Mark Millar has carved his own creative lane in comics with some help from a who's who list of A-list artists, but this July, the writer is looking to bring some unknown creators into the mainstream with "Millarworld Annual 2016."
Under a cover from artist Satine Zillah, the Image Comics-published Annual features stories starring Millarworld characters written and drawn by a combination of established and aspiring comic creators Millar handpicked from scores of online submissions. The comics include "Kick-Ass" (by writer Ricardo Mo and artist Ifesinachi Orjiekwe), "Kingsman" (by writer Philip Huxley and artist Myron Macklin), "Starlight" (by writer Deniz Camp and artist Pracheta Banerjee), "American Jesus" (by writer Cliff Bumgardner and artist Steve Beach), "Chrononauts" (by Writer Shaun Brill and artist Conor Hughes) and "Hit-Girl" (by writer Mark Abnett and artist Ozgur Yildirim).Â
For a look inside the book and the international talent hunt that brought it together, CBR News spoke with Millar and editor Rachael Fulton. Throughout our wide-ranging discussion, the pair riffed on why new creators need a shot now more than ever, how the creative teams will meet the challenge of twisting Millar's idiosyncratic style, and what the book says about the future of the Millarworld line.
CBR News: Mark, I feel that if you wanted to say, "Let's do more stories with Kick-Ass and Starlight and whoever," you could have easily drafted pros you know like Mark Waid or Warren Ellis to chip in. What's your motivation to instead turn over your characters to complete unknowns?
Mark Millar: About a year ago, a friend of mine from the Millarworld message boards, a guy who helps run the site said, "Wouldn't it be cool to see other people writing your characters?" The other question he asked was, "Wouldn't it be cool if you helped out people who haven't had a book yet? Everybody who wants to do comics and would try to do something for Marvel and DC, but it's impossible. Nobody there has time to read anything." And he was right. I'd forgotten how hard it is to break in, and we've got a much more crowded market now than we had when I was starting out. We always had "2000AD," which was always actively looking for new submissions. From Alan Moore on, there were always new guys breaking out in "2000AD." But I don't think there are opportunities to work and get paid these days. You can work for free, but to actually get paid as a newcomer is a very rare thing these days.
So my friend said, "Why don't you come out and give that chance?" And I thought that was a really good point. I would have loved that when I was younger, and to have a place where a lot of new people can be starting out is a good thing [for comics.] And we're going to do this as an Annual thing. This is the first one, but we'll bring one out every July. I think we'll try and find new people every year.
So Rachael, when Mark decides, "We're going to start this new tradition and get people started on their careers," does it then become a matter of him saying, "You figure out how to make this work"?
Rachael Fulton: [Laughs] Not quite. I'm new to Millarworld. I came in in January, and by then all of the judging had already taken place. It's really been my job to work with the artists and writers. They were already paired up before I came on board, but I've been making sure they have the most updated drafts of the scripts, and that the artwork is coming in on time or the inking or coloring is coming in.
It's completely different from everyone we're working with on "Empress," because [Mark and Stuart Immonen are so professional.] They've done it a million times. When we're working with guys who have never done it before, it's a bit shaky at first. They're obviously all very nervous because they respect Mark massively and feel like this is a huge thing they're being involved with. There were some nerves at the beginning, but everyone's eased in.
We've got such an amazing and diverse lineup of artists. The talent we've brought on board -- I'm actually looking at some of the artwork now and am amazed some of these guys aren't already working professionally. That was one of the things that struck me when the pages started coming in. And the writing is also spectacular. Of course, the Annual is my baby even though "Empress" and "Jupiter's Legacy" are things I'm looking after. But the Annual is brand-new, and I'm glad to be setting it on its path with this first one.
Millar: It's really great. I'm actually astonished that some of them don't already have careers at this point. Everyone who's been picked up in the Annual, they came out of the hundreds and hundreds of submissions we got. These are the cream of the crop, so our standards have been really high. I think a lot of them will go on to have really big careers. I don't know. It's kind of weird to think that because of these gigs, some of these guys are going to find their way into the mainstream. It's like my friend said: there are a lot of people out there who are talented, but who don't know what to do with it.
It really worked out well. It took a while to read through all the submissions and look at all the art submissions, and a whole lot of my friends from the Millarworld network -- a lot of people from the forums submitted at the same time. It was a huge undertaking, but I just think it was worth it to help get these people some work. When Rachael came on the team, it was amazing because it made things a lot easier. I think you've got a great mainstream eye, because comic books aren't your background. You're really good at spotting stuff that not everyone can even understand, I think.
Fulton: The stuff that we've gotten in is just incredible. For a lot of people who enter a contest like this, it's a very big deal for them, but I don't think a lot of people were expecting to win. Some of the winners felt a little bit like they don't belong here, but they absolutely do. They really have futures ahead of them. I think it just takes that first step of putting your work out there, because you can be quite protective of it. But when they take the risk, it can really pay off.
Millar: It was really quite surprising. Because I've only seen "Chrononauts" drawn by Sean Murphy, and I've only seen "Kick-Ass" drawn by John Romita, Jr., so it was weird to have new people coming on. I keep wondering what I'm going to think of this when it comes through all the way -- to see these stories that other people came up with. There are guys who have written things that I wouldn't have thought of in the things I've done. The guy that wrote the Hit-Girl comic in the Annual delivered like an Alan Moore-level book. It's four pages long, and it's the cleverest little story. Again, there were a lot of really good submissions, so the standards are really high.
Fulton: Mark, I've been trying so hard not to name individual people! [Laughter] But as long as we're doing that, I think the "American Jesus" story is particularly spectacular as well -- just so we're not mentioning one person.
Millar: The artwork on the "Hit-Girl" story is amazing as well. As the pages were coming in, I kept thinking, "I've got to do something with this guy." We set this all up, and you don't know if the work will be substandard or what. But Rachael, you must be delighted with how it's all turning out.
Fulton: I honestly do feel so precious about this because there are so many stories. It's not like working with one writer, one artist, one inker -- I have a whole gang! [Laughs]
It's awesome. It's sometimes difficult to corral them all, but it's incredible to see these guys do what they're doing for the first time at this level. And it's great to know that as they go on to have more successful careers, they will be able to say they got their first break with us. As much as we haven't met in person, we're all quite chatty online, and they've got great ideas and great personalities. I'm looking forward to seeing everything they do in the future.
Millar: I remember you saying that when all was said and done, it may be around 100 people who've pitched on the book. I laughed, because that's an enormous amount of people starting their careers. That's the thing I love about our message boards. When you compare that to Twitter or Facebook or anything, it's still a big, best chance to get in. There are literally hundreds of entries. All these people signed up for the boards, and it became really exciting. I think it'll really blow up next year, too.
Fulton: For the 2017 Annual, I really want to push the net out and show that we want everyone who's ever written anything or drawn anything for a comics pitch to get involved -- especially ladies! I want a lot more ladies. I'm pushing girl power for 2017.
Millar: It's been an international thing as well. I'm really delighted that people from India and all over have gotten involved.
Fulton: We've had pitches from Nigeria, Turkey -- all over.
Millar: It's really incredible. You think of comics as American and UK-centric, but I'd say 70 or 75% of our entries were from outside the US and UK.
Tell us a bit about the stories and how they developed. When it came to the Millarworld books on the table, would you say the parameters for what could be done were a bit set in place?
Millar: When it came to the franchises that were in play, obviously I picked ones that aren't massively active at the moment. Like, pitching a "Jupiter's Legacy" story right when it's in the middle would have been a problem, but something like "Kick-Ass" that's totally done meant I could tell people, "Just set a story any time between 'Kick-Ass 1' and 'Kick-Ass 3'" and be done with it. But I didn't want to narrow things down. I just wanted to let people have fun and enjoy it. Just like when you write a Spider-Man story, you don't want to have read 500 issues of "Spider-Man" to understand it.
Did people deliver some aspects to these worlds that you didn't expect?
Fulton: I think Mark already mentioned the Hit-Girl story. That was a standout for reasons that will become clear when it's published. But a lot of the stories were really striking. They're funny as well. A lot of them mimic the humor that Mark has. They really replicated that well in their own writing -- aside from the "American Jesus" story. That one is called "Undeath," and it is the darkest thing. When I read it, I told the writer, "I can't read this before I go to bed." And the artwork that came back in is really grim. I say that in a positive way! [Laughter] It's really striking and incredible. I think those two were really well paired together, but everyone impressed.
Millar: That's the thing about the Annual. I actually think it's a really good book. It's the kind of book that people will want to have in their library. Aside from the whole idea that we're paying up-and-coming people Marvel and DC rates, I think that it's really going to make its money back in profits. And any profits we make off of it will go right back to the HERO Initiative charity.
Fulton: The "Starlight" story is also such a tearjerker. When I read that story I was totally emotional by the end of it. I'm really so proud of all of them! [Laughs] I know I'm just gushing here about the Annual, but I'm genuinely excited about it. The cover should just be me clutching copies of the Annual.
Millar: I think there's always going to be a group of fans who fancy doing comics since the 8th grade, since you realized that someone does this for a job. My goal with this Annual we're putting out is to reach out to those kinds of people. I don't want to be the only one doing this forever. I'm not really into music, but I kind of want to see new artists introduced instead of the same guys over and over.
Fulton: Mick Jagger will still be doing it. You can be the Mick Jagger of comics. [Laughter]
Looking to the future of Millarworld, I know that Mark has set things up so that he'll always have a new project coming about every quarter in the comic shops. Is the goal, then, to keep this Annual going as a yearly aspect of the line?
Millar: Yeah. We've got a whole Millarworld routine now, which is quite nice. I have the projects already announced this year, and I'm doing one other. Everything I'm doing next will be things like "Chrononauts 2" and "Superior 2," and I'm deep into the next "Jupiter's Legacy." So it's all going to be sequels for the immediate future, but we'll also be putting the call out for new talent, and every July we'll have the Annual out. It's really exciting. I feel like we're really getting into gear here. We have 12 months of the year that we can have books shipped in, and we've never been able to hit all of them. We've always been working with artists who only have so much time to help get these massive books done. But now we're at a place like with "Jupiter's Legacy" where we're on a schedule where a Frank Quitely book will come out monthly. We've stockpiled everything. The whole company is very streamlined now, and it's great.
The "Millarworld Annual 2016" arrives on July 13 from Image Comics.