The time travel adventures of Doctors Corbin Quinn and Danny Reilly, “Chrononauts” represents a new frontier and a familiar path for the writer’s Millarworld line of books. After a slew of books that leaned heavy on superhero stories and pulp sensibilities, the four-issue run draws from buddy comedy and epic sci-fi territory for a new kind of project. At the same time, “Chrononauts” became only the latest Millarworld book to receive a quick Hollywood option once it hit stores.
CBR News spoke with the writer about the secret tinseltown origins of the book (they’re not what you might think), the infinite landscape comics offers time travel stories for the first time and how “Chrononauts” kicks off a feel-good, crowd-pleasing era of work for the creator-owned powerhouse.
CBR News: Mark, “Chrononauts” is really just underway as a print comic, and it’s already the latest series of yours to be optioned in Hollywood. I’m assuming this has to be the result of your agent’s work? Do they take your books to the studios as soon as they’re finished?
Mark Millar: It’s funny. With “Chrononauts,” I actually sold it last year. I was having lunch with the head of Universal when I was in town last August — because I go out to Los Angeles and work for about a week each year. So I was having lunch with the guy who runs the company, and he said to me, “What have you got coming up?” I said that I actually had a bunch of things finishing — “Starlight” and things like that — and just had a few ideas I was thinking about. I mentioned “Chrononauts” just in conversation, and he said, “Don’t do that as a comic. Just do it as a movie, and you can keep all the money.” [Laughs] He just felt like, “Why share half the profits with an artist?” But he loved the idea and said, “We’ll just do this as a movie. Even if you don’t want to write the screenplay, I’ll just buy the rights.”
And I’m kind of lazy, so I liked the idea of not doing all the scripts. I thought maybe I could just write a synopsis and then stay as a producer on the movie. But then when I got my flight, literally on the flight home I just couldn’t stop thinking about this as a comic. It would just make such an awesome comic, you know? So I started to work on some stuff, and I spoke to Sean who I’d been talking to for a while. He loves drawing period detail, and he loves drawing machinery and technology. I said, “I’ve got your dream project. It cuts across 15 time zones. You will love this.” And he said, “I love the sound of that.”
So then I had to call up my friend and Universal and say, “I don’t want to do this as a movie. It’s going to be a comic.” [Laughs] But he said, “I’m going to buy it as a movie anyway.” So I just told him we’d get along with the comic, and I’d stay in touch. Then when this came out, he made us an offer. Sean was delighted because he had an instant movie deal, and that worked out really nice. And the financial hit you take whenever you work on your own comics was eased because of the finance we got from the movie deal.
It’s kind of weird because I don’t think I’ve ever done a pitch in Hollywood. My agent will circulate some things around, but mostly when something like “Kingsman” or “Kick-Ass” comes out, people will say, “We really enjoyed that” and then they go straight to whatever books you have lying around and try to do something with them. As soon as “Kingsman” hit, two of my books were approached by people wanting to do television shows. Even things I’d almost forgotten about get noticed. It’s just how it works. As soon as you have a hit, people want to jump on your next thing. I don’t think there’s anything of mine that’s not being developed somewhere right now, which is nice.
After having read the start of the series, the movie thing seems particularly apt because what the tone and characters of “Chrononauts” reminded me most of was “Bill & Ted.”
[Laughs] You know, I’ve never seen “Bill & Ted.” I know the movie, but I never watched it. That came out when I had no money as a student. I would always see these things advertised, but I cold never afford to go see them. So there’s a period in my life where I never got to the cinema and only saw the posters.
Well, the main thing that came from was that aside from this being a kind of buddy movie set up, there was a really strong humor element to it. It’s almost a comedy. Was that something that grew as you and Sean put it together?
That was always the plan. Like I said, I always wanted to make this a comic. It was only for those three days after someone suggested it that I even thought about it as a movie. I don’t really think in movie terms. I always think in comic terms and plan my whole year of comics. And sometimes I like doing funny ones or scary ones, and this was meant to be a fun one. I like lighter and darker stuff, but in the past few years I’ve skewed more light. Like with “MPH” is quite fun in a lot of ways, and “Starlight” is very humorous in some places. That’s just where my head’s at right now.
I think it’s funny that “Avengers” was the turning point and then “Guardians” solidified it that people just want to have fun. It’s one of the reasons I think “Kingsman” did so well. People come out of the cinema, and they just feel good. I like the idea of people finishing my comics and feeling that way, so I hope “Chrononauts” can do that.
Looking at the long plan for the series, one of the things that’s really stood out for me in the early issues has been that these characters get dropped into insane, epic scenarios from all over history which gives Sean a chance to stretch his “I can draw anything you throw at me” ability. Is a visual ambition part of the DNA of any time travel story?
Oh yeah. That’s the thing I love about comics. It doesn’t matter what you do, the budget is limitless when you’re drawing a the page. These guys can go anywhere. The book moves pretty much through all time and space, and it’s relentless. You’re going to see things you’ve never seen before because time travel, believe it or not, hasn’t been explored that much in comics. We get it a little bit in things like “X-Men,” but that’s generally just someone coming with a warning from the future. To really go crazy with it is something we haven’t seen in comics before. And with things like “Back To The Future” or “Doctor Who,” you’re really limited by budget because they have to build all these sets. One thing I’ve realized as a producer is how expensive it is to build a set. You really can only afford to put a couple of locations together. Marty traveling to 1955 is really just one set, so you don’t have to worry about anything else. But we’re jumping all around in time, and I had a brilliant time. Every other panel is something brand new. You’ve seen nothing yet.
The other big part of this is Quinn as a lead character. We get these hints of his marriage having fallen apart and a troubled past with his own father. It seems the big clue from early in the story is the idea of 1986 as a year being significant for him. Is part of where the book goes next about taking Quinn off to explore that backstory alone?
I don’t want to give too much away, but we move through that stuff and into some new territory pretty quickly. It’s quite a surprise. This is essentially a buddy story. I really love those. I was influenced here by “The Man Who Would Be King” and things that are all about friendship. You don’t see enough of that — two adult males who care about each other. It’s really fun to write. It’s great to have a character who will do anything to help a friend. You see sometimes like with Professor X and Magneto a falling out story, but it’s rare to see the two guys who genuinely care for each other. So in this story, we start where one guy goes back to help the other, but then it’s just the two of them constantly saving each other’s ass.
With this book and “Jupiter’s Circle” now up and running, have you started to put together the next phase of Millarworld books for the fall and into 2016?
Well, these have been mostly done since last year. I work way ahead of time, so yes, I’m working on three new series right now. I don’t think anything will be released for a while on them, but I am also working on the final touches of “Jupiter’s Legacy” Volume 2, and there are some things I want to tighten up on the later issues of “Jupiter’s Circle.” But I’m way ahead on everything. I finished my work on “Chrononauts” back in October. So it’s great to be looking forward. I know who my three artists are going to be on the next books, and again, I like to finish all the scripts first so there’s no delay. When the artists start in, they’ll have everything so they can really get going. And once we’ve banked the issues, we’ll start launching them in 2016. Of those books, two are in genres I’ve never worked in before, and two of the three artists are guys I’ve never worked with before. It’s really exciting. There might be one that arrives a little bit earlier. I’ve written half of the series, and the artist has already started in on it. But I’m so superstitious about all that now that I really want to get the whole thing in the drawer before I solicit it. That’s what’s great about “Chrononauts.” Sean is just finishing the last ten pages now, so we know it’ll all come out fast. I think it’s the first series we’ve ever done that will ship perfectly on time. I feel quite pleased that’s the way to go with all of them.
“Chrononauts” #2 is on sale now from Image Comics.
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