“Hi there, I’m Chris Claremont,” began the writer at his Baltimore Comic-Con spotlight panel. “Now, if this were the Letterman show, I could apologize for centuries of ill behavior,” joked Claremont before launching straight into fan questions.
As multiple hands shot up, Claremont called on a fan who wanted teases for the writer’s upcoming “X-Men Forever” issues.
Claremont began by bringing attendees who hadn’t been following “Forever” up to speed on the title before teasing that Colossus would be relocating to his homeland in Russia to operate as a super hero. He also told fans that they could expect updates on Rogue, Nightcrawler and other X-stars, mentioning a future which could hold either a wedding or a funeral for some of the characters. Additionally, a certain threat from the team’s past might also emerge to cause the mutants trouble.
“The word began with ‘S,’ and they used to be considered really big robots, and now they’re nasty, and there’s lots of them,” said Claremont, adding that he could just be “Lying through his teeth.”
Beyond comics, a fan asked Claremont if he’d be working in Hollywood anytime soon.
“I’d love to do writing for Hollywood. Are you from Hollywood, would you like to call me?” Claremont said laughing.
“The problem with LA is that in many cases, proximity is the quintessence of the deal,” Claremont explained, “They think if you’re there, you’re there. If you’re not there, you’re not there.”
Claremont said that while he’d had a chance to move to LA years ago, he chose to get married instead, concluding that he thought his choice was a lot more fun, if not as lucrative.
Next, Claremont responded to a question about his literary influences, which he said include Shakespeare, Dickens, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe and other classic authors.
“The nice thing about genetics is, I can see my kids doing what I used to do, which is inhaling books like breathing,” said Claremont, “One of the realities of life is getting calls from teachers who feel bad calling you to complain that your kids are reading too much in class.”
“I find now I’m reading a lot more nonfiction, simply because every time I read fiction, I think I can write it better. But every time I read nonfiction, I learn things,” said Claremont.
Claremont explained that he’d been working a lot of what he’d been learning about India into his upcoming “GenNext” work. He also pointed out that China’s history and culture would hopefully be integrated into his work as well.
“The nice thing about being in New York, is there’s neighborhoods in Queens. In Central Queens, there’s a church where they do weekend brunch in Indian vegetarian, and it’s so good,” said Claremont, who pointed out that he’d enjoyed absorbing new cultures into his daily life as a way of putting them into the context of his stories.
“When I started, it was 2 cents per word, so if you wanted to make $100 you had to be a blather mouth, and now it’s like ‘Can you shut up?’ And I say, ‘No, it comes from writing.'” said Claremont.
“For me, writing the X-Men was easy – is easy. I know these people, they’re my friends,” said Claremont. “It’s been a part of me for quite a long time, so I’m just changing channels to the appropriate port of memory and just writing what I know. And, fortunately for [the X-Men], it hasn’t been hard, because I figured they’d run out of gas decades ago.”
The writer explained that he’s happy the franchise is still viable, and still thriving, because he still enjoys writing them. “The business is, ‘Who’s the best commercial choice to produce this commercial item in a way that will produce the largest commercial response for the publisher?'”
Claremont’s answer was to try to simply tell a good story knowing that everything else will take care of itself as long as the writer has done their job. He acknowledged critical reaction to his new works, especially comparisons he’s received to recent X-Men writers like Mark Millar. Some of the comparisons of his storylines he didn’t agree with and characterized as frustrating, but understandable.
Among all of the comic book artists he’d worked with, when asked about his favorite illustrators, Claremont listed a number of names familiar to longtime readers. “I don’t think there’s enough time,” said Claremont before dropping a few names that included John Byrne, Walt Simonson, John Romita Jr., Frank Miller, Art Adams and Alan Davis and among a dozen others.
Considering his history writing the X-Men characters, a fan asked Claremont why he kept returning to the franchise.
“I’m under contract. I have to produce work, they have to give me work,” explained the writer who went through his other recent X-Men projects that lead him to his most recent title, a path that he classified as “A matter of serendipity and necessity.”
Next up, a panel attendee asked Claremont about his favorite comic book runs. He explained that he liked the classics, like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “Fantastic Four,” Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” material and other series that he found fun to read and he’s missed in contemporary work. The writer also pointed out that creators have much shorter runs on titles than in previous eras, something he’s come to terms with, but still considered merited mentioning.
“No one else has stuck around on a series,” said Claremont, “The closest you’ve got, I guess, is ‘Ultimate Spidey,’ for 120 issues. Nobody sticks around that long, Marvel is very much geared to ‘three years and out.'”
Claremont explained that this attitude was prevalent in other media as well, citing the rollover of characters on “Law & Order.”
The writer deconstructed the pattern, reasoning that new creators meant new artists and new ways of thinking. He explained that he just wanted to keep “going and growing,” but conceded he was more “old school,” versus the “new school” of comics stating that “the jury is still out on which one of us is right.”
When asked about a possible return to “Excalibur,” Claremont said that he hadn’t considered it seriously of late, but didn’t rule it out. He poked a little bit of fun at some of the characters from his run in other titles, but insisted that he was joking.
“Now you know why I’m legendary for having no sense of humor whatsoever,” Claremont said smiling.
The next question came from a fan who wanted Claremont’s perspective on comic books in mainstream culture and whether things had changed for the better during his career.
“[Comics place in society has changed] in the periphery,” said Claremont, “We have a much vaster public awareness than we ever did. We’re certainly much more prevalent in popular culture than ever before, in the sense that movies are being made five-ways-to-Sunday and they’re all over television. But I’m sorry, when I was writing ‘Uncanny,’ we were selling half-a-million and now Marvel’s selling 80 thousand,” said Claremont, “And that’s bullshit.”
Claremont expressed concern about print media dying, citing the recently cancelled Conde Nast magazine “Gourmet.” He also questioned whether digital media could ever meet the challenges that an absence of printed publications would pose upon society.
“I suspect the information transfer technology, in five years, will be different than what we’re talking about today. The interesting thing will be to see how we adapt to stay ahead of the curve, but right now I don’t think we have any idea,” said Claremont.
With Deadpool appearing across Marvel’s current line of books, one panel attendee wanted to know whether Claremont would incorporate the merc into any of his X-books.
“I like ‘Deadpool,’ I’d rather see him in a movie,” said Claremont. The writer told fans he had a list of characters prioritized over Deadpool, but using him could be fun, even if it wasn’t his usual style.
“How will I write him when I have no sense of humor? It’d be fun, though – except we’d have to make him handsome – or a girl,” Claremont joked.
“Honestly, and this is with extreme prejudice, if you want a sense of the X-Men as they have always been, and in my mind should be, and are most like the movies, you start with my ‘Uncanny’ and move onto ‘Forever,'” said Claremont explaining that the comics went in different directions, but his current lineup can be comfortable with the world of the films.
Claremont said he liked Marvel’s new strategy of adapting films, making them close to their printed counterparts, and reasoned that his comics related to the “X-Men” movie trilogy in a similar way. He also enjoyed his involvement in promoting the films, citing his getting to meet Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman at the “X-Men” premier and his cameo in “X-3.” The scribe also recalled meeting Jim Belushi in the Marvel offices after incorporating the “Saturday Night Live” cast into comics in 1978’s “Marvel Team Up” #74.
“We all have our seconds of, ‘Holy shit, this really works!’ The trick is to transfer that to the readers and hope they feel the same way and keep it going for many decades without ever, ever, taking it for granted, because it fades,” said Claremont.
Of course, Claremont could only tease at his possible involvement in an “X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2,” which is rumored to follow one of his Japan-based storylines.
“As to whether or not I have anything to do with it in any way shape or form, I expect, ask me next summer. I’ll either say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ or ‘I have no idea.’ I have my theories, I know how I’d do it, but I only write comics.”
A fan was quick to point out that Claremont had also published several novels, asking if he’d be releasing another book in the near future.
“Yes I’m writing a novel, no I’m not talking about that because that jinxes it,” said Claremont stating that the book hadn’t been sold and he hadn’t finished it.
Claremont also mused that he could use more time to complete his current backlog of writing projects.
“Anyone here who is interested in inventing a 36-hour day, I will gladly take your recipe,” said Claremont.
When a fan asked Claremont his feelings on decompressed storytelling versus single-issue tales, the writer extolled the virtues of creators like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, citing their run on “Fantastic Four” for pushing the cast through the title’s early Galactus story arc with quick pacing he considered lacking from most modern comic books.
“That’s the evolution of storytelling. Jack Kirby could tell a story in one issue,” said Claremont, “Now it’s like instead of rushing ahead, ‘We need to take our time and be very meticulous.’ In the old days, we got on and got off, unlike me who just babbles,” Claremont joked comparing his presentation skills to his writing style.
Claremont concluded the panel discussing the power of comics compared to big budget Hollywood films that take years to make and can get lost in a sea of decisions from studio executives and others. Given the ability of a relatively small group of creators to produce comics quickly and with less expense than other media, the writer reasoned that trying new books is what makes comics enjoyable.
“If you don’t like [a comic], come back next week and we’ll give you another story. If you do like it, come back next week and we’ll see what comes next. That’s what makes comics fun. It’s immediate and it’s alive and it’s fun. And if you don’t like it, there’s always next week.”