Award-winning comic book writer Mark Millar has revamped major superheroes such as Superman and Spider-Man, and created his own hugely popular worlds in books including Wanted and Kick-Ass. With the movie of Kick-Ass 2 set to shoot this autumn, and The Secret Service #3 just published, Mark talks to Jan Gilbert about kissing frogs and making it in comics...
What inspired you to start writing comics?
My older brothers were really into comics so they were always around the house. I made my own little comics as a hobby from four years old. The idea it was a real job hit me when I was 13. I remember saying to the school careers officer that I’d really like to write comic books and she looked at me as if I was a crazy X Factor contestant, and told me nobody did that! But I knew somebody must do as I read them every week. So, from the age of about 13 I sent in submissions to places like DC.
What was your big break?
The first was when I was 18 and started working in black-and-white independent comics in the UK. Getting something in print was very exciting.
My second came when I was 30 and I did a book called The Authority at DC. I’d done a lot of stuff for 2000 AD and DC before, but it’d never really caught on. People liked it but I was always going from job to job, and the books were always at cancellation point when I took them over and they stayed like that for the 18 months I worked on them.
Sales of The Authority were already good, but when artist Frank Quitely and I took over they really went up. Then I got headhunted by Marvel and life suddenly changed. I had as much work as I wanted. Up to that point, I was writing submissions as often as scripts, and they were mostly turned down. But I never had to write submissions after that.
What opportunities are there for comic writers in the UK?
It’s quite different now, in a great way, to when I started. Then there was an established path: you started in the UK small press, which got you to 2000 AD. If you were lucky there, you got picked up by DC and graduated to Marvel. It usually took five to 10 years.
Then, you had to take out two-page ads in trade magazines to advertise your book. Now, you can have international audiences instantly by putting your stuff online. If you do something interesting, everyone tweets about it. So, if you want to work at Marvel or DC, you’ve got everyone’s attention.
Even better, you can circumvent Marvel and DC completely, which we’ve seen with Scott Pilgrim, be your own boss instantly, have a wider audience and make more money. There’s never been a more exciting time to do this job!
Any tips for ensuring the best working relationship with comic book artists? (Mark is pictured above with collaborator John Romita Jr.)
Just because someone’s a brilliant artist doesn’t always mean they’re brilliant for you. Chemistry’s so important – everything has to click. If you really get on with the person you’re working with, it tends to translate into the work. And if there’s that synergy, it can end up absolutely brilliant. But you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince!
What’s your advice to aspiring comic book writers?
Work for free online to show you’re good, then someone will pay you for it. Everybody wants to write X-Men or Superman, but you can’t start with those characters. It’s a bit like the family car: they’re not going to let you drive it until you’ve passed your test. I didn’t understand that when I was 13 so I sent really detailed Superman proposals to DC. You have to start off in the furthest reaches of the industry.
What’s the secret to a long and successful career in comics?
Years ago, an editor told me three things you need for career longevity as a freelance writer: be good, be on time and be really nice to talk to. If you’ve got two of the three, you’re laughing.
Visit Jan Gilbert’s YouTube channel to watch her video interviews with Mark Millar.
For more articles, jobs and opportunities, visit our Writing and Publishing hub.
Photos by Dan Smith.