A wanted man
Comic writer Mark Millar talks Angelina Jolie, Jack Nicholson, and why he thinks graphic novels still have a touch of the pirate about them.
Writer Mark Millar describes a real pinch-me moment when his comic book, Wanted, was being filmed. “I was travelling out to visit the film set and stopped off in Amsterdam,’ he says. ‘At a newsstand, about a third of the magazines had Angelina Jolie on the cover and I thought, whoa, she’s quite big…” Two hours later, Millar was on set in Prague, “with about 200 people wearing Wanted T-shirts and Angelina in the back of a car, dressed up as one of my characters.” He chuckles in disbelief. “It was like walking into one of my stories – but instead of it being inside my head, I was in it.”
Strange times indeed. Yet dreaming up comic books is hardly your regular job. Millar’s love of superheroes and villains harks back to his childhood in Coatbridge: “I wanted to be an artist, probably because it only takes seconds to do something impressive – it’s an easy way of showing off. I started copying comics, then inventing my own.” The youngest of six children by fifteen years, he was very much the baby of the family. “It was fantastic – like having lots of encouraging parents saying, ‘Great drawing, let’s put it up!’”
As Millar grew up, his father impressed upon him that, while artists die in poverty, you never meet a poor doctor. “He said it for all the best reasons – to protect me – so I went to uni. Eventually, though, it reached a point where I couldn’t scrape together the fares to get there and had an £800 overdraft which seemed massive because I had no way of paying it off.” By now, Millar’s parents had died. In an attempt to rake together his rent, he wrote some stories and sent them to British comic 2000AD. I point out that others in his situation might have grabbed some bar work. “I know,” he laughs. “I’ve always had a weird sense of entitlement – a feeling of, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll all turn out fine’, which I think comes from all my big brothers and their constant encouragement. The stories were rubbish,” he adds, ‘but through pure luck they were accepted and I got paid – at a time when there was no Internet, thank God.”
I suggest that he’s being over-critical of his early work. “No, they were awful – readers would write in and complain,” he insists. “Then, in about 2000, something switched in my brain and I got better.” A contract to write for DC Comics lead to him being poached by Marvel, for whom he wrote Spider-Man and X Men stories and is still under contract as a consultant. However, it’s his creator-owned stories, including Wanted and Kick-Ass – which has been filmed with Brad Pitt as producer, starring Nicholas Cage – which allow him creative freedom. Through Millarworld, his own publishing company, he has produced the highest-selling creator-owned comic books of the past decade.
At 37, Millar works from home in Glasgow’s South Side where he lives with his wife and their eleven year-old daughter. “I have a floor of the house,” he says, “and if anyone tries to come up, I’m like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.” He shows no sign of outgrowing the comic book world: “It’s a billion dollar industry, but still has that pirate edge – a weird underground feeling that I love.” The career in medicine is still on hold.
Mark Millar, Charlotte Square, 29 August, 8.00pm From £7 0845 373 5888
If you like this, try Neil Gaiman at Charlotte Square, 19 & 20 August