Continued from last week.
It’s impossible to say how much the young Millar wrote or how often he sent off his work to publishers in the years before he landed the Trident Comics contract. His interviews over the past few decades have produced a confused and often contradictory picture of the period. Regardless of what he told Skidmore, the idea that Millar had never shown anyone his efforts before he mailed off The Saviour is simply untrue. But there’s no reason to doubt that there was at the very least a fair degree of desperation and longing which accompanied the project’s submission. That in itself would make it likely that the acceptance of The Saviour would take on a special and fond significance in Millar’s memory. But for all of that, we can be fairly sure that the teenage Millar had, at the very least, already sent several proposals in to DC Comics. Indeed, the picture that Millar has often painted of the Eighties, and in particular its later years, has him constantly posting off material in the hope of a breakthrough. Did he actually notch up the “huge number of rejection slips” he’s mentioned, or was The Saviour really his first, and potentially last, shot at a comics career? (*1)
Something of the answer may depend on what it was that DC, and perhaps other publishers, were actually rejecting. Talking to journalist Stephen Dalton in 2008, for example, Millar explained that the basic idea for what would become his long-gestating Superman: Red Son mini-series had first been pitched to, and rejected by, DC when he was just 13. (*2) Speaking at the Glasgow Film Festival some 3 years later, Millar recalled receiving a kind and encouraging response along with the turndown from Sal Amendola. (*3) It’s an anecdote which suggests that the story is absolutely true. For although Amendola was never a well-known figure to the broad mass of comics readers, he was a “Talent Coordinator” and Editor at the company during the period. To disbelieve this particular recollection would involve spinning an elaborate and absurd counter-yarn in which Millar, speaking in public, chose to mention a relatively obscure comics professional from three decades ago in order to add veracity to his myth-making. Given how ridiculous that degree of distrust would be, it ought to conceded that Millar really might have spent 1988 and 1989 at least working on “sample scripts … every day from nine am to six pm”. (*4)
Perhaps the truth is that the detailed results of his endeavors were never paid close attention to by anyone else after Amendola. Indeed, that possible distinction between polite and relatively brief proposals and fullblown scripts may help explain why Millar has at times claimed that The Saviour was the “first thing I ever submitted”. (*4) Martin Skidmore may indeed have been the first person to pay really close attention to Millar’s work in the form of anything but a pitch. As such, the scripts Millar produced once Skidmore showed an interest may have been the only ones that the young professional had ever produced in a formal sense. Everything before that may well have just been hopeful introductory letters leading to brief and disheartening dismissals. As a workable hypothesis, it does have its merits, and yet it’s sadly contradicted by Millar having also recalled handing over a “script” to Marv Wolfman during the latter’s 1986 trip to Glasgow. (*5) (To Millar’s chagrin, he found it abandoned and “beer-stained in the bar next day”.) Once again, Millar’s own accounts of his life generate a picture that’s anything but transparent, and even the simple matter of what is and what isn’t a “submission” becomes tough to pin down.
Yet no matter how Millar had or hadn’t previously applied himself, his efforts in 1988 secured him a place at Trident. And if Millar hadn’t been cranking out the proposals before The Saviour was published, he undoubtedly soon was afterwards. By 1990, as The Saviour’s second artist Nigel Kitching recalled;
“He’s the sort of person who can get straight down to work first thing in the morning without all that staring blankly into the mid-distance business that I go for. When I stayed with him once I saw him finishing up a proposal in no time at all. It was like all the ideas were there perfectly formed in his mind.” (*6)
The validity of Millar’s claims about both his industry and his lack of success during the Eighties received a considerable boost in 2011, when his 1986 correspondence with artist Dave Gibbons was released as part of the publicity campaign for the two men’s collaboration on Secret Service. (*7) For anyone who’d previously doubted that the youthful Millar had possessed the ambition and drive to petition the business as he’d always claimed, here was the remarkable, and, as Millar admitted, somewhat mortifying proof. (*8) Declaring himself to be a 17 year old Sixth Form student who couldn’t explain the detail of his proposal because he had Chemistry homework to finish, Millar praised Gibbons on his success with Watchmen and offered to collaborate with him on a new project. With what seems now to be a remarkable degree of self-confidence, if not chutzpah, Millar suggested that Gibbons should delay his upcoming Give Me Liberty project with Frank Miller in order to work with the entirely unproven schoolboy from Coatbridge, Scotland. The suggestion that they cooperate on a “very radical look” at DC’s moribund Shazam! franchise understandably didn’t entice Gibbons, who, with admirable gentleness, suggested that Millar communicate directly with DC Editor Karen Berger instead. It was, wrote Gibbons, “worth a shot”.
Intriguingly, it does appear possible that The Saviour had its roots in that very same Shazam! project. In a 1990 interview with Gordon Rennie, Millar mentioned that The Saviour had its roots in a tale which recast DC’s Captain Marvel as the Anti-Christ and Brother Power The Geek as his heaven-inspired opponent. Not surprisingly, it was an idea which DC had apparently rejected for being “too British”. (*9) Unless Millar spent those years working up several contentious new versions of Shazam!, it seems likely that the proposal he tried to snare Gibbons with eventually morphed in The Saviour, with the Big Red Cheese recast as the Devil, and Brother Power as Jesus.
It wouldn’t be the last time that Millar would rework a rejected proposal, or indeed his final attempt to get The Saviour produced and completed in a form that he was happy with. Cancelled after its 6th issue, Millar attempted to convince the UK’s Fleetway to republish and finish it. Speaking with DC staffer Wally Pinochet in 1994, Millar explained that the company had “decided it was too controversial”. (*10) Another attempt was made in 1998, when he and Alex Ross approached Vertigo Comics with the idea of a revamped 12-issue maxi-series, for which Ross would generate character designs, assist with plotting and produce painted covers. (*11) Despite this enticing “Astro-City arrangement” with the marquee-name of Ross attached, the project was passed on. Finally, as will of course be obvious, Millar would recycle substantial aspects of The Saviour in his 2003 Millarworld project, American Jesus: The Chosen.
To be continued.
*1:- Speaking With Mark Millar, Marv Wolfman, http://www.marvwolfman.com/marv/Speaking_With_Mark_Millar.html
*2:- Adventures Of The Man Behind The Masks, Stephen Dalton, 8-5-08, Scotland-On-Sunday. Millar also said the same thing some 6 years before that, in “Is Superman Fucked?”, The Column, Comic Book Resources, 26/7/02, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=14164
*3:- The rejection letter came from DC’s Sal Amendola, who made sure that Millar didn’t loose heart while having some positive advice to follow; “Michael”, Glasgow Film Festival, 25/2/2011, https://shootingpeople.org/blog/2011/02/glasgow-film-festival-millar-time/
*4:- Speaking With Mark Millar, Marv Wolfman, http://www.marvwolfman.com/marv/Speaking_With_Mark_Millar.html
*5:- How To Sell Comic Scripts And Become A Zillionaire, Mark Millar, The Column #2, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=14172
*6:- Nigel Kitching interviewed by Edward Berridge, at 2000AD Review http://www.2000adreview.co.uk/features/interviews/2004/kitching/kitching2.shtml
*7:- In those more innocent days, anyone active in fandom could easily acquire the home addresses of prominent British professionals. Gibbons, for example, had had letters published in FA which listed his address as a matter of course.
*8: Everything referred to in the paragraph comes from Millar & Gibbons’ Secret Service Origins, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=35623
*9:- Mark Millar: Apocalypse Now!, Gordon Rennie, Speakeasy #108, April 1990 – In the wake of Alan Moore’s tenure on Swamp Thing, radical, horror-tinged reworkings of existing properties were to be seen as a Brit speciality.
*10:- “Millar’s Crossing”:- Wally Pinochet, pg 13, DC Shop Talk, April 1994
*11:- Millar at Usenet 14/8/98, currently to be found at http://www.panix.com/~kts/vertigo/vertigo_faq.add