An Interview With Peter Milligan: Part Three

Q: How do you manage to integrate...DC

PM: How do I manage to integrate, you said?

Q: When you began to work...When you came to DC?

PM: They, uh, they were asking me to work for the, so I wasn't going to them. They were phoning up saying 'Peter you should write something for us. You should do a mini-series, you should do an ongoing series.' And I said 'yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.' So eventually, Brett Ewins and I -- Brett wants to do a gangster story so I said okay we'll do a gangster story and that's how we talked about the idea of Skreemer. But because I have to make interesting for myself, I nade it a bit complicated and I put in James Joyce and I put in the Irish immigrant -- so I put in that side of it to make it interesting for myself. And I mean Skreemer is...a very odd comic. It's a very strange, intense, very intense, comic. And what's really strange, I'm finding when I go to -- people are kind of like looking at it, like this kind of classic, like this kind of very strange...'my god, Skreemer.' I read it again recently...I find it more and more -- I'm reading it again and realizing it was a very strange -- it was a very strange comic.

So, I started working for DC, caused I'd worked for 2000AD, I'd worked for some American independents: Eclipse, Pacific Comics, and DC was saying 'Peter, write something for us.' And so, the first thing I did was Skreemer

Q: Right afterwards, after that you came to...was it Animal Man or Shade?

PM: After Skreemer there was a gap then I think it started with Shade.

Q: Shade. Did you choose this character...or was it the name, "the changing man" that was interesting, or --

PM: It was the idea of the changing man. The idea of change. It was two things: the idea of the changing man and Steve Ditko; I really like Steve Ditko, [unitelligible] 'cause he was so fucking crazy. And I liked the idea that -- I guess I made it difficult for myself. I couldn't think of a more absurd and insane character to take on -- it was Shade the Changing Man. Because I doubt if you've ever read the original Steve Ditko Shade the Changing Man. It's like, so incomprehensible. It's really insane, and I thought, 'My God, to take on this would be such like' -- so I did. I liked the idea of changing. I liked the idea of madness. I liked the idea of madness almost like a force for change. Madness. I heard someone say a really good thing about schizophrenics...I heard someone say a really good thing about schizophrenia, said that, ah, for most people, schizophrenia is a break down, every now and again it's a breakthrough. The idea that madness can be a breakthrough.

Q: A few American readers have not really appreciated the first American Skreemer because you were English and you could tell a lot of things about America.

PM: Well, that's right! I think that in some ways people say why did you do so much about America? I think -- if you live in this country -- I think we're in a particular situation. You live in France, and there are countries around the world who speak French, but, like, France is the main center for French. I speak English, but the main center for English is not England, it's America. So, I've often thought that we've become almost like a part of America in this country because of the language, because of the culture. So it's almost like we're culturally dwarfed by America. So I find it very interesting to kind of like, get my own [unitelligble] on America, to look at some American things. Because, what's really bizzare is it feels like your own culture -- like Levis, Elvis, John F. Kennedy, it feels like British culture, or as if Britan is the fifty first state of America -- that's the joke. I mean --

Q: So absorbed by it...

PM: Yeah, absolutely. It's really -- I think the language has a lot to do with it. The language has an awful lot to do with it. So for me that is really interesting to be at -- to kind of look at what goes on in America. Because, we are in a peculiar relationship and eventually, eventually, by next century, English, as spoken in this country, will be a dialect of American. It will be an important dialect, but it will be like: Austrailian, English, Irish, but it will be American to an American.

Q: There were a lot of problems with the Shade stories, well, not problems, but the way you get to it with the relationships between different characters and -- maybe when Shade becomes a woman, Shade the Changing Woman -- we couldn't expect this.

PM: Well, what I really like about Shade at the moment -- and one thing about Shade is it is getting really popular, what's really interesting....I was in America recently, and it's really, sales are going up and people are loving Shade now. And one thing they're really loving, and I'm really loving are the characters. And I think that's what's interesting, when you do a book, long enough, like Shade the Changing Man, you start out thinking 'I want this book to be about this.' 'I want this book to be this kind of book.' But if you write some good characters and you're kind of true to those characters, the book almost takes over. The book starts telling you what it's going to be about. And that's really interesting -- you're kind of just hanging on, you know, for the ride.

And what's interesting, I think, the characters in Shade at the moment are forcing the story along. And I'm essentially -- all the philosophy in the world is meaningless unless it's linked to human beings. It's a cold seperate thing talked about in a room. Philosophy is meaningless unless it 's linked to people and I think that a lot of the philosophy you read is meaningless, because it's simply ideas. And unless those ideas have an impact on People's lives, and we can see those people living those ideas, it's meaningless. So, I think what happened with Shade is it began with a very much like -- a big idea kind of comic about America. Now it's become -- Shade began as headlines on the front page of the paper, now it's about those little stories on the back page. But, like, it's about those little people. It's still about the same things, I think, but now I think people are more integrated into the story.

Q: Like the way in the last stories, you know, in the hotel, where you can open the door and meet a new person each time -- now that's a good way of changing everything and exploring new relationships.

PM: Yeah yeah. the current Shade the Changing Man story, John Constantine makes an apperance. For a long time, people were saying 'why don't you have a crossover? Shade and Doom Patrol, or Shade and Sandman, and Shade and Constantine?' They've stopped saying it now, so as soon as they've stopped, I'm going to do it!

Q: As we say, the unpredictablity of --

PM: Yeah!

Q: But in fact, do you know, a few months before, what will happen to Shade in a few months?

PM: Um... I try not to. I really try to have a basic idea of where the story's going, but I like -- I like to have a -- I like to be surprised by the characters. So when I write it, I know roughly where it's going. Maybe one or two months in advance, but like, I know roughly, I'm not quite sure how they're gonna get there. I like to keep it as loose as possible because I like the idea of being surprised by the characters.

At the moment, because we're working up to the fiftieth, the big fifty, I've worked out the next seven because we're kind of working up to that one. But, this is as far ahead as I like to go, because if you work out too far in advance, you kind of -- you're dictating to these characters what they're going to do. And I think then, that's when your characters can start to die. What's more interesting is you have this rough situation that you know your character's going to be in, but you're not totally sure how they're going to cope with it. You're not totally sure what's going to happen. 'Cause that's true to life, 'cause you're not totally sure what's going to happen. So I much prefer, I much prefer, say, Lenny or Kathy or Shade to be able to say 'Now, Pete, I want to say this, I want to do this.' That's when it get exciting. Actually, that's when it gets great. When you're [unitelligble] these characters -- I know them so well -- when you get to a stage where you write something and they've said something, you think 'Fuuuuuuuck! Jesus, yeah, of course! They're going to go off and do this.' or 'Jesus, yeah of course! She's pregnant!' or, 'Yeah, we could do this...' that's when it gets real exciting.

Q: Are you the only one to concieve the way it's going, or does the editor have a part in it? Or, kind of censorship --

PM: I tell them a bit. It's not censorship, no. They're really good, 'cause they really like Shade and they realize what I'm trying to do with Shade. Uh, obviously they need to know a certain amount in advance, because you need to advertise the books. So, sometimes, Shelly Roeburg, the assistant editor, Shelly Roeburg's the new assistant, she's been working, uh...nine months, and Shelly Roeburg's great. So put in "Shelly Roeburg's excellent." I love her. What's really great is that she loves Shade so much. And when you do an ongoing series, and you've been on it for awhile, you do need, sometimes, someone to come and love the book, because, you can start to get a bit dry after a bit. And I think I got bit dry with Shade. Because -- you can't -- y'know, you're doing it for awhile, and the initial impulse to do the book, you've written about that, so you -- you can sometimes have a few months where the book's going along okay, but it's kind of like...but it hasn't got its voice anymore. And what's great about someone like Shelly coming on as an assistant editor is she adores Shade so much, that I was reminded how good it could be. I was reminded -- oh my God, yeah! -- I should make this...that's right, it could be really it gives you the right impetus to really put yourself into it again.

So, I do have to sometimes with Shelly...she phones up and says, 'What's happening in two months' time, Peter, 'cause I'm writing this thing.' So I go, 'oh fuck', so I say something...and sometimes you say something and that's what the story becomes. Um...because I'm more interested in the character development and what's happening with those people.

Q: Sometimes Shade is very crazy, crazy story. Don't you think that some people may think that maybe it's a little...uh...about drugs and things like that?

PM: So? It's all 'bout drugs? [Said in a total "And the problem is....?" tone of voice.]

Q: Yes...because it's so crazy they could think -- they could think, 'Well it's a comic book for people who like drugs.'

PM: [supresses a laugh] Um, I think, uh [starts laughing] I once read an article about Shade in some magazine that was basically about drugs. It was about, y'know, the trance scene, the dance scene...drugs. I don't think Shade is necessarily about drugs. I think it helps -- it helps if you've taken drugs to understand it some times. But, y'know, I'm not too concerned about that, no.

Does that answer your question? Are you disturbed a little bit? You were saying, 'Are you concerned -- are you concerned that Shade is...will be viewed as just about drugs?' I don't think so, no.