Magazine article The Spectator

Millar's Tale

Magazine article The Spectator

Millar's Tale

Article excerpt

Peter Hoskin meets a comic-book writer who's conquering the multiverse.

I n purely demographic terms, Mark Millar isn't too different from the rest of us.

He's a middle-aged, wiry-haired, churchgoing Scot with two kids. He subscribes to The Spectator, and enjoys his 'weekly treat' of reading the latest issue in the bath. So, unless you have excavated this copy from the yellowing stack in your dentist's surgery, he could even be scanning these words at the same time as you - right now.

But demographics, often inadequate, are practically useless when it comes to Millar. He may tick the box marked 'Spectator reader', but he actually spends most of his time on bizarro worlds in distant corners of the multiverse. He's surrounded by assassins dipped in blood and sadists wrapped in capes. Everything is sweary and kinetic and extraordinary. And the reason why? Millar is a comic-book writer.

This is a good time to know about Mark Millar. The first instalment of his ten-part superhero saga Jupiter's Legacy has just been published to a chorus of ringing cash registers and roaring adulation. And it's all much deserved. The book's basic idea is enticing enough: how will the children of the superheroes handle their legacy? But it's the execution that really stands out. One pageturn begins with the caption 'our children grew up to remind mankind of everything we could ever hope to be', and takes us from the sepia, square-jawed 1930s to a coked-up, modern-day Los Angeles. It's ambitious, adult and beautifully illustrated by the artist Frank Quitely.

'Jupiter's Legacy is my attempt at something like Star Wars, ' says Millar as he settles into our conversation and a glass of whisky in a central London pub. 'It's a gigantic story with a cast of about a hundred characters, and will hopefully still be a franchise in a century's time.' His words reflect those in his book, as he excitedly leaps between subjects in a single bound.

One second it's Gotterd£mmerung and the death of the superheroes. Then it's sales figures and profit margins. Jupiter's Legacy, he points out, has enjoyed the 'highest-selling launch for any creator-owned title' in two decades.

'Creator-owned'. Highlight those two hyphenated words, for they mean a lot to our hero. There was a time when Millar mostly bashed out comic-book panels for Marvel, the US mega-company behind Spider-Man, the Avengers and thousands of other spandex warriors. And while this was a rewarding period for him, it also aggravated an itch at the back of his brain. 'Around 2003, ' he explains, 'I suddenly starting thinking, I'm never going to own these characters. I can't really take them further.' So he took a look at Marvel's business set-up and realised 'not only that it could be replicated, but that it should be. Instead of regurgitating Marvel characters, it might be interesting to make something new.'

The result was an independent label called Millarworld and a comic-book called Wanted. And thanks to the internet, as well as to Millar's ability and existing popularity, both were able to compete with the American bruisers. 'I would still be working for someone else if it wasn't for the internet, ' he reckons. 'It levels the playing field. Suddenly what I'm saying online is just as loud as what Warner Bros and Marvel are saying online. …

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