EXCLUSIVE: Millar Taps Travis Charest For "Starlight" #4

Mark Millar and Goran Parlov's new Millarworld series "Starlight" may have just blasted off in comic shops this week courtesy of Image Comics, but the pair have already recruited some co-pilots for the future of their cosmic odyssey. And next up on the guest collaborator circuit is acclaimed illustrator Travis Charest.

Known for his detailed line work and muted color pallet, Charest came to prominence with his '90s run on various "Wildcats" series, returning to the comics spotlight with a recent run of "Star Wars" covers for Dark Horse among other art gigs. For June's "Starlight" #4, he provides a variant cover featuring aging space hero Duke, and CBR has an exclusive first look.

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"It's as simple as I've wanted a Travis cover since about 1995," said Millar of the guest star. "It really is that simple. I remember a pal who had a comic store showing me [a Charest-illustrated] "Flash" annual when he was first published and people were getting excited already. Then, by the time he was doing 'WildCATS,' he just transcended all his influences. By the late '90s, he was just the best in the business. He and Adam Hughes are without question the best cover artists in the business, quite consistently, going back a decade and a half. I've asked him to do so many things, but Travis is a mystery man. He's one of the few people in comics I've never met, and it gives him a certain allure. The work comes out so slowly, but when it does, it's a genuine event and all my artist friends and I will send links to each other the second something appears. Like I do with Adam -- and Goran too, actually -- I sometimes just have a tea break and Google their art for ten minutes. Just as a little recharge in the middle of a long day.

"I'm a fan, a huge fan, and I told him to do whatever he wanted. He opted for something set 40 years ago, when Duke was a young man, and it's perfect. It's got that amazing '70s sci-fi paperback vibe, or a Marvel black and white magazine. I just love it. Absolutely love it. I couldn't be happier he's joining us on this book. The fact we've got Travis, John Cassaday, Bill Sienkiewicz and all these amazing guys doing the covers only makes Goran and I up our game inside."

Next month, "Starlight's" saga continues with the aging Duke returning to the space adventures he undertook nearly 40 years before, though Millar said the first issue's mix of the mundane with the fantastic wouldn't drop from the book entirely. "Issue #2 has a lot of real life stuff too, but at the same time, you want to see Duke blasted back into an alien environment. However, he's not as fit as he was, or as fast, so that grounds the whole thing. You're never going to see him do what he did as a young man, but that makes the story interesting in itself. Just the fact he gets tired. He's a really fun character to write. I like his self-doubt and his feeling that he's not up to the job. I'm really pleased with issue #2. It just went off to the printers, and I'm as happy with it as I am with issue #1. But the art on #3 is astonishing. This is where Goran is really getting to cut loose with the alien world and channel his inner Moebius. I'm really happy with how this book is going down. 'Kick-Ass 3,' 'Jupiter's Legacy,' this and 'MPH' have all worked out well, and I'm really delighted people are digging them so much."

Another thing that's working out well for Millar and his collaborators is his continued line to Hollywood where "Starlight" is the latest film to be optioned for film -- this time by 20th Century Fox and writer Simon Kinberg. Millar explained that one of his rules for signing on when Hollywood comes calling is that he must have total trust in his collaborators, and a central role for himself and his artists. "One of the nice things about creator-owned is you have total control," he said. "Traditionally, movies have been adapted from comic books and the original creators are lucky to get a ticket to the premiere, and if they see any kind of cash for their work (which is unlikely) it's very, very small. But the kind of deals we've had for the last 10 or 20 years, really since the advent of Image and Icon, is that we own our work 100% and that means you can control how involved you want to be. My deal is that if they want the material, they have to take me on as a partner, and this is something I always make sure the artists get, too. 'Starlight' actually went out a little earlier than I expected. I sent the lettered first issue to my agent in early December, and he showed it to a couple of producers. I was just finishing the plot for issue #6 and only half of issue #2 was drawn at that stage, so it was a little earlier than I planned for anyone to see it. But these two producers went crazy for it and before I knew it, I had a week talking to pretty much every studio, the buzz on the thing being really good.

"Simon Kinberg just had that little bit of extra enthusiasm. Simon's been working on the Marvel movies at Fox as a writer and producer for about nine years, now, and he's in that brain trust I was invited into when they gave me that four year deal back in September 2012. We know each other well and are good friends and he'd already bought 'Kindergarten Heroes' (my children's book) for Fox and got it going with an amazing screenwriter called Carter Blanchard. So the fact that we were friends and I really like what he'd done with my previous book and he was so, so into this just pulled me in that direction. Goran and I decided to go with Simon and Fox, and we signed the deal the day before my birthday (on Christmas Eve). It all happened really fast. I'm just finishing issue #6 at the moment, and they're talking to directors, so the whole thing should be ready for a screenwriter by the time one has been selected."

The film option's pace makes it the latest in a series of quick Millarworld acquisitions by Fox. "There's a nice little thing going at Fox," he said. "Besides sitting in those exec meetings on the Marvel stuff, we've got 'Secret Service' over there (the first of the books, 'Kingsman,' out in stores right now) with Matthew Vaughn having just finished the movie; 'Nemesis' with Joe Carnahan directing (from a screenplay by he and his brother Matt); 'Kindergarten Heroes' and now this. I like the Fox guys. I'm friends with most of the studio heads and have good relationships in a lot of different places, but I'm drawn to Fox like I was drawn to Marvel when I worked there. I just clicked with the guys and the work is all looking really exciting."

With Millarworld comics planned as a shared universe from "Starlight" on, and so many properties all at one studio, is the idea of a Millarworld Cinematic Universe inevitable? The writer hasn't gotten that far just yet. "You know, I haven't really thought about it," he said. "It's happening subtly, though. 'Kick-Ass' and 'Superior' take place in the same universe, and this is all explained at the end of 'Kick-Ass 3' -- the idea that Simon in 'Superior' lives in the same real world Dave does. We 'trailered' that in 'Kick-Ass 2' when you see the poster Dave's Dad is putting up on his bedroom wall. I think any crossovers will just be simple and unofficial like that for now. Like Marvel did with their movies, I like the idea of establishing all the franchises very solidly before I start mixing them up. A few years down the line, maybe, but no plans right now. That said, how amazing would it be to see Hit-Girl fighting Nemesis with a spaceship from Starlight crashing in the background?"

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