Following on from the first part of Matt Badham‘s talk with the great Pat Mills (see here for part one), we present the second and concluding part of the interview, in which Pat discusses the ‘dark age’ of 2000 AD editorship, writing comics for the British and the French markets and the differences between them, his dislike of superheroes and branching out into different media with projects like his script for American Reaper. Over to Matt and Pat:
Matt: We’d all like to see Third World War reprinted, but who should we pester? Did Rebellion get the rights when they bought 2000 AD, as Crisis was a “sister comic” and Finn later appeared in 2000 AD, or does Fleetway still have the rights?
Pat: Please pester everyone! So pleased you would want to. Actually Egmont own the rights… They don’t have any interest in reprinting it (It’s not Donald Duck) and I doubt Titan would (It’s not heroes in long underwear) so I reckon we’re currently screwed.
That said… There’s no reason why 2000AD shouldn’t reprint Finn. I keep asking them. They don’t say no, but — it may be my imagination — they don’t seem to be that enthusiastic. Thing is… Finn was actually more popular than Sláine for a while.
Matt: Can we have more Marshal Law? I need more cynical cape-bashing to cheer me up!
Pat: Me too. There are plans afoot, but everything seems to take forever in the world of comics.
Matt: What makes super heroes so odious to you? Is it a personal thing or issues about what they represent/purport to represent?
Pat: The issues. Superman, for instance, is a symbol of US military power. It is also a Biblical thing, which makes it odious to me. With Batman you have a billionaire beating up street criminals. I don’t find that attractive, although I admire Frank Miller’s work as a brilliant writer.
It’s something I explored in Marshal Law, notably Kingdom of the Blind.
Superheroes blind us to real heroes, e.g. ordinary soldiers in Charley’s War. Battle readers saw that clearly which is why the story was so popular.
Matt: Any plans to work with Kevin O’Neill in the near future? Your partnership was one of the most creative in comics, resulting in original and stunning work and I would love to see more. As far as I know it has been quite a few years since you worked together.
Pat: Yeah, I miss working with Kevin, too. That´s why we did the Marshal Law text novel (Origins) but we should really do more together. We have another project, which ticks all the boxes, but setting it up right and finding the right home for it is quite problematic. We keep trying!
Matt: Do you ever get irritated by all the fan input? (Online comment etc…)
Pat: Not at all. There´s a very different and far more pleasant vibe now compared to ten years ago.
Matt: You spend hours writing all these scripts for our entertainment, and then here on this very board [NB: the 2000AD messageboard] people who have never had anything published themselves nitpick at them/ tear them apart/spew hatred, bile and venom over them. No wonder you have a reputation for having a temper! Yet when I met you at a signing last year you were the most patient and pleasant man I could have hoped to meet.
Pat: Once again, I think it’s going back ten years to a bit of a Dark Age in 2000AD history.
Matt: What made it a ‘Dark Age’?
Pat: There was a negative era about ten years ago or so on 2000AD which was unpleasant for many of us, including John Hicklenton, and I don’t believe it should be forgotten. It’s not about grudges, it’s about ensuring it’s not whitewashed out of comic history. After all, one of the individuals concerned writes comic history. Let me give you one example and there are many more like this.
It was the 2000AD millennium party. Against all my instincts (because of past negative experiences with the same people) I very reluctantly accepted the invite. As I started the comic it would have been churlish not to. I think I’m just going to have a social evening, being polite and friendly to people and vice versa. How wrong could I be! [David] Bishop, [Andy] Diggle and some fan are there. There’s no friendly welcome. Instead, the fan immediately proceeds to launch into a passionate and detailed critique of some story error I’ve supposedly made on Nemesis, just finished.
Not having a clue what he’s talking about (hey – we’re here to celebrate. It’s not an editorial conference.) I mildly fight my corner. Diggle then reinforces the fan’s critique, lecturing me on some Nemesis plot point and goes into more exhaustive critical detail, as Bishop –the editor — looks on amused. It never occurred to him to perhaps suggest to his underling this might not be an appropriate time to discuss story plots. There’s no “Hey, it’s great we’re all here to celebrate 2000AD; let’s party.” It’s… How can we cut the guy who created 2000AD down?”
It was a very bad evening for me and as a result I haven’t gone to similar events for many years. Later, I ask some fans if they know what the Nemesis point is (as I still didn’t get it). They don’t either. I pass this onto Diggle who writes back with “Okay, you asked for it! ” and sends me some readers’ letters covering the same ground. So some readers have one perspective, others another. Fair enough. Not a subject for a party. Nobody seems to have picked up on it since, so it’s hardly the end of the world. I have termed this deliberate and confrontational encouragement of fans — normally in letters but sometimes in person — ” creator baiting”.
Thankfully it’s long gone. Today’s editorial is very supportive of all of us and that makes a big difference, which I greatly appreciate. There was one rare example recently when some fan described Johnny [Hicklenton]’s collaboration with Clint as “Ice cream over shit”. Johnny was upset. I was very angry on his behalf. It should never have been printed. That is verbal abuse, which would not be tolerated in any other walk of life. But that was an exception. Ten years back, aggressive and vicious letters — as opposed to constructive criticism — were the norm. If people are looking back to that era this needs to be remembered. Were the stories back then any better as a result of this hostility, or are they better now? I think most of us would say they’re better now and the fan press seems to agree. That’s why it’s important to remember that past era and what went on then.
(cover to Vampire Requiem Knight Volume 2 by Pat Mills and Ledroit, published Panini)
Matt: You write for the French market. What could British comics learn from the French industry?
Pat: Have more detailed backgrounds, longer stories. But also if a French book doesn’t sell in its opening weekend, it’s probably going to flop and be withdrawn. So there is a lot of pressure to get everything right. To be a perfectionist. British comics can be ephemeral and some rough edges can be accepted. Also the French books are selling on one character, so it has to be strong. Sometimes weaker stories in 2000AD are supported by stronger stories.
Equally, French comics can learn from Britain – notably by having more visually striking heroes, more action and our more perverse way of looking at life.
I wish we could do more stories like Charley´s War. The equivalent in France — by [Jacques] Tardi — is seen as quite normal. Here, an anti-war story is unusual. Similarly, they have westerns, detective stories, historical, secret agent, cop stories… whereas we are mainly science fiction, which can be limiting.
Matt: Please tell our readers about Requiem, Vampire Knight.
Pat: An evil German soldier goes to Hell and reincarnates as a Vampire. The Vampires are the elite in Hell. Hypocrites are ghouls. Mindless thugs are zombies etc. It’s a world where everything is reversed… evil is praised, good is bad etc.
Matt: It’s been a massive success in France. Are you surprised that such a weird idea caught the French imagination?
Pat: In France, it would be seen as not that weird. Bear in mind, 2000AD was inspired by French comics which were WAY ahead of the Americans at that time (apart from artists like Mike Kaluta and similar). The French were doing kick-ass science fiction and fantasy.
(scenes from Vampire Requiem Knight by Pat Mills and Ledroit, published Panini, image borrowed from Word Daddy’s blog)
Matt: Why do you think it’s been so popular?
Pat: For these reasons and also it’s brilliant art. Olivier Ledroit would be the equivalent in UK of McMahon or Bolland.
Matt: What one thing would you change about the British comics industry?
Pat: Follow the French model and give creators better rights deals. But it’s unlikely to happen because with the French respecting creators is in their blood, going back into history. Thus it’s well known that the best place to establish copyright is France. Similarly, a negative attitude to art and creators is in the British blood.
When you see how big the French market is and compare it with the UK, you can see clearly that all this stuff about kids not being interested in comics because of computer games is defeatist nonsense. French kids have both!
Matt: You’ve been in comics a long time. Have you ever been tempted by other media? And am I right in thinking you’re making moves into the movie business?
Pat: I’ve recently written the screenplay for American Reaper, which will also be a graphic novel. And I’m shortly going to be working on a similar project. I think comic/film tie-ins will happen more and more. They don’t always have to be negative experiences. There are no universal rules in this business.
Matt: What is American Reaper and how did it come about?
Pat: American Reaper is set in New York in 2062. In this era it is possible to transfer a person’s identity from one body to another. The Reapers are cops who investigate identity thefts. It was commissioned by Xingu Films (Moon) as a screenplay and this has been adapted for the graphic novel version. It’s illustrated by Clint Langley.
The old are stealing the bodies of the young via legal and illegal transplants. In practical terms it means that rich old people are using (exploiting) poor young people. So plenty of social commentary there!
Young prisoners on Death Row are the subject of legal transplants. If you think of China we’re not that far away from this and if the technology existed…
Matt: How did you first come up with the idea?
Pat: Originally by thinking about the principles of reincarnation, where people return as someone else. And then seeing a way of doing it within a science fiction framework where it would have more appeal.
Matt: Are there any artists you haven’t worked with in your career that you would like to?
Pat: Mike Kaluta. We were going to work together on a couple of projects for France and the French publisher and I went over to New York to talk to him about them. I wrote a script for Mike but it never happened for various reasons. I wish it had because he’s a brilliant artist. I love that style. And – hey! Mike’s art proves there is more to mainstream US comic art than superheroes.
Matt: Do you yourself still read other writers’ comics? If not, why not? If so, which comics are you reading?
Pat: I’ve read some female-orientated comics such as Suburban Glamour and Strangers in Paradise because I wanted to see where the female market is. Similarly, I read the excellent Persepolis because I have connections with Iran myself and I’m into political comics.
Matt: Will your strips and characters retire with you, whenever that point comes, or would you like to find talented/trusted writers to carry them forward?
Pat: My past experience has been disastrous. For instance, when Charley got taken over by another writer the story bombed in a few months. It was a turkey despite Joe’s brilliant art. The same has happened on other stories. No. They retire with me.
(the superb Charley’s War by Mills and Colquhoun, still one of the finest Brit war comics series of all time and the equal of Tardi’s War of the Trenches)
Matt: Which of your new strips (nineties and onwards) are you most proud of and why?
Pat: Requiem, because it breaks out of the antique system of the publisher owning all the rights to a property.
Matt: Which of your older strips?
Pat: Charley’s War, because it appealed (and still appeals) to mainstream readers.
Matt: If you could find the right artist and sort out any rights problems, would you like to revisit some non-2000 AD strips in the same way you are writing new Flesh? I’m thinking Charley’s War, for example…
Pat: Yes. There is constant media interest in Charley’s War. A while back Dirk Maggs and I put it forward as a Radio 4 classic serial. We got turned down but you never know what could happen with the character.
Matt: What’s your biggest regret, career-wise?
Pat: Not doing for Misty what I did for 2000AD. They wouldn’t give me a rights deal, so I walked. But if I stayed, I believe Misty would be bigger than 2000AD now. See my article for Comic Heroes.
Matt: And your proudest moment?
Pat: Writing about the Great British Mutiny in Charley’s War because it has been hushed up… These events need dramatising and they are about true heroes: our grandfathers and great grandfathers.
Matt: What are your thoughts on the future of the British comics industry?
Pat: I think it could surprise us all yet. Rebellion graphic novels do well. And I know of lots of plans by various people to do exciting new things in the medium. I think as long as we realise there’s life beyond super heroes we’ll be okay. And that’s the title of a panel I was on, at the SFX event in February.
(Greysuit by Pat Mills and John Higgins, published recently by Rebellion)
Matt: And, finally, please tell what you’ve got coming up in 2011, projects-wise?
Pat: More film work with our company, Repeat Offenders ltd. More Flesh. More Requiem. Hopefully Greysuit. And maybe a graphic novel geared towards that ‘female market’ we were discussing.
Matt: Ok, that wasn’t the final question after all, because…
This interview is fairly long and you’ve been very generous with your time, but…
…it feels like there are a thousand more questions I could ask you, which makes this question that we received from one of your fans especially pertinent:
‘John Wagner has started answering questions on a fan-created facebook page. Is this something you could ever envision yourself doing?’
Pat: Sure. I’d be happy to.
Matt: Thanks, Pat, for taking time out to answer these questions.
FPI would like to thank Pat Mills and Matthew Badham for taking the time to do this interview and share it with us. I’m sad to say this will be the last of Matt’s excellent series of interviews for the blog for the foreseeable future – I think our regular readers will agree that he’s brought us some brilliant talks with some fascinating comics creators and along the way done something he always does, highlighted and celebrated the best in British comics. But a freelance writer needs time to work and these interviews do take a lot of time and effort and Matt needs that time right now. On a related note, editors, if you’re looking for an erudite, informed and passionate freelancer on Brit comics, I highly commend Matt to you (seriously, just have a look at his ‘portfolio’ on here that has been read by thousands) and I would like to thank him personally for making such a major contribution to our blog (you are owed a pile of beers at some convention one of these days). You can keep up with Matt at his own blog (where he has even more interviews) and his Twitter, while you can also follow Pat on Twitter.
And coming up in 2000 AD you can soon read the new Flesh tale Texas by Pat and James McKay, which starts in 2000 AD Prog 1724, on sale 9th March. Book 7 of Savage, Secret City, by Pat and Patrick Goddard will follow this summer, Slaine: The Lord of Misrule trade collection by Pat and Clint Langley is published by Rebellion this spring, and ABC Warriors: The Volgan War Volume 4 follows in the summer. Greysuit: Project Monarch by Pat and John Higgins is out now from Rebellion. And Pat has just told us that DC will be printing the Marshal Law series, I’m sure we’ll hear more details on that later.