Enter Mr. … Miller?:

The American Comics of Mark Millar, Part 1

LOTDK #79 penciller Steve Yeowell, from the UKCAC93 booklet

Continued from here.

Exactly when Grant Morrison landed Mark Millar the job of scripting Swamp Thing is hard to pinpoint. Millar has hinted that the GLASCAC comic convention in the late April of 1993 may have seen at the very least friendly personal relations being established with the comic’s editor Stuart Moore. (*1) The two-day event would certainly have emphasised to Millar how desirable a job at Vertigo could be. On the Saturday night, Moore, fellow Vertigo Editor Art Young and the company’s UK representative Tim Pilcher took four of the company’s British writers -Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Jamie Delano and Dick Foreman – to dinner at Glasgow’s premier Chinese restaurant. To the young and relatively inexperienced Pilcher, as he’d write some twenty years later in his Comic Book Babylon: A Cautionary Tale Of Sex, Drugs & Comics;

“This was it. I had entered the inner sanctum that all fanboys dream of! Having dinner with my favourite comic book scribes.” (*2)

Millar, Yeowell & Dick Giordano, from LOTDK 79, 1996

It’s hard not to strongly suspect that Millar would have quite understandably aspired to be in the same exalted company on the only evening of the two-day convention. To be a British professional who was friendly with the likes of Morrison and Milligan was one thing. (Indeed, Millar’s collaboration with Morrison on the 2000AD Summer Offensive was just a few months from seeing print.) But to be sharing their status as lauded professionals in the American market who were being treated out of Vertigo’s expense account was quite another. No matter how well-established he had become with 2000AD, Millar had “wanted to work for DC since (he) was four years old” and it was proving exceptionally difficult to catch the eye of the editors there. (*3)  Yet had the convention been convened just a few months later, then it’s highly likely that Millar would have been sat in the company of his fellow peers from the European side of the Atlantic. For as he was happy for the August 1993 edition of Comic World to report him as saying, “the big news is that I’m the new writer on Swamp Thing….”. (*4)

It wasn’t the first time that Millar had let it be known – or at the very least strongly implied – that he was working at DC. Even as far back as April1991′s 2000AD #725, he’d announced in the magazine’s “Star Spot” feature that his “current work” included “a mini-series for DC and hopefully a one-off superhero comic also for DC”. (In addition to his regular work for Fleetway, he also mentioned never-to-be seen series such as “Dr Paradox “and “The Sacred Skin Of Sherlock Holmes”, the latter of which might just have been a precursor of Canon Fodder.) (*5) That these projects for DC were proposals rather than commissions seems the most likely conclusion, since Millar’s work was, in Morrison’s words, an unknown quantity with Vertigo/DC when the Swamp Thing berth became open. (*6) After all, a writer who’d had two projects underway with the company for almost two years would surely have been anything but absent from its radar.

from 6/4/91’s 2000AD. (Six issues later, another picture claiming to be of a very young Millar would also appeared on the comic’s editorial page.)

Yet Millar had sold a single story to DC prior to landing the Swamp Thing berth. Better yet from the aspiring creator’s perspective, it was a one-off tale featuring the company’s most successful and iconic superhero, Batman. Bought for the Legends Of The Dark Knight title by its universally respected editor Archie Goodwin, it had seemed at first to mark Millar’s breakthrough into the American market. It was, he confessed in Tom Root and Archie Kardon’s Writers On Comic Book Scriptwriting Volume 2, a moment in which he imagined that he’d soon become an affluent and feted writer on both sides of the pond;

“… it was back in the day when guys like Rob Liefeld had earned $20 million for the first 12 months he’d done at Image. So I just assumed that the minute that you walked into the American market, you could suddenly buy a solid gold house.” (*7)

The reality was to be a crushing disappointment. For one thing, the story wouldn’t see print until the Christmas season of 1995. (Goodwin was rumoured to have invested in a considerable inventory for the title, and Millar’s tale, with its Christmas theme, was only suitable for publishing during the holiday season.) Having informed “everyone” that his Batman tale was poised to see print, and having apparently been assured in return by that he’d finally made it, Millar would have to wait almost three years to see his Favourite Things published. When it finally belatedly arrived in the comic’s January 1996 issue, it even disappointingly featured a misspelling of his name in the credit box. By that time, Millar was 22 issues into his long run on Swamp Thing, and, it’s to be assumed, he could afford a wistful smile at the cruel absurdities of the situation.

by Millar, Yeowell & Dick Giordano, from LOTDK 79, 1996

Underneath his constant show of apparently irrepressible bravado, Millar had struggled to gain the attention of the powers that be at DC. Though he’d later claim that he wasn’t used to having his propositions knocked back, the period was one which featured “loads and loads of rejected proposals” (*8) Goodwin was, Millar later conceded, the most sympathetic of everyone in authority that he’d contacted at either DC or Marvel, and yet even he didn’t think that the Scotsman was quite ready for the spotlight. It was a judgement which in retrospect Millar, who would always speak fondly and respectfully of Goodwin, appears to fully agree with, although he would also blame the post-Image collapse of the US market too for his lack of success. (*9) Once the initial euphoria of that first Trans-Atlantic sale had worn off, the experience must have been as crushing as it was frustrating. Yet it wouldn’t stop Millar from giving the impression that projects he wanted to see in print were definitely going to do so. Even as late as 1998, he was discussing his mooted Secret Society Of Supervillains maxi-series as if it were certain to be appear;

“…and now our year long stint on The Flash has skidded to a stop I’m going to get working on another big twelve issue thingy, this time a “Watchmen For Villains” called The Secret Society Of Super-Villains.” (*10)

Nor would Favourite Things be the last time that one of his stories which featured a major character would lie in a drawer for a puzzling length of time. Superman: Red Son, which Rich Johnson reported as being well underway in 1997, wouldn’t reach the comics shops until 2003. That project, however, would of course be a considerable critical and financial success.

To be continued.


*1:- Millar, Bayou-Rhythms Letters Page, pg 31, Swamp Thing #71, October 1996

*2:- From the extract from Tim Pilcher’s Comic Book Babylon as posted at Bleeding Cool at http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/04/19/vertigo-in-glasgow-comic-book-babylon/

Having contributed to the book’s Kickstarter campaign, I’m very much looking forward to it arriving.

*3:- Tom Root and Archie Kardon, Writers On Comic Book Scriptwriting Volume 2, 2004, Titan Books

*4:- int: Martin Conaghan, Now We Are Better Than Ever, Comics World 18, August 1993

*5:- Page 2, Tharg’s Nerve Centre, 2000AD #725, 6th April 1991.

*6-  pg 37, uncredited interviewer, Bizarre Boy, Comic World 31

*7:- Tom Root and Archie Kardon, Writers on Comic Book Scriptwriting Volume 2, 2004, Titan Books

*8:- Ibid

*9:- Ibid

*10:- Mark Millar / Vertigo Stuff at Google Groups 14/8/98 http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.dc.vertigo/browse_thread/thread/ 24bb50a0e1873dc5/d6a08a04f09f1a87#d6a08a04f09f1a87

*11:- Rich’s Rumblings, 3/4/1997, at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!search/rich$20johnson$20superman$20red$20son/rec.arts.comics.alternative/levkewv-wLU/pevB-EvqO0oJ

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Colin Smith is currently Q Magazine’s comics columnist and blogs at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and on Tumbler.

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Also by Colin Smith:

New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics


1 Comment

  1. ...David Whittaker says:

    You know, for my sins, I’ve never actually read Wanted completely, nor did I know its’ roots lay in a “Watchmen for Villains”. I know what I’ll be tracking down in the next few days…

    So thank you for that Colin.

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