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An Interview With Peter Milligan: Part Two

Q: When you came to the United States, you had to do superheroes, because that's the main type of comic books they've got there. Do you think this type of story is a good vehicle to experiment?

PM: Well, one thing that I've noticed is that people often equate adult comics with commics without superheroes. Well, I think you can have a very adult comic with a superhero in it. And I think you can have a very juvinile comic with no superheroes in it. So I think that superheroes area a varied vehicles to write about anything you want. The problem comes with the audience expectation of what you're gonna do when you have a superhero. Because, when you're writing, you're not writing in a vaccuum. You're writing with the expectation of there will be certain people who are going to read this.

If you're writing an X-Men comic, for example, you can't -- you can't be Shakespeare, because you know, even if you could be, you can't be, because you know the audience are going to expect a certain thing.

But that doesn't mean to say that you can't take Storm, or some other Marvel character, or Batman, and write a story that means something. It gets harder, I think, because there's so much luggage when you deal with those kinds of superheroes.

Q: But you can do that kind of story with Batman, because there was Frank Miller at one time. Would it be possible to do the first step with another comic book? Just like he did with Batman? Why don't we do the X-Men or anything else -- do the first step in another direction?

PM: One thing about Frank Miller -- I think he has one story. He's very good at telling that story, but Frank Miller has one story. He tells that over and over and over again --he does it very well-- but it's one story, and I think that it's a story that suits superheroes, I think that he can...get carried away. But I think that Frank Miller is incredibly adult and incredibly sophisticated. I think that Frank Miller is great at what he does, but it's one story, and it suits superheroes, because his story is the story of the the male lone hero. That's his story. And it's a classic, mythic, story. It's the lone male. Hemingway wrote about the lone male. It's a basic kind of human architypal character.

I think -- I like to think of superheroes, I would like to think that superheroes could be, like, classical Greece. Greek Characters. In that, like, you had the English poets who wrote classic poetry using Greek mythological beings as their vehicle, but they were writing about love, life, the meaning of life. So, in a perfect world, I think that comic superheroes could opperate on a level of the classic, of the classic Greek mythology

And they are vehicles to talk about whatever you want to talk about. I mean, I think -- and I don't think we should be shamed of that, either, because I think there is something peculiar to comics and superheroes. Superheroes: you think of comics. You think of comics: you think of superheroes. I think that's okay. I think it's alright, and I think that...it does worry me some times when people do equate adult comics with comics with no superheroes in them. Because there's nothing intrinsically wrong with superheroes. In Enigma --

Q: You don't consider it to be a handicap?

PM: The handicap comes in the audience is geared to expect a certain kind of superhero. And if you don't want to do a superhero, then you have a problem -- in terms of sales. Because you know as soon as you put some fucker with a suit and a mask in that comic, you know the sales are going to go up. And that is depressing, because the story might me no better. But I think that superheroes are an intrinsic archetype of comics -- they're an important part of comics. And I think -- so it's not, it's not a major problem.

I think you could look at the novel, the twentyeth century novel -- it would be less obvious -- but I bet if you looked hard enough, you would find their equvalent of the superhero. And that most of the novels that are written today would have certain elements in it, almost have to have certain elements in it to be published, to be accepted as a good modern novel. And I think that comics are probably similar.

In Enigma, I have, ostensibly, a superhero. But I think I'm writing about stuff, which, if I was writing a novel -- I probably wouldn't write a superhero, but that's why I'm writing a comic. I'm using the superhero as background stuff. But I'm essentially writing about the same kind of stuff as I would do if I was writing a novel and I wasn't using superheroes. I mean the idea of writing a superhero in a novel would be absurd. It would be absurd. But in a comic, it seems to make sense.

It's a really long answer, isn't it, to a short, simple question.

Q: Yes. When you spoke about Greek mythology earlier...we have Wonder Woman who is located in Greek mythology, but it's not really that interesting.

PM: No. No. The problem is you defend superheroes, and say that we should be able to write about superheroes, but the hideous truth is, most superheroes are really horrible. That's the problem. In theory, in theory, there's nothing wrong with them.

Q: The challange is to make them interesting. And Grant Morrison showed that it was possible because people arrived on Animal Man. Animal Man was really stupid and he made it really interesting.

PM: I think because Grant and I, we got on well. I think we think the same. I think that if you take, like, a passion, or a point of view, and you sit and you use superheroes to write about that, then it's cool, then it's okay. It's when you're just interested in what powers the superhero has, how -- how tough he is -- that's when it gets stupid.

Q: So you don't think Animal Man is stronger than the Hulk (Hearty laughter ensues.)

PM: I think he'd beat him up. In fact, it's Monday's comic, Animal Man vs. the Hulk. Actually, Monday's comic is Enigma vs. Jesus Christ.

Q: As a teenager, did you read Marvel and DC comics?

PM: As a teenager, I didn't read comics. I used to like -- I was much more interested in literature. As a teenager, I didn't read Stan Lee, I read Rimbaud. He was my kind of like -- on of my heroes when I was a teenager. The French poet Rimbaud?

[Keep in mind, he's pronouncing it "Rhambow."]

Q: The French..?

PM: Arthur Rimbaud?

Q: Rimbaud, ah Rimbaud. Ah, yes, I know Arthur Rimbaud.

PM: [Something in French which I can't even begin to transcribe. Most likely a quotation from a poem.]

Q: Rimbaud, not "Rambo"

PM: Yeah, well... (laughter)

Q: Not that one...

PM:...the other one. (laughter)

Yeah, I used to love that kind of stuff. I think that -- I think the reason that a lot of British authors and writers are doing well in America is that we weren't brought up on comics as much as the Americans. I think that's myself, Grant, Neil, other people. I think we read other stuff. We didn't just read comics, we read books as well! [Laughter all around.] I know what you mean, it sounds crazy! Sounds crazy! But it's true. So, I think when we write about something, we're drawing on our own experience which is not just a comic experience. A lot of Americans, even though they're good writers, they're just, like, force-fed comics. And you just know that when they're writing about something, they can't get out, they can't escape from a comic sensibility. So, they're not writing about it as real, they're writing about it in a comic frame of reference. So, it's not 'how would I feel if my father got killed in front of me', it's 'how would I write a comic if my father...' do you know what I mean? I think it gfoes back to comics so much in America, because comics are a huge part of theri culture. In this courntry, comics aren't a huge part of our culture and I think that's good -- to be a writer in this country.

Q: So where came the idea of writing for comic books? If you were interested in literature..?

PM: I was at art college. Uhm, at art college, more and more I found I was writing and not drawing and not painting. I was writing a lot, but I was still trained in a visual -- in the visual world. And I met some people who were becoming comic artists. And it seemed to me the perfect marriage because I was at art school, but I was writing. And comics seemed to be potentially such an incredible thing - words and pictures.

Q: Yes, it's a really great way of...

PM: Well, I mean, I've always thought that it doesn't have to be limited. You're talking about words and pictures, and if you forget superheroes, and if you forget the past of what comics are supposed to be -- like kids and everything else -- you're talking about words and pictures. If James Joyce and Pablo Picasso got together and did a comic, it wouldn't be juvinile. But, they would still have to use words and pictures. And it seems to me -- there still is that potential. So that's what excites me about it.

Particularly because I didn't know anything about comics, I didn't read them as a child. So, to me it was interesting, it was almost like -- hey, yeah! So, you've got these pictures there, and these words here, and they can work together. That might be interesting.