Do you ever use unusual tools to help decision-making while writing (i.e. the I-Ching, tarot cards, or those weird sex dice, things like that)?
The most unusual tool I use is my brain.
Hmm. Not anything I regularly use. I write autobiographically a lot, in a very coarse fashion - as in, I draw a lot of inspiration from whatever I’m doing from wherever I’ve been. Everything goes into the story. That’s probably the strangest thing I use regularly.
Any chance you'd like to talk more about the "two ways of looking at Kate, which require subtly different readings of her" that you see, or at least the view you prefer?
The other version is the more “realistic” view of her - which is to be as good as she is physically, she’d need to be training almost all of the time, so she wouldn’t have time to do very much apart from that. In which case, videogames would be a forbidden fruit.
You don’t get to be an better than olympic quality anything without making a lot of sacrifices.
Any chance you'd be willing to share the broad strokes of your Alpha Flight concept with an intensely curious audience? Even just the bits you've described so far make me thing it would have been a far different creature than any version we've seen so far.
Basic concept was a Post Dark Reign UN-Superteam to balance the US-centric Avengers.
It had one or two Alpha Flight characters in, but was really the sort of completely new thing that would have clearly have gone down badly with AF fans. Also, no-one would have bought into it as they’d know I wasn’t a big enough creator to mean it was a “real” thing. Admittedly, that was kinda the story - that this Alpha Flight was going to try and fail, and then become something else.
(There was another more faithful AF pitch I did which is one of the most demented things I’ve ever sent an editor. I half believe he left the company rather than respond to it. Some of the ideas in it found a home in Young Avengers - specifically the fighting problems no-one else can see aspect. It had a villain group in it that was basically God Speed You Black Emperor in a psychic squat in the middle of the Canadian Dream.)
I reread your Batroc one-shot the other day and greatly enjoyed it as much as I did the first time. Are you ever tempted to go back and visit characters you've gotten to write material for only in limited capacity in other, longer projects? Not just Batroc but also characters like Ares (who is unfortunately suffering from a case of dead) and Beta Ray Bill, who you wrote for in the early days of your time at Marvel.
Thank you. That one was fun. Against my normal “not thinking about characters you don’t own” approach, it was an idea I had right at the start of my small press experience. It was just an idle muse on the concept of “what’s the point of a guy like Batroc? What makes him tick?” When years later I got a call asking if I had any interest in doing a Batroc story, it natural I reached for it.
In terms of more… well, you’ve got soft spots for almost anyone you’ve written early in your career. Naturally, as you’ve done the hard thinking of getting into them, you find yourself reaching for them as a first response. Both ARES and BILL were mixed in the concept for various things I was considering.
Bill was originally going to be one of the people in Loki’s team for the first arc of Journey Into Mystery, but when I got to plotting it out, there just wasn’t room. If I had to lose someone, I lost Bill, just as he was the one who was most outside the mood of JIM and would have required most space to even get into the mix. I had the visual of Loki and Hel-Wolf on the wing of the Peak, tapping on the window to attract Bill’s attention.
Ares was in a pitch that didn’t go anywhere for a radically different Alpha Flight book. I didn’t bring him back from the dead though. I basically used him as a summoned supernatural weapon of mass destruction on missions, before sending him back to Hades. I suspect you can see some of the ideas for Ares in the Colossus/Juggernaut plot in Uncanny X-men.
(In fact, a chunk of the Alpha Flight ideas found their way into Uncanny X-men. They had a similarly aggressive attitude towards the Avengers.)
I suspect that’s a good example of how it works though. Things the characters teach you find other homes. Looking at that ARES mini and you can see some of the sort of thinking that turned up in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY and all that.
I did go through a “Man, I miss Abigail Brand” moment last week though.
while we're on the subject of video games - which games would each young avenger be into (assuming they're into any games of course)?
If I tried to answer this question, I’d be here for hours and…
Billy and Teddy had at least one long term MMO experience. Billy’s is probably still ongoing. Both would like large-scale RPGs, Billy to the degree of having written fanfic about his Player Character in Dragon Age.
America would answer that she doesn’t play any games, but if prompted with a “what about XYZ?” she’d go “Oh yeah. That doesn’t count!”
Noh-Varr can rant about Robotron like he rants about Be My Baby, though being a Space Invader he finds certain aspects of classic gaming problematic.
Prodigy likes games that feature a lot of terrain and may even need you to read the PDF manual. He’s probably programmed his own.
Kate… well, there’s two ways of looking at Kate, which require subtly different readings of her, and what she’d play. The one I prefer has her playing a bunch of stuff on her mobile, and multiplayer stuff when she’s over at Billy’s. She’s the sort to add sarcastic comments any time a videogame gets the archery animation wrong.
Mr. Gillen, what is a beamslinger? This word has been tormenting me for so much time. please, if you answer this question, could it be private? Thank you very much.
Like a gunslinger, except with beams.
It’s a nod to British Music Journalism legend. To quote wikipedia…
It was felt that younger writing was needed to credibly cover the emerging punk movement, and the paper advertised for a pair of "hip young gunslingers" to join their editorial staff. This resulted in the recruitment of Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill. The pair rapidly became champions of the Punk scene and created a new tone for the paper.
Dropping it in an advert struck me as funny, at least for half a dozen reasons, and useful for half a dozen more.
So, I'm writing the second issue of my comic book series, and I get to final stretch of the rough draft, when I suddenly realize that I could make the issue so much better if i re-wrote the last eight pages completely. Is there anything I can do it in the plotting process to prevent such backtracking?
I mean, sometimes if you planned it better certain aspects or problems or better ways of doing things will come more to the fore meaning there will be less rewriting… but that’s a maybe, and pretty much unprovable in practice. No matter how I’ve planned it, things in execution surprise me.
You can google up a million and one quotes which basically say “writing is rewriting.” That’s basically because it is. At least it is for a lot of writer’s experiences.
(For a contrary take, I think of Vonnegut’s Swooper vs Basher dichotomy, where he thinks there’s basically two kinds of writers. Swoopers just write-write-write and get the whole thing down, before reworking intensely. Bashers write a sentence at a time, and when each line is done, it’s done. Obv, an over-generalisation, but a neat one which seems applicable. I’m clearly a swooper, but I’ve known a few bashers in my time. I sort of view them like a Klingon views a Vulcan. They just don’t make any sense to me, which is kinda the point.)
To be honest, while the response to realising you have to do more work is always a “NO, MUM! I DON’T WANT TO TIDY MY BEDROOM!” you should be grateful of it. A little work now is one thing, but realising you could have done it better after it’s been drawn is a nagging thing that lasts forever.
Matthew: It is most certainly an intentional device on my part. It’s color theory, and studying it makes doing my job so much easier. Knowing how to choose colors that will do what you want them to do, to direct a reader’s eye, to frame a scene, or elicit a certain response is crucial to good coloring. Good color theory can even make up for other shortcomings, like being inexperienced at rendering (adding textures, highlights and shadows to define form).
The biggest mistake I often see in aspiring colorists’ portfolios is their focus on rendering before they have a good grasp of color theory. I went to art school and majored in “Sequential Art”, which is a fancy name for a degree in comics. (I think it’s to get parents of perspective students in the door. If you called it majoring in comic books they’d probably never let the kids anywhere near the school.) Of course, I took a color theory class as part of my foundation classes, and then as required by my major, I took a “computer coloring for comics” class.
I don’t remember the exact number of assignments, but we weren’t allowed to do anything but color completely flat for the majority of the class. The professor wanted us to be able to tell a story using only flat colors. So, without the aid of lighting or texture or gradients, you had to choose your single flat color for each background, or each face, very wisely to get the most out of your choice. I remember I practiced on a lot of Mignola Hellboy pages and studied a lot of Dave Stewart’s flat colors on that book.
Anyway, the point is that the importance of color choice was made very clear to me when I first started coloring comics on the computer. Looking back, it was important to limit myself in a program that had limitless colors and tools to distract a novice colorist.
”—Matt Wilson interviewed about his colouring techniques. Go read the rest but this bit strikes me as particularly wise.
Is it just me, or did you place subtle pot shots at Frank Miller and his 300 story in 3?
Joking aside, I generally go the other way, and cut as much stuff which just seems to be about Thermopylae. I’m writing about Sparta and the Spartan mirage generally rather than 300 specifically. That said, as many people’s sole understanding of the Spartan Mirage is 300, I get why people take it as such.
Always wondered that, if in the realms of possibility, you would release a Phonogram compilation album to accompany the series? Or even an original soundtrack album if you somehow had a musical dream team to work with.
It’s certainly an idea we’ve played with. A ULTIMATE PHONOGRAM over-sized hardback edition with an album would make a lot of sense.
Kieron, how much time would you say you spend writing per page? How much per script? Also, if I could be so selfish, how much time for revisions/2nd drafts?
It’s impossible to really average that out. It takes as long as it takes.
My “basic” work routine is basically that I write five pages of first draft every work-day morning. Sometimes I write more, but abstractly never less. Afternoons are for everything else, including polishing.
The actual manual typing is the small part of it though. You’re really doing the thinking about it all the time.
I tend to think in terms of reworking rather than drafts. Scripts change radically as I cut it apart. Things change entirely when the pages come back. Comics writing, for me, is pretty fluid.
For an independent study at my college, I am looking at a large array of comics and graphic novels. For the last two weeks of the corse, I get to pick what we discuss. I already have the first week decided (Animal Man) and am considering your run on Young Avengers for the second (both because its a comic released within the past 10 years... and I still haven't read the whole run). How do I pitch the series to my teacher?
If I was pitching such a thing, I’d suggest pitching them together. There’s enough overlap in the themes and techniques of the two to be an interesting study of what the twenty years gap does to pop culture, etc.
I initially misread the last ask as "Do you think you'll do a SINGING event when The Wicked and the Divine is released?" So: Do you think you'll do a singing event when The Wicked and the Divine is released?
Wicked + Divine Karaoke competition makes a lot of sense.
On Jeopardy! last night, one of the categories was to name the first instrument heard in various pop songs, and one of the clues was "Be My Baby." I have Noh-Varr to thank for knowing the answer to that.
Yes, late in the day for this, but if shops are still open where you are, you can buy IRON MAN 22 today, which is the conclusion of IRON METROPOLITAN. Fights! Denouements! Surprise Villains! New Armour! Stuff! And if shops aren’t open where you are, you can go tomorrow and/or buy it digitally.
“In Three, as the story continues, we see the memetic state in crisis: desperately trying to sustain itself within and without after military defeats. The pursuit of three helot slaves by a King of Sparta – the central incident of the story – is a PR move. A memetic state whose central idea is challenged by the spectacular – invincible Spartans defeated by their slaves – must also react with spectacle. The gap between idea-Sparta and the shabby, rickety polis it is propping up is sharply widening: but as a devastating monologue by one of the helots in the final issue demonstrates, the gap is not new. All that is new is the inability of the state to cover it up by force of will.”—
Hey, Kieron, Will the Three TP have the back matter supplement stuff found in the issues?
I don’t normally include what I’ve put in the issues in the trade, but in this case, I decided to go the other way. The conversation with the Professor is too useful to students to keep away from the collection, y’know?
We’re also including some historical footnotes, and some making-of material. Should be a pretty package.
This month, I have been a passenger. This is a mostly meditative post; if it seems to lack the spirit of the last it is because it’s not really a piece of ‘embedded journalism’: this will begin earnestly next month. I have been preparing to leave, giving away my room to a new tenant, giving…
I spent an evening with Karla and Cara during these adventures, and I’ve been meaning to write something about it ever since, if only to ramble on about the Sisters of Mercy. Some of the conversations skewed towards role models - akin to some of what’s discussed in the piece - and had me thinking about Karla’s teen self akin to Patti Smith or Kate Bush or one of those iconic women pop stars who had mainly male influences as who else was there to be influenced by?
Which is one of the reasons why I think GONE HOME is so important, with its focus on Riot Grrl’s meaning circa then, and bringing that into the now. There are other ways of being.
To flip it, while we ended up obsessing over the Sisters and I found myself playing the tricky wicket of saying why a gloriously bad influence like Eldritch is useful and necessary, what I didn’t talk about was one of the riffs that Jamie and I often do. Which is basically how lucky Jamie and I were were to basically come of age in a place and scene where there was more female heroes to have. That’s in our DNA, and I’d hate to think what our art would be like without it.
“I have always feared losing. To be seen to be struggling — to experience frustration, to have to say, numb in the face of overwhelming information, things like “I don’t get it” — disrupts me bodily, disassembles my composition. Even the prospect of failure is humiliating. I can do anything, I am good at everything except for all the things I am not good at, and I’ve always managed to avoid those things as if they carried germs.”—Leigh and Quinns write about Netrunner with the sort of humanity which I look for in all my best criticism. It’s about art, it’s about us. Read the rest here.
Do you recall the moment when you first realized that you have fans? Like, what was the sound in your head when you became aware that people would read things that you wrote entirely because you wrote it? This occurred to me as I bought the Dark Angel one-shot, seeing as I've never head of the character before.
This has been sitting on the inbox for a while, as I sort of promised to do a serious answer, and wanted to try to talk around the topic properly. I suspect I’ll fail. I may just delete this all and write “Yes, I do.”
But first, a ramble.
What I’m talking about in follows is about the more extremes. Not the (wonderful in and of itself) people who dig you and read your stuff, which is one thing. It’s more the sort of “fans” I write comics about.
Being a fan and fandom and being a creator is something that obsesses me. You can see it in Phonogram. You can see it in Young Avengers. You’ll see it in The Wicked + The Divine. You can see it smaller degrees in almost everything. Our relationship with the art that inspires and creates us, and the relationship with the humans involved in its creation and the ethics and responsibilities and all that.
I’ve been a fan. I’ve been a serious fan. I’ve ran websites. I’ve ran fanzines. I’ve written more criticism than most people have read. The latter is why I tend to be more pro-critics than most comic creators. I get it. I tend to think creators who are down on critics’ existence don’t understand how much their work means to people, or grasp why anyone would write so much about a piece of art. Art changed my life. Art is important to me.
(That this isn’t an unreserved good thing is also fairly brought forward in the mix in what I do. Phonogram is about many things, but in part it’s about the behaviour of addicts.)
So when going into this, I was hyper conscious of what it all meant and where it would lead.
The line I always dropped when talking about Phonogram was “We want to make art that means as much to other people as the art that inspired us meant to us.”
There is a problem with that aim. If we succeed in it, we’d become to other people what the creators who created the art meant to us. That means, we were going to have fans.
Not that we wanted fans. It’s that they’re the necessary by-product of doing what we wanted to do, the odd vocation we felt drawn to. If we were as good as we wanted to be, inevitably some people are going to reallllly get it because the art that inspired us was the art that we reaallllly got and changed the way we thought and walked and dressed. The art we loved was some-fans-get-tattoo art.
So when that happens… there’s the two sensations at once.
One: oh good. It’s working.
Two: oh god. Why the fuck is anyone listening to me?
The second is the one which almost all creators have. It’s the impostor syndrome, which you get, as much as everyone knows everyone feels like an impostor.
I suspect the first is the part of me which writes the dual-edged stories about art.
Both reactions have to be squashed.
As I said, I’m very conscious about what this all means going in, my reaction is always to send the super-ego to work. I’m very super-ego-y as a person (until I’ve had a few drinks, at which point I lock myself off the Internet.)
Someone being a fan isn’t really about you. It’s about the art, and what the art meant to them. It’s about where they were in their life and what that art allowed them to access or reflected or whatever.
The tattoos are almost a small thing. When you meet someone - and I’ve met those blessed someones - who have changed their way of life due to the experience with your art, that gets you. It’s humbling and scary, because you meet someone you saw a year earlier, and now they’re doing their best Emily Aster, you’re aware that as - say - KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND was to you, PHONOGRAM was to her.
You squash it all those “you” responses, because as you *do* understand, you have a responsibility. If someone is in that state, they’ve made themselves incredibly vulnerable to you. You could say the wrong thing, and crush them, because their love for the art has got all mixed up with a person, and if art is transformative, you’re in a position where you could cruelly poison it or debase it or whatever, and if you think art is holy - AND YOU DO - don’t do that, just don’t do that.
But it’s not about you. That’s what keeps you grounded. There’s other ways of doing it - the people who don’t really get why Fans get the way Fans get - but for me, with my background my - I’ve been there. I’m you - I can only play it that way. Ideally, I try to step past the me-as-midwife-to-stuff-you-love and creep into actual human stuff, but that’s not always going to be possible or even desirable. But you can be nice. You have to be nice.
But I think that’s the responsibility I owe fans, and that’s what I try to keep in mind. Because in that chain-of-people-across-the-years-making-art-to-inspire-people-who-make-art, the way you act when reaching across generations, to other-yous in other-lives is as close to holy as it gets.
You know Galaxy Quest?
I love Galaxy Quest. One day I’ll write an essay about Galaxy Quest. The first time I saw it, on a VHS tape in a Girlfriend’s bedroom, she was laughing at how I just b-e-a-m-e-d through the whole thing. Not laughing constantly, but just radiating a big fucking glow of this-is-a-chunk-of-how-see-pop-and-art on the screen, as shamelessly major key as it has to be, because to do it any other way would be a betrayal of how this stuff works.
In short: we’re all Thermians, and you better treat those lovely, doomed, humans right, not because you’re fucking yourself across time, but because it’s right. If you get into art, you are making Thermians and you need to understand what that means.
To be more prosaic, I’ve been aware of having fans since my first year or so of being a games journalist. That maybe sounds odd to American readers - probably less so when a bunch of personality-lead-techniques crossed the pond - but there was this odd thing in the UK of idolatry (both as heroes and demons) of game writers. Me? I was a total fanboy of writers in both the game and music press. So when I started doing it, and doing it in the way I did, and the letters and odd fan art and bloody puppets of my head arrived in the mail, I had the aforementioned dual “Oh good, it’s working” and “OH GOD! IT’S WORKING!” response.
(The thing with being a pop critic who hits people in the guts in that way? For people who are new to the world of art, it’s basically that you’re expressing things other people are feeling about their art and they don’t quite have the vocabulary or framework of thought to express for yet. It’s the FINALLY! THIS IS HOW I FEEL! response that you get when you see yourself in art. I’m very much in the school of criticism is art.)
Oddly, when I saw all that happen, I didn’t think of it as fans. I thought of it as the thing that would happen if I was any good. It was only when talking to one of my editors in the pub that he thought the response was really quite something that I realised that the word for that is “Fan” isn’t it. I was sort of in denial about it.
It’s basically jumbled along as a background hum since then. I still get recognised on the train or in bars as Kieron Gillen, wanky games critic. In other words, I’m used to it by now, except you’re never really used to it, as it’s always weird. Weird, but necessary and holy.
This is less of an argument than a string of concepts. But this is actually one of the conversations I tend to have with new creators and people who discover they’ve an audience quite a lot - how they really have trouble processing how people now see them. And I basically tell them some of the above.
Just wanted to say I am SUPER-EXCITED for The Wicked and The Divine. Can't wait to see that book on the stands (and taking all my moneys again, I swear you do it on purpose :P). Out of curiosity though, will you be stepping back from Marvel work and shifting focus to your creator owned works then? After Origin II and Iron Man, that is.
Well, there’s more of my own stuff coming out, so my workload is leaning that way, but there’s a bunch of Marvel stuff I’m doing too. But when there’s been whole years when I’ve only had Marvel stuff out, it’ll probably appear less.
And thank you. Wicked & Divine is going completely Phonogram in terms of taking over certain parts of my brain. I’m doing the ritualistic writing-a-scene-at-the-place-where-it-happens thing this afternoon.