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Interview

Mark Millar Interview
The graphic novelist talks Kick Ass And Wanted

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When Empire caught up with Wanted creator Mark Millar recently he was wandering the Elstree set of Matt Vaughn's Kick-Ass with a galaxy of stars in his eyes. "I can't believe we're filming on the same stage Star Wars was filmed on! And the canteen is exactly the same as in '77. I love the idea of getting bangers and mash from the same place as the crew of Star Wars!" Putting aside powerful images of Chewy scouring the place for the HP sauce, we chatted with the enthusiastic graphic novelist about another upcoming Vaughn collaboration and discovered some tempting morsels about Kick-Ass.

A lot of your books are getting picked up for films now, how did all this come about?
One of my friends said to me, "You need to create your own stuff, because you'll never own Spider-Man, you'll never own X-Men."
I worked at DC Comics at Warner Bros. for years and never really had much success. Then I had one big hit about eight years ago and got headhunted by Marvel, the big competition and a much bigger company. It was like going from the Championship to the Premier League! Suddenly things went crazy and everybody was buying my books, but I realised that there's no job security. One of my friends said to me, "You need to create your own stuff, because you'll never own Spider-Man, you'll never own X-Men."

So I created my own company, Millarworld, and could do stuff that I couldn't do with Marvel characters, and establish franchises that could be turned into games, TV shows and movies. Wanted was the first one - we sold the rights to Universal two weeks after it came out. Kick-Ass was the second one, and Matthew Vaughn and I are going to work on another book I did called Chosen as soon as we've finished here. More recently, I did War Heroes which has a war theme but with superpowers - super-terrorists against super-marines - and it actually got picked up by Sony. But first and foremost I see them as comic books. That's what I'll focus on, and anything that happens outside of that is just good luck.

So you were happy with Wanted even though there was some quite big changes?
Well, I was in on the meetings from the beginning so I understood the changes. I looked up the producer, Marc Platt, on the internet and it said Legally Blonde and I thought “Shit!” But as it turns out, he's a super-smart guy who really knows all the genres. He said to me, "There's a lot of comic book in-jokes in here that a mass audience won't get. The fans love it and that's why it's such a big selling book, but you've got to remember that 99.9% of the people who go and see it won't have a clue." I totally appreciate that. They shifted a scene with Wesley's Dad and I actually think it works better. It was one of those odd things: usually a bunch of writers talking about something can kill it dead, but luckily they had enough smart people on this and it ended up with a twist that works really well. I don't mind changes as long as they're good, but I don't want changes for any reason other than to make it more palatable for a mainstream audience.

Will Kick-Ass be more mainstream than Wanted?
It's definitely more palatable, but it's unlike any other superhero films. Matthew and I were weighing up Chosen or Kick-Ass as the movie we were going to do together, and he got to the end of Issue 3 of Kick-Ass where there's a nine year-old assassin, Hit-Girl, and her line is "Okay you cunts, let's see what you can do," as she takes someone on. Matthew said that's when he knew it was the film we had to do, that it should do for superhero films what Pulp Fiction did for crime movies. It's just a kind of watershed. Suddenly you can do things you wouldn't expect. The studios were extremely nervous about that, but luckily there was trillionaire with a bunch of trillionaire pals and they coughed up £60 million over one weekend so it was funded independently. It’s one of those movies that's being made in a very uncompromising fashion. I'll probably never get to do something like this again, you know?

Alan Moore said recently that graphic novels have become a bit of a breeding ground for the film industry. How would you respond to that?
He's entirely right, but I see it in a different light. He sees it as a negative thing and I see it as an incredibly positive thing. I see the exploitation of comic-book characters as a pension for comic-book creators, really for the first time. It's such a tremendous compliment when somebody honours your work in that way. I know that as a kid I loved Superman comics and the idea of a Superman movie was so exciting to me. But I get Alan and he is a genius, and what makes him a genius is his absolute control over the work. He hasn't always had the best people. Of the three movies they've done, two have been rubbish - actually they've all been kind of rubbish, and I can see why that would sour you. It's still Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and his masterpiece of a comic is sullied because of it.

Apparently Frank Miller had horrible experiences in Hollywood in the '80s and '90s and he's directing now because he wanted to take control. Is that a direction you're interested in?
Kick-Ass has been a real eye-opener, because I realised that as a co-producer I could have a lot of control.
It's weird, I'd never done any directing before - not even a school play - but in the last year I've been offered some really bizarre things. But, to me, the perfect thing is just to write the books, where I have an amazing amount of economy and control. Everything I write appears on the page and nobody changes a letter, which is a lovely thing. Kick-Ass has been a real eye-opener, because I realised that as a co-producer I could have a lot of control, and I didn't want to hand this project over. Working with Matthew Vaughn, I've learned what kind of control you can have and he says that as long as you're prepared to walk away, you've got ultimate power. I was lucky having him on the project and I want to ensure that luck continues, so Matthew and I are going to do another film together straight after this one hopefully.

You've been quoted as saying Hollywood is a bit of a hobby. Is it something you see as a 'for now' thing?
No, it's definitely not forever. I've got four movie franchises set up at the moment and by next year there'll be a fifth, and there are three more waiting in the wings for 2010. I want to get 15 set up. It's like Stan Lee back in the 1960s, co-creating all these characters that are running modern Hollywood, and I'd love to do that for the next generation... write a whole bunch of books, flood the market with these things and just go off and do something else, another job. Stan hasn't written much in 40 years, but he's synonymous with Spider-Man and Hulk and I'd love to be in that situation.

You said there's another project next year...
Yeah, I'm working with Bryan Hitch, who's pretty much the biggest artist in the comic industry. We've worked together for five years but always on Marvel stuff, so he and I are going to do something together.

We're on the old set of Star Wars. Do you think the serial aspect of the storytelling in Star Wars and Raiders Of The Lost Ark influenced where you went as a writer?
Absolutely! People always say all the stuff I do is quiet blockbustery. The comic-books were like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie with all these buildings coming down, helicopters exploding into boats, things like that. I grew up at a really brilliant time. If I'd been born five years earlier I think I would have missed it all, because my brothers don't have that same obsession. Star Wars and Superman came out when I was eight, and I was ten for Raiders - it's just the perfect age. Just when you'd start to grow out of it another great film would come along. I came of age in the age of the blockbuster.

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