Chris Claremont and moderator Brian Cunningham spent an entertaining hour discussing the highs and lows of his career at Wizard World Philly Saturday night. Cunningham had prepared a slide set featuring the covers of various Claremont projects, and used that to structure the talk. They began with “Uncanny X-Men” #94, plotted by Len Wein, but scripted by Claremont. “If we’d known they were going to be such a hit, we’d never have gotten Len off the book.” At the time, Claremont was most excited about working with artist Dave Cockrum. They exchanged ideas and challenged each other. “If he’s going to do that, I’ve got to be better. We took the job seriously, but we didn’t take the industry seriously. We figured it was going to die out pretty soon.” Since everyone else was focused on the Fantastic Four and Spidey, they had a clear field to do what they wanted.
From the beginning, Claremont’s approach to the X-Men was that it was all about the characters; he wanted to see who these characters were. It wasn’t just an issue of exploring who the heroes were, it was also seeing who the villains were as well. “What made the Hellfire Club tick? Why should we care?”
“Uncanny X-Men” #108 was when John Byrne replaced Cockrum as artist. Byrne was able to work faster and take the book monthly. They’d never had a stable inking team before, but Byrne came in with Terry Austen. From there the book really took off. Byrne was more assertive in helping shape the plot, and Claremont began to write less as a result. According to Claremont, the scope of a collaboration tends to vary depending on the team. When you’re dealing with a talent on the level of a John Byrne or a Bill Sienkiewicz you don’t need to bog them down in details. “You don’t need to Alan Moore them to death.”
The Dark Phoenix Saga came about because Claremont and Byrne were sitting around wondering what to do next and one thing led to another. They’d turned Jean into Phoenix, so there had to be a consequence. Dark Phoenix was that consequence. Jim Shooter’s “innate sense of fair play” dictated that Phoenix couldn’t destroy an inhabited star system and walk away with a slap on the wrist. She had to go to prison or die. Claremont didn’t want to spend two years writing the X-Men trying to rescue Jean from the Shi’ar, so they killed her.
No one ever imagined that corporate management would say “We have to have Jean Grey – bring her back.” When editor Anne Nocenti dropped the bombshell that Jean was to be resurrected, Claremont structured a complete alternate scenario featuring Jean’s sister, who was an established character that had never been explored. The idea was leave Jean dead and bring in her sister. At that point, everything is up for grabs again. They’d have a Jean analog, but she’s not committed to Scott. That would have opened the potential for more stories, and more importantly, didn’t devalue what happened to Jean. Shooter liked the idea, but insisted on bringing Jean back anyway. “Speaking as a reader of comics and not as an employee of Marvel,” said Claremont, “I think that’s a terrible shame.”
Claremont also described his alternate ending for “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” He would have had Supergirl holding Superman’s corpse – he would have really killed Superman. Then at the end, the Earth 2 Superman would have stepped up. He’d remove his makeup and reveal that he’d only been ageing himself for Lois’ sake. With Earth 2, and Lois gone, the old Superman could become the new Superman. “He doesn’t know our Lois. He doesn’t know our Lana, he doesn’t know our world. It’s ALL up for grabs!” That would give everyone a chance to rediscover him again, just like the kids in the thirties did.
Discussing Days of Future Past, he noted that we’ve actually passed the date that the story was set in. The story was set in 2001, and it’s 2008.
“New Mutants” began in 1982 when another editor wanted to bring back the core X-Men concept, with kids. Claremont said “Screw that – We’ll do it!” He didn’t want two voices on the franchise. “I was young and something of a dickhead.”
In 1985, he and artist John Bolton created “The Black Dragon” as a miniseries for Epic. Both Bolton and editor Archie Goodwin were great to work with. Their only regret was that the level of quality on the printing required to do justice to Bolton’s colors was too expensive at the time.
In 1991 Jim Lee became the X-Men artist. “With great egos,” noted Claremont, “come great headaches.” The editor earns his money when you have a writer and an artist who each have a singular vision for a series. The team didn’t last long, and Claremont left the book.
He went on to write “Sovereign Seven” for DC in 1995, but the book was not successful. “It was a nice idea.” said Claremont. “Win some, lose some, move on. Not everything succeeds. ”
In 1995 he wrote a novel, “Shadow Moon,” in collaboration with George Lucas. Set in the world of the film “Willow,” it sold well and spawned two sequels. Claremont said his wife would rather to see him work on his own stuff, but who’s going to pass up a chance to work with George Lucas?
Asked if he would go back to writing X-Men now if asked, he said “It’s not my world any more, Oddly enough Exiles is more true to my vision of the X-Men than X-Men is.”
Currently, Claremont is writing “Exiles” and “GeNext.” “Exiles” has a story coming up set in a world where England won the Revolutionary Was, but lost the Napoleonic war. France invades North America and it’s defended by a wheelchair-bound blond named Emma and her students.
“GeNext” is set in the present, but with the assumption that the characters have all aged in real time. It’s a sequel to, and takes place 10 years after
X-Men: The End.” An aged Cyclops runs the school, but, wracked by guilt over the events of The End, doesn’t allow his students to go out adventuring. That’s about as successful as it was when Professor X tried to rein in the X-Men. “GeNext” is planned as a 5-issue miniseries, but they’ve already gotten the green light for a second arc.
He’s also writing a graphic novel called “Wanderers” for a European publisher. There are no current plans for a US release. The story concerns Vikings and Buddhist monks. It’s linked to Black Dragon as well as to King Arthur.
Is it as fun to work in comics now as it was back then? If you’re talking Marvel and DC, he said, it can get a little old, because we’ve all been there and done that. However, the market has changed. There are more opportunities with mainstream publishers, in Europe and in Japan. You can become the comic book equivalent of J.K. Rowling. Or not. DC and Marvel aren’t the only game in town any more. You just keep trying until you get it right, or until your kids grow up and can support you.
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