that. I know everybody says, 'People are going to buy Kick-Ass anyway -- make it $3.99.' But I just think that's too expensive as a comic. I know what it's like to be standing in a store without enough money to buy the things you want to buy. So I don't want to make my stuff too expensive. 'CLiNT' is 100 pages for almost half the price you'd pay individually for those issues. I like the idea of people getting a good deal out of this."
With all those pitch points in Millarworld's favor, some fans may wonder if the seeming trend in big creators moving to creator-owned work will go as far as Millar has with many making their own comics exclusively, but he doesn't see it. "Actually, I don't think so because it is really nice working for a company. I was at Marvel for exactly ten years to the month, and it's a pretty sweet deal. If I hand in my scripts on a Friday, it's paid electronically into my bank on the following Monday. There is a lovely security to that where, if I write 22 pages of 'Ultimates,' then I get a really nice check a week later. But in creator-owned, you have to invest a little money and then you don't get paid for a long time. As an example, I'll write an issue of 'Kick-Ass' one month and then three months later, Johnny [Romita] has drawn the whole thing. Then, maybe three months after that, you get it published, and you get paid four further months after publication. Sure, the Millarworld books hit big numbers and we get to keep everything except the printing costs and a small distribution fee, but if your books don't sell, you're waiting perhaps a year for a tiny return. So I can really see the hesitancy to it -- especially when the comic market isn't really that energetic for a lot of people at the moment. I can see why some creators would be hesitant to make the jump.
"But we've had an amazing run of luck with 'Wanted,' 'Kick-Ass,' 'Superior,' 'Nemesis' and so on," the writer concluded, noting the ability success has given him in terms of experimentation. "They've all sold between very good and quite spectacular numbers, so the six of us who got together to do this thing -- me, Leinil Yu, Steve McNiven, Frank Quitely, John Romita, Jr. and Dave Gibbons -- we all just decided to go out there and have fun and pretty much do what the Image guys did back in the early '90s. We really just wanted to make a go of this, so the guys have all climbed into bed with me if that doesn't sound too creepy," Millar laughed. "We're going to keep trying to have the most incredible year in 2012 and put out the best creator-owned books we can do. It feels like exactly the right books to be doing at exactly the right time. None of this stuff feels like anything we've seen before. It just feels fresh and, right now, I think that's what comics need. A reboot is lovely, but you're essentially doing plastic surgery on an old person. This is giving birth to a newborn baby. In evolutionary terms, it seems like the correct step to be making.
"I'm obsessed with comics past. The six of us are on the phone every day, drawing parallels between our formative years and what's happening now. You had all that excitement at Marvel and DC through the 'noughties,' which is reflective of the '80s revamps, but what's coming next feels more like 1992, when the six biggest creators at one company got together and really moved the need with something different. That's what we want to do here. DC had the ball in the Golden Age, Marvel owned the sixties generation of readers, the Image guys (and people massively underestimate them) reshaped the landscape for the last generation and I want the Millarworld books to be the boldest of the lot."
And keeping with his bold plans, Millar noted that a sixth title -- an "American Jesus" sequel from Image -- should be coming along too, once the comics and film worlds synch up for his Millarworld Productions shingle. "We are also doing a few side projects this year too," he teased. "The 'American Jesus' movie has been getting crazy momentum in the last six weeks. We announced last year that we were forming Millarworld Productions and would make 'American Jesus' as our first big theatrical feature, and I've been gradually getting the money together for that outside the US system. All my other books were getting bought and made, but this one, which I had huge affection for, was just never going to happen. Everyone was just too nervous about doing a Jesus movie, and I was like 'Are you kidding me?!?' Mel Gibson made a Jesus movie, and it made $650 million dollars. What's your concern? It made 'Spider-Man' money! But they still weren't sure. It was one of those things I'd almost given up on, and then I realized I could make it myself.
"We were planning on making it relatively modest, but then once word got out, investors came forward. It's actually been quite a massive investment in the film. We've ended up with a budget about four or five times what we've expected, so it's now going to be pretty comparable with 'Kick-Ass,' in budgetary terms. Over the next couple of weeks, there'll be an official announcement on that one in the movie magazines where we can talk about who our partners are. But it's very exciting and very unexpected. The 'American Jesus' comic-book sequel, which I've been scribbling for about five years, will be happening at the same time and we'll bind them both together in one book when that movie appears, either in 2013 or early 2014."
Overall, what Millar hopes for his comics is a wide range of materials stylistically. Asked whether the increased freedom of creator-owned books leads to increased envelope-pushing with regard to content, he said, "I don't think so. I think there's the temptation. Creator-owned is a bit like when you're 15 and your mom and dad are out of town and you've somehow found the key to the drinks cabinet. You can go a little bit crazy as things are new to you. In much the same way, if you've been doing 'Spider-Man' and 'The Ultimates' and then suddenly find the brakes are gone, you can go a little outrageous. But you don't want to get repetitive. It's like having the volume up to ten all the time. I think you need to mix it up more. 'Superior' is a great example, because it came out at the same time as 'Nemesis' and 'Kick-Ass 2,' but 'Superior' has a more gentle quality to it. It feels more like a Spielberg movie or something like that -- something that you could give to young teenagers quite easily. There's nothing too offensive in it.
"I think I'm going to continue that mix in 2012 as well. The project with Frank Quitely is a very broad thing that anyone over ten or 12 can read. It's not like it's childlike; it's probably the most sophisticated thing I've ever done, but there are no massively graphic sex scenes in it or F-bombs all over the place. Sometimes it's appropriate and sometimes not. I prefer the Millarworld books to just be radical from an idea point of view. Nobody's ever seen a superhero comic like 'Kick-Ass' before, and I want the Quitely project and the Dave Gibbons project to each be very unique and very new. People just want something different. You can see it in the charts. I feel creator-owned is where people's interests are shifting. The vast majority of what I'm picking up comes from Icon and Image and, as we saw with 'Nemesis' or 'Kick-Ass 2' or whatever, these things can hit the top ten or top twenty, even in the middle of massive events or company-wide relaunches. we did 125,000 copies of 'Kick-Ass 2' #1 over five or six printings. The appetite for something new is enormous."
Finally, even as 2012 has become filled up with his workload with five major comics projects, film adaptations, the magazine and more, Millar is still looking to expand his brand into the future with new ideas and new artists. "Actually, I know pretty much all of the 2013 output and am starting to put that stuff together," the writer said. "You have to remember that the books coming out now have all been worked on for much of the past year so we're already prepping, for example, 'Kick-Ass 3,' the conclusion of 'Nemesis' with 'Nemesis 3' and a sequel to both 'Supercrooks' and 'Superior.' But two massive artists, one of whom I've never worked with before, is being lined up to lead the 2013 charge. What's lovely is that the guys are coming and volunteering. A bunch of us have been talking about working together for a while and, if you get a big Millarworld book, it can be a pretty life-changing experience. I've really had a great time with all this and just want to build a library of books where my pals and I can do what we like, hopefully reaching as many readers as possible. So far so good."
Stay tuned all week on CBR for more of MILLARWORLD WEEK!