Saturday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Editor-In-Chief Bob Schreck, Paul Pope and Matt Wagner talked to a crowd of thousands about some of Legendary Comics’ newest projects. Miller’s new project “Holy Terror” was the spotlight of the panel, but Pope and Wagner also announced their own new projects for Legendary Comics, the new comics division of Legendary Pictures.
Miller started off by talking about the history behind how “Holy Terror” developed. The book, which was initially intended as a Batman project, is about a new superhero called The Fixer who goes up against Islamic extremists.
Miller was living in New York City on 9/11, and “Holy Terror” is a very direct response to his experiences that day. He had just moved back to the city a few months before the attacks after living in California for nine years. Right as he was falling back in love with NYC, the attacks happened and shook him to his core.
Bob Schreck, Editor-in-Chief of Legendary Comics and a longtime friend of Miller’s, brought up how, during the attacks, Miller was working on “The Dark Knight Strikes Again.” The first issue had been released, but Miller had not finished writing and penciling the later issues yet. “If you read the third issue, you can see how it was informed by that horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible day in September,” Schreck said.
A slide of the character David, from “Holy Terror” was shown on screen. The character, who helps send The Fixer on his adventure against Islamic terrorists, has a stark white face with a huge blue Star of David tattoed across his entire face. “I’m nothing if not subtle,” Miller joked.
“I didn’t set out to do that,” Miller said of any controversy surrounding the book’s release, but did add that he is prepared should it eventually arise.
Schreck said he brought the project to Legendary Comics because Miller just dropped the offer to publish the book in to his lap. “He literally called me up last summer and went, ‘Wanna go for a ride?’ [I said] ‘Sure, got an extra seatbelt?'” Shreck said. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this!'”
“I hope this book really pisses people off,” Miller said. “It’s a reminder that we are in the midst of a long war. The enemy we are up against is pernicious, deceptive, merciless and wants nothing less than our complete and total destruction.”
At this point, Paul Pope was brought up on stage as a surprise guest. Schreck mentioned how he gave Pope his first professional paycheck. “I never let him forget it!” Shreck joked.
Pope then talked about his art book, “PulpHope,” which Legendary Comics will publish. The book is a collection of Pope’s artwork and it will be released sometime this winter.
Pope listed Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko as some of his comic book idols. “PulpHope” features much of his non-comics work, however. That work includes album covers, posters, fashion design and prose. “I wanted to find a way to show my work that is outside my career in comics,” Pope said. “I wanted to celebrate it in book form.”
Pope was asked how felt about the connection between comics and movies that is currently going on, perhaps best epitomized by CCI itself. “We’ve kind of become the research and development wing of Hollywood and I think that’s true,” Pope answered. “It doesn’t matter how many special effects you have in a film or movie stars, if the story’s not solid there’s always a soul that’s missing.”
“I see Hollywood as a man crawling across the desert looking for an oasis of water… and they’ve found one,” Miller added dryly.
After Pope finished discussing his project, it was revealed that exclusive Paul Pope t-shirts would be available at the Legendary Comics booth after the Panel.
Next, another surprise guest, Matt Wagner, came on stage. Schreck revealed that not only is Wagner working for him at Legendary, but he’s also his brother-in-law.
Wagner announced his new project, “The Tower Chronicles,” with covers and interior art by living legend Simon Bisley. “It’s a super natural bounty hunter,” said Wagner. “Our approach is that he is as mysterious as the adventures he goes on. We very slowly uncover his purposes and the reason he does what he does. And, of course, a lot of bad ass action along the way.”
“[Simon] had done a series of wonderful covers for “Grendel,” so we had kind of brushed shoulders at that point but this is the first time we will actually work together in a narrative sense.” Miller mentioned that he and Bisley had also worked together on “Bad Boy.”
Wagner then touched on the topic of comics in Hollywood that Miller and Pope had talked about earlier, agreeing that Hollywood craves the storytelling offered in comics, “especially in the comics that the three of us do. It’s not a work of art by committee. You’re getting a pure, unfiltered artistic vision.”
The Q&A that began next featured a technological twist: Roughly half of the questions came from a Twitter feed, with people in the panel encouraged to tweet their questions with the hashtag #LegendaryComics instead of walking up to the microphone.
What advice would Frank Miller give to an aspiring storyteller?
“You got a month? My advice is pretty simple,” Miller said. “It’s one you’ll hear a million times over and over again. You start with a germ of an idea and you let the idea bug you until you gotta do something with it.
“Then you figure out how to end the damn thing. Knowing your ending is the most important part of any story, more important than origin stories or exploding planets or any of that,” Miller continued. “Know that if you want to write, make sure it’s something you’re going to enjoy writing. If you’re going to draw, make sure it’s something that you’re going to love drawing, because you’re going to be drawing it a lot. The readers can tell if you’re having a good time. As far as starting out, first find something that really bugs you, then find a way to make everybody else as pissed off as you are.”
Who is the female character in “Holy Terror?”
Miller described her as Natalie Stack, a small-time robber. She’s been arrested once or twice, but then “the game turns much more serious.”
What were the difficulties in changing “Holy Terror” from a Batman comic to a new character entirely?
“It had the rather cute title, ‘Holy Terror: Batman,’ which sounds like something Robin would have said on the old TV show,” Mller said, adding he told then-DC Comics publisher Paul Levitz, “I pushed Batman as far as he could be pushed already, and this really isn’t Batman anymore, this is somebody else. So I reconfigured the character and redrew him.”
What comics excited the panel members right now?
Wagner loves Hugo Pratt, the European artist as well as the classic series “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Pope said he looks “almost exclusively at Moebius and Richard Corben right now.” Miller made a surprising choice. “The most earth-shattering guy that has come down the pipe in years is [‘Calvin and Hobbes’ cartoonist] Bill Watterson,” Miller said.
A fan thanked Miller for reshaping Batman in to the character he is today and asked if Miller had seen the new “Batman: Year One” animated movie based on his work, but Miller had not yet seen it.
Is “Holy Terror” a political comic?
“I’m using the devices of the superhero, which is my most comfortable vehicle, to strike back on paper and that was why I did say earlier I want you pissed off, because I am and I remain to be,” Miller said. “So is this a political work? Damn right.”
Asked if any of the panelists were working on films for Legendary Pictures, all answered that they were not currently, though Legendary was behind the adaptation of Miller’s “300.”
Are we supposed to like Batman after he commits horrible acts of violence, as in classic Miller books like “The Dark Knight Returns,” or instead view him as a fascist?
“I don’t really ask you to like him or not to like him,” Miller responded. The creator added that he sees his Batman as a force of nature and, like any force of nature, there is a fair amount of collateral damage. He leaves it up to the reader to take from that what they may. He also said that an entire generation has been taught that superheroes should be role models, but he feels they shouldn’t be. “If you think of heroes as perfect, they’re all going to be pretty much the same, and that’s pretty much happened and you’ve seen where that took us,” he added.
What were the inspirations for the characters in “Sin City?”
Miller explained the real origin of those characters came after seeing the last Dirty Harry movie, “The Dead Pool,” he was angry because he felt it wasn’t a real Dirty Harry movie. He went home and wrote out his own script, and the characters he created there ending up inhabiting “Sin City.” Marv, specifically, was born after Miller scribbled “Conan in a trench coat” on a napkin one night and just explored that notion.
Are digital comics on the horizon for Legendary Comics?
“Yes,” Shreck said. “It’s an old adage, if you don’t embrace change it runs you over and kills you.”
Asked if Miller worried that the political nature of “Holy Terror” might cast his older works in a different light, Miller said he was not. “I would say the same thing at any point in my career about any of my work.”
A fan said he used the storyline of “Batman: Year One” as the basis for his college application essay, which successfully got him into the University of Chicago.
How did Miller feel about the film adaptation of “300” after complaints the movie strayed from his material and cast Persians in a bad light?
“If there’s a chance of being upset, someone will find it,” Miller said. “My stories are true to themselves and will continue to be.”
“We’ve been through a lot,” Miller said as he embraced Shreck to close out the panel.