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A Short Interview With Scott Mills
posted March 22, 2005
 

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TOM SPURGEON: Can I ask you first about why you went with the attractive but abstract cover design with the trade of S&S? It's even different than the basic strategy you seemed to with on the individual issues?

imageSCOTT MILLS: There was no deep meaning behind the design itself, other than trying to make a nice-looking design. I wanted to have the black and white areas be constructed with a certain kind of line so as to further contrast with the Atari-like images in the center being in color.

S&S was the first published project of mine that I got to design from cover to cover, beginning to end. I think I've come a long way, I hope.

SPURGEON: How do you work? Do you fully script, or work from drawings, or what? Can you describe how you approach, say, one whole issue of the S&S comic?

MILLS: With my graphic novels, first I hand-write a plot based on any preliminary notes I might have. Then I hand-thumbnail the entire story in a notebook. Then, if I need to pitch the script to a publisher I'll go a step further and type up the script and dialogue panel-by-panel, and re-thumbnail to hone the compositions. This is super helpful on a book like The Masterplan, being very strict and iconic, because when I draw the final pages I'm essentially blowing up my thumbnails' compositions and refinishing them. Obviously there are changes and fine-tuning throughout.

With S&S, particularly the many one-pagers and experimental pieces, it was more about cutting a piece of bristol and putting it on my desk and playing with the page, the panels. S&S as a whole was about experimenting with narratives and styles and seeing what I could do and have fun with. Telling all manner of stories.

SPURGEON: I know that you've sort of withdrawn from participation in comics' on-line culture. Can you talk about why you made that decision?

imageMILLS: Certainly I was getting sick of the whole Message Board thing, particularly at TCJ, and just realized that for every minute I was online goofing off that was a minute I could be drawing. Things came to a head when Rick Altergott and some other jerks were slamming me on the TCJ board. And, for the record, I've never been averse to criticism. I just think that the things they were saying about me were unfounded and thoughtless. I recall one of the things Altergott was talking about, he was using me as an example of someone whose characters are hard to tell apart. Now, everyone is guilty of that now and again, myself included. In fact, I know you accused me of it in a review of My Own Little Empire. And it's all valid criticism. What upset me was that he was using Trenches as an example of this, and it's just not true. One of the first things I did when preparing Trenches was design the characters so that each one looked completely different from the other. For example, specifically, the two brothers... there was a subtle suggestion in the story that they weren't even real blood brothers, so I made sure to make this super obvious visually.

One of the other things Altergott was griping about, and I remember because it was right when Blankets and The Masterplan were both about to come out, was along the lines of what's with all these several-hundred-page graphic novels. And were these books' lengths warranted and that. So he was essentially slamming my book before it even came out. Now, while The Masterplan didn't sell very well it's still my favorite book and I'll defend it to the end. But at least have the initiative to read the fucking thing before you dismiss it.

And, I don't know, I don't want people to think I'm trying to create some sort of OASIS VERSUS BLUR-type feud with the guy, but seriously. Maybe if he was capable of telling an original story, genre or otherwise; or producing more than three pages of art a year, then maybe he wouldn't be so bitter. Or maybe, despite being a better craftsman than me, he's just upset that he's nothing more than a CLOWES/WARE clone and my style, while less refined (and, yes, sometimes sloppy) is still more original and fun to look at.

Ugh, I've already wasted too much breath on this and now I'm getting angry again.

SPURGEON: I have to ask you something about your art or they take away my press card. When we were in the Albuquerque comic shop, you noted the new Russ Manning hardback saying you loved that style of art. Can you say what it is you like about that kind of fully rendered painted art, and maybe how your work differs from that in terms of range of effect you're able to achieve?

MILLS: Yeah, I suppose it's a bit strange, a so-called post-minimalist indie cartoonist such as myself drooling over Magnus and Doctor Solar hardcovers. It's really no more than a fanboy thing. I always dug sci-fi, and I always dug the old Gold Key stuff because they were designed so well. Even the early Valiant stuff that Shooter and Lapham were doing, it was just really fun.

And to be honest I'm usually not a fan of artists in the vein of Manning. Guys like Steve Rude and Dave Stevens and them, it's not that I don't enjoy looking at their work, or that I don't respect their ability; but I'd rather look at a Mat Brinkman page or a Brian Chippendale page any day.

SPURGEON: Speaking of withdrawal, you recently left Baltimore and moved west; can you talk about why you did that, and where you are now?

imageMILLS: It was pretty simple. My wife and I had visited the Southwest before, and knew we'd like to live out here one day. And we didn't have kids yet, and things were going fairly smoothly with our respective careers; so we figured if we were going to do it the time was right. We moved to Albuquerque initially, and lived in an apartment in the suburbs for a short time, and quickly got tired of it. Albuquerque is just kinda like every other city in that it's a bunch of Wal-Marts and Targets and yuppie SUVs... now we live in Tijeras, which is a small town outside of Albuquerque. We're in the mountains, which is kinda fun. We have cool neighbors, and it's quiet and beautiful. Who knows where we'll end up though. It's a big country.

SPURGEON: What made you decide to do some text pieces and what kind of effect were you going for with them?

MILLS: With a couple of them, I had written some prose sci-fi and it just seemed like a good place to print them. The other non-fiction pieces, for instance the essay on multiple universes, I was just trying to have fun and say a little something crazy.

I'm glad you brought these up because it brings me to something I've wanted to mention. I think throughout my career, for the most part, people don't really understand me. Like, when I try to do a serious story, people think my cartoonish style is inappropriate; or when I go and do a funny story they wanna know why I'm not doing another Big Clay Pot or Trenches. Each project I tackle, I'm just trying to go for a certain mood or style. I like mixing things up, doing different things. In hindsight, if I had followed up Big Clay Pot or Trenches with a sequel to Big Clay Pot I'd probably have been more financially successful as a cartoonist today, but I wouldn't be happier.

SPURGEON: There's a story in the S&S trade about a group of friends and a brain tumor test someone takes. It has a pretty bleak view of friendship and forgiveness and relationships -- does that reflect your own view of things?

MILLS: Again, this goes back to what I was just saying about trying different things. Yes, actually, I'm more or less a pessimist. But with the story you're talking about, Far Cry, my goal with that was to create a group of characters that were just horrible. And to have them treat each other horribly and to behave selfishly. And to see what kind of story I could make out of it. In that respect it was quite successful. Now, whether or not it's enjoyable to read or not, that's up to the peeps.

I also wanted to take this story, and take all these dreadful people and events, and try to make something hopeful come out of it in the end. So, um, maybe I'm not a pessimist after all! One thing I've always been guilty of throughout my storytelling career is trying to make things seem alright in the end. Ever since Cells, where you've got this sad story of two guys stuck together and at odds, and I sort of made the characters come to terms with each other and enjoy each other's company. Some have called me sappy. I don't think so. I'm just trying to find hope in hopelessness.

SPURGEON: How much of S&S was your desire to try out various approaches to the page? Your style allows you to do pages with a ton of narrative moments stacked on top of one another, but you also seem comfortable working with white space or single-page illustrations. Is there a range of effect you prefer, or that you feel makes for more effective comics?

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MILLS: It just goes back to me experimenting a lot with this series. Obviously, certain styles will go better with certain types of stories. I think the tight 18-panel-per-page format of Far Cry worked well with the nature of that story. The idea that it was mainly dialogue driven, and I think should be read more quickly. Or with a more formal story like The Masterplan, it just made sense to go with a stricter execution of my inks; using ruled edges, templates for my curves and that. And then there's my approach to Cells, being a sort of gritty narrative, I bought the crappiest brushpen I could find so that it looked super clunky. It just didn't seem like a story that you'd wanna tell with perfectly executed buildings and operatic or panoramic views of the environments. It would have come off as overblown.

SPURGEON: At the end, when you're working with different cartoonists' styles, it seems to really break the theme behind your subject matter into these really basic message of exaltation and look-at-me achievement and then this kind of self-hated and acting out of the type that gets punished. Is that a fair observation; is that something you see in comic books, this kind of interplay between two states of mind?

MILLS: Well, that's a perfect question, because it validates what I was saying earlier about people misunderstanding me. While on a story like Far Cry, I'm going for a very dark, serious tone, and I want people to read and think about it... with the story you're talking about I wasn't trying to do or say anything other than, hey, here's a fun story about seamonsters and superheroes that I drew in twenty different styles. I certainly wasn't trying to say, hey, I can draw a page like Matt Feazell or Mike Mignola. I was just having fun exploring some of the ways my favorite (and not-so-favorite, as is the case with a couple of the pages) artists; and, hopefully, learn a little something along the way.

And, really, it's not like I accomplished anything groundbreaking by drawing a page in the style of Brian Chippendale, or trying (and failing) to draw a page like Bill Sienkiewicz.

It was just an idea I had to do an issue with a different style on each page. I did it. I had fun. It's over.

Now it's time to move on.

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Scott's Web Site
Scott Mills' publisher on Seamonsters & Superheroes
Another Scott Mills Publisher