Last week I got to talk to Mark Millar on the phone. Even if you haven’t heard of Millar — which you probably have — you know his work. He did major work on X-Men and Captain America. He did Marvel’s Civil War. He did Wanted. He did one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, Red Son, wherein Superman lands in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas. (Stalin means “Man of Steel” in Russian. Go from there.)
Basically he’s a truly great, important comics writer. His stuff is instantly recognizable — there’s something about his comics that feels realer and goes further than you would have thought was possible.
Millar also did Kick-Ass, which is about to be a movie (complete with making-of book), a good one from the looks of it, and which is why I called him. Millar is Scottish, which means you can’t understand a bloody thing he’s saying for the first 10 seconds. Then you get your Trainspotting filter on and you’re fine.
Normally when you interview somebody you do half an hour, then you look at the transcript, and 80% of it is boring, so you cut that stuff, and you end up with a couple thousand usable words. In Millar’s case, practically everything he says is both funny and interesting, and there just wasn’t that much to cut. He’s a genius, and he’s read everything you’ve read and thought really hard about it, and what part of that do you want to miss out on?
So like I did with my bangs back in the 1980s, I left it long.
LEV: I’m going to start by asking you to talk about something that you’ve possibly talked about so much that you can’t stand to talk about it anymore: the genesis of Kick-Ass, and that period when you were experimenting as a kid with being a superhero.
MARK MILLAR: Yeah, it’s tragically incredibly autobiographical. This is the George Costanza to my Larry David, you know? One of those things that’s going to become a monster, and how people remember me.
As a teenager, that obsessiveness you either get with music or sports? For me it was comic books. Back then comics weren’t that cool, so I had to kind of love the stuff in private, because I did pass off that I was quite an ordinary person at school. Another friend got into it too, and the two of us just said, well, Batman doesn’t have any powers, Rorschach doesn’t have powers, Daredevil doesn’t have powers, really. In fact he’s even blind. Let’s go to the gym, let’s get pumped up, and let’s go out and start some shit.
We came to our senses, but for a good six months we really were absolutely serious. This was as important to me as getting a job when I left school. We designed costumes. We made up names for ourselves, and the name that I came up for myself was Mr. Danger, and I was a kind of lame-looking Rorschach character. You know, with a trench coat and a hat. My friend’s name was Batman. He didn’t put quite as much thought into it.
LEV: He didn’t anticipate any trademark litigation issues.
MARK: We talked about that. That was the funny thing, we actually talked about it. I remember we were sitting in physics class in school and I said, I think we could get into some real shit with the whole Batman thing, because the costume’s the same, and D.C. will sue you, and he said they’ll never know who I am. They won’t know where to send the letter!
LEV: “Mr. Danger” is pretty good though. Have you ever used Mr. Danger?
MARK: I haven’t actually.
LEV: It’s like when Steve Jobs started Apple computer and Wozniak says, well, you know there’s an Apple records? That the Beatles have? And Jobs was like, yeah, don’t worry, man. That’ll never be a problem.
So the costume was Rorschach-style?
MARK: The costume was an absolute swipe of Rorschach’s costume. It was just a mask, a hat and a trench coat kind of a thing. I went for something that was quite easy to make.
The martial arts skills, that was tougher. My friend actually got really good. He got to brown belt, and I hung around the lower rungs of martial arts. We got reasonably fit. We weren’t quite jocks, but we were maybe halfway there. And then we thought, hang on a minute, why don’t we maybe try to cop off with girls and things instead? Puberty ended up taking us in another direction.