Filed under: Features | Tags: Frank Quitely, Glasgow Film Festival, John McShane, Jupiter's Children, Mark Millar
For a second year running, Mark Millar has been in charge of the comics themed section of the Glasgow Film festival, leading to various Q&A sessions, workshops and screenings of comic-themed films. Comics Anonymous popped along to a couple of the Q&As this year, starting with the head honcho himself, joined by his friend and collaborator Frank Quitely.
Although the pair were there mostly to discuss the coming comic they are working on together, Jupiter’s Children, the session started with discussion about their previous work on The Authority.
Mark Millar: I’ve been working 10 years longer than everyone thinks. I started when I was about 19, but it took until I worked with Vin, 10 years later, to be noticed. I did a book called The Authority. It sold well when [other sales] were going down, which was an amazing thing because sales had been going down consistently, even though this went up 100 copies. That’s what kind of got us noticed.
Frank Quitely: That and your gay story lines, and your relentless talking to the newspapers about it, that also helped!
It would seem that things started well for the duo whilst the book was under the care of Wildstorm, where the likes of Alan Moore and Warren Ellis were making it an exciting place to work. However, after being bought over by DC, Mark describes it as turning into “Mildstorm”
FQ: It started off that there was almost no censorship for the first couple of issues we did. As it got more attention, particularly in the mainstream press, DC and Paul Levitz in particular got really nervous about it.
MM: DC at the time were publishing maybe 100 books a month and I think they didn’t realise they had a book where a guy who looked like Batman was kissing a guy who looked like Superman and it was only when it was appearing in the Jerusalem Post that they were like “Aw shit!”.
During the session, host John McShane invited questions from the audience, which lead to some interesting information about the different ways in which the artists and writers worked in the world of comics. Starting with the scripting process, Frank revealed that he’d mostly worked with the ‘full script’ style of writing, only once having to work from a Marvel Style where “you get it written like a story and you break it down as you see fit”. It would seem that most people, including those working at Marvel now, adopt the ‘full script’ style, with the Marvel-style seen as an old fashioned way of working.
MM: It was really just for Stan Lee. Some people copied Stan’s style for a little while, but it’s pretty much died out now.
FQ: Originally Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would work with Stan giving Jack a really loose idea for a story and he would go away and draw it over 24 pages or whatever it was back then, and then give it back to Stan and he would add dialogue in.
MM: It was lucky that Kirby was a work horse and he could do three books a month, and also be brilliant. It meant Stan could spend like 12 hours doing the dialogue afterwards and that way Stan could write 10 books a month. I really struggle to do 2.
Mark also revealed a few of Stan’s secrets, including why he, unlike the rest of the comics industry, didn’t get fat when he hit his forties:
MM: Stan says “Stand up – I haven’t sat down in sixty years”. And he wasn’t kidding, what he has is he’s got his typewriter at chest height, so he stands and types. And even now a 89, that’s what he does.
When asked if he had any input to the dialogue of a scene, Quitely was happy to admit that he much prefers to just concentrate on the art and doesn’t have much interest in writing, especially when he’s no good at “thinking up witty one liners” – however Millar had a different opinions of artists:
MM: I think every artist in their heart of hearts would love to get rid of the writer deep down… Steve McNiven is desperate – he’s said “I’d love to write my own stuff” – and he’ll say this to me on the phone as if I wouldn’t be offended.
As with previous talks and interviews with Frank, the topic of speed came up. Known for his slow pace, Quitely was happy to confess that he’d “spend a lot of time on the thumbnails and the page layouts and planning the story telling, and then in fairness I spend a lot of time in the drawing also”. Millar defended the speed of an artist though, highlighting that “I’d rather read something good that was a wee bit late. I’d rather have four issues a year from you (Frank) than 14 issues from someone else”, to which Frank’s responded “I’m going to do more than four a year!”.
On the flip side though, a question was raised about helping artists out, so that a writer can get the best work from them, however Mark wasn’t quite as sympathetic as other writers:
MM: I never think about helping them out. I know some guys do. I know Warren Ellis does that, he’ll say in the scripts “I’ve given you 6 hard pages, I’m goning to give you 3 pages of talking heads with no backgrounds” but I don’t think like that, it’s a kind way to be.
FQ: Maybe you should!
Of course, the discussion moved on to current work and projects. As previously reported in our interview with Frank a few month’s back, he’s still working mainly on Pax Americana with Grant Morrison and trying to progress his own short stories when he has time. As for Jupiter’s Children, Quitely described working with Mark as “Great! It’s been the easiest work I’ve done – I haven’t actually started yet! Well , I have done a cover for promotions and some designs.”
Millar on the other hand seems to be juggling several pieces of work, however on the comic writing side, mentioned he had “pretty much written most of this years books – all the stuff that’s been advertised, apart from Jupiter’s Children which I’ve just started. But everything else like Hit Girl, Secret Service, Supercrooks I’ve pretty much finished, so I’m sort of done for the year and already starting to think about next year’s projects”.
Many of his other projects were spoken about, including the magzine CLiNT, which he described as “like giving drugs to primary school kids, in the hope that they will eventually become crack addicts”. Obviously keen to try and get comics out to a new audience, he spoke about the “now or never” decision to get the magazine started and to introduce comics to people that don’t know where comic book shops are.
There was also some chat about the second year of the Kapow! Comic Convention that his wife and friend run. Described as “the San Diego experience in London” Millar is keen to keep the con filled with “anybody who you like in comics and films” and not what we’d usually find at UK cons: “the guy who was third droid from the left or something like that from Star Wars”. So far the guest of honor, Joe Quesada, has been announced, but it was also hinted that “we’ve got the entire cast of a big superhero movie coming along… I can’t say” – to which a member of the audience shouted “The Avengers” and Mark just sniggered, leaving an awkward silence, at which the entire audience burst into laughter.
One of the big topics discussed though was the movies – both those created from Millar’s books and the involvment he has in the Scottish Government’s push to get investors for local films. On the topic of the Scottish films, Millar was quick to point out that:
MM: I always thought it was weird that we had a film structure based on the Soviet Union’s film structure, where it was the government funding films essentially. There’s a lot of good things we can learn form the Soviet Union, like the health service and free education for everybody, but film isn’t one of the things we should be copying. Whereas America has got the Hollywood system, a machine that for over 100 years has been brilliant at pumping out a lot of movies that make a lot of money. So I said to him “Why don’t you just copy the Hollywood system – film-makers tend to be poor guys who want to get films made, but can’t find the funding and you know lots of rich guys who are looking for stuff to invest in.”
When quizzed on whether he writes his comics with the intention of being made, he clarified that “I never think of it being a film, but I want it to be a film” adding:
MM: I think if you do something that you’re trying to sell as a film, it’s so transparent as a comic, and if it’s a rubbish comic that generates no excitement as a comic, nobody is going to buy it as a film. It’s funny, I’ve seen guys do that – it looks like a film when it’s a comic, but it never gets picked up because they’ve got loads of films that look like films, they don’t need something that’s an imitation film. What’s funny is people say to me “Your stuff is just set out as storyboards ready for a film” and I’m like “Are you kidding me? I’ve got a kid saying cunt, dressed up as Robin, cutting off guy’s heads and the superhero is masturbating in the first scene of the comic” what studio is going to make that?
Frank was also asked if he was happy with his work remaining just in comics.
FQ: I’m content with the comic medium. I would like film money, rather than comic money! <Laughs> Most of what I’m trying to achieve with storytelling in comics is something that can only be achieved in comics.There’s stuff that you can do in comic book storytelling that you can’t do in film and you can’t do in prose. Each way of storytelling has got it’s strong points, but comics is the one that I love.
Although it would have been good to find out more details on Jupiter’s Children the session was a good one – we look forward to catching up with them both to discuss the collaboration later in the year.
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