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A Short Interview With Graeme McMillan
posted January 26, 2008
 

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Some of you may have noticed that the URL title for the 14th CR holiday interview, featuring Sean T. Collins, bears the name of Graeme McMillan; that's because I asked Graeme to do my mainstream comics year in review interview first. As the piece was creeping towards its due date, Graeme experienced the unavoidable family conflict that he mentions below. When hearing of it, I sent him a note along the lines of "let's do something next time" and immediately shot an e-mail to Sean to see if he'd step in. I was lucky in that Sean was a 1b choice instead of a second one; had he and not Graeme been on a panel with me this summer, I'm certain I would have asked Sean first.

As it turns out, Graeme didn't get that last "let's wait for the next opportunity" e-mail, so he answered the questions when his schedule allowed and sent them to me on Sunday evening. Although it means everyone can now see how thoroughly I swiped from the interview below before sending questions over to Sean, I'm pleased as punch to provide a different columnist's view on how the year 2007 went on the mainstream American comic book page. Two perspectives have to be more valuable than one.

Graeme McMillan ran the now-legendary comics site Fanboy Rampage, which focused on the more outrageous and frequently untenable statements made by devoted comics fans. He is a currently a contributor to three sites with passionate comics -- or at least comics-related -- audiences: Savage Critics, Gawker's new io9 and Blog@Newsarama.

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TOM SPURGEON: Graeme, I don't know anything about you before you showed up on-line. Is there a cocktail party version of how you went from reading comics to posting about them?

GRAEME McMILLAN: I haven't a clue about cocktail parties but the short version is pretty much that I was vain enough to think that I had something interesting to say about them that other people would be interested in reading. I'd blogged before Fanboy Rampage!!!... In fact, I met my wife through the blog I'd done previously to that, which wasn't a comic blog, but just a me-talking-shit blog that I'd done around the year 2000, so I was already into the idea of writing online and it being an easy way to get your voice out there. I started writing about comics for Broken Frontier, back when that site was getting started; I knew a guy online called Chris Hunter who was involved in some nebulous way to the site, and he introduced me to Frederick Hautain, the editor of the site. Fanboy Rampage!!! got started after the whole comic blogging thing started out. I remember enjoying John Jakala's blog and Journalista, and thinking "I could do that."

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SPURGEON: Why did you end up closing down Fanboy Rampage and how did you end up working with Brian Hibbs? How did you get your gig at Blog@Newsarama?

McMILLAN: I have this thing about two year stretches. I have no idea why, but after doing something for two years, I have this weird feeling of "Is that enough? Should I stop now?" So, as FBR got close to its second birthday, that was something I was thinking about a lot. It had also become this popular thing, and I was really aware of that, about living up to the collective consciousness ideal of what it was supposed to be, both the good and the bad... That kind of thinking was beginning to take over when I was doing it, I was more aware of that and less aware of it being fun, if that makes sense. I'd pretty much decided, somewhere around a couple of months before the second birthday, that I'd probably stop doing it as I had been, and when I got a promotion at my real job that gave me less time to surf the internet for material, that kind of sealed the deal.

And then I got bored.

I missed... not the attention, really, but the feeling of being part of the whole conversation, I suppose. Before I stopped doing FBR, I'd been thinking things like "And when I stop, I won't feel this pressure (mostly from myself) to keep writing all the time! I can just read comics and enjoy them again!" but, instead, I stopped FBR and really missed it. I can't remember if Brian had asked me to write for him while I was still doing the blog or just after I stopped, but I'm pretty sure that he asked me to write for the Comix Experience newsletter first, and then invited me to join Savage Critics. I was really flattered, although I probably didn't give that impression at the time because I'm an asshole; Hibbs' reviews were some of the first comic writing that I really loved, and Tilting With Windmills
kind of put me in awe of him. He's just this smart, funny, kind of amazing guy, so for him to be "Hey, you want to write for me?" was ridiculous. I said yes, and then went through this stupid period of "I can't do this!" as soon as I sat down to do my first reviews.

Newsarama had started earlier... I have a vague recollection of Matt Brady getting in touch while I was still doing FBR, and the two of us making this exceptionally vague I should write for the site one day plan. It didn't really go anywhere until Blog@ started being a possibility, and that was much more down to Alex Segura and JK Parkin. I was pretty much just a hanger-on who was invited in, there.

SPURGEON: You still do some posts at Blog@Newsarama that reflect that interest in fan culture... what is it that fascinates you about those kinds of expression within fandom? What makes a good incident of that type a great incident of that type?

McMILLAN: Despite what may seem to be the case, I actually am really jealous of the hardcore fans. You know, the ones who get so upset about Spider-Man's marriage disappearing that they drop all Marvel books? If nothing else, they're passionate, you know? They have this great faith, which is insane, but it's real, and that's kind of wonderful to me. That said, the incidents I remember are almost always terrible ones. The whole Rape/Marry/Kill thing from the Bendis Board spin-off forum, where the people involved didn't really seem to know the difference between fucked-up-fantasy and real life, or something like that. That's an extreme, but so extreme as to be fascinating. Why do people do that? What's going on in their heads?

Maybe I'm just really cynical about everything, and that's why I'm so into this kind of thing. Fanboy Rampage initially started as pretty much pointing at weird behavior in a half-"What are they doing?" and half-laughing at them way, and I think that's still what I'm doing a lot of the time. It's all so alien to me that I'm in this amused, horrified, awe about a lot of the behavior -- the self-belief, the self-centeredness, the binary thinking. How many times are there variations on "I don't like this, therefore it sucks" or "I don't agree with you, therefore you're wrong." There's no middle-ground most of the time. It's superhero thinking, with the whole "Good guy/Bad guy -- Let's fight!" thing.

I have no idea if I answered your question or just went off into my own little world there.

SPURGEON: I guess this question might have come first, but can you talk about your comics reading habits as you grew up and how they might have been different than, say, most of the people you're writing for now?

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McMILLAN: Well, I lived through The Broons. I was just home in Scotland for my dad's funeral, and one night we somehow ended up talking about The Broons and Oor Wullie, which were both these one page strips that appeared (and still appear, I think) in a Scottish newspaper called The Sunday Post when I was a kid. They were really, really crap in terms of writing... Set in this fictional version of Scotland where it's always 1950-something no matter what celebrity or technology from the present somehow makes an appearance. Everyone talks in broad Scots, which no-one really spoke in even when I was a kid, all "Jings, crivens and help m'boab!" and the baby being called "The Bairn." The one good thing about them was the artwork, which in the annual collection reprint books were often by Dudley D. Watkins, who was the spiritual forerunner of Frank Quitely; really, really nice stuff. Looking at the old strips this past week for the first time in years, I can see a line from American newspaper strips in terms of the visual aesthetic, but obviously, as a nine-year-old, I had no idea about that. It was just a comic strip that I was brought up on.

I don't know. I think the UK has better children's comics? We had things like The Beano and Whizzer and Chips, cheap things full of one-page comedy strips about kids being anti-establishment (in the safest ways), which were perfect primers for something like 2000AD. When you're a kid, comics were -- and, judging by my nephews, still are -- more of an accepted (required, maybe) part of your world than they seem to be in America. Comics were always there, and they were nothing like American comics. I can remember buying Uncanny X-Men #185, and it feeling like it wasn't a comic, but something else, because I knew the characters, but the format was something else.

That may be a long-winded way of saying "I didn't grow up on superheroes," which is true, but there's more to it... The comics I grew up on -- British comics in general -- have shorter story length, and different visual language. They pace themselves differently, have different intent and different subject matter. So many of the traditions and cliches are different. Which isn't to say that they're better, but you end up with a different sense of what's important or even how to read comics, I think.

SPURGEON: Tell me about how the Savage Critics gig works. Are you buying these comics? Is there ever peer review of what you're writing, or give and take after you've written something? Do you write from home, or on a certain day of the week? What in your case is the reward for what looks like an awful lot of work?

McMILLAN: I'm not buying all of the comics, but I buy a lot of them. I pick up a lot of what's come out in a particular week from Hibbs, and then read through them and try to work out which are worth writing about -- I don't write about everything I read every week, for the most part (I'm not being given free comics, by the way; the ones I don't buy go back to the store). There's not an organized peer review system, but we're free to comment on each other's reviews -- We have an email group, and I see Jeff Lester and Brian on a fairly regular basis. I used to, pre-blog-break, write most days at home in the evening for the following day's posting, but now that I'm doing io9, that'll probably change.

I don't really know that it's an awful lot of work, to be honest. I mean, it's reading comics and then talking shit about them. I am easily the least-intellectual of the reviewers on Savage Critics now; Jog and Doug [Wolk] and Jeff and everyone else write these smart, witty, essays, and then I come along and go "Hey, that's Spider-Man's radioactive spunk!" As for my reward... I don't know. Isn't having the ability to spout off in public its own reward?

I meant that last question genuinely, which is kind of worrying.

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SPURGEON: How do you decide what you're covering at Blog@Newsarama? In fact, can you paint a general picture about how that gig works? Are you expected to blog a minimum amount? Do you and the others communicate with each other about blog matters?

McMILLAN: Blog@ is pretty hands-off in terms of what each of us cover -- A lot of that is down to John [Parkin] and the way that he runs things, I think. He definitely doesn't get the credit he deserves for keeping that blog running the way that it does, which is a shame. He's smart enough to give us enough rope to hang ourselves, but also know when to reel us back in, to mix metaphors. Part of it is probably that we've been doing it for so long now that we know what we can and can't do, but there's also that he's assembled a pretty fantastic team there. I mean, Kevin [Melrose] and Chris [Mautner] alone should have Dirk Deppey green with jealousy.

We do communicate with each other about blog matters, and other things, as well. It's another email group deal, but one that's probably more heavily-used than the Savage Critics one. There's a lot of back and forth, not only about what we should be doing on the site, but also just about comics in general. There's not really a stated minimum amount that we're expected to post, but we're all aware of how much we think we should be posting, and if we don't meet those self-imposed goals, we'll apologize to the team. When I put it like that, it sounds like a bad sports movie, which is kind of embarrassing. We don't have Blog@ uniforms yet or anything.

Io9 works differently again -- It's much more organized, in that everything I write goes through Annalee Newitz, the editor, and she decides whether it runs as is, whether it needs to be rewritten, or whether it just isn't worth running it at all. Part of that is that it's such a new blog, though; the longer we keep at it, the less Annalee will have to do, hopefully.

SPURGEON: How did you get put into the kind of heavy-lifting role that you seem to have at Savage Critics, where you're writing briefly on a broad array of comics. Do you like that kind of interaction with comics; do you notice things about comics reading a bunch of them that you may not have noticed were you to read just a few.

McMILLAN: I have a heavy-lifting role? That's probably the result of what Hibbs called my self-indulgent guilt... I have this feeling that I should always be doing more than I am for the blogs, even if what I'm doing isn't actually any good.

imageI like reading a lot of things, and find especially with Marvel and DC books, that they're a different experience when read in the context of each other. I mean, yes, both companies are crossover-crazy, but there's also the times when you notice books that are dealing with the same subjects without realizing it. Like Geoff Johns' books last year, for example, all turning away from straight superheroics and into science-fiction books (Booster Gold as time-travel, Green Lantern as space-opera, Action as other dimensions/time travel again, and now JSA as parallel earth book), or all of the Marvel books trying to move on from the pretentious political allegories of Civil War in their own way by self-consciously rediscovering "a sense of wonder".

It's also just... I like to know things, you know? If I wasn't reading Spider-Man, I'd want to be reading Spider-Man because everyone's talking about how crap it is, you know? I don't expect to enjoy it, but I want to know what everyone else is on about.

SPURGEON: Both of your major critical outlets are group efforts. Does belonging to a group like that suit you? Can you a name a peer or two at your various gigs that you particularly enjoy and why?

McMILLAN: Jeff Lester. Jeff Lester Jeff Lester Jeff Lester. To completely fan his ego for a second, Jeff is completely who I want to be when I grow up. His writing is hilarious and insightful and completely a joy to read. He wrote the column for Comix Experience's newsletter for years, and it was always a highlight of the month, and the fact that he's not more well-known or well-loved is a crime. Me, I think he should have shrines built in his honor. He's really, really fucking great.

On the Blog@ side, you're kind of spoiled for choice. You've got Kevin Melrose and Chris Mautner, who are a couple of the more interesting comic bloggers around, you have Lisa and Melissa doing their columns, you have Tom and John... but I really love Carla Hewlett's column. She's more of a Marvel fan than I am, but there's something about the way that she just attacks subjects and really gets into them that make me a massive fan of hers.

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SPURGEON: A day before I'm sending you these questions the writer Gail Simone popped up on Savage Critics and in the course of responding to a view let it slip that she didn't think much of the new all-star Savage Critics and kind of preferred the old days when it was just a few of you. That's also a minority opinion I've seen expressed on the commentary threads. Do you feel your writing has changed at all now that it's viewed in the context of other writers?

McMILLAN: I think my writing has changed since everyone came on board, but I don't think it's changed because of that, or because the context has changed... I think I started to phone it in for awhile without really realizing I was doing it, mostly because I was doing too much (So, of course, after realizing I was trying to do so much, I start blogging for io9. Smart move, me). Hibbs and Jeff were the first ones to really point it out to me, albeit in the nicest ways possible, but it was only when they did that that I looked at what I'd been doing and thought, "Oh, shit." I'm pretty much an anti-craft writer anyway, but I really was lazy for awhile there.

(Insert cheap shots about no-one noticing here.)

I think that the all-new, all-star Savage Critic is getting a lot more criticism partially because it's drawing a lot more attention to itself -- we re-launched, went to a specific URL as opposed to part of the CE site, and brought in a spectacular team of reviewers. Isn't that the kind of thing that's supposed to get people complaining about you taking yourself too seriously and having lost the fun of it all?

SPURGEON: Who in comics do you suppose is the most happy to see 2007 go away and who is the most sad? Why?

McMILLAN: Dan Didio's got to be pretty happy to see 2007 go away, if only because 2008 has the promise of Final Crisis, which people seem to be generally excited about, as opposed to the unpopularityfest that Countdown became, not to mention other unpopular moves like Amazons Attack and delays meaning that the resolution of high-profile stories get bumped months down the line into annuals instead of where they were originally supposed to go. There seemed to be this weird kind of "Hey, let's not talk about 2007, we've learned from our mistakes and wasn't Sinestro Corps War great anyway? Look! Grant Morrison is doing Final Crisis next year! It's shiny!" vibe from DC at the end of the year.

On the other hand, Joe Quesada's got to be missing 2007 already. With Civil War, World War Hulk, and killing Captain America, the majority of Marvel's 2007 was pretty successful, but I think that the overreaction to the Spider-Man reboot shows that there's a vocal backlash brewing for them this year, and you can only kill Captain America to get on CNN so many times.

SPURGEON: So is DC really replacing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman with General Zod's kid, Dick Grayson and Donna Troy and re-launching all of the original characters and concepts in an "Ultimate"-style universe? And if that's not where they're doing, where do you see the "DC Universe" titles one and three and five years from now? I can't see a future past of all this Infinite hot-shot stuff and events. Where is DC heading? Is there ever a new status quo?

McMILLAN: Of course they're not doing that. Dude, it's Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman. They're always going to be who they've always been, bearing in mind differing interpretations for whatever's current ("It's 1985 and Lex Luthor's a corrupt businessman!"). The suggestion that they're going to kill off Bruce Wayne or whatever is the most ridiculous thing ever; even if it happened, Bruce would be back within two years at most. He's too big to make any real changes to, and why would you? He works fine as is.

DC's heading where it always heads -- They have a cycle of having a great period for a couple of years with solid superhero stories without any major changes, and then a few years of wobbling around as they try out new things that don't work (often coinciding with new creators as their stars disappear over to Marvel), and then back to a couple of golden years. They were great around 1999-2001, they were pretty solid around 2005-2006. I'm sure that Final Crisis will be fun and then they'll fuck that up for awhile before remembering what they do best.

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SPURGEON: How do you generally see DC's overall creative effort right now? What works and what doesn't?

McMILLAN: DC had an odd 2007. Even though they're the most interesting imprints, I think that Zuda and Minx are well-intentioned but not necessarily there yet, wherever "there" is; I liked all of the Minx books, for example, but didn't really love that many of them. Sure, they're not meant for me, but still... there seemed to be a failure of execution in all of them, for some reason, as if all the creators knew what they wanted to do but didn't quite manage it. Vertigo, as an imprint, feels like an afterthought, there but not really doing that much of note, but at least that's better than the constant cycle of reinvention while never changing anything that is WildStorm these days.

The DC Universe books are in one of their down cycles as they lack the excitement and momentum to be that interesting as a line, but individually, they've put out some of the best books of the year. Mark Waid's The Brave And The Bold is an incredibly good superhero book, and his Flash was good as well. Geoff Johns' Green Lantern really did peak with the Sinestro crossover. Johns, Kurt Busiek and Grant Morrison are all doing really good Superman stories, and I was one of the few who really liked Allen Heinberg's Wonder Woman and am excited about Gail Simone's take... If you take the whole Countdown hyper-storyline and tie-ins out of the picture, DC's line looks pretty good; it's just that Countdown is such a misfire that it feels like a black hole sucking in all positive feelings about the publisher.

That said, they put out Darwyn Cooke's Spirit and Jeff Smith's Shazam in 2007; how can that seem like anything other than a success, you know?

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SPURGEON: How do you generally see Marvel's overall creative effort in 2007? What worked and what didn't?

McMILLAN: Well, if you are prepared to follow all of Marvel's books and dig people frowning, then you probably loved Marvel's 2007. Me, I think that it's interesting what they're doing, but not really enjoyable. They've really dived into the inter-connectedness post Civil War, but I'm not sure what that's really achieved aside from sales (Yes, yes, I know)... There's such a sameness to almost their entire line in terms of tone and subject matter that it feels less fun or worthwhile. I don't think it's really an accident that the more talked-about books from Marvel this year (outside of Captain America getting killed) weren't the ones centrally tied into their Initiative initiative... Things like Immortal Iron Fist, the Annihilation: Conquest books, even One More Day at least felt as if there was more to Marvel than just one story spread across 72 books.

And I don't know if it's a comment on me or Marvel that I completely forgot about their other publishing lines until right now. Criminal's good, though.

SPURGEON: You mentioned "One More Day. From the outside looking in, the plot of that "event" seems like a massively bizarre take on things, and your review of the story arc was pretty brutal. What's your sense of why they're doing something like this? Is it really, as asserted, just the desire of certain individuals at Marvel to see that marriage undone? When all is said and done with these kinds of things, does Spider-Man remain a viable comic book character?

McMILLAN: Oh, I think it's entirely about Joe Quesada wanting to make the character more like he was when Joe was a fan. I don't think fandom at large was that bothered about the marriage before he started talking about it at any given opportunity as if it was a terrible thing, and the other changes are even more needless (Sorry, harryosborneshouldbebackaliverightnow.com).

imageWhat's amazing to me is that it's turned into such a clusterfuck. When you have J. Michael Straczynski saying that he wanted his name pulled off the books but didn't because he didn't want to hurt Joe Quesada's feeling and that's just the kind of stand-up guy he is (but talking about it in public is entirely okay, of course; I love the "And when did you stop beating your wife" school of public relations) and it turns into a he-said he-said public argument, then somehow the Marvel PR machine has seriously broken down, and that's before you see the advert released before the end of the series that doesn't seem to have anything to do with what finally happened, or realize that no-one got "one more day" in the story, or that the reboot is the most confusing thing Marvel has done in most recent memory (Let's get this straight. Apparently, everything happened the way it had happened before, except for the fact that Peter Parker wasn't married. And he may or may not have been in a relationship with Mary Jane for all that time. And Harry Osborn didn't die, but also didn't seem to go nuts, and may not have been married or had a kid. Oh, and Aunt May wasn't shot. And there weren't any organic webshooters, but no-one really liked them anyway. And Spider-Man did unmask, but no-one remembers who he was, and there's no recorded footage or paperwork about who he was, and no-one seems to think that that's odd. Flash Thompson didn't go into a coma or get retarded, either. So we're left with the idea that everything happened, apart from the bits that didn't, it's just that we don't know which is which)... Normally, Marvel are completely on top of this shit. How did this end up so out of control?

The saddest thing is, Spider-Man probably could have done with a reboot, and the people behind the re-launch are pretty talented, but the whole thing has a crappy reputation now because of what led up to it. Sorry, Steve Wacker.

Is Spider-Man still a viable comic book character? Sure, why not? Maybe not this particular version of him, but Ultimate Spider-Man is pretty enjoyable and successful. If he can be the star of multi-million dollar movies, cartoons and merchandise, why can't he be a viable comic book character?

SPURGEON: What happened to the X-Men books that they kind of tumbled down the charts? Are they on their way to being restored?

McMILLAN: People stopped caring is what happened. The books became so insular and disconnected from everything other than themselves that no-one had any reason to read them anymore. These days, Mike Carey and Ed Brubaker are doing some good work on the comics -- as is Joss Whedon, when it comes out -- but their good work is in service of doing Chris Claremont impersonations, and I'm not sure that's really enough to make anyone care, either. It's one thing to remember the guy who created the franchise, but something else to just try and be him over and over again.

(Personally, I'm enjoying what Carey and Brubaker are doing, but I've been feeling nostalgic for Claremont-esque comics for awhile now. I'm even buying the Essential volumes of X-Men, despite their reaching the somewhat crappy issues.)

SPURGEON: Have we reached the point that the length of times these characters have been around and the number of stories in which they've been involves is more a detriment in terms of the characters and their stories being exhausted than an advantage in terms of depth and meaning? It just seems to me like these characters are at the end of their conceptual rope in a lot of ways.

McMILLAN: But isn't that a problem of the readers and their expectations, rather than the characters? Characters like Superman and Iron Man and whoever were never really built with a complexity to sustain them in the eyes of the same people for fifty years or whatever, and I think it's kind of unfair to expect them to constantly entertain or grow, which is what I think is what you're talking about. I mean, on one hand, I think someone like Nova was exhausted in terms of depth and meaning within a year, but it depends on what the reader is looking to get out of them.

Mind you, maybe the problem might be with creators who take this stuff too seriously and, because of that, don't add anything to the characters because they're too busy deconstructing to take the risk of looking dumb and adding something. I mean, Geoff Johns' "Green Lanterns are just one of a spectrum of cosmic ring-based organizations based upon abstract concepts each with its own animal totem -- in space" thing from this year is both gloriously dumb and a genuine attempt to do something with the concept behind the character. Same with Grant Morrison's New Gods revamp -- killing them all and then moving them to the "Fifth World" is on the face of it a stupid idea, but it's also trying something else with them...

God, I sound old and fanboyish. "There's nothing wrong with the characters except that everyone takes them too seriously! Everyone should be like Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison!" Sigh.

SPURGEON: In a way that explainable to a fan that knows the characters and concepts but maybe doesn't follow them anymore, why did World War Hulk seem to work so well with its target fans?

McMILLAN: It was the other shoe dropping. Having set up the idea that at least half of your superheroes are ideologically opposed to you in Civil War, Marvel got to say "now you get to see them get beaten up for it". Also, for the first few issues, it was purposefully brainless action, which Marvel had been lacking for a long time by that point. You can't get by on ideological allegories alone, after all. People want to see smashing.

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SPURGEON: Why has Countdown not worked as well as 52? I get the sense from your writing that you kind of see Countdown in a negative light as well.

McMILLAN: For most people, I think it's that it lacks the coherence of 52, which was pretty incoherent in its own right. For all of 52's messiness and misdirections, there was at least a throughline for each of its storylines -- sometimes too clearly, so that you knew how the Steel/Lex Luthor storyline would end by the fifth issue -- that's entirely missing in Countdown. Ignoring the fact that the series seemed, at times, to exist purely to spin out or tie-in with other books -- meaning that storylines would get started in the series, and then be dropped entirely as they moved into another comic altogether -- you have storylines like the Pied Piper/Trickster one, which goes like this: Villains are on the run, get handcuffed together, keep going on the run, banter and then one of them gets killed and the surviving one has to stay on the run, chained to a corpse. Spot the unexpected plot twist there. It's just such an uneven reading experience.

Also, it seemed to learn the wrong lessons from 52 -- fans put up with the round-robin artists because they had a stable writing team. Replacing that with a round-robin writing team in addition to revolving artists, then, was an interesting move. Similarly, replacing the biggest name writers you have with a collection of (with the best will in the world, especially because I actually like Adam Beechen's other work) the writers who happened to be available. Also also, 52's core plots were easy for anyone to understand, even if you didn't know the characters: "What does it take to be a superhero?" "How do you deal with grief, especially in a world where people get resurrected all the time?" "Why is a giant talking egg kidnapping mad scientists?" What does Countdown have, really? "Where is Ray Palmer?" "Jimmy Olsen gets lots of superpowers randomly!" "Captain Marvel's sister goes goth!"

It's like they weren't even trying.

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SPURGEON: We're about to get a big nostalgia comic with 1985, we just got away from one in the Brad Meltzer Justice League of America run, and some of the critical favorites like The Brave and the Bold evoke older modes of storytelling. In fact, there's at least one element of nostalgia in every single big project, some sort of tip of the hat to a previous reading experience. Why do you think such projects continue to work even though so many people dismiss them? Is it just the value of the kind of storytelling be reclaimed, or do comics act as such powerful nostalgia objects that they have an extra oomph that way? Your reviews of The Brave and the Bold suggest the former.

McMILLAN: Can't it be both? Yes, I think that Brave and Bold, in particular, is reclaiming a lot of storytelling techniques that aren't really used anymore, but you can't discount the power of nostalgia, especially when it comes to superhero comics. I mean, isn't nostalgia the reason that most adults are still reading superhero comics in the first place, at least on some subconscious level?

I think you're conflating two very different things here -- Brave and Bold isn't a retro comic in terms of subject, but in terms of approach, but there's no way that 1985 will be anything other than a Mark Millar comic in terms of construction all the way, and it's retro-ness comes from its subject matter. Similarly, I don't think the two projects "work" in the same way; one may be a sales success but a creative flatline (Hi, Brad Meltzer's JLA), whereas the other is creatively fulfilling but not a big seller (B&B)... I'm not sure that there really is much of a link between the two, other than creators who want to evoke nostalgia in different ways. Which is to say: I'm not sure I'm buying what you're selling, Mr. Spurgeon.

imageSPURGEON: I'll peddle elsewhere! Speaking of something that's sold, what do you think we should we take away from all the death in mainstream comics, the cruelty and inhumanity that drives a lot of the major titles and storylines? Is it possible to muster a defense of superhero comics that their makers compare to snuff films?

McMILLAN: I'm sure you can muster a defense, but I'm not sure that it'll stand up to cross-examination, if you'll let me abuse the courtroom metaphor. There's no real need for the death, nor the rape, nor the sexual innuendo in Judd Winick's Green Arrow comics, in superhero comics, after all. The first two, at least, are just there because of the need for stories to "mean something" and "have long-lasting consequences" these days for fans -- the stories themselves are less important than their importance to the greater continuity for a lot of fans these days, and it's the easiest way of making something seem important -- kill someone off. Or, better yet, a lot of someones.

I'm not sure if it's really driven by cruelty, because there's also an inbuilt disbelief or distancing with deaths these days -- Characters die, and the countdown starts almost immediately for their resurrection, and why not? They're even bringing Bucky back these days. Is it really that cruel when death is meaningless in the grand scheme of things (and not even in a nihilistic way)? Isn't that like saying that it's cruel and inhuman to wish that your enemies end up with really bad colds? No-one stays dead anymore, apart from Sue Dibny, so what's the problem with people dying for cheap shock effect?

(Well, yeah, there's the whole "it's just cheap shock effect" thing, but that argument only really holds water if you assume that the creators of these stories are looking at them in terms of artistic credibility or sales figures.)

Whatever happened to bad guys who just wanted to rob banks, that's what I want to know. Where are those happy-go-lucky villains in these troubled times?

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SPURGEON: Are the Joss Whedon TV-extension comics good comics? What about the Dark Tower mini-series? Do they need to be good comics?

McMILLAN: The Dark Tower comics were really, really not good comics. Even ignoring my disinterest in the subject matter, the comics just didn't really work as comics. They were decent illustrated stories, I guess, but from the first few issues I read, they lacked any real use of what comics offer as a medium, and so, what was the point? The Whedon comics are pretty good, however, for pretty much the same reason -- they make sense as comics and use the language and coding and energy that comics offer. But in both cases, it doesn't really matter to most of the people who're buying them; they just want more Stephen King-related stuff, or more Whedonverse in whatever format they can get it. I don't think it's really specific to this cross-media thing, though; you could argue that something like Brian Bendis' New Avengers: Illuminati isn't good comics, but it's being bought by people who just want more Iron Man being a bastard product.

On the one hand, that's very sad -- Comics as a medium can do so much! -- but on the other, it gets back to me thinking that fans' devotion to characters or creators or whatever is a great thing. If you don't care whether or not something works in that particular medium because you're just so excited that it exists in the first place, then good for you. Take your enjoyment where you can find it and don't listen to grumpy bastards like me trying to spoil your fun.

The whole cross-media licensing thing amuses me; it's as if, just as the comic medium has grown up and takes itself very seriously these days, so do all the licensing deals. When I was growing up, the Indiana Jones comic was just a comic that starred the cool guy from those movies... It wasn't viewed with such self-importance or scrutiny. Really, Buffy or the Dark Tower comics are just this year's version of Marvel's Xanadu comic, but with better coloring and no Gene Kelly.

SPURGEON: You were accused of being "swivel-eyed" with rage whenever the writer Mark Millar's name is mentioned. Can you break down that thing, why it happened and what became of it from your end? Do you really dislike that particular writer? What about his work and/or public persona interests you?

McMILLAN: Ah, the words of Hibbs come back to haunt me... I think that my reputation as Mark Millar's stalker is part-urban legend, part-accurate if it were a few years ago, and part-politics on behalf of other people. The time Mark called me out publicly for being obsessed with him was pretty much down to other people's agendas, I think... but there was definitely a time when I was, to be euphemistic, somewhat outspoken about both the man's public persona and his work. It was -- and I don't think this is really true anymore, for a few reasons -- his dogged faux-humble portrayal of himself as someone who'd just been really, really lucky that really got to me, I think... He had this ability to both play dumb and boast about himself at the same time, doing the "I'm just like you, honest, I don't know how I ended up being so famous and rich and having so many celebrity chums, it's so great being me!" thing, and that really pushed my buttons for some reason. It didn't help that he was given to making comments about black people being exotic to him because he was Scottish and working class or equally stupid things, all in the name of trying to be some kind of lowest common denominator "everyman"... Something that his work constantly does, even now. I never disliked him personally -- something that I had to explain to him, which made for a strange and awkward experience -- but I disliked what I took to be this manufactured, false, persona, definitely. I used to dislike his work, but something happened around Civil War-time, when I realized that it was actually hilarious if you look at it in the right way. It's still bad writing, but enjoyably bad, as if Grant Morrison's idea machine was running out of batteries and doomed to regurgitate the same blockbuster movie cliches over and over again.

The strangest thing was, like I said, having to explain to Mark that I wasn't going to try and hunt him down in the middle of the night and kill him to wear his flesh. We had an email conversation that started with him being very concerned that I needed psychiatric attention, and within three emails, he was sending me links to movie trailers and acting as if we'd known each other for years. Pretty much all I needed to say was "You do realize that I'm not actually obsessed with you, and it's okay for me to think that Civil War is shit, right?"

SPURGEON: Don't the trailers for the movie Wanted make it looks like Chuck: The Movie?

McMILLAN: No, but only because I kind of like Chuck. The Wanted trailers look like one of those Scary Movie-type things where they put every single cliche from the last five years of a particular genre into one film, only it's still really dull. But it makes sense that it's not going to bear that much resemblance to the comic, because if it was, DC would sue their fucking asses off and win.

SPURGEON: As a fan of his autobiographical work, what did you think of Eddie Campbell's turn at adapting fiction in The Black Diamond Detective Agency?

McMILLAN: I kind of feel bad for saying that I didn't like it. It's not really Eddie's fault; I think that the parts where there's a particular Eddie Campbell-ness there are easily the best parts of the book, but the story itself just didn't really appeal to me. The art's really nice, though, and there are parts where it felt as if Eddie was trying to do something different with the way his work looks, but storywise... Ehh. I'm pretty much a writing person. No matter how good the art, a book stands or falls based upon what it looks like for me.

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SPURGEON: Can you name five titles or comics authors that you read that you think are being under-read and would urge people to try?

McMILLAN: Nick Bertozzi's The Salon was one of my favorite books of last year, and should be beloved by all instead of kind of ignored. Same with Matt Silady's The Homeless Channel (Disclaimer: Matt's my friend). Nick Abadzis's Laika was easily one of the most thoughtful books I've read recently, which didn't really surprise me as I've loved his work ever since he was doing Hugo Tate in Deadline (which is a perfect segue into my now traditional plea for some publisher, somewhere, to collect all the Hugo Tate stories so that I can re-read them again). Is Casanova under-read, even though it's the taste of the internet? Probably not, but it's something I'm madly in love with and wish that everyone shared my tastes (same with Fraction and Brubaker's Immortal Iron Fist, but I'm pretty sure that's more talked about than Casanova these days. Mark Waid's The Brave and The Bold would be too obvious after our talking about it above, so instead I'll go for his recent Flash run, which was a nice stab at a family-friendly family book; when Daniel Acuna was doing the artwork in particular, it was a pretty perfect superhero title.

SPURGEON: What's the future like for Graeme McMillan one, three or five years from now? Do you have ambitions to write about comics in different venues or to write comics themselves? Do you see yourself holding down the same gigs five years from now, and if not, where will we find you?

McMILLAN: I really, really doubt that I'll be holding down the same gigs five years from now. If my neuroses haven't gotten the better of me by then, I'm sure I'll have been asked to leave from each of them. Unsurprisingly, I'm not the greatest planner in the world, so the idea of "where will you be in five years" sounds like the kind of thing that scared the shit out've me during job interviews when I was younger. That and "Why do you want this position?"

Three years from now, I'll be living in the country with my wife having finally escaped the urban sprawl that is San Francisco in favor of a more pastoral life, raising pigs and chickens that I'll then slaughter to eat in delicious sandwiches. There may be writing involved somewhere, in amongst all the blood and meat; despite being bad at planning, there really is a plan in place that involves me being able to quit my day job in favor of writing for a living, so you never know.

One year from now -- I'm moving backwards into the realms of probability, as you can see -- you'll probably find me in the same gigs. io9, at the very least, will be a home unless Annalee or Gawker want rid of me... I've only just started that, after all, and it's nice to try and stretch my writing wings outside of pure comics-commentary (although I do that there, as well). I'm a member of San Francisco-based writer's collective Writers Old Fashioned, alongside Matt Silady, Kirsten Baldock, Jason MacNamara and other local talented folk, and as part of that, I'll be attempting to put out at least one mini-comic for this year's APE, so, yes, there will be writing of comics themselves. I've been approached by a couple of publishers to do things (and owe them horribly-overdue work, for which I publicly apologize), but I have a very real fear of both failure and success that manages to make me retool almost everything I've written along those lines constantly before showing them to anyone else. Even my wife, Kate, doesn't see half of the things I write because I'm so freaked out about it.

Outside of Blog@Newsarama, Savage Critics and io9, I have a regular column in British comic mag Comics International when it comes out, and I think there's something from me in the next Comic Foundry, if I didn't screw up the deadline during all the family drama. For some reason, writing about comics doesn't scare me as much as the idea of writing comics themselves does, so I'm perfectly happy to say yes to anyone who wants me to do that for them, but who knows? Maybe the APE mini will get me past The Fear and this time next year, I'll finally get to do my long-cherished JLA versus Darkseid Super Powers revival for DC. DeSaad makes this virtual version of the Anti-Life Equation, you see, and programs it into Prometheus's DVD-Rom-friendly brain...

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* cover to an issue of World War Hulk
* some bit of John Byrne-related weirdness from Fanboy Rampage
* Dudley Watkins
* Blog@Newsarama logo
* Booster Gold, time traveler
* Savage Critics logo
* cover to an issue of The Spirit
* cover to an issue of one of the Annihilation: Conquest books
* cover to an issue from the One More Day storyline
* cover to an issue of Countdown
* cover to an issue of The Brave and the Bold
* blood in the face!
* cover to an issue of Marvel's Dark Tower book
* interior art from Laika
* cover to an issue of Jeff Smith's take on Captain Marvel

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Blog@Newsarama
Savage Critics
io9

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