The Aye Write book festival in Glasgow has an excellent line-up and I could only make one event, so I chose to make it a particularly good one. Mark Millar was in conversation with Stuart Kelly (the mark of an excellent event!), to talk through five titles that changed him.
1. Swamp Thing – Alan Moore.
It was a formative thing as a reader. He was at the point of his American-movie-style coming-of-age clear out, I don’t need comic books, I’m a teenager. But he went to a comic mart and Moore was a guest, this was before he was famous; he was able to corner him for an hour. He’s now finished writing his 1m word+ novel, and they ask – is Millar ever tempted? “Pictures and words excite me more. It’s a form of its own – the ultimate form.” It creates something new – he’s dazzled by double page spreads.
Back to Moore, he brought a new perspective, skewing that of the superhero. He was iconoclastic but contemporary and mainstream – he reflects the culture of his time, was very influenced by it. By now, they conclude, comics have won the literary battle – they’re not a source of embarrassment any more. “People would hide an issue of Superman inside a porn mag when I was growing up,” laughs Millar.
2. Batman: Year One – Frank Miller.
He chose this because it was taboo breaking: “It was like being shot in the head every time I got it.” He admits that the Dark Knight is his favourite of the two, but he feels Year One stood the test of time. The former is perfect, completely on the money for 1986. In fact, he thinks it’s so of its time that people don’t get the power of it now. Year One is more classic, like the Mask of Zorro – it’s a simple idea, timeless.
He gave license to use real violence in comics. It’s become common now, but he notes Roger Bannister was the first man to run the four minute mile – many have done it since and beaten his time, but he’ll always be the first. Miller is that for comic violence, bringing it to a big character. His opinion on the Occupy Movement a few years ago turned many off of his work, but Mark feels you need to separate the author from his work, though it can be difficult, that disagreeing with someone’s opinion shouldn’t change the work. “I love the idea that writers are a little bit mad,” he says. It’s more interesting.
3. The Comic Book Heroes: From the Silver Age to the Present – Gerard Jones.
“We love the things we grew up with,” he explains. Silver Age comics are so powerful and clean cut, it’s a romantic era. DC peaked in the Silver Age, he continues, believing that they’re fundamentally 20th century. He liked the title Comic Book Heroes – it was more than just the cape-clad crusaders, but also those who created them; it was the first time he’d really considered that. It goes behind the scenes, with everyone’s biography and the Kirby family’s legal drama included.
It was ultimately a warning: “Make sure I own my own creations.” It was pivotal in the creation of Millarworld. Creatively, he says, it’s fantastic, he keeps ownership of everything.
4. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? – Alan Moore.
By this point, we’re pressed for time as they still hope to open the floor to audience questions, so this is brief. The last Superman story. “It’s about just 44 pages, but it’s everything you needed to tie it up.”
5. David Icke.
A few books are mentioned under this umbrella (The Truth Vibrations, The Biggest Secret), so I’m not 100% on which one was chosen… Mark remembers seeing him on Wogan and thinking “This is mental.” He was proclaiming he was the son of god. When things were happening, such as Diana’s death, he became slightly skeptical. “Maybe the news is kind of lying to us,” he remembers. Icke was his introduction to alternative media.
“As a writer, it’s always good to check out everything,” he says. He puts little nods to Icke in his own writing. “You collect eccentrics in your life.”
He likes the idea that there was a story behind the story. It’s always existed, but now there’s a democratisation of information. 10-15 years ago, you took news as gospel, but there’s been a paradigm shift. Now we question things; there’s a maturity of public consciousness.. He asked the audience how man people feel that the government, for example, is working in their best interests as suggested? One hand is raised.
“He was my first experience of questioning the status quo.”
Fan questions are varied, and also include Mark giving out special copies of his work to both the youngest and tallest people in attendance, but we’ll close with the final question of the night, spiraling from Red Sun.
“If Superman had landed in Coatbridge, would he want an Independent Scotland?”
“He’d be too busy flying around and saving cats.”