By Olly MacNamee
For those of us comic book fans keeping a keen eye on the MCM Comic Con’s Main Stage schedule this last Saturday for any comic book related events, we were pleasantly rewarded with a lunchtime panel spotlighting the career of modern British comic groundbreaker, Pat Mills. Yes, THE Pat Mills, coming in under the radar.
Interviewed by T Pub’s Ryan O’Sullivan, Mills displayed a vibrancy and enthusiasm throughout matched only by Stan Lee himself. If O’Sullivan was nervous about meeting a childhood hero, he did not show it and quickly got the interview up and running with a series of questions on perennial favourite, Marshal Law, before turning the interview effortlessly to other highlights of Mills’ eclectic and iconic career to date.
Summarizing the long history of hero hunter Marshal Law, Mills spoke on successfully pitching the idea to Marvel, thereby giving him a platform, which allowed him to brutally parody the American imperialism inherent in the representation of superheroes in general. In this co-creation (alongside Kevin O’Neill), Mills offered an informed, subversive take on Superman and his like. The gratuitous violence was calculated, the violence more a comment on heroes’ fundamental modus operandi than violence for shock value. And, I’m sure taking shots at the Distinguished Opposition at the same time was a bonus for Marvel alongside having Mills and O’Neill.
In the intervening years both companies have evolved and DC, with the youthful figureheads of the likes of Jim Lee and Geoff Johns personifying this New DC, have loosened up and last year they published a Marshal Law omnibus.
Two revelations of the day came as news to most, if not all. Firstly, Mills recounted a time, only 5 or so years ago, when a Marshal Law film was nearly made. It even had a director attached, McG (Charlie’s Angels, This Means War) and a star, The Rock. Unfortunately, The Rock decided his muscular physique and wrestling background would be better suited to Tooth Fairy and other such nonsense. Thank God he’s finally wised up.
The bigger, exclusive news was the promise of new Marshal Law from DC and soon. And it’s going to be a crossover. With who, he didn’t say but with a solid career in voicing anti-heroes, the speculation list can’t be that long but rather tantalizingly short. Let the rumormongering begin.
Moving onto the inception and birth of 2000AD, Mills commented on the influencing styles of the French anthology magazine Heavy Metal had on the comic, and in general the more detailed, sumptuous art of French comic strips of the era. It stood in stark contrast to the superficiality of the American comics of the 70’s, dictated by the poorer quality printing and paper of the era. Mills knew that by adopting a more European sensibility to 2000AD the detailed art, and on a larger page let’s not forget, could create a strong sense of quality and class for new British weekly. It worked, obviously, although with many artists seeing 2000AD as a stepping-stone to working for an American publisher in more recent times, Mills admitted that the original style of the art can be played down at times in favour of a more US friendly style maybe?
Although, Mills had to admit that he was a man who put the writing and artwork first and the economics a distant second. Using Slaine, The Horned God as a great example, he recognized that the labour intensive, rich painted, almost sculptured, art of Simon Bisley could not be a sustainable model for producing comics on a profitable scale.
What he did find interesting, as an aside, was the reality of comics in the UK in the late 70s when 2000AD launched. Girls’ comics like Tammy and Jackie outsold boys’ comics by a healthy margin but were uncared for by their publishers and, one assumes, the male strong contributors. Mills observed this a sad decline but was hopeful when he looked around the comic book world of today. As cannot be contested now, comics for female readers are on the rise and this can only be a good thing.
Throughout the breezy, friendly and inclusive interview there was always the rebel streak that is at the core of the Pat Mills voice I had only read through such iconic British creation such as Nemesis The Warlock, ABC Warriors and of course, the aforementioned Marshall Law. Superheroes were never his bag and he has taken great joy – and shared that joy with his readers – in poking fun at this genre and others over the years. With a new Marshal Law tale on the horizon there is still more to come thankfully.