Tony McMillen on Serious Creatures

Recently, Sequart sat down with Tony McMillen to chat about his new comics series Serious Creatures. He talks about the comic itself, his ‘70s & ‘80s horror movie effects influences, his early Image Comics & recent indie inspirations, and how he’s following in Michel Fiffe’s Etsy footsteps.

PHILLIPS: Tell us about your new comic Serious Creatures.

McMILLEN: It’s the story of Bobby Feckle, a teenage special effects artist growing up alongside the movie industry he’s helping to shape in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. The comic is a love letter to the impractical people behind practical effects. People like Rob Bottin, Rick Baker, Tom Savini, and Stan Winston. The comic is going to have the decades-long scope of something like Goodfellas or Boogie Nights with a bit of that “kid in over their head” charm of Almost Famous.  Each issue is written, drawn, colored, and lettered by me, and the result is a comic that looks like nothing else on the shelf.

PHILLIPS: Tell me some more about the main character Bobby Feckle.

McMILLEN: When we meet Bobby in issue 1 he’s 14 years old and on summer vacation with his big sister Laney in Cape Cod. They go to Martha’s Vineyard to check out some movie being filmed there, and since it’s 1974 the film is Fin, a movie about a great white shark terrorizing a small coastal town that will go on to redefine what a hit film is and usher in the age of the special effects driven blockbuster. On set Bobby happens to meet one of his special effects idols, Jack Barber, and Jack, impressed by some sketches Bobby carries with him in a Bristol pad, tells Bobby he’ll take him on as an apprentice.

Sound far-fetched?  Both Rob Bottin and Rick Baker got their start as apprentices by showing drawings to their prospective mentors. That’s how Hollywood used to work… apparently.

PHILLIPS: So this shark move Fin is basically Jaws, right?

McMILLEN: Yep, I’m a big fan of analogues in fiction. I think it’s something I saw the appeal of early on when I was a kid watching The Simpsons and they’d have Drederick Tatum instead of Mike Tyson or Rainer Wolfcastle instead of Schwarzenegger.  I like the flexibility of analogues as opposed to just saying Bobby goes to the set of Jaws because since it’s not Jaws we have some wiggle room and we can use what we want from the history of Jaws and also insert whatever else we think is cool. Bobby himself and the trajectory of his career are very loosely based on a real person as well, the special effects legend Rob Bottin. Rob Bottin, like Bobby, started as an apprentice at age 14, and by age 18 he was leading special effects departments on films by himself. His masterpiece The Thing was done while Bottin was 21 years old!

But since my character Bobby is not Rob Bottin, only partially inspired by him, I can use what works for my narrative and add whatever else I think is compelling too.

PHILLIPS: Speaking of compelling, your art style stands out, there’s a deliberate looseness to the line work which conveys a lot of energy, do you mind talking a little bit about influences?

McMILLEN: I grew up an Image Comics kid so all those guys’ styles are deep inside the marrow of my bones. From that set, chiefly Erik Larsen (who was my gateway drug to Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson, by the by), Todd McFarlane ( I was still signing my art in a scroll until I was 20 years old), and Sam Keith.  But I think my single biggest influence when it comes to art style, panel layout, and figure and facial expression is Frank Miller.

I have a well-meaning aunt who, during the ’89 Burton Batman summer craze, bought me The Dark Knight Returns when I was 8 years old, and that book corroded my innocence and made me want to draw ugly, electric lines over noble poses for the rest of my days. That’s how I view what Miller does.

Nowadays the people that really inspire me are Ashley Wood, Jeffrey Alan Love, Tom Scioli (Transformers vs. G.I. Joe’s is the last collection that really gave me that charge of, oh wow, you can do THAT with comics?!), and of course Michel Fiffe. Copra is my favorite comic currently being produced. I’m so jazzed the book is moving to Image so he can find a bigger audience, because his work deserves it.

PHILLIPS: Speaking of Fiffe, you took a page out of his book in regard to how you’re selling your comics, correct?

McMILLEN: Oh, big time. Up until recently, Fiffe was selling Copra through his Etsy store. You’d buy it from him there and he mailed it to you. It was pure, beautiful, so of course I had to steal and corrupt it for my own pernicious whims. So, yep, Serious Creatures can be purchased three ways over at my shop.

You can buy the issues individually – either actual physical issues or digital if you’re not into the whole tangibility thing – or you can subscribe to all six issues which make up Volume 1 and you can save a little money off the top. I’ll mail out every issue you get with a little ink sketch which will be worth thousands years after I’m dead. So, like… in five years.

PHILLIPS: So, these six issues are only Volume 1. How many volumes are you planning?

McMILLEN: Just two, which will get us to 12 issues in total. At the end of Volume 1, things will reach a satisfying resting place, but there’s plenty of room to expand for Volume 2. It should feel sorta like the end of TV season. Volume 1 takes Bobby through the 1970s and into the beginning of the ‘80s where his career (paralleling Rob Bottin’s) has him poised to begin work on what will be his special effects magnum opus. In Bottin’s case it’s The Thing, in Bobby’s it’s a film called It Knocks. Of course that’s only part of the story. As you can tell by issue 1 a lot of Serious Creatures is about Bobby’s personal life, his struggles with fitting in with his family, and subsequently trying to make a family out of the other people he works with on movies. This and his relationship with his mentor Jack Barber will all come to a head by the end of Volume 1.

PHILLIPS: Issue 1 was just released. When can we expect issue 2?

McMILLEN: Issue 2 has been drawn, colored, and almost lettered! It’ll be ready to come out in October. So far I’ve been able to grind these out and keep a monthly schedule. Issue 2 should be a helluva lot of fun; expect more surreal asides into pop culture monster movies, more information on The Beards (the auteur directors who both employ and menace Jack and Bobby throughout the books), and Bobby to start leveling up with his skillset as make up effects man.  Oh, and there’s a cute as shit dog in it named Lon Chaney Jr. Jr.

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Mike produces books and documentaries about comics. He's now trying to write his own comics. He tells everyone else at Sequart what to do. Do they listen? Eh.

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