Filed under: Interviews | Tags: Journey into Mystery, Kieron Gillen, Milkshakes, Phonogram, X-Men
The Comics Anonymous gang caught up with Kieron Gillen at Legacy Comics in the picturesque town of Halifax, the day before the Thought Bubble con. With copious interruptions, from shuffling, blushing schoolgirls clutching X-Men issues and swooning a little, to Gillen himself stopping to give Spiderman sweeties to little children (but not in a creepy way), it was a long, fun, milkshake-fuelled afternoon. We heard new phrases coined (’emotional contraceptives’ was a belter) and witnessed a short but intriguing philosophical examination of the creative writing process.
As we began to record, Gillen joked, ‘Let me get into character’, but don’t take this as an indication of insincerity. He knows how to create a character, write a draft, scratch, amend, then proudly deliver a final piece and this is what we saw live – thinking, editing, re-starting answers, then finally the intended message was eloquently put across. Quite fascinating.
Here’s what he had to say about comic books, games, movies and his own secret superpowers…
Which of the X-Men do you particularly enjoy writing?
I despise the X-Men. Every second of my life is complete and utter woe and despair. I despise Cyclops with his stupid one-eyed blasty thing. I hate Colussus because he’s all metal and Emma Frost because she doesn’t wear enough clothes (laughs). No, it’s really quite a blessed job. These are some genuinely complicated and interesting characters to engage with. They’re likeable and prickly and have all these ridiculously tormented histories so there’s lots to get your teeth into. There’s a central, underlying, socially interesting metaphor beneath it all which means it’s not that these are people fighting just because they have history together. This is about the big feelings – life, art and what it means to be a human in the 21st Century – what is there not to like about that?
What would your mutant power be if you were in the X-Men?
I’ve actually got a mutant power! My skin is very acidic – if I wear glasses with metal frames and they touch my skin they start to melt, corrode. My other mutant power is that my appendix was in the wrong place, so I almost died when I went to hospital because they couldn’t work out what was wrong with my body for, like, a week, and it was actually my appendix. They were doing tests and it wasn’t turning up ‘appendix’, so they opened me up thinking I had something crazy in my gut and then it was “oh it’s just your appendix, ticking like a bomb on the left side of your body”. My other mutant power would be – I’m actually super-humanly strong, but unfortunately I’m also super-humanly lazy so I never actually apply my enormous disparate power
What do you think is the best video game based on a comic book?
Probably Arkham Asylum, I’ve yet to play Arkham City, but Arkham Asylum is amazing. If you go back, the Uagi Yojimbo game which was circa 1987 was pretty interesting in a kind of left/right elementary way, but that’s probably a bit too obscure for anyone. I liked the concept of the Red Star left/right scrolling fighting game. The Darkness was interesting, it wasn’t really one of my favourite comics but it worked really well as a game. Spiderman 2 was also pretty interesting That’s all that comes to mind
What about comic book films, do you have any favourites?
My favourite comic book film is Ichi the Killer – I take great joy in my list of comic book movies and the fact that none of them are superhero movies, just to make a point. Old Boy was really good, not that I’ve read the original comic. I thought Ghost World was a really interesting conversion.
If we’re talking superhero stuff, then I thought the second Batman film (Dark Knight) was really good. Iron Man, I think, out of all the Marvel films is the strongest, but I do think that Cap and Thor were excellent. I thought Thor especially had some really smart things in it – the way they changed things for a film that would never work in a serial comic, like the fundamental story of Thor in the movie is a couple separated by the world and this is actually a proper big romantic comedy. Your perfect man is out there, but he’s on another world and you have to go and try to find him. The entire row of woman behind me in the cinema were crying at the end. You couldn’t do that in a comic, the structure of “oh no, my love is on another world”, then they meet and they part again – it works, though, as a film that comes out every 2 or 3 years.
What are your thoughts on creator-owned versus company-owned?
It’s not really versus is it? These are entirely separate jobs. When you go and work for Marvel on a property which is essentially not your own, you’ve made a variety of decisions based upon that job. People going into the industry know what they are doing; you make certain emotional contraceptives because you’re aware that you don’t own [the characters]. If they want to say tomorrow that in Uncanny X-men they’re all going to be dogs, that’s just how it is, it’s not yours.
When it’s creator owned it’s a different set of skills. A lot of people ask “Are there any characters you’d like to write?” and I go “no not really”. My emotional contraceptive approach is that I deliberately don’t think about characters I don’t own until I’m asked about them – so if someone asks me if I have an idea for a Dazzler story I’ll say “I don’t know” and then sit down and think of Dazzler story. And that’s when you bring what is essentially a skillset in and start to tear [that character] apart and find out what’s actually interesting and interests you.
I was talking to a writer friend of mine Ed Stern from Splash Damage (they’re responsible for games, including Brink) and we came up with the idea that writing was like a rendering engine. If you get a writer to do a gig, the way they create the world is like how video games look different solely because the engine it’s running on is different. Your imagination is the engine it’s running on, so every story is put together differently – the way I put together a story is going to be different from the way Brubaker does and how Fraction does, and that’s how the universe is rendered – but then there’s also the art, but that takes the metaphor far greater than I was willing to take it! They are just so different and, talking about it personally, I want to be the sort of writer who does both.
My sole career aim has always been to have my name on a number of books that I’m not fundamentally embarrassed by. They serve very different creative challenges, different creative itches. I’m hoping more of my own stuff will come out next year. Stuff that’s already been written, it’s in the artists’ tubes, and will emerge horrific and bloody.
And lastly, digital or print?
The two formats are complimentary. I genuinely believe that these two options work together, especially if the price is reduced on digital, which [just now] is happening one month on. I could see myself double-dipping on stuff I genuinely really wanted. I think, in the long term, the future of comics is putting the price down on a single entity and putting the price up on the collection. The big trend in the Noughties, which people haven’t really spoken about, is comics as object art, really embracing the physicality of these things. I think the formats are complimentary and moving to their own strengths.
Kieron Gillen is a charming comic book writer from London with a touch of English-eccentricity, but we love him anyway. Check him out right now on Uncanny X-Men and Journey Into Mystery, in the last couple of years on Thor and S.W.O.R.D. and several years ago on the insanely brilliant, sums-up-a-generation Phonogram. No need to find a time machine – buy the back issues or trades now!
Legacy Comics is a small, friendly comic shop in Halifax. Situated in the courtyard of The Piece Hall and surrounded by delightful crafty shops, it’s definitely worth a visit.
All photos courtesy of Fiona Watson Photography.
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