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An Interview With Peter Milligan: Part One

PM: ...Before Animal Man, I did a limited six part series called Skreemer. It's very important. I've never seen James Joyce and, um, American culture be used in one story.

Artist?

PM: Brett Ewins. He did the drawing on Johnny Nemo. Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon did the artwork on Skreemer.

So it was all English?

PM: (Jokingly) Music by James Joyce.

Since the beginning, Skreemer was very hard.

PM: Hard?

Violent, and--

PM: Yeah, it was violent, but the problem is people say, 'Skreemer's very violent, or The Extremist is very sexual, or --' but I never notice these things, because I try to do a story that's based on a character. If that character's story is heading in a certain direction, then it's natural to follow that direction. I never try to think: 'Skreemer should be violent, or The Extremist should be sexual, or Enigma must be this.' I'm more interested in having characters that are real, so they're real stories.

So the character, it leads you...

PM: Absolutely. You create a character with a problem or a point of view through which you will be able to explore what you want to explore in this particular story. That's the way. But it must start with a character, or otherwise it becomes a cold, philosophical arguement. It doesn't become fiction.

Why are you interested in [unclear]? Have you studied [unclear]?

PM: Yeah. I guess the things that interest me most are life, death, and sex. It seems to me that they're the big three -- Le Grande Trois. Because I've had a lot of death in my life. My parents are both dead, my best friend -- killed, all that kind of stuff. So death seems to be very important, because it is a shadow over life. And, at the same time, it corrupts life. But it makes life what it is. Without death, there is no life, obviously.

Sex is crucially important. Even when you're not having sex, it's crucially important. I think it's the driving force behind lots of things that happen.

And the meaning of life -- I mean, I think often what would make a good story; what would make a good idea for a comics story? It's like, what's bothering me at the moment? And one of the things I'm always asking myself is, what the fuck is the point of all this? What is the point of it? And it's a question I have to keep asking myself.

That's kind of a desperate point of view.

PM: Yeah, but what's the point of it? I mean, I enjoy life, but, why? What's the point of it? In 50 years, I might be dead. What will have been the point of it? So, what's so great about doing this job is that I have a canvas on which I can work out some of these ideas. I know some writers come up with an idea and then research it heavily. I tend to work the other way. I tend to be interested in something, so I'll read about it a lot, and then I'll do a story about it. But the research is done because I'm interested in it.

[The tape is very faint here. There is a lot of background noise. The question here was about death, and a writer who had a lot of death in his life.]

PM: Well, death is obviously around us all. I mean I don't pretend that I've had that terrible a life, but death is very important. There are some things in your life that you just know are major, major steps in your life. When you see your mother, dead, on a bed -- you say good bye to your mother. That is a major kind of -- you realise something very important has happened.

Do you feel there is a life after death?

PM: I would like to think so. I think that if there is, it would be so different from this life I wouldn't be able to understand it. But I kind of suspect there isn't. I would like to think so. But, I think that if there is something after -- it seems to me that we're created so much by our bodies. Our bodies dictate so much who we are, in our relations with other people. I can't imagine a life without this body. And if there is a life without this body, it would be such a different kind of life, I'm wondering, would it be *me* that survives? Would it be something else? (Pause) I suspect there's nothing. I suspect we die and that's it.

No reincarnation, or--

PM: I suspect not. I think probably we die and that's it. But I'm not sure, I'm not sure. I hope not. What I'm interested in, in some of my stories that tie in with death, is, if we do survive death, what survives?

What I'm interested in is -- do you know the word "quintisential?"

Like, what is the quintisential you or me? What can we take away but it's still you and still me? I'm interested because if you, like, take away my memory...I would still be me, I think. You could take away my sense of humor perhaps, and I'd still be me. How much can you take away? What is that bit that is quintisentially me? I mean, that's what I'm trying to get at in some of my stories.

The idea is that there is a spark, there is a something, which, you can take away the rest; you can take away the self, and the ego, and that kind of stuff, but you're left with something that is quintisentially Peter Milligan, or quintisentially you. And perhaps if there is life after death, it's that that survives.

I don't think that it would be 'this person who likes drinking beer', or 'this person who has a hangup over that.' It would be something like this deep quintisential flame that is unchanging, that can't be changed. And that's what I'm quite interested in. How much can you take away from a man, and still let that person be that man? But, think, you can do anything these days. I could hypnotise you and give you a new past. You'd still be the same person. You could have a brain opperation, and your memory would be gone, but there's something in you that makes you, you. I'm interested in what is that; what *is* that thing?