Here at AIPT!, we’re pretty big fans of Huck, the feel-good new comic by massively popular writer Mark Millar (Civil War, Kick-Ass, and much more) and superstar artist Rafael Albuquerque (American Vampire). That’s why it was such a thrill to be able to chat with Millar about the new comic, how it compares to his previous work, and some of the storytelling secrets that he’s learned over the years.
AiPT!: Both you and Rafael are two of the biggest names in comics. Can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of that collaboration?
Mark Millar: Actually, quite often these things come around through a friend. Someone will say “this guy… you’ve always been a fan of, he’s got a spare six months.” Comics is kind of like a little club. You get to know everyone incredibly fast… usually if you’ve been working full-time in the industry you get to know everyone within a year or two, you kind of know everyone, so we’re all kind of friends, and we’re all dotted across the world…everybody’s in constant communication, especially with Twitter and stuff like that… Rafa was available… he just seemed perfect. I talked to a couple of artists before and it didn’t quite work out, but there’s something about Rafa’s art that just works.
It’s kind of like casting a movie. The minute that Colin Firth came onto the agenda for Kingsman it just suddenly clicked. There (were a few) other actors that we talked about beforehand, but then suddenly it’s “ah! Of course!” You know? It must have been how (1978 Superman film director Richard) Donner felt when Christopher Reeve walk into the room, you know?
It’s kind of like that with art as well. I’d been writing the script and then saw Rafa’s art and was like “Aw, perfect!”
AiPT!: I’ve definitely heard that about the comics industry—that it’s like a little club. As someone who’s trying to break into the industry, that’s very exciting to me… how easily people connect with each other. So what was it about Rafael that made you think he was right for Huck? Or did you come up with Huck after meeting with Rafael and figuring out what his sensibilities were?
Mark: No, actually, like I said, there were a couple of other artists that I had been talking to, but Rafa just seemed perfect, because, this is a very odd thing to say about someone who’s not American, who’s Brazilian, but he’s got a very American style to me. It doesn’t seem like contemporary America so much, but it does seem like that kind of John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men kind of America, that Midwestern kinda guys wearing overalls, pumping gas kind of thing, you know that kinda traditional idea of mid-century, nineteenth century America. Kind of the America we all fell in love with, that Romantic notion of America.
And I think his style… can enhance that. The minute I looked at it… (I recognized that) it was drawn by him and it was just one of those lovely situations where the art comes back ten times better than I even had in my head. So yeah, definitely the right choices. Again, it’s kind of like movie casting.
AiPT!: I was really impressed by Rafael’s art… but one of the thing that fascinates me about it is that on one hand, he’s more known for things like American Vampire and that recent string of Batman covers that have a more horror-oriented feel, and yet you still look at something like Huck, which is so much more lighthearted and bright, and you can still immediately know that it’s Rafael Albuquerque art.
Mark: Yeah, he’s a versatile artist, you know. I mean, it’s funny… I can see the comedy in his work as well. You know, sometimes you can look at his stuff and feel a lightness of touch there too, so I think… he’s just very good. If somebody’s good, he can draw anything. He’s just one of those guys. He’s just super talented, and a pleasure to work with.
AiPT!: And on your end too, a lot of noise has been made about how your recent work is a lot more optimistic and hopeful than what you’ve been known for in the past with, say, Civil War, for example. You’ve talked about how Millarworld is kind of expanding into that territory. Can talk a little bit about what inspired you to take on this new tone?
Mark: Believe it or not, it’s actually a few years old, the sort of slight shift. I like to mix it up a little bit. You know, you have to remember, when people first heard of me, I was working on Superman Adventures, which was aimed sort of to six to nine-year-olds, and maybe people who were checking out the animated show as well… back in the late 1990s. And then, I got on the scene with The Authority and everyone was like “how is this guy doing stuff that’s so cynical and harsh when he’s so used to doing the gentle stuff and everything? I can’t imagine that he would do a thing like this.”
And then it’s weird to them when you do something, then you do Ultimates and projects like that, and then you do something like Ultimate Fantastic Four, which is quite whimsical, and Marvel 1985, which is very very sort of PG-13, Spielberg, 80’s nostalgia kind of thing… and Superman: Red Son is even an all-ages comic, I don’t think there’s any swearing in that thing at all… I’ve always kind of liked to mix it up a little bit.
What’s very interesting is that the stuff that you become the best known for is the stuff that reaches the widest audience. So people in general will look at my stuff as quite dark, because that’s the stuff that sold the most copies. Civil War was Marvel’s biggest book of the last decade, you know, so people were very aware of it, and the darkness is probably what people knew me from. Things like Kick-Ass and so on get made into movies, and Kingsman… there’s a lot of violence… and people just assume that that’s why I do it.
I think it’s quite nice that once people think you do one thing, you just sort of shift and change gears into something different. So something like Starlight, you know, is very upbeat and optimistic, very nostalgic and sentimental. Even The Secret Service comic, you know, the one Kingsman was based on, if you read that it’s actually very very similar. Kick-Ass 3 is actually the most incredibly upbeat thing, it’s actually the most upbeat thing that I’ve done, like the ending was kind of my ultimate happy ending, and kind of MPH as well.
Like I was saying, it’s something that I was consciously gearing towards the last couple of years, and I see it happening in all media. You know, the stuff that I’m interested in is the stuff that’s a little bit upbeat, and I’m kind of bored with the previous decade’s darkness. I do love it that things have just a little bit of a light touch and a sense of humor. I mean, we all went to Guardians of the Galaxy and walked out loving it, and wanting to see more of that, and suddenly dark superhero movies in particular just kind of seem old hat, very ten-years-ago… I love the idea of just making people smile.
… And suddenly dark superhero movies in particular just kind of seem old hat, very ten-years-ago… I love the idea of just making people smile.
AiPT!: Yeah, it is very exciting, and one of the things I was thinking about when I read Starlight — which I loved by the way — was that… because it got optioned for a movie fairly quickly after it was released, I was thinking to myself… of course I would love it if people read the comic first, but if we get a really faithful Starlight adaptation — I think this will be such a revelation to people that think that comic books and comic book adaptations have already become formulaic or pigeonholed (not to cast aspersions on it, but things like Man of Steel which is fairly dark) and see that there’s so much more variety out there, and see that there is room for comics of a whimsical nature, and this optimism as well.
Mark: Oh yeah, I think that people are lining up for it. One of the reasons that I think Guardians of the Galaxy—which was a franchise and concept so obscure that I had never heard of it, I didn’t know who any of those characters were before I saw that movie—but because it was so good and made you feel so good, it it made even more money than X-Men. It was a spectacular success because it had the right note.
Similarly, I think Kingsman was for people who were fed up with James Bond being so dark. The Superior movie we’re shooting next summer is for people who think Man of Steel and so on is just too dark… and we want to do more of that kind of thing with Starlight too. We’re also shooting Starlight at the end of next summer as well. The Kingsman sequel starts shooting in April…
I like the idea of people not knowing what to expect next. It’s kind of fun to just shift gears and do fun family things, which is great because I have three kids that I love and can sign them up for free, which is great because I don’t have to pay any money.
AiPT!: How much say do you have in the way that these movies are produced? Because these are… creator owned comics that we’re talking about here.
Mark: Oh absolutely, I mean we have total control, because if you create it you own it now. It’s not like the old days where you create Green Lantern and you don’t even get credit on the movie, you know? What used to happen in the past was shameful. But really since the nineties, and ever since Image was formed, we have completely ownership of these things, so if we don’t want a movie to happen, we just say “no.” Which is lovely, the same relationship J.K Rowling has with Harry Potter. Your name (is) on as producer, and you get involved with everything from scratch, from casting to edits afterwards.
Certainly working with (Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service director) Matthew Vaughan. Matthew is incredibly generous with collaboration and so on… he’ll get us down and send us notes every week. I used to be there every Wednesday on Kingsman, and sit and watch it, get my notes with test audiences… I think it’s something incredibly fun. I really see it as another medium, a medium that’s not entirely mine. It’s the director’s medium, I guess, but its great fun just to play in it, as I said, to do something a little different every once in a while.
So I’m very happy with all of the adaptations. The Starlight screenplay is incredibly close to the book, the Superior screenplay is incredibly close to the book, and they’re very good…these guys are slightly better than I am, so I look great.
AiPT!: So you’re saying that if, for example, a Huck adaptation was pitched to you, and you didn’t like the pitch, you’d say no to it.
Mark: Oh, I’d have to! Yeah I do that. I do that all the time. Huck hasn’t been sent around to writers yet, because it’s still relatively new, but yeah! I mean, my god, yeah, I’ve turned down lots of people… I won’t name names… but if somebody has a bad pitch, I’ll say no. Likewise, if there’s an actor I hate… that’s just part of the job.
AiPT!: To my knowledge, Huck has not been optioned yet, but I did read in a CBR interview that you’d like to see Channing Tatum in the role—
Mark: Oh no, Huck’s a done deal. We’re hopefully shooting it at the end of next year.
Greg: Really! Oh, wow. [Please note that this was recorded on October 27th, 2015, over three weeks before Huck #1 was even commercially released]
Read on with Part Two of our interview with Mark Millar!