Mark Millar on Millarworld

Mark Millar is the popular writer of such books as DC's Superman: Red Son, DC/WildStorm's Authority, Marvel's Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four (co-written with Brian Michael Bendis) and Marvel/Epic's Trouble. This month he launches his Millarworld line of books with Chosen from Dark Horse, Run and Wanted from Image, and The Unfunnies from Avatar. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently contacted Millar to find out more about Millarworld.

Westfield: What exactly is Millarworld?

Mark Millar: Millarworld is kind of like an indie movie or record label where I can do the kind of material (superhero material in particular) I might not necessarily get away with from the big two. The other advantage for the artists and I is that we can own the projects lock, stock and barrel and so while we establish our names on household names we're hopefully creating the next generation of comic, video-game and movie characters elsewhere. It's a very long-term project and something I want to build up in stages over the next few years. It's also tied in with my website, www.millarworld.biz and you'll notice this gets mentioned on everything from the covers to the freebies. Thank you, Jen, Michael and all those dear souls who maintain that site so brilliantly, by the way.

Westfield: Do these books tie together at all?

Millar: Yes, the books do have little things that link them and to use comic-book terminology they do all co-exist within a single universe; even the very crude, very rude animated book from Avatar called The Unfunnies. It's absolutely not necessary to buy them all. As a reader, I hate it when something like that is pulled. However, if you read them all you'll spot all the subtle links and how they all do tie together on a macrocosmic level. This really is one huge story in a vague sense, but the individual projects are being sold to multimedia as very distinct franchises.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the stories in the four titles?

Millar: Wanted is the superhero comic I've been building towards since I started writing The Authority. It started with The Authority, hopefully raised the game with The Ultimates and maybe peaks with Wanted. This is everything I want to do with a superhero book, which is interesting because it really doesn't feature superheroes much at all. It's inspired by the old Secret Society of Super-Villains comic from my very early childhood and the story is set in the literal world outside your window. This isn't Earth 1, 2, 3 or B. This story takes place in the real world and explains what happened to the superheroes and what the villains are doing right beneath our very noses.

Chosen is a sequel to the New Testament. I like to think of the Bible as a Lord of the Rings style trilogy and the Book of Revelations was really just a teaser trailer for the best, most exciting part of the story. Essentially, this is Return of Christ the King and is a little like a book I did when I was nineteen called The Saviour. The difference here is that we don't start with Jesus as a man, but start in the 1980s when he's twelve years old and discovers this terrifying destiny he has ahead of him. He's just a little kid like you or I back in the day who likes Atari and Lemon Popsicle and movies on Betamax when his parents are out... who discovers he's the Son of God. Bill and Joe said it was Ultimate Spider-Man meets The Bible and I think that's quite a nice way of looking at it.

Run! is Near Dark meets The Flash. This is what happens when super-speed gets into the wrong hands in a story set all across the globe, but mostly in the dusty backwaters of middle America and following three super-speedsters who are using their powers unlike anything we've really seen before. Ashley's artwork on this is just phenomenal. This looks like a little movie and is probably the most cinematic and high-concept of the bunch, basically just being Super-Speed for Bastards.

The Unfunnies is my personal favourite of the batch. It's the least commercial in the sense that the other books are all superhero comics aimed at an adult audience, whereas this is a funny animal book aimed at the kind of person who's probably in prison. It's the scariest book I've ever been involved with and I'm genuinely slightly worried about people reading it. It reads like internet porn. It's just deranged. The Unfunnies is probably the most sophisticated thing I've ever done in terms of story structure and this will come as something of a shock given the intentionally child-like visuals for the most part. It's a combination of photo-strip and cartoon animation summed up quite simply as Magnolia in the style of Hanna-Barbera.

Westfield: How did you select the artists for the books and what do you feel they each bring to the titles they're working on?

Millar: Each artist was very specifically chosen for the particular look of the books and I had each of them in mind from the beginning. JG Jones (Wanted) can do superheroes, action and a photographic naturalism needed for what I've intended to be the most realistic super-book done to date. John Cassaday (Pow!) absolutely captures exactly what I wanted, Anthony Williams (The Unfunnies) has a background in animation and DC's animated books so it was all considered very carefully long before any offers were made. Peter Gross is just blowing me away with Chosen. He's taken everything that's creepy and evocative about his work and really just taken it to a new level. He's really raised him game here. Likewise, Ashley Wood drawing what's essentially an adult version of The Flash is just mesmerizing. I'm genuinely delighted with the artists who've agreed to be part of this. JG Jones, Peter Gross, John Cassaday, Frank Quitely, Anthony Williams, Ashley Wood and the ace up my sleeve I can't even tell you about yet is pretty much the most effective line-up I think any particular line really has in the business at the moment. The next wave of this stuff won't happen for another two years, but I'm already putting together my artists.

Westfield: Why did you decide to go with different publishers with these books instead of having them all come from one publisher?

Millar: One company offered to buy them all and it was really tempting because the money was good and I'm doing half of this stuff for no fee whatsoever. The Image and the Avatar books have no money at all upfront, but the plus-side is that Cassaday, Quitely, Ash, Ants and myself own the things completely. I've put a huge amount of work into this line so I want us to reap the benefits, not only in comic-sales, but also in the movie, television and video-game rights. It was a gamble, of course, but it seems to be paying off and it also serves as an opportunity to bring whatever heat I have writing something like The Ultimates to a little company like Avatar and The Unfunnies. The industry would atrophy if the smaller companies didn't exist to breed new talent so this is just my way of helping keep the blood pumping around the body. Again, it sounds risky, but I think even Avatar can reach readers Image and Top Cow can't so the fact that each company is obliged to carry ads for all the other books sounds to me like this could actually increase the general readership as opposed to dividing the potential numbers. Also, what you may have noticed is that each of the individual companies made these their lead book for the month and so the promotion in that sense was four times what it would have been had I brought all these books out from a single company.

Westfield: Any other upcoming projects you'd like to mention?

Millar: Well, Roger, like I said I see this as a big plan that really runs until the end of the decade, but it's punctuated by a couple of years of company-owned work every once in a while. I've pretty much finished most of the Millarworld first wave material and so the next twenty four months will be spent writing the second Volume of The Ultimates (a little niche book I do with a man called Bryan Hitch) and also my first foray into the Marvel Universe. I'm launching a new book for Marvel in the Spring and having kittens about it. I'm unable to tell you what this is at the moment, but I'm already four issues in and we're only announcing it once the artist has a few issues in the can. The Ultimates volume 2, Ultimate FF and my new Marvel book will keep me busy through most of 2004, the only other project I'm talking about in the meantime being a big, big superhero I want to do with Carlos Pacheco before the end of next year. I'm really having a good time here. Doing the Millarworld books has really recharged my batteries and given me a decade of new ideas and new ways to approach this material.

Otherwise, I'll be drinking a lot of booze and renting a lot more videos in 2004, but that's probably not what you're interested in hearing about. Speaking of which, could I just mention the Millarworld launch parties we're having around the world in December? The final dates will be posted on the www.millarworld.biz website, but we're looking at London, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Sydney, Auckland, Paris and Barcelona at the moment. I'm definitely going to be at several of these and bringing past, current and future collaborators along too.