Monday, February 10, 2014

Dorkland Interview With British Comics Force Pat Mills

Pat Mills is a force in British comics, and one who may not be as recognized as a name in the States despite the fact that he created or co-created such important and seminal characters as Judge Dredd, Nemesis The Warlock, Slaine and Marshall Law. He is also responsible for starting the British comic magazine 2000AD, which is still publishing today. I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Mills because of the upcoming reissue of his Accident Man comics from Titan Comics. Here is how it went...

Dorkland: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Before we get to talking about the reprint of your Accident Man comics, can we set a little of your biography for those who may not know about it? You started out developing magazines and comics for D.C. Thomson and IPC, but for many one of your greatest, and lasting, creations was the 2000AD magazine. How did this come about, and what made you want to create a predominantly science-fiction magazine?

Pat Mills: I'd successfully produced Battle and Action so now IPC wanted another comic for the boys market. Science fiction was about to go big with Star Wars so an SF comic was the logical choice. 2000AD  was very successful when it came out. The film Star Wars followed a few months later and - surprisingly - our sales went down a little. Possibly because some readers went over to Marvel's version of the film.  For me, personally, I could probably adapt to a Western, Crime, or Horror comic. Basic drama and storytelling remains fundamentally the same.

DL: While with 2000AD you’ve created what are probably some of the most enduring characters of modern British comics in Judge Dredd, Nemesis The Warlock, The ABC Warriors and Slaine. Which of these characters are still your favorite, and what makes them still of interest to you as a writer?

PM: That's tough.  Probably Slaine because I'm in the throes of a new Slaine saga with Simon Davis which I'm really enjoying.  It's called A Simple Killing and is set in Britain and is part of a new story arc The Brutania Chronicles.  It holds my interest because there are still things i want to say about Slaine. The relationship with his father, for example, which was never explored in earlier stories. I also enjoy the sense of a character having real longevity and making the later stories every bit as strong as the early ones.

DL: You have created two of my favorite comic characters in Nemesis the Warlock and Marshall Law. Like most of your characters, neither of them are stereotypical comic characters. What qualities does a “Pat Mills” protagonist have to have, and what drives you to create these sorts of characters?

PM: Nemesis was the product of artist Kevin O'Neill and my Catholic  backgrounds. There's so much inspiration there. Torquemada is the embodiment of every racist and religious fanatic I've ever met or heard about.  Marshal Law originated because I have a huge admiration for genuine heroes who are usually ignored in fiction. I have little respect for super heroes who - in mainstream at least - are rarely heroes in the true meaning of the word. Usually they're pillars of the establishment armed with the magical equivalent of America's high tech weaponry which it uses to subdue the Third World. They ain't heroes. So Marshal Law's views and my own are rather close.  Thus  my heroes have to reflect my own experiences or views;  invariably they're under-dogs, often working class. It may be a catharsis for me to write them, but I think I also have a muse who drives me.   Who she/he/it is unknown but it's a powerful motivation and when I write traditional stories they invariably fail because my muse doesn't like them or motivate me.

DL: While Judge Dredd or Marshall Law are characters defined almost by moral absolutes, characters like Mike Fallon in Accident Man or Nemesis or Slaine are much more morally ambiguous. What is it that appeals to you, as a writer, about characters like that?

PM: They're all reflecting  truth. Accident Man kills people and makes it look like accidents. When you look at events over the last twenty years or more it's clear he's out there and kept busy. There was a time when heroes had to be moral in comics, but we've finally caught up with the rest of the media and have ambiguous characters, which reflect moral dilemmas in our own lives. That can be very absorbing to write and read. We need the comic equivalents of Breaking Bad.

DL: Humor is often a part of your stories, from biting satire to broader farces. How important of a tool is humor to you, as a writer?

PM: It's essential in comics. if it's all "straight",  it's probably a little tedious or worthy and readers will turn off. Even in Breaking Bad there's dark humour and so we need the same in comics. Satire tends to be my speciality. I think because the world is not the way it's presented to us and satire is a way of showing this. I grew up on humorous novels and satire - reading everything I could find that was satirical and that's doubtless reflected in my work. Books like Erewhon, Animal Farm, Gulliver's Travels and writers like Stephen Leacock spring to mind.

DL: One of my readers sent this question to me, to ask you: “With Judge Dredd having been made into a movie (twice!) are there any other of your characters that you would like to see adapted to movies or television?”

PM: Slaine, ABC Warriors and Accident Man would seem to be the most likely bets.  And we're looking at optioning Accident Man just now. So if we can wade through the small print in the contract we've been sent, that could happen. It also has the huge advantage of being low budget! It's been optioned before and I'm actually surprised it's never happened.

Charley's War: there is a lot of media interest  at this time because of the Great War anniversary. Hope I can say something more about that very soon.

Marshal Law we made it up to the Warner Brothers boardroom - just a few weeks before Watchmen came out. So that didn't fly - for reasons of timing and possibly the director and screenwriter assigned to the project. It's hard to gauge for certain. But we hope he's due another round.

American Reaper was commissioned by a film company and is a particularly cinematic story But often that's not enough.

Currently, my money is on Accident Man making it into the screen.

DL: If you could go back and give advice to the Pat Mills of the 70s or the 80s, what would that be?

I don't think I would do anything that different because of the pressures at the time.  But I wish I'd developed Misty - rather than just coming up with the concept - because I firmly believe there would be a strong  girls comic and adult female comic market now as a result. Stronger - or rather more popular culture - than it is now.

That's a big regret. But producing three comics was hard work and I really couldn't face another at the time.

DL: Let’s talk about Accident Man. Titan Comics is reprinting these stories in a large collected edition, and the preview of it that I have seen looks great. I was actually lucky enough to have seen some of this story in its original incarnation in your magazine Toxic! A friend brought a near complete run of the magazine back from a trip to the UK. What inspired the creation of this character?

PM: My writing partner Tony Skinner told me these guys really existed and elaborated enough to wet my appetite. Not only that, he had the technical knowledge to figure out how these "accidents" would be committed.  Rather like the way Agatha Christie weaved a whodunnit, Tony loved dreaming up ingenious accidents. We had so much fun writing him.  I wanted someone who was a reflection of the vapid, consumerist times we lived in and continue to live in.   A champion for capitalism, a shallow but very likeable guy.  And a piss-take, of course.

DL: Re-reading the preview of the collected edition, I was struck by just how timeless these stories are. What about Accident Man would appeal to the comic reader of today?

PM: Very little has changed. So we're hoping to put an Accident Man 2014 story on line soon. His hair is shaven now and he's ditched the Armani suits, but otherwise it's business as usual.  At the time we wrote him, I called him GQ Man and i was looking through GQ the other day, at the hairdressers, and the magazine hasn't changed. So Mike Fallon is still GQ Man!

DL: What is next for Pat Mills?

PM: I'm working on a Charley's War style series - Brothers in Arms - with artist David Hitchcock. Because there are so many aspects of World War One that haven't been explored in drama. For instance, government issue of cocaine tablets, a love of ragtime - early jazz - the rock and roll of its day, and widespread trading with the enemy.

DL: Thank you very much, for taking the time to do this interview. As a long time fan, it has been an honor to get the chance to talk with you.

PM: Cheers. Great talking with you, too.  Excellent questions.

Have a look at a preview of the re-issue of Mill's Accident Man comic, coming soon from Titan Comics.