In Part One of our interview with Mark Millar he talked about making people smile through his work, the benefits of creator-owned comics and his newest project Huck. Read on for Part Two!
Mark: I did the Huck deal actually about six months ago. We only went public with it about…[six] weeks ago maybe? But I did the deal six months ago. The guy that used to run Warner Brothers started up his own studio. He’s an amazing guy actually called Jeff Robinov. He has this brand new studio which everyone is really excited about called Studio 8… we’re talking to writers and directors and all by the end of next year… we want to get it out soon. Because it seems a very timely movie. Right now people want something that makes them feel good, and Huck is the ultimate feel-good comic.
AiPT!: I completely agree with that feel-good nature, and I definitely want to get to that in just a moment, but while we’re on the subject of movies, just one last question about that: with the frequency in which your comics are optioned into movies now, do you ever write with a movie in mind? Or are you more focused on, even if a comic can be described as cinematic, really focusing on just making it a comic first and then maybe if it becomes a movie, “great.”
Mark: I mean, I always want it to be a movie, sure. But the thing is, there is no way to make it look like a movie. You can have a cinematic style, you know, but every movie is cinematic, so that is not going to sell it for me (laughs).
There has to just be an idea that people like. There really is no formula. There’s nothing you can say is going to be a movie, you know, there just has to be someone who likes it.
To give you an example, Kick-Ass is the last thing that I could have ever imagined becoming a movie, because it’s full of sex, and violence, and then there’s a ten-year-old kid chopping people up and saying the worst swear words you can imagine. “This is never going to be a movie!” (Laughs) You just never know. I always tell people, the secret is, do something you love, and just by the law of averages, there’s going to be someone else who loves it too. Your enthusiasm becomes contagious, you know?
To give you an example, think of the comic book movies that have existed outside of Marvel and DC. From Ghost World to Sin City to 300 to Kick-Ass to Kingsman… Every one of these things, what they have in common is that they’re completely unique. They’re uncynical… none of those things look as if they can possibly be movies. They’re all very much the vision and personality of the creator involved. And I see loads of things right now where people are kind of… like, “Jurassic World Meets The Terminator” or something like that (laughs)… it’s looking like a movie but it just looks like a bad movie. What you’ve got to do is just something you really love and that’s the secret, it really is.
When you think about it, it’s the weirdest and most unusual things that tend to get made into movies, not the very generic things… you might imagine.
AiPT!: Right, that’s something that I and a lot of other comic book fans try to get out to people that don’t know that much about this industry, about this art form, is that there is so much variety, and you can point to something like Ghost World and say “that is just as much of a comic as something like Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Mark: Oh, totally.
AiPT!: I want to get back to Huck. One of the things that I wanted to mention about Huck is that it has this really, kind of breezy feeling. It just leaves you feeling really good.
Mark: Oh, I’m glad you’re saying that! (Laughs)
AiPT!: Yeah, no problem! I was really impressed when I read it by just how smoothly it went down and how big of a smile it left me. Obviously, when you’re making a comic, you want it to be as good as possible, but were there any particular techniques that you used? Given this sort of wholesome, again, breezy sort of feeling.
Mark: You just go with your gut, you know? You just go with what’s instinctive. If something feels nice, feels fun, you know that’s the scene, that’s the line, that’s the eyebrow-raise, whatever, you just always got to go with your instincts. My secret, I think, is I always do what I want to read. It’s so simple, you know? I actually write projects that I want to read as a reader, and it serves me well. And so with Huck I just followed my instincts… Huck is the one for me right now.
AiPT!: That’s great, that you’re doing what you love.
Mark: Oh yeah, it’s the secret, honestly. I figured that out in the year 2000, and I genuinely figured out that, like, don’t try and follow trends, just do what you enjoy doing and somebody else is going to (enjoy it).
AiPT!: That’s wonderful. You mentioned the real “Americanness,” if that’s a word (laughs)…Americosity? I don’t know… of Huck and how much Rafael fits into that vision. How did you go about achieving that sort of feel? Because you were born and raised in Scotland, right?
Mark: I’ve lived here all my life, yeah. I’ve never lived anywhere else.
AiPT!: So were you consciously trying to make this a very American feeling book? Or did it just come from your experience working with Americans, collaborating with Americans, I suppose meeting a lot of Americans at cons…
Mark: You know what’s the funny thing? This is going to seem very odd to an American, but people outside of America know everything about America. It’s weird, but America is always very glamorous to us. Especially in Scotland. The Scots in the West coast, where I’m from especially in the Isles, have a kind of love affair with America, you know?
I’ll give you an example. When I was growing up, there was a pool hall by my house that nobody ever went to, you know? It was dead, any night you went… I remember one time, they changed the sign at the front to “American Pool,” and they put American flags up and stuff, and the place was mobbed! It’s always been really busy ever since. There’s guys that do country western line dancing in Western Scotland, people over the age of let’s say 65 in Glasgow, it’s been a very very popular hobby… to do that kind of country western dancing! (Laughs) People dress up as American cowboys and things, and the women dress up in that kind of stuff as well, and they do this barn dance kind of thing. It’s weird! And I know it sounds very strange, but America is just generally liked over here!
Growing up, America always seemed very glamorous to me. To me, America was the place where the superheroes lived. It was a place I knew I wanted to work the minute I was old enough to work in the States. And that was the draw, I never wanted to work anywhere else.
So like everyone else, I watched American films, watched American TV shows, so I’m well-versed in it. In a way that you guys probably didn’t grow up watching Scotch television, we grew up watching American television. It’s very international! People around the world just know… they know where New York is, they know where California is, in a way they may not know Glasgow and Edinborough.
AiPT!: I’ve got to say, as an American, it’s almost embarrassing at times how little we are exposed to other countries in comparison to the ways that other countries are exposed to us. I mean my biggest interaction with Scottish people has been talking to you, and talking to Grant Morrison.
Mark: There’s only about six million Scottish people, so you probably know most of them already (Laughs).
AiPT!: I thought to myself while reading Huck, which you described in one interview as being “Captain America meets Forrest Gump,” the pitch I would go for would be “What if Clark Kent never left Smallville?”
Mark: You know something? I didn’t have Superman in my head, which is weird because I’m the world’s biggest Superman fan. Superman is my favorite thing. Weirdly, I hadn’t thought of that. I was thinking more of Forrest Gump than Superman, because I was just thinking of a lovely small town American thing. I wanted this to be an American myth, and I suppose that there are few greater American myths than Superman… so I guess that was sort of natural.
AiPT!: That’s funny, because before reading the interview, I read (Huck) thinking “this gives a Forrest Gump” sort of feel” and it was actually a surprise to me when it turned into a story about, if not superheroes, a sort of superpower.
Mark: Yeah, I mean, my thinking was, I wanted it to feel a bit like a folk tale. Like, my idea was, imagine a superhero comic where superheroes had never been created, you know, where this is the first one that anyone’s ever done a story with. So there’s no costumes, there’s no supervillains, no secret identities, none of the tropes that have become such clichés over 75 years. So I just wanted something that felt like an American myth. An American folk character that was just larger than life, utterly decent and almost impossible to exist.
And it was quite a bit of work! It’s funny, I’ve been doing this job for such a long time, and I’ve had a certain amount of success and stuff like that, but this is the book that I’m most proud of. This is a book that I can’t wait to have in my collection on my bookshelf.
AiPT!: It’s funny you mention folktales, because I’m sure I’m not the first person to mention this, but am I correct in assuming that there is at least some inspiration for Huck from Huckleberry Finn as a character?
Mark: No, not really actually. I like the all-Americanness of the name. And you’ll see how it fits in as the story progresses, you’ll see where that comes together as well. But that Mark Twain world feels incredibly American to me. Superman and Batman feel incredibly American to me. Elvis Presley feels incredibly American to me. But really the most American thing to me, if you go back far enough, is that sort of white picket fence, Mark Twain, Tom and Huck kind of world. So it doesn’t relate directly to those stories, but it evokes that vibe of a simple world, a small town where everyone knows each other. My first exposure to America probably taps into that.
AiPT!: Thanks, Mark, it was great talking to you. I really appreciate you giving the time.
Mark: All the best then!
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!