“It’s gonna be a kick ass book!”
That’s JG Jones, artist of “Wanted,” commenting on the series. For those of you convinced already, we guess there’s no need to read further. But for most of you that’s probably not enough, so please feel free to read further.
As the comics community learned in July, Mark Millar has penned four new comics series set to debut this December from four different publishers, all linked together through his “MillarWorld.biz” logo. The four books are “Wanted” coming from Top Cow, “Chosen” from Dark Horse (check out Newsarama’s interview with series artist Peter Gross from Tuesday), four self-contained one-shots coming from Image Comics in 2004 (expect more on this Thursday at Newsarama) and “The Unfunnies” from Avatar Press (look for more on this Friday here at CBR).
While Mark has already made his initial pitch to comic fans, now it’s time for the others involved in each one of these projects to step up. CBR News spoke with Top Cow Editor-In-Chief Jim McLauchlin and “Wanted” artist JG Jones about the series.
“It’s honestly really cool and it’s kinda tough to describe in a nut shell,” Jim McLauchlin told CBR News Tuesday afternoon when asked to describe the series. “There’s a world that’s half a step removed from our own world. It’s something that if you started digging you’d only have to go six inches beneath ground level to find that there’s an entirely different world down there.
“This is basically the story of a guy named Wesley Gibson who is, for want of a better term, he’s a little Dilbert. The guy lives a pretty pathetic life. He’s got a dead-end job working in a little office cubicle. He’s got a girlfriend who’s cheating on him and even knows it, but he’s too much of a wimp to do anything about it. He goes to the same place for lunch every day and orders the same damn thing. His life is just, sort of, drudgery, until one day he wakes up and suddenly this whole world that’s half-a-step out of sync with what we see as reality visits itself upon him. When it does, it does so in a wash of blood and in a shock of violence. All of a sudden his eyes are opened and he realizes that this pretty meager existence he’s been living he doesn’t have to live anymore. Something pops up. Something is now open to him. Something is now available to him. His life literally changes over night.”
What Wesley discovers is he can have much more than your average life. He has extraordinary powers that come with an extraordinary price and a legacy of great burden.
“[Wesley] finds that he is heir to something very grand, very big and very glorious,” continued McLauchlin. “When I say heir to that, yes, it’s a hereditary thing and a certain latent super power he was not even aware of at all, suddenly he’s aware of it. The minute he’s aware of it, whamo, he can turn it on. There’s a lot that’s attended with that. Not only does he suddenly realize that he has these powers, but he also has certain privileges and certain responsibilities and certain burdens that go along with it.
“In a way the high concept of this might be all your worst nightmares are true. Every conspiracy theory, ever, is true. The Illuminati exists, they’re running the world and guess what, they’re super villains. That’s a bit of what this is about. As a core concept, that’s really cool. The idea that there’s a senior council of twelve people that control the world economy, that’s spooky. Then assume that there’s those twelve people and they’re all like Lex Luthor. That’s really spooky!”
McLauchlin said that Wesley isn’t the “pull yourself up by the boot straps” kind of guy. As we noted above, the guy knows his girlfriend is cheating on him and he does nothing about it. But when a character of this sort has visited on to him the powers he gets, naturally there would be a big change in the character as a person. Shock, amazement, all of it. But how will he use these new powers? By issue two we’ll know exactly how he’ll embrace these new abilities.
“I hate to throw out something as cliché as an anti-hero, but he’s a bit of an anti-hero kind of character,” said McLauchlin. “He’s not the kind of guy going, ‘Well, look at me valiantly struggling against X, Y and Z.’ He leads a pretty pathetic life and has resigned himself to that fate. When this change comes along, the change forces itself upon him.”
Millar called Top Cow with a plan in early 2003. He had four different stories he worked up and wanted to work with a multitude of different publishers, all at the same time. He then pitched his wares to McLauchlin who seized upon “Wanted’ and wasn’t about to let go.
“Some of the stuff he mentioned we had no interest in because it really doesn’t map to what we do. Some of the stuff he was talking about were things we were very interested in. Obviously, ask any publisher, they’ll say, ‘Our title’s the best!’ Of course! We’re all going to say that, but I really think ‘Wanted’ is a> the best and b> it’s also the thing that definitely maps the best to what Top Cow does. At that point Mark said, ‘I need some help lining up an artist.’ We went back and forth and actually tried a couple of people who were unavailable and others who weren’t able to commit to a six-issue project and eventually, somehow or another, wound up with JG Jones. It was actually Mark who called up one night and said, ‘I just talked to JG and got him.’ Made my life easy.”
“Well, you know what a huckster Mark is,” series artist JG Jones joked by phone Wednesday afternoon when asked how he got on board the “Wanted” train. “He’s the king of the snake oil sales men! Me being the rube that I am, it sounded like a good thing and now I’m stuck!
“One reason why I agreed to do this [is] I’ve been a fan of his stuff for a while. I’m in a lucky position where I’ve worked with some really good writers and I kind of look around for my next project and think, ‘Well, who haven’t I worked with?’ Mark was high on my list so when he called me I was like, ‘Sure, let’s get something together.’
“Mark’s really easy to work with,” continued Jones. “He and I have actually known each other for a long time. We’ve always gotten along really well. If I need to change something in the storytelling, he doesn’t have a problem with it at all as long as it works for the story.”
By this point “Wanted” has a publisher and an artist and if you’ve already checked out the preview pages included with this article, you’ve got an idea what the story and tone of the book is like. It’s extreme, gets in your face and pulls no punches in exactly the sort of way you’d expect from Millar. That extreme nature was part of what initially attracted McLauchlin and Top Cow, but despite Millar’s reputation, the editor felt some elements of the book needed to be pulled back a bit
“I absolutely loved it and absolutely said we have to find a way to tone this down a little bit,” McLauchlin responded when asked about his initial reaction to “Wanted.” “If you let Mark Millar run completely unfettered he will run completely unfettered, God bless him! Honestly, I read through it and gave it to a couple of other people in the office to read through and I would say in terms of content, make no mistake, it’s pretty extreme in terms of language, in terms of violence, things like that. It’s very hard to put these things on a percentile scale, but I’d say we were a solid 80% – 90% behind where Mark wanted to go with this, but that still put us 10% – 20% over the top. So, I had to give him a call back and had to negotiate a couple of small points to make the whole thing a little bit more palatable to the audience.
“There’s definitely some extreme and some shocking stuff in there and you know what, that’s the point! The extreme and shocking stuff that’s there, I think, is there for a really good reason. It’s there because it really advances the story and it’s there because it’s cool. You might hit a little point of over kill where you’re shocking for the sake of being shocking and that’s the stuff we threw to the way side. The stuff that’s still there, there’s at least four or five things in the first issue, if not six, seven or eight depending on your constitution, that will cause your jaw to drop. That’s very well calculated. We want your jaw to drop when reading this and it will.”
Millar was amenable to the recommendations and changes suggested by McLauchlin.
“One of the things I said to Mark was, ‘Look, here’s something you’ve done which is just done for shock value, but underneath the shock value the reason you need to do this, to make a point in the story, is to get this point across, so do this without the shock value and it still gets the point across. It advances the story and it’s just one less thing that’s going to cause the concerned mothers of America to go into a blind tizzy!”
But there were some very specific elements that Mark held fast on, not letting go and things remained exactly as they were originally written.
“Some of the characters names definitely are not the kind of characters you’ll ever see as Hasbro action figures, I can guarantee you that,” laughed McLauchlin. “There’s a couple of characters called Shithead and Fuckwit. We wound up changing many of the names because, simply, I’m fucking brilliant and came up with some really good suggestions for better names! Basically, I said ‘Mark, at the end of the day you do have a very commercial sensibility and you would like to see this merchandised, you would like to see this in other media and it’s really hard to do that when one of your chartacters is called Shithead!’ Let’s call him, I don’t even remember what I came up with, but something to the equivalent of, you know, it wasn’t as bad as Poopy Boy, it was probably something along the lines of Dung Heap. That was the one point where Mark really dug in his heels. He said, ‘Nah, that gets the point across so well and it’s who the character is. It’s kitschy. Does it mean that Hasbro will never do an action figure? Yeah, you’re right and we’ll find a way to live with that.'”
In the opinion of McLauchlin, readers shouldn’t try to dissect the story within the pages of “Wanted” to try and discern how this book is a comment on real world politics or anything of that sort. McLauchlin sees the story in “Wanted” as far more personal than political, focusing on the journey that Wesley goes through as this new life is rudely visited upon him. Nor is this book a “deconstruction” of existing super hero icons.
“I think people honestly get way too artsy fartsy sometimes when they’re talking about comic books,” said McLauchlin. “I think it’s as simple as Mark Millar had twelve different weird and cool ideas boiling around in his brain pan for God knows how long. He found the story and found the structure to address them all in one really kick ass comic book. I think it’s as simple as that.
“People always say that ‘The Ultimates’ is a reaction to whatever and ‘The Authority’ is a response, a deconstruction, a darker path and whatever. No, they’re all just, you know, comic book stories! Are ‘The Avengers’ different than ‘The Authority?’ Well, absolutely, it is, but one need not be defined in terms of the other.”
Millar’s best known within the comics community for his work on Marvel’s “Ultimate X-Men” and “Ultimates.” Comparing “Wanted” to those books, McLauchlin feels that “Wanted’ is “a little bit more real world” than the others.
“Mark always strives very, very hard to do that even when you’re talking about ‘The Ultimates.’ You’re talking about long-standing, licensable Marvel characters that exist in this universe with other super hero characters. Even given that, let’s just call it a constraint, Mark strives very hard and is very successful at making things look, feel and sound like it really happens in the world outside your window. If you can somehow accept the fact that there is a Captain America and a Hulk, the world of ‘The Ultimates’ looks a hell of a lot like your world. ‘Wanted’ does an even better job than that. It’s even closer to being real world.”
JG Jones is known as an artist with a keen attention to detail. He pencils and inks every page, which tends to slow down his production and as a result, the artist doesn’t work on monthly books as that schedule doesn’t mesh well with his output. For him, the biggest challenge working on “Wanted” has been the tight demands on his time, but both he and McLauchlin assured CBR News that all deadlines are being met.
When asked about working on a monthly schedule, Jones replied, “I’m not any good at it! [The biggest challenge for me is] just keeping up with working on what’s essentially a monthly book again while I still have some cover painting duties I have to keep up with as well. That gets pretty raggedy. As far as any other difficulties, nothing. The scripts are fun!”
“We’re way ahead,” McLauchlin said about work on the series. “In fact we’re ahead and getting ‘aheader’ right now! Simply put this book hits streets December 5th. We’re going to have copies that will debut at the WizardWorld Dalas convention November 21st. We’re just doing a couple of thousand copies to bring to that convention. That accelerates the entire production schedule by about three weeks because we’re going to have to get them shipped to Texas. It’s absolutely no problem. The way I’ve got it planned right now is it’s a six-issue series. December, January, February and March are issues 1, 2, 3 and 4. April is planned as a month off and we’re going to have some sort of ‘Wanted’ merchandise that we’re going to do in that month. I don’t know what it’s going to be at this point. Then the final two issues come out in May and June. So it is a six-issue series that will hit over the course of seven months.”
Top Cow has some very high expectations for “Wanted,” believing it will be a smash hit both with fans and sales.
“I think it’s probably going to be the biggest seller Top Cow has seen in several years,” said McLauchlin. “As to what that equates to in a gross number, it’s always very hard to gauge.
“I think Mark Millar is a very bankable commodity. I think JG Jones is a very bankable commodity. This is a super hero comic. It’s super heroes and super villains. This is not a crime comic. It’s not ‘Trouble,’ I’ll tell you that much! I really think it’s going to hit and it’s going to hit big. The good thing is the material is deserving of that.
“For so many years, so many people would take a look at the ‘X-Men’ books and say, ‘Oh, these ‘X-Men’ books! They suck! They’re terrible! People just buy them out of habit.’ I’ve never understood that. I don’t by anything out of habit. I don’t get it. Maybe people do. There was always a kind of a stigma attached to the X-Men being top sellers in the business, because at various points in its history the books have kind of sucked. This is something I think is going to sell very well and it’s material that’s deserving of selling very well.”
With each “MillarWorld” series there will be a certain amount of cross-promotion in the house ads at the end of each book. Top Cow will promote the books from Dark Horse, Image and Avatar Press as they each will for Top Cow.
“It’s nice to actually see that because simply, without getting too hokey, chances are industries usually do well together or poorly together,” remarked McLauchlin. “If everybody else in the comic industry is doing well that’s probably a good harbinger that I’m doing well. I’d just as soon see everybody kick ass and succeed. I’m not going to tell you that this is the great panacea and that the streets are paved with gold, but you know what, it’s one tiny mother fucking step in the right direction.”
One passion both JG Jones and Jim McLauchlin share is a fascination with Major League Baseball, although they’re not exactly pulling for the same teams. While McLauchlin would like to see the Boston Red Sox advance into the World Series, Jones doesn’t exactly share his enthusiasm.
“Well, I do live near the Bronx, ya know, the great evil! I’m a Yankees fan and I’m sweating it!” That last comment was made before the Yankees win Tuesday evening, giving them a 3 – 2 series lead over the Sox. When asked about the recent drama that permeated the Yankees/Red Sox third game and how certain Red Sox players acted, Jones responded, “What do you expect from the Red Sox? It’s their inferiority complex coming into play!”
Look for “Wanted” this December for Top Cow.