To conclude our wonderful experience as press at London Super Comic Convention 2013, Jay Martin and I spoke with Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.
I had contacted them beforehand and received a casual “Just pop by during a quiet time and we’ll sort it out” reply from Gillen. We had a fleeting meeting on Saturday (I got Phonogram Vol 1 & 2 signed) and we all agreed it would make a lot more sense, and anger less fans, if we did the interview on Sunday when it was quieter. We joined them and began the interview 24 hours later, over some tasty muffins… seriously.
Jack: Hi! First of all, most importantly, how is the muffin Kieron?
Kieron: Much lusted after for a long period of time. It’s a classic blueberry. Jamie, why did you make that choice?
Jamie: Well it was either chocolate or blueberry and I felt blueberry is more of a morning muffin.
Kieron: Blueberry muffins were actually a running joke in SWORD, my first Marvel ongoing series.
Jamie: That must have been it, I thought of it subconsciously.
Kieron: Warren Ellis gets whiskey. I get blueberry muffins.
Jamie: No one’s brought us any sausages yet!
Kieron: There is a lot of breakfast meat in Young Avengers. It’s somewhat of a theme.
Jack: Is that a euphemism?
Kieron. Nope. Absolutely not. All the meat that is being stuffed in to Kid Loki‘s face is merely breakfast meat. For now.
Jack: So, talking of Young Avengers, how has it been taking over the mantle?
Kieron: It’s been intimidating and weird and strange and interesting. The book has such a defined fan base who have gone so long with such little material. Their love of the characters is embedded very deeply. No matter what we did, we were going to piss some people off! That’s true with anything you do but especially so with this.
Jack: I think the book is very interesting in the way that it stands out against everything else on the shelves at the moment. Particularly with bringing you on board, Jamie, it’s got a very definite and unique style to it.
Jamie: Yeah, we really tried to do something different. Have as much as we can and, as Kieron always says, “It’s a superhero book for the 21st century!”
Kieron: We’re reinventing the teen superhero comic from the ground up for 2013. You know, no pressure, no big deal. We laugh about this sort of thing but we can never go full Mark Millar. You can’t worry about it too much. The creative urge is a combination of complete insecurity and ridiculous egomania. It’s a total 1984 thing. You’re believing these two things are true at once.
Jay: Has there ever been major concerns about taking over or making big changes to established characters?
Jamie: No. Some people are always going to hate what you do and that’s fine. I’d rather people be passionate about the characters than not care one way or the other. There was a lot of trepidation when the previews came out, but when people read the first issue, I think a lot of them were won over.
Kieron: There’s always going to be comparisons and conflict with new interpretations. It’s a bit like doing a great Shakespearian play. Now there’s a comparison, you think “What is Hamlet like?” and each is a different take and interpretation. With Marvel Boy, I’m trying to draw the line somewhere between what Grant Morrison and Brian Michael Bendis did. I try to find a new thread, and I’ve ended up with this weird post-responsibilty former Zen-fascist who has been seduced by the ephemera of the world. It’s in the middle, but it’s very clearly mine. Jamie has to change their clothes and update their fashion too.
Jamie: We can never do the same book twice. There’s no point!
Jack: You guys have worked together quite a few times now but it’s always a very different project each time, is that a conscious decision or is that just a result of how your writer/artist relationship has developed over time?
Kieron: We always use the band metaphor for comics. It’s all about the give and take between 2, 3 or even 4 individuals to get the end result. For example, Phonogram is where I’ve been putting my most experimental stuff and I tend to know where Jamie wants to push his art so since we have that friendship, we can extrapolate from there. We don’t have any hard rules about anything really. Well, we don’t do pastiches. No retro pastiches of any old comics, we stick to our own iconography and self referential stuff. Young Avengers #1 has quite a few nods to Phonogram. We like to have connective tissue between it all.
Jay: Since you are such good friends and collaborators, do you have input into each other’s creative processes and projects?
Jamie: We talk every day about the work.
Kieron: Here’s an example. In issue #5 of Young Avengers, I wrote a certain action sequence with 5 different ideas, using Marvel method (Note: This form of comic script writing is based upon Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s working relationship in the early days of Marvel Comics where Stan would not give page breakdowns and panels, just a flowing description of what he wanted to see in the book as a whole.) Then Jamie came along with a 6th one and we ended up doing that! We can then even use one of those other ideas later.
Jamie: Yeah, the other day I sent Kieron a clip from YouTube and said “We could use this as a fight scene.” Things are always on our minds. It’s a constant back and forth.
Kieron: It’s even taking things like the Tumblr culture of graphics, if you know what I mean. It’s something to do with that, I reckon. I’m not sure what yet though. We’re open to culture!
Jamie: It’s not just us who are doing it either. Our colourist, Matt Wilson, is a big part of what we’re doing too. For the end of issue 3, I had a particular idea and he came back to me with something completely different.
Kieron: That was amazing! I wasn’t sure if that was you or Matt, to be honest.
Jamie: It was definitely him. I gave him a rough idea and he took it in a totally new direction and it was brilliant. It was all 3,4 and even 5 of us, if you include our letterer Clayton Cowles (Note: The fifth person is Mike Norton who worked with Jamie on the art)
Kieron: We’re writing like we own it. I write it like it’s a gang book, in both the characters and the creators.
Jack: That makes a lot of sense. I think that camaraderie comes across. Sticking with the subject of taking over big characters, Kieron, how has the transition of taking over Iron Man from Matt Fraction been?
Kieron: I think it’s gone as well as I could have hoped. That’s the best way of putting it. Fortunately, Fraction very much did his story and left it where he wanted to end it. Issue #6 is where my first big story starts. The first 5 have been standalone issues that cover particular motifs. Since we’re going into space and tying in to Guardians of the Galaxy, there are limitations in what you can do, so I’ve established certain ideas and motifs that will be coming back at a later date. People will be, hopefully, saying, “Ah that issue was foreshadowing the theme of ‘family’ in the book!” That’s how I tend to write.
Jack: What’s it like working with Greg Land again?
Kieron: It’s good! I think I’ve worked with Greg and Jamie more than anyone else. I’m very interested to see what people will think of the art for the rest of the “Godkiller” arc because there are some really unusual page choices coming up. I always encourage the artists to push it in the direction they feel like and recently, I gave Greg a splash page and he came back to with 8 panels. I think he’s trying to tap into different creative ideas and, in the past, he has had some strong reactions against him so it should be very interesting.
Jay: There’s been a lot of controversy recently over at DC Comics with writers not being given enough creative license with established characters, could the same be said of Marvel or are they very open to ideas?
Kieron: I’ve never worked at DC so I pretty much know as much as you do. I’ve always said that I’m surprised by how much shit I get away with. The origins of Tony Stark is something I’m going to be dealing with, which is a huge deal, and while I was in Gatwick airport recently I literally stopped and thought to myself, “No, I can’t do that!” and began laughing to myself. With a story as big as the origins of Tony, it’s gone all the way up the Marvel ladder, it’s gone all the way to the corporate lawyers and back. It’s almost the exact opposite of what you’re talking about. It was my idea and I came to them with it. If anything, it happens the other way around. When the concept of Iron Man joining the Guardians of the Galaxy came up, I had to scrap my entire run. It makes perfect sense for him to become one but, not being a hard science fiction writer most of the time, that wasn’t what I had planned out.
Jack: Still sort of on the subject of DC. They have the Young Justice series. Is there a possibility for a Young Avengers series or film?
Kieron: With Young Avengers, I’ve almost purposefully said “I dare you to adapt this!” There’s a lot of songs that would need to be licensed, which would definitely get us in to trouble.
Jack: So that’s the reason for giving us an actual playlist of the songs!
Kieron: Mwahaha! (Note: His is an evil laugh.)
Kieron & Jamie are joined by cosplayers.
Jack: With Iron Man 3 coming to cinemas in May, has there been any editorial pushes to include certain things? Obviously, having the Guardians of the Galaxy all tie-in is establishing that bigger universe, but there have been heavy rumours of Extremis being included in the next film.
Kieron: That’s something I can’t really talk about too much. It’s Iron Man’s 50th anniversary so I think doing something with his history is a great way to celebrate it. Again, there’s a back and forth with the editorial staff too. They don’t ever say “You must do this story!” They occasionally mention smaller things, for example. The first trade paperback is called “Believe,” and if we were being told to tie heavily in to the film and “Extremis,” it would have made much more sense to call it “Extremis 2″ or something like that.
Jack: That’s actually really good to hear, even if you can’t tell us too many details. I’ve been inspired to get involved in writing comics by your podcast Decompressed and it’s very interesting how you’ve chosen to focus on the creative processes as opposed to more general interviews.
Kieron: Thank you. Yeah, that was the idea, to inspire and share the knowledge. I learned about writing comics from Warren Ellis’ Come In Alone columns and I thought I could put myself to some use. If there’s a 10-years-ago version of me out there somewhere, I can pass it onto them like Warren did to me. I was so aware that there is so much craft going into the most shitty comics, I wanted to know how and why. You don’t just throw things on a page and they get published. It’s all actual decisions.
Jack: At the same time, I love the informality of Decompressed too. You literally just brought Jamie on mid-podcast at one point because he happened to be on Skype at the time.
Jamie: That was fun!
Kieron: The main problem with Decompressed is that it’s all very casual, and I’m so busy so it tends to be a lot of Marvel people on there, purely because that’s who I’m socializing with. I’m lazy as well so if someone emails saying “Do you want to do a podcast?” I’ll just say yes because it saves me having to think about it. It has been good though. I’ve had a mixture of everything from people I don’t know very well to some very old friends and it helps me examine my own process too so it’s kind of self-serving.
Jack: Lastly, what else have you guys got planned for the near future outside of the Marvel stuff you’re already working on?
Kieron: Phonogram 3 is coming, sometime late this year or early next year. Probably early next year. I’m doing Three with Ryan Kelly and I’ve got a top-secret Avatar book coming out. I’ve written it all so I’m actually planning what I’m thinking about my late 2014 projects at the moment.
Jamie: Yep. I’ve got plans. Big plans.
Jack: Big plans? Excellent!
Kieron: Mo’ money, mo’ problems!
Jack: You’ve got quite a large gathering of probably angry people behind us now so we’ll let you get back to it. Thank you so much for your time gentlemen.
Kieron: Cheers guys, it was very nice chatting to you.
There we have it folks. The wonderful English duo of Gillen & McKelvie interviewed by the only English duo on Word of the Nerd, Jay Martin and myself. We’d like to send an extra big thanks to both Jamie and Kieron for being so helpful with setting the interview up and being so generous with their time. Also, we’re sorry to everyone who was waiting in line behind us!
This post wraps up my coverage of London Super Comic Convention 2013. If you’ve read either of my previous interview posts, thank you very much. Last of all, I’d like to thank the LSCC organisers themselves for giving Jay & I the chance to be a member of the press for the first time , and hopefully not the last.