Look Mike Carey in the eyes and there's one truth you won't be able to escape: this man doesn't back down from a challenge. For this British scribe, 2006 was full of hurdles, as he was given the reins to two of Marvel's biggest franchise books -"X-Men" and "Ultimate Fantastic Four" - while also wrapping up what will likely be one of the most ambitious projects in his career, namely Vertigo's "Lucifer." It's a testament to Carey's output and loyal fanbase that you'll hear nary a bad work about his work - or him for that matter. With much of his 2006 work on the stands, and hints emerging about what's to come in 2007, CBR News spoke with Carey about what this past year has been like for him.
"Well, pretty amazing on the whole," he told us, grinning all over his face. "I think it's fair to say that nothing I'd done up to now had prepared me for this. The work I've been doing for Marvel in 2006 has been different in kind from everything I've ever done before - and, if this makes any sense, different in scale. There's a big, big spotlight that gets trained on you just by virtue of writing an X-Men book. It makes people look more closely at everything else you're doing, and it puts you into contact with the very large, very committed, very web-active X-Men fan base. Initially there were moments when I felt like I'd leaped out of an airplane and was wrestling with my parachute cord while trying to type at the same time. I mean, it was exhilarating but it was scary, too. It's been a year of learning new tricks - and of learning to do old tricks in new ways. Also of making new friends in a lot of different arenas, which has been very cool. Even if some of the arenas had lions in."
It was just earlier this year that we learned about Carey's foray into other media. His "Felix Castor" novels have sold strongly in the UK and been critical darlings. He's got a movie in production, "Frost Flowers," which isn't like anything you'd expect from the rom-com and action focused Hollywood producers. With his success in the comic book realm seemingly growing by the month, one has to wonder what else Carey can hope to achieve as a creator. "It does seem like I've been visited by the cross-media production fairy - the only fairy with a coke habit and a West Coast accent," he laughed. "There aren't many things left to do now that I haven't been given at least a fair crack at.
"I can think of one thing that next year holds, though, which will be new and wonderful. I've been co-writing a book with my daughter, Louise, and next Fall is when it will be published. It's a book from DC's new Minx line, tentatively titled "Confessions of a Blabbermouth." It's been a fantastic experience so far working on that. Fraught, occasionally surreal, but fantastic.
"And I guess there's something else that's sort of gnawing away at me right at the moment. Having just heard - at the suggestion of one of those new friends - the Neutral Milk Hotel album 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,' I'm looking at all the stuff I've ever written and thinking about writing something that has the same raw, emotional truth to it that that album has. I guess it would have to be an indie project.
"But the main resolution I've made for next year is to handle fewer projects at any one time and immerse myself in them more deeply. That's where the real pleasure of this job lies."
As for that movie, Carey's been quite vocal with his excitement over Holly Hunter being cast as the female lead, but alas, he hasn't yet been able to read lines with her. " Tchah," said Carey, according to our "British To American" translator. "Everything in that world moves like a snail with catalepsy. They're going for a Spring shoot now."
Such a variety of work allowed Carey to run the gamut of emotions and introspective subtexts during 2006 – and the chance to tackle so many different genres seems to have been an experience he's enjoyed. "Well in genre terms I'm really happy with the range of approaches and literary forms I've been able to play with. Comics give you more freedom than novels in that respect: novelists who've made a name for themselves in one genre sometimes find it hard to get work that's radically different commissioned or published. So from that point of view, yeah, I'm in clover. Every book I'm working on has its own identity: there's almost no overlap."
However, that aforementioned pleasure can easily be dulled, if not eroded, by the often critical fanbases of both the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Both sets of fans are quite vocal, leaving some creators apprehensive to tackle either franchise, though once one hears Carey's confidence, it becomes evident that his eyes have always been wide open to reality. "I've had to assimilate different working practices, especially on the X-Men where there are so many books in the line and there's so much going on, but I knew that up front. I was over in New York in January for a Marvel summit and I can remember having a long and really valuable conversation with Ed Brubaker, which flagged up for me the areas where I was potentially going to have the most problems adjusting. I came away from that with a lot of food for thought.
"In terms of what it's been like - well, what I said earlier. Very exciting. Very exhilarating and different. Sometimes scary, because I've never been here before. In many ways I've lived a sort of sheltered life, professionally speaking. But so far, at least, the experience has been an overwhelmingly positive one. I've been given an opportunity that I've been working towards for years: it feels good."
Speaking of superheroes, there seemed a time when the spandex clad crusaders might not be in the future of the scribe, but once he made contact with Marvel, fans soon saw a new side of Carey. To some it might seem like it took a long time to happen, but the self-styled "cerebral assassin" of comic books said it was all part of the plan. "I always sneak up on things slowly," he said. "Maybe that's partly an English thing - I'm diffident about pushing myself too aggressively, so I wait and wait for conditions to be perfect before I make my move. You should see me trying to make a right turn. Which I guess would be a left turn, Stateside."
As for why he chose to make the big splash with the aforementioned Marvel Comics franchises, he explained, "I grew up with the FF and the X-Men. I've got whole big chunks of those mythologies welded into my nervous system. I've got mutant eye-beams."
CBR News has not been able to verify the presence, or lack thereof, of mutant energy beams dispersing from any part of Carey's anatomy. Despite this, CBR bravely continued to speak to the Eisner award winning mutant menace.
"No, seriously, I just feel like I'm on the wavelength," added Carey, who may in fact have adamantium claws. "It's fashionable these days to be a bit wary of superheroics unless they're dark and gritty and 'realistic.' But the glory's still there, for me - the big Technicolor dreams. You don't need to make the medium bend in a direction it doesn't want to go in: you need to see the grain and carve with the grain, and you'll get something beautiful. Man, could I possibly have mixed that metaphor any more than I did?"
Mixed metaphors have never seemed to be a problem in "Lucifer," the DC Comics/Vertigo mature readers series about, well, the devil. Over six years, Carey nurtured the most popular "Sandman" spin-off to date, introducing a slew of memorable characters from Gaudium to Mazikeen. That kind of intimate relationship with the characters, one of creator and parent in the truest sense, still exists strongly in Carey, even though "Lucifer" ended this summer. "It's still strange," admitted Carey. "I miss the Lucifer cast. I lived with them all for so long, it's like a whole bunch of my friends emigrated or something. I even miss the smell of Gaudium's cigar, which was sharp and sulphurous.
"Funnily enough, I've just written the afterword to 'Lucifer: Evensong,' which Scott Nybakken in DC's collected editions department very kindly made possible, and I was talking about exactly this. When you've been writing something for seven years and then you stop, dead, the echoes go on in your head for a long time."
Even with these successful superhero projects under his belt, and more high profile books coming from Marvel, DC and elsewhere, working on original creator-owned projects has remained a priority for Carey. "It's always great to have at least one project on the slate where you've got total control, in terms of being free from pre-established continuities and being able to define everything from the ground up. I think it keeps you fresh on other things if you're doing creator-owned stuff too.
"I suppose my greatest inspirations would be novelists like China Mieville, Ursula LeGuin, Mervyn Peake, Michael Swanwick, Roger Zelazny - and when I say 'like' I don't mean to imply that all of those people have anything in common, beyond the fact that I love their work. China in particular is hugely inspiring because every novel he writes seems to add some whole new direction that the sci-fi/fantasy genre can go in."
It'd be folly to think that real world events don't inform Carey's work, even though he's not one to get on a soapbox and use his characters as mouthpieces for his views. "I think the answer is that my attitudes and values saturate my writing, but only indirectly. I don't do many topical references - my 'Hellblazer,' for example, was markedly less political than either Jamie Delano's or Garth Ennis's. But my world view is there as an element in everything I write. You can see it most clearly in 'Lucifer' and the 'Castor' novels: elsewhere you have to look a bit more closely, but it's always there.
"Putting my money where my mouth is, I watched your recent congressional elections with rapt attention and a great deal of pleasure and relief. In England, I have to confess, I actually voted for Labour, the party that took us to war in Iraq, and I don't have any real alternative to voting for them again next time because the alternative is the low-tax-low-spend Conservative party, who are death to social services and who last time they were in drove our economy into catastrophic recession. But I'm glad that you've curtailed the power of your neo-cons."
He's made mention of one earlier, but Carey never misses an opportunity to extol the virtues of his three wonderful kids and supportive wife. They're both inspirations and collaborators in the truest sense, but as Carey mentioned earlier, come 2007 he'll bring one of them along with him to the credits page. Much of 2006 was spent working on the upcoming DC Comics/Minx series with his daughter Louise, in addition to his other Minx work. It's a nice change for Carey, much of whose early work was "mature readers" and not suited for his children. "I've got a few all-ages projects coming up," he revealed. "'Re-Gifters' next Spring, and then the book I'm writing with Lou which should come out next Fall. And of course, since I'm now writing superhero titles there's a lot more stuff that I can actually give them to read. Back when 'Lucifer' and 'Hellblazer' were my mainstays, all I could do was show them the covers.
"My kids are a huge influence on my writing, in that whenever I write children as characters, I've usually got them at the back of my mind. Elaine in 'Lucifer' was closely modelled on Lou, who has that same seriousness and sense of responsibility - and the twins in 'Crossing Midnight,' although it's more subtle, have some traits borrowed or observed from my own twins, Ben and David.
"It's a weird situation in our house at present. My wife, Lin, is a novelist, and now Lou is getting her first book published. The twins are starting to agitate for equal time [laughs]."
Working with Louise on "Re-Gifters" may be one of the more unique ways to bond with one's daughter, but Mike Carey has never been known for taking the road most-traveled. "It was Shelly's idea in the first place to team us up, and then we both wondered afterwards why we'd never thought of it ourselves. It's been a really fascinating process. Not without its bumps and minor crises along the way - mostly relating to us never both being free at the same time - but very rewarding. For the scenes set in the heroine's school, particularly, Lou was a goldmine of authentic detail. I'm very happy that we did this, and we're now planning to write a novel together next year."
With that kind of passion and love for his family, it shouldn't be a surprise that some of Carey's highlights from 2006 involved his family. However, being a life long comic book fan, you better believe that the spandex gets a mention too. "Oh yeah, 2006 was dominated by the 'X-Men' and 'Ultimate Fantastic Four' - by the planning for my first arcs and then by the actual writing of them," he said. "It's also been the year of Castor, with the second and third books being written and the first and second getting their UK release. So I guess it's the year that I came galloping into the mainstream, and also the year that I officially became a novelist. I'm still waiting for my first stalker and my first sex scandal, but these things have to mature at their own pace.
"It was a transition year for the family, too. The twins went from primary school [grade school] to high school, which was a saga that went on and on: the first offer was for two different schools, about five miles apart, and if you can believe this we had to appeal and go to tribunal to argue the reasons why two twin brothers should be allowed to attend the same school. It's easy to see where 'Crossing Midnight' came from - it's not horror-fantasy, it's social satire."
And what does 2007 have in store for the mutant maestro? "I'm going to run for the US senate," Carey deadpans. "Oh wait. I think maybe I missed the deadline there.
"I'm going to write a novel that doesn't have Castor in it. I'm going to carry on writing 'X-Men' and 'UFF' until someone tells me I can't, and probably for a little while after that unless someone comes by and breaks my fingers in a 'cease and desist' kind of way. I'm going to repair the roof of the crazy little room that used to be a garden shed and now counts as my 'office.' I'm going to buy that new games console that begins with a W and can't be pronounced. I'm going to watch the rest of the 'West Wing' on DVD. And I'm going to enter a closed order of celibate, silent monks. One of those is a lie."
While you readers try to discern the fact from fiction, CBR News asked Carey to put on his "Fan hat" (it has sparkles) and reveal his favorite moments from comic books in 2006. "I'm loving Joss Whedon's 'Astonishing X-Men,' which will come as no surprise to you. I don't know whether this was a 2006 moment or a 2005 moment, but here's one of my favourite bits of Whedon dialogue:
THING: Didn't they discover a cure for you people or something?
WOLVERINE: You got a problem with mutants, bub?
THING: No. I meant Canadians.
"I'm reading and enjoying the Vertigo book 'The Exterminators': that came up like thunder. I'm also getting a big charge out of Ed Brubaker's work at the moment - both his Marvel Universe books and his creator-owned title, 'Criminal.' And Brian Vaughan's 'Runaways' continues to be very cool, although I know he's about to leave it."
Now that we know how Carey has viewed 2006, and a smidgen of his plans for 2007, one has to wonder: Mike Carey, how do you want us to remember your 2007? "Well I hope not from a milk carton," he laughed. "The Summer of 2007 is when the Castor books get their American launch, so hopefully that will make an impression. I'm coming over to do a book tour, which will probably either begin or end with Comicon. I'm really looking forward to that.
"And there's another big project that hasn't been announced yet, which in many ways will be a new departure for me. It's a comic book, not for one of the big two publishers, which promises to take me to some very strange and interesting places."
Fans have already experienced the first issue of "Crossing Midnight," the latest Vertigo ongoing series from Carey inspired by Japanese folk lore, but there's also some more projects to look forward to from the scribe. Another Vertigo mini-series, "Faker," is set to arrive in early 2007, which Carey described for us, saying, "What I've been saying about it is that it's like a book which exists at the point where psychological horror and teen gross out comedy meet. It's very difficult to be too specific without spoiling things, but it takes place at an imaginary university in Minnesota, following a small group of characters. They're in their second semester, first year students, and the title "Faker" applies to each of them in a different way. They're all characters who are either deceiving themselves or deceiving others. They're all putting up a front and are not entirely sincere in their relationships or their attitudes. They have a wild party and then the next morning, they awaken - having done drugs, drunk a hell of a lot - in a weird state of mind. And things start to go haywire for them in a number of unsettling ways. There's one character in particular, Nick Philo, who suddenly finds that nobody apart from this small group of friends has any memories of him. There's no record that he ever existed, and the harder he tries to prove that he's who he says he is, the more his life unravels and comes apart. So, there's obviously something going on around and above what we've seen. And then we play out the widening implications of this weird situation for the five of them. I think it's very different from anything I've done before - and for Jock, similarly, a big new departure." CBR News also spoke with Jock about "Faker," which can be seen here.
While there's no release date for his next original graphic novel collaboration with John Bolton, entitled "God Save The Queen," we do have a few details (and preview art) about it. "It uses the Faerie characters from 'Sandman,' Titania, Oberon, Puck, Nuala and Cluracan. It has a huge cast," Carey told CBR News earlier this year. "The protagonist is not from Faerie - she's a mortal girl living in North London, who falls in with some very degenerate and reprobate fairy junkies living in London. It's revealed later on that she's a changeling, so she has one Faerie parent, but she doesn't know if it's her mother or her father. These guys get high on a drug called Red Horse, a mixture of human blood and heroin."
Finally, with Carey's cred as a superhero writer and superhero fan firmly entrenched in your minds, CBR News asked the question asked to all fans: who wins in a fight between Batman and Superman? "Batman!" exclaimed Mike Carey. "The only unanswerable super power, when you come right down to it, is intelligence. Superman is no fool, and obviously he's got power to burn, but if it ever came to it Batman would win because Superman wouldn't even know the fight was on until it was too late - and because Batman would have about a zillion different schemes going all at the same time, any one of which would do the trick.
"We saw it happen in 'Dark Knight,' and then again in the Tower of Babel arc in 'JLA.' Batman is too sharp for the big blue schoolboy."
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