WHAT I DID DURING MY VACATION
By Mark Millar (aged 32 ¾)
Ah, nothing like a few weeks of fucking around doing nothing to put a spring back in your step. Taking November off to catch up on all the extra gigs I'm doing at the moment worked out well because, for the first time in my professional career, I'm actually a little ahead. This combined with the fact that I just got a copy of Dave Johnson's beautiful cover for "Superman: Red Son" book one is surely one of those omens of the Apocalypse. Still, who cares when there's this many good comics around?
In the last batch of columns, I gave you a second-by-second account of a typical week in the life of a freelance writer. This time I've opted to bore you to death with a nanosecond-by-nanosecond account of what happens when we're on the road. Bear in mind that this is an untypical week; the prerequisite of the writer being sitting on your arse and spending most of your time staring blankly at a computer screen. This is what we do when we're slacking off (ie, on the road doing a signing or just lounging around the Marvel offices and drinking all their free sodas) and this particular week was the week of the Mid-Ohio convention.
Hey, fuck you! It was great!
THURSDAY, 28th November
Alarm goes off at 3.50am and my wife kicks me out of bed with a well-placed Tae Kwon Do move. A taxi has been booked for 4am and I'm both packed and ready to rock by the time the guy shows up at the door. How do I manage to look so good in ten minutes? Practise, baby. Practise.
The cabbie asks me where I'm going and I explain that there's a convention in Mid Ohio where I'm signing this coming Saturday. As always, when I mention I write comics, I'm hit by an avalanche of lame ideas for Scottish superheroes for the entire journey. Why the fuck do people always feel they can tell writers how to do their job? When visiting the doctor, I never feel compelled to budge him out of his seat and start writing prescriptions for people. Writing and drawing comics (usually) requires some degree of skill, but the general public always just assume it's done by machines or something.
Check into the First Class lounge and break open this week's Spider-Man with zero amount of shame. As a comics commando, I feel it's my responsibility to be seen reading comics in the most unlikely places. If you can read John Grisham in public without your face turning red, I can read the Incredible Hulk, pal. First Class is my one and only luxury to myself; I still wear the same shitty clothes I wore when I was at college, my idea of a classy night out is a visit to the pub and I can't even drive, let ALONE own a car so let's just say those X-Men royalties haven't exactly gone to my head. Transatlantic trips with a seat that turns into a bed are my single concession to being embraced by the establishment. And the stewardesses are better-looking. It's cruel, but it's true.
Eighteen hours later--oh yes-- I'm picked up by a very nice guy called Dave Mhalin from Comic Town (the chain of Ohio stores sponsoring my attendance at the convention). It's only when he drops me off at the hotel that he confesses that he doesn't understand a single word I'm saying thanks to an accent that travels no further than the North of England. Fortunately, hand-signals and scribbled notes help us arrange a signing at two of his stores tomorrow and, after checking out the porn channel, I collapse into bed after being awake for twenty-two friggin' hours.
FRIDAY, 29th November
Woke up at 5am. Thank you, jet-lag! Good news was that the Clint Eastwood movie, "Two Mules For Sister Sarah," was on and part of some Clint Weekend and I hadn't seen it before. Also watched a documentary on Bill Bixby which was, without doubt, the single, most depressing TV show in the history of man. It was like The World At War or something, each commercial break asking us to tune in after the commercials as 'Bill is forced to deal with the death of yet ANOTHER loved one'. I couldn't stop watching. Why can't this stuff happen to COSBY?
I was way too early for the signing and took in a flick for a couple of hours to kill time. Picked Solaris as the one I could crow about most to pals back home who wouldn't see it for months, but fell asleep ten minutes in. It looked quite good (although that specky director is as overrated at the Cohn Bros, IMHO), but jet-lag is the ultimate critic. Saw Clooney's bare-arse before I nodded off and can't believe this is how the studio is selling it with the press. Would DC Comics sell better if we saw the arse of Paul Levitz?
Signing went well at the shop. Everybody was really nice and complimentary, obviously mistaking me for Frank Miller. Dave (who was actually getting the hang of my accent by this point) drove me down to his other store where I met owner Terry (another sound bloke) and a large group of people waiting to get their books signed. I nipped next door for a sandwich at one point (mmm, Subway) and the guy behind the counter asked why I was in town. When I told him I was a writer for Marvel Comics, he started giving me ideas he had for Spider-Man. I shit ye not!
SATURDAY, 30th November
Bumped into a friend of mine called Simon at breakfast with his lovely new wife, Caitlin. Simon is the world's richest man, a kind of Ross Perot type who flogged his business to someone when he was in his thirties and has lived a kind of James Bond lifestyle in the Cayman Islands for the last few years with a succession of super-models (no, I am NOT making this up). He also owns just about every full page image Alex Ross has ever done, every Preacher cover and just about everything else that would make you jealous. He's the richest person I know so I let him pay for breakfast and enjoyed catching up with him.
Photo by Paul Sizer.Thanks to Tony Isabella.
My good friend Barb Lien-Cooper (Sequential Tart) appeared with husband Park shortly afterwards and it was hugs all around. We actually spent so much time standing around bull-shitting that I completely forgot I was here to sign and was greeted by an angry mob when I actually appeared. Actually, I wish they HAD been angry for that hour long wait because I would have felt less guilty; the Mid Ohio people were actually brilliant and I spent the rest of the day signing more books than I've surely ever written, punctuated by an hour long talk and two (yes two) fire alarms. Even standing outside in the snow, this lone trooper was signing "Ultimate X-Men" and I didn't even have a fucking jacket. Remember that, you faggoty American pros, next you slope off to the hospitality suite at San Diego after an hour (God, the strain) of writing your NAME for people!
SUNDAY, 1st December
Woke up with a bastard of a hangover after a late night last night with Dave and the Comic Town guys, Charles from the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund and various other interesting folk. Had hoped to play Paul Jenkins at pool because I'm told he's the only one out there who's a match for my Jedi-like abilities, but we only managed a quick catch-up this morning and a showdown planned for Wizard World in Chicago next Summer. Jenkins is a good guy and the States seem to be treating him well, a deep orange tan separating him forever from the rest of us pale British pros.
Had breakfast and a long interview with Bill Baker, another excellent bloke. Thing I love about comics is that you can meet someone completely new and both end up talking, without pause, for three hours over an omelette and hash browns. Comics is some kind of bizarre Brotherhood in this sense. It doesn't matter what age you are, where you live or what you do for a living; we all pretty much like the same books, movies, video-games and music. It's like some international collective consciousness and we're all pretty comfortable in the company of forty thousand strangers who dig the same stuff whenever we meet up at shows. It's a nice thing and I will personally strike down anyone who claims that the average reader is anything less than a well-read, fashionably-dressed super-brain. Sure, we get our freaks and our lunatics, but they're just part of the charm of the industry. 99% of people I've met through this job are people you could bring home to yer mammy and Mid Ohio was no exception.
Jetted to Cincinnati in the afternoon and then New York by late evening where I quickly showered (just added this bit to look better) and met up with a friend of mine who voices Ash in "Pokemon." She's a very talented actress called Veronica Taylor and the idea was to catch a quick flick and a drink so I'd be up bright and early for the first of the Marvel meetings in the morning. Eight hours later, we're being slung out of an excellent Irish bar (The Cedar Tavern down near University Avenue-recommended) at 5.30am. We took in "Bowling for Columbine" between drinks and I now want to buy a gun because Charlton Heston seems so cool. In the back of my mind, I don't think this is what Michael Moore intended when he made this movie.
MONDAY, 2nd December
Two hours sleep seems to have agreed with me and I'm in the Marvel offices bright and early with my agent, Ken Levine. I love Ken because everybody's really scared of him. He's friends with Bill and Joe, but everyone else kind of quakes as he walks past and I genuinely feel all artists should have this kind of intimidating representation. He was Gaiman's lawyer in the McFarlane case too so he's kind of riding that particular wave right now and enjoying being the strutting peacock of the legal profession.
Bumped into Joe Q pretty quickly and sat around keeping him off his work for an hour until Bill J arrived with "X-Men" producer Tom DeSanto. I've always seen Bill as looking and sounding like an elderly, late 50s David Duchovny, but over lunch it struck me that he looks EXACTLY like Ralph Nader. Well, Nader as he was twenty years ago. Bill seems tickled by the idea and I see a strange glint in his eye as he recognizes the similarities himself. Was he fantasizing about a showdown with Hillary in 2008 over the pasta carbonara? Only time will tell.
DeSanto was a cool guy, about forty years younger than I expected and built like a brick shit-house. We talked "X-Men" for a while and he seemed to like what we were doing, saying much of our stuff happens in "X-Men 2" (cool). I'm always amazed when someone I know from a magazine is even aware of my existence, let alone actually reading the books I toil over. It's the inner-Scottish guy who can't believe people might be queuing to have their books signed too, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Meet Garth Ennis a little later and he says he feels exactly the same way. He's perhaps the most down-to-Earth guy in the business and I think this is why he rarely appears at conventions anymore. It was good hooking up with him (haven't seen him in six years) and we all go out on a massive bender with Joe, Bill, Ken, Adam (mine's a soda) Kubert, Frank Tieri, Axel Alonso and a gaggle of his fellow Marvel editors. Night ends with me, Ken and Garth playing pool and doing 4am shots down in the Village in another Irish bar. Back in hotel for around 5am to be up at 8am for more Marvel meetings. Jesus Christ! Why do we DO this to ourselves?
TUESDAY, 3rd December
Meet Ken at 8.30 for breakfast and he's fresh as a daisy. The man's a machine. He fills in the blanks from last night as I tell him my fears that we left the bar without paying our tab. He informs me that we not only paid our tab, but that I emptied my wallet to tip the waitress and we ended up giving her something in three figures. He even had to spring for the taxi back to the hotel because I'd left myself penniless. Shit! It's fascinating how incredibly fucking stupid drunk men get in the company of even half-decent-looking women sometimes.
Today's Marvel meetings must have a discreet veil drawn across them here because they're part of a VERY interesting series of plans for 2003. DC, how I pity thee. I wrap "Ultimate X-Men" in May and arrange my post X-Men gig. Also sign up for an idea conceived by Bill and Joe which is BOUND to be the most talked-about mainstream book for next year and arrange for one of my favourite artists to handle the pretty pictures. My run on Ultimates doesn't actually finish until mid-2004 but, since both me and my agent were in town, it made sense to actually finalize the deal for the project I'm doing immediately afterwards. All very exciting stuff and, most importantly, worked out to a schedule that lets me do the three creator-owned books I want to launch towards the end of 2003. I'm a firm believer in the dual-approach to writing comics where you balance whatever projects you have a burning desire to write with company-owned projects. Again, I'll use cinema as a comparison, but what would happen to the multiplexes if they only produced indie movies like "Donnie Darko" and decided they weren't going to run the Spidey and Star Wars franchises? Sure, it sounds cool to say you're only doing indie work from now on, but the cinema would be as fucked as the comic stores would be if it wasn't for the lolly coming in from those X-Men and Spidey books, my friend.
Dinner at Joe Quesada's swanky NYC pad with Garth, Nanci and Dave Bogart. Joe lives in one of those great places you only ever see in movies with full-length windows looking out over the Manhattan skyline. He also has a telescope in his living room which makes me think nobody should ever undress near a window if they live in Manhattan, especially if you have large breasts. Joe's place always kind of surprises me because it's like his Hinterland; a tastefully-decorated environment filled with nuggets from his career as both an artist and a musician. It's the flipside of his Tony Soprano persona most people know. Working for Marvel does feel oddly like being in the Mafia; frenetic deadlines always being punctuated by mountains of Italian food up at Joe's place and all the best crazy schemes being hatched around the dinner table. Of course, this is always where the best gossip is shared too, but even Rich Johnston doesn't know a lot of this stuff and I'd be sleeping with the fishes if I mentioned it here.
Millarworld.biz booze-up back at the Cedar Tavern again and everyone tags along. Readers are gracious as ever and buy me lots of drinks, but immediately lose interest when they realize that Garth and Joe are Garth Ennis and Joe Quesada. Met some old chums from the boards I'd never met in the flesh before, which was great, and hooked up with Brian Vaughan, my old pal Stuart Moore and a very glamorous-looking, retro-fifties Heidi McDonald. Also joined by Veronica again and a very beautiful designer I met in New Zealand (who's brother was in Babylon 5, oddly enough). It's interesting to note that, regardless of our surroundings and the general boozy atmosphere, we didn't touch a drop of drink for the entire night.
Okay, that's a friggin' lie.
WEDNESDAY, 4th December
Oh God, I feel like shit. Combined sleep-time for the last week is something like sixteen hours and it's finally starting to hit me. Meet my pal Dave Bogart (Marvel's new Managing Ed) for breakfast and he takes me on a tour of what's left of New York's sex district. How in the name of fuck can someone be bothered with a peep show at 10am on a Wednesday morning? Oh, well. If you've got the horn, you've got the horn, I suppose. Back up to Marvel to say my goodbyes and crow about the pretty spiffy-looking "Ultimate War" issue one that just arrived. I actually crowed for a couple of hours about this, now that I think about it, and reminded everyone that we held the number one AND the number two spots for December. To their relief, I leave around noon and head to the airport with a bagful of free crap to read on the plane.
Nice surprise #1 was League of Extraordinary Gents issues one to three. I'd heard this was lousy from a few people and avoided it, but I really, really enjoyed it. It's not as good as the first series, but it's still great. Nice surprise #2 was "The Rawhide Kid." Axel Alonso made me black and white copies of the first three issues and, by fuck, it's the funniest comic I've read since Viz launched here in the UK. It's just SO FUCKING FUNNY. Poor Zimmerman has been slaughtered by the fans since he wrote a bad Punisher issue he scripted overnight to help Marvel out of a deadline jam and that ropey Jay Leno/ Spidey thing. In hindsight, they weren't bad for first attempts at writing for a brand new medium, but the damage was done and he's spent the better part of a year being shot-down with phrases I've only ever seen directed at Mister Robert Liefeld. I'm always uncomfortable seeing someone getting the shit kicked out of them by all and sundry. Nobody's THAT bad and I hate the ugly bully mentality that seems to erupt whenever this guy (who's written THREE COMICS) gets mentioned. "Ultimate Adventures" is a really nicely put-together and charming book which was the first step in Zimmerman's Road to Salvation. "The Rawhide Kid" is the one that's going to make him a superstar so speculate on three hundred copies now. Christ, I'm such a sucker for a comeback.
Home. Bed. Sleep. For days ( I hope). One week in America and wasn't once attacked by a middle Eastern terrorist. That boy Bush and his cabal of war criminals from the seventies and eighties are doing a mighty fine job over there. Cabbie back home asks me what I do for a living I tell him I'm a comic-writer. 'That must be weird', he tells me. 'I don't know how ANYBODY could come up with new ideas every month'
At fucking LAST!
NEXT: HOW TO BE A COMIC-BOOK EDITOR