Mark Millar talks about representation, Netflix and his approach to writing at the inaugural Creative Conversations event
At 5.30 pm on Tuesday, the crowd in Glasgow University Chapel seemed bigger and more male-dominated than it usually is. Might the latter be an indication that men are still more interested in comics than women are? Not necessarily, Mark Millar would say. The Scottish comic book writer, perhaps best known for Hollywood-adapted material like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kickass, and Civil War, was the first author to grace the stage at this year’s “Creative Conversations”, a series of talks hosted by the Creative Writing department and funded by the Ferguson Bequest.
In conversation with host Louise Welsh, Millar claimed to have seen a considerable increase in female readership over the past few decades. He also noted that while Hollywood adaptations of comics did not have the best history of showing a diverse range of characters (“they had a raccoon before they had a woman”), comics had, in fact, been inclusive for far longer: “What looks radical in Hollywood now was done by comics 50 years ago.”
Throughout the conversation, he frequently presented comic book creators as both “progressive” and as “outcasts”. Still, the latter might not exactly be applicable to Millar himself, who follows a self-imposed 9-5 work approach, allowing him to “hang out with normal people”. His creative output adds up to approximately 20 comics a year – and as soon as he finishes work on a comic, he never thinks about it again. “Once I’m done with it, I’m done and sometimes I will genuinely have forgotten things when I look at a comic three months later,” he said, laughing.
Millar’s approach to writing is nearly always the same: he starts at the end, or with a big scene, and then reverse-engineers his plot to fit. (“Please steal that idea!”) He also gave some more controversial advice for young fiction writers:“I don’t really do research. Six months of reading, to me, just feels like avoiding writing.” For Millar, the way to come up with a story is simply to “write about what you are interested in”. As such, he absorbs anything and everything he sees around him, a technique he has always found most productive. In terms of deciding what artists to work with, Millar said it came down to which individual style feels appropriate for the story. He compared it to casting the right actor for a particular movie genre: “See, if I were to cast someone for a science fiction film… Joe Pesci in space just feels weird.”
When asked about his production company Millarworld and its recent sale to Netflix, he described the streaming giant as “the place to be” for creatives in film and television.
“Most Hollywood studios put out about 30 hours of content a year. Netflix does 1500 hours. That is why all the big directors and writers are heading there right now.” And while Millar is clearly becoming an even more prominent name within the comic industry and beyond, the writer remains attached to his birthplace, Coatbridge. The Scottish town was recently host to a Comic-Con organised by Millarworld, which featured prominent names such as comic artist Frank Quitely. “It was just cool to see my old primary school suddenly become San Diego for a day.” Millar and his production company aim to organise regular events and initiatives benefiting Coatbridge, such as community hubs in local churches featuring free shows and meals for pensioners.
The comic book author also had some big words of encouragement for his audience. The possibilities of creating and distributing content being as extensive as they are today, he declared that “there has never been a better point in human history to be a writer, a filmmaker, a creative. And if the quality of your work is good, then someone will eventually find it.”