Stan Lee may have created the X-Men, but Chris Claremont defined them. And yet, ask anybody on the street who they’re more familiar with and they’re likely to say Lee–even if Claremont is responsible for laying the foundation for countless Hollywood blockbusters, beloved television series and more.
Claremont’s dedication to the X-Men, long before they were one of pop culture’s biggest franchises, his passion for storytelling and other factors made filmmaker Patrick Meaney want to bring the legendary writer’s story to the screen–in his own words.
At just over an hour, the documentary Chris Claremont’s X-Men is just as engrossing as one of the writer’s X-Men stories. But like Meaney, I wanted to learn more–about the filmmaker himself. So we chatted about the story behind Chris Claremont’s X-Men, which will be available on VOD February 6, 2018.
AiPT!: What was Chris Claremont’s reaction when you first approached him about this film?
Patrick Meaney: Chris seemed a little wary that someone would be interested in making film about him, but he was up for doing it. The first thing we filmed was a round table interview with him, Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti and I think he was very excited to sit down with them, particularly Ann who he had not seen for several years.
AiPT!: What X-Men story made you take an interest in the franchise and Claremont’s writing?
Meaney: I first encountered X-Men with the ’90s cartoon series on Fox. I was quite young at the time, but still enjoyed that the show was a little more sophisticated than other stuff targeted at kids, and in retrospect, it’s a pretty solid adaptation of a lot of the best X-Men stories from the comics.
I started reading Chris’s work with his very first issue, many years after it was published. I got a black and white collection called Essential X-Men Volume 1, which started at the beginning of his run, and eventually I read through his entire run. I loved classic stories like Dark Phoenix or Days of Future Past, but I think it was reaching the end of his run and seeing it as one epic work that really made me appreciate him. Comics went through so many stylistic changes over those years, but Chris was able to make it feel like a unified journey that these characters went on, and I wanted to know more about how these amazing stories came about.
AiPT!: Did your initial vision for the film change the more you learned through your interviews?
Meaney: A lot of times with a documentary, you go in with a general idea, and don’t hone in on the story until later on. I knew I wanted to celebrate Chris’s work, and capture the story of how prominent characters and stories came about, but once I started interviewing people, a narrative arc became clear. It was a classic rise and fall, where Chris took the X-Men from the brink of cancellation to massive success, and then wound up becoming so successful, he couldn’t tell the stories he wanted.
Once that arc was in place, everything else came together, and there was room for a lot of the fun insights and stories everyone told along the way.
AiPT!: Were there any creators you wanted to interview for the film but couldn’t?
Meaney: There were two big ones. I wanted to talk to John Byrne, but he passed on doing an interview. And Bill Sienkiewicz was high on the list, but the timing never worked out.
AiPT!: The film definitely makes me view Claremont’s X-Men run (and ’90s Marvel’s treatment of him) in a different light. After spending so much time with Claremont, do you view his stories differently?
Meaney: I think Chris wrote the series for such a long time, and the stories are so iconic, there can be a feeling that they were just always there, you can’t see the craft and choices in them. Of course Jean dies at the end of Dark Phoenix, how else could it happen? Of course Wolverine is this iconic character. With the film, I wanted to dig in a bit and show that all the stories and characters came out of individual choices, and sometimes arguments or debates.
And if you hear Chris speak, you can see that the series is very much an auteur project. He’s bringing the experiences he had, his personal background, and viewpoint on the world to build this world. What’s strange is that unlike most series driven by a single creator, like Sandman or Preacher, the series has gone on long after he left it. But imagine that the series had just ended when Chris left, we’d be comparing it something like Cerebus, as a groundbreaking single vision in the comic book format.
AiPT!: What do you hope viewers take away from your film?
Meaney: I really hope that people value Chris’s contribution to comics, art and pop culture. He created so many amazing stories with X-Men, stories that were groundbreaking and inspired creators like Joss Whedon and Michael Chabon, and I think he’s still underrated. So, I hope people can appreciate Chris’s work, and learn more about how individual people are able to create characters and stories that now resonate as cultural mythology.
I think there’s also a lot in the film about the way that corporations should treat artists, and employees in general. Chris spent 15 years building up a massive set of characters and stories in the world of X-Men, and he was still bringing in new ideas and situations. Had he spent another five years on the book, who knows what he could have done, but Marvel was so focused on inflating short-term profits, they wound up firing Chris, and creating so many variant covers and spinoffs that they crashed the entire comic book market. I think there’s a lot to say for companies valuing workers and the kind of long-term thinking that Chris had, instead of going after immediate profit in the short term, and watching this film gives you an understanding of why.
AiPT!: Are there any other comic book-related films you’d like to make?
Meaney: I’ve made a whole bunch at this point, and have been lucky enough to chronicle the journeys of many of my absolute favorite writers and creators. So, right now I’m focusing more on my own narrative projects, including a horror film called House of Demons, that’s coming out on February 6. But, I definitely want to do more documentaries, that might be in a more general pop culture arena rather than comics specific.