Interview: Mark Millar on Kick-Ass 2, Days of Future Past and more!
Kick Ass 2 is released accross the UK TODAY. Read Nicola’s review here.
It’s not every day you get to sit in a fancy hotel and pick the brains of Mark Millar. But the Kick-Ass 2 press junket seemed like just the opportunity to do that. Popularity and controversy often overlap, and there’s no denying that Millar and his work have never strayed too far from either. Now one of comics’ key power players in Hollywood, Millar not only has his own work front and centre on the big screen, he’s also special consultant to 20th Century Fox on their Marvel licences. We spoke to him about Kick-Ass 2, what’s happening at Fox, his thoughts on the compatibility and differences between cinema and comics, and more.
FP: How would you describe the Narrative arc of the characters so far, especially in reference to the new film?
MM: I would say the journey for Dave is to go from being a boy to being a man. That’s what it’s about and when you read Kick-Ass and when you read Kick-Ass 3 in particular you’ll get that that’s what the journey has been. It’s funny: nobody’s asked me exactly what Kick-Ass is about. It’s about a wee guy who doesn’t like himself and the world that he’s in, so he invents a fantasy world that then becomes real around him. He creates that world in his real life and that’s all part of his growing up process, through to the ultimate destination in the third and final book.
One thing I definitely felt reading the original issues that comprise volume one is that my conceptions of what the comic was kept being pulled out from under me–
That was always the plan with Kick-ass: to give you the conventional route and then pull it in another direction, like how the first night out on patrol ends in hospital. That it’s the trick with Kick-Ass, to take you on a journey and then pull you to one side.
Save for a few notable exceptions, the original movie is fairly true to the comic. It seems to me that for many years, the higher the fidelity of the movie in relation to the comic, the better it would be received by the majority of fans. Do you think that a faithful comic movie being a good comic movie is necessarily the case?
I would say that you can only judge things one at a time, on a case-by-case basis. Watchmen is the perfect comic, but it made a weird film because it was structured like the perfect comic. So, I think sometimes you need to be ruthless. But Frank Miller’s stuff translates brilliantly to film: the exact structure of 300 was a very satisfying movie as well as a comic. So I think it’s all case-by-case.
Your work has been frequently described as “filmic”. Is that something intentional on your part?
I think that some artists are cartoony and some artists are photographic. Just like some writers are comic-booky and some guys are filmic. I remember when people were first aware of me, in the year 2000, the number one thing people would say is that “this is quite like reading a movie”. I was like “What? Really?”, because it’s almost like your accent; you don’t really notice. You’re just telling a story. You don’t think “I’m going to make this just like a film”. But by Ultimates, people were like “oh this is really like a film” and, ultimately, it did become a film. So I think it’s just my style, but I never plan it as such like “here’s how I’d structure the movie” because I see comics and films as really quite distinct.
What do you think are the advantages of one vs the other?
Number one with comics is budget. If I think of an idea, it costs exactly the same amount of cash to draw an alien invasion as it does a talking heads scene. Friends who are screenwriters – and this is why I never want to be one – will say things like “oh god, I had to lose a great scene because we just couldn’t afford it and I had to merge two scenes together”. It’s awful when cost then prohibits your imagination, I think that’s quite an unfortunate thing to happen to a writer because your imagination should be sacrosanct and I love the fact that comics don’t worry about that. I also love that nobody’s that legal in comics. You can get away with anything in a comics but in the movies people panic about certain things and just want to make sure that the distributors, cinemas and studios will be happy with it. There’s all these considerations that we don’t have to worry about in comics.
What do movies have over comics? Wide appeal. The number of people that saw Kick-Ass massively influenced the number of graphic novels of volume 1 that we sold. In an 8 week period we sold so many books it was insane. I think in total, we sold just over a million when you add it all together. I think we would have sold 50 or 80,000 if it hadn’t been made into a movie. So the movie is just the greatest advert for the book.
Do you think that the fact you can get away with more in comics is exactly what makes them so appealing to studios, in the sense that executives are just not used to having their mind blown like that in their own medium?
I rarely read a novel that blows me away compared to how often I read a comic that blows me away. I think there’s an amazing turnover of ideas in comic. One comic could keep most novelists going for an entire career.
While we’re on this point, I’ve always seen you as a big advocate for the medium of comics. Particularly thinking of things like CLiNT and Kapow!, do you see the desire to popularise comics as a key part of what you do?
Absolutely. I hate it when comics go niche. There is a demand for certain speciality stuff and I do like things that are a wee bit unusual but we should never go small or else we don’t have an industry. I think People are starting to realise now that I don’t see comics as a stepping stone into Hollywood because I’m in Hollywood and I always continue to work in comics. My ultimate dream was realised when I was 18 when I had my first comic published. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t make home movies as a kid; I made my own comics. So I want as many people behind them as possible so then we can continue to do what we do; whether its selling comics or writing or drawing them.
I hate it when people say “ oh, no no we shouldn’t go near Hollywood” because comics in booming right now and huge part of that is because the Avengers movie was out last year making everybody familiar with those characters. Kick-Ass is selling crazy because the Kick-Ass movie is out there. We’ve got these 100-200 million dollar adverts out there, why not completely capitalise on that?
I’m going to do the dickish thing now and bring up an interview from 2011 where you predicted that the current superhero movie boom would die down in 2014 or 2015. Do you still think that’s the case?
I thought it would and I’ll tell you why. I thought that Avengers was as big as it was going to get. How do you top the excitement of seeing four franchises coming together? I thought that Avengers 2 would be where things peaked and started to tail off. In bad times, people need Superheroes and the recession is deeper than I thought it was back then. So now, I actually don’t think 2014-2015 is the case and I think the appetite for these movies is huge. I think this could go now until the end of the decade.
I think comic book movies will always be made now, it’s like the novel. But in terms of the genre of superheroes though, in the latter half of the decade, I do think it will start to get a bit tricky because all the good characters have been done and reboots are kind of lame but I think there are few tricks left up the studios’ sleeves yet.
Would your advice to other people in the industry to be to get their creator owned projects ready now?
Definitely. Prior to films like Wanted, Sin-City, Hellboy – those first creator-owned movies – it had only really been Superman and Batman, etc getting made. Frank Miller, as he paved the way in comics, has paved the way in movies. 300 and Sin City were like a double whammy that made people realise “hang on, we don’t just need to make Batman and Spider-Man and with these big companies that are a pain in the arse to deal with, we might as well go straight to the guys that are making the books” and I think the opportunity is incredible for us. Scott Pilgrim is another great example of what those movies can do for your books, even though the movie didn’t do very well as the sales on the books as a result were just phenomenal. I’d say to people now if you’ve got an idea, don’t give it away to Marvel and DC now, make it work for you.
Returning to the big characters for a second: you’ve been labelled on the internet as “Fox’s Joss—
How is that going? Can you say much?
Yeah, it’s weird. It’s like being in the illuminati or something. Because I sit with the head of Fox or the second head of Fox. I don’t really hang out too much with the directors much – although I do see them – but my daily involvement is with the people that run the studio. We strategise, which I love because I love the business side as well as the creative side. I love looking at the budgets and working out when a movie should come out in a year and what directors we should be talking to – that’s where Jeff Wadlow [Kick-Ass 2 Director] came in because I was so impressed with Kick Ass 2 that I told the guys last year that they should get him in for X-Force. So they’ve been talking to Jeff now for probably about 8 months and people don’t know that its even been going on that long. I’m going in in two weeks time and we’ll sit around a table to plan all this stuff. It’s exciting.
But how exciting is it though? In terms of excitement how much can fans e—
In terms of how high is the erection, would you say?
What’s the angle on the erection?
For what coming up it’s amazing. I mean even the next one, Days of Future Past, which was already in the bag when I came in. That’s a no-brainer as a massive massive movie. It feels like an event when a superhero film comes out generally but this is the cast of the future X-Men and the cast of the old X-Men coming together. So its immediately interesting even before you know anything about the story. To see McKellen and Fassbender standing together on a poster is fantastically exciting.
I’m coming in there at a good time. Jim Mangold is a great director on Wolverine, as are Bryan Singer, Josh Tranc and Jeff Wadlow and some of the new guys coming up. Fox are really spending the money on directors and that’s a massive factor in the success of the superhero movie. Spider-Man, X-Men and Chris Nolan’s Batman proved that a great director is what makes this stuff A-List and I hope that superhero movies never get away from that. I think that it’s sometimes easy to Disneyfy it all and say that it’s the brand that’s big and that you don’t need a good director but its not the case. You need the talent in there and Fox really realise that.
You mention frequently that you don’t want to become a screenwriter—
I’ll never become a screenwriter.
Why is that?
It just doesn’t interest me. It’s the same reason that I don’t want to become a cinematographer, you know? It’s such a different job from what I do. I love writing comics, I don’t necessarily love writing them for the screen. I love seeing them adapted into movies and I love seeing them adapted into hoodies and video game; it’s a blast seeing them become other things.
Finally, how are you dealing with the whole “comics superstar who’s now an in-demand movie guy” thing?
Well, I’ll be flying home tonight, back to Scotland, where nobody gives a shit. So it does keep everything in perspective. It’s like you’ll be sitting in a fancy hotel – and I had a lovely night’s sleep last night and I was seen though the airport by a special Universal person where I didn’t even have to go through security – but tomorrow morning you’ll be going out to buy and make the family breakfast and everything’s back to normal.