Millar Time: Superheroes Take On The Arthouse

<strong>Mark Millar</strong>, the comic book writer behind <em>The Ultimates</em> and <em>Kick-Ass</em>, talks to The Skinny about bringing superheroes to the festival crowd, his Weegie superhero movie and an onanistic Peter Parker

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 02 Feb 2011

When did that happen? One day you’re having your head flushed down the toilet for wearing a set of home-made adamantium claws fashioned from six of your mother’s knitting needles, a couple of metres of BacoFoil and some Krazy Glue. The next, the hottest girl in school is offering to show you her bat cave if she can see your copy of Amazing Spiderman #1.

Geek is now chic. Batman is no longer a barrel chested softy wearing spandex and a girdle. He’s a mean and moody mother with a billion dollar franchise, helmed by the world’s most in-demand director. First comic books took over the multiplex – now they’ve invaded the art house. Well, they will invade one, for a short time at least, as the mighty Glasgow Film Festival takes the comic book movie to its bosom to celebrate Scotland’s considerable influence to the medium with its new strand, Superheroes in Glasgow.

From 17-27 February the Art Deco corridors of the GFT will not only be the destination for any self respecting cinephile eager to catch the best that world cinema has to offer. Skinny boys with pale skin and thick glasses will also be stalking those corridors to catch the likes of Crumb (1994), Terry Zwigoff’s haunting documentary about counter-culture comic book artist Robert Crumb, or hear a talk from Dave Gibbons, the man who, along with writer Alan Moore, created Watchmen, the graphic novel that has helped, more than any other title, to convince non-beleavers that comic books are more than just "kids' stuff".

We caught up with the strand's director, the hugely talented Mark Millar, to hear all about it.

If this was suggested several years ago, doing a super hero strand at an established film festival, I’m sure there would have been a few raised eyebrows. But now it seems the most natural thing in the world. What’s changed?

Absolutely, up until very recently you’d be lucky to find anyone into this stuff. Really, til about ten years ago even Hollywood would scoff at the idea of a superhero movie. Periodically you’d get a Batman or a Superman IV or whatever, but they alway seemed to have one good one, three duds, and then they would disappear. But things kind of got reinvented, really; probably just over a decade ago. You had A-list directors suddenly coming along. That changed the entire game. You had Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer, Ang Lee, all these guys lining up to do comic book movies. Everyone wanted a superhero franchise. It got cool, it got respectable, and now it’s in the film festival. It’s brilliant, isn’t it?

I guess, as a comic book writer, it’s a great thing because more people are reading and enjoying your work. But as a fan? Isn’t it a bit like when your favourite obscure band suddenly becomes massive, they’re playing in the likes of the SECC and everyone around you just knows the singles?

It’s funny, growing up I never got that. I remember getting really into Suede
years ago just when they were starting out and then, suddenly, everyone seemed to like them. I was delighted. I thought, “Brilliant, everybody’s into this band that I love, there’ll be more people for me to talk about them with.” I think popularity is the greatest gift for any artist; for guys who toil away at stuff – brilliant. So like you say, it’s already cracked the mainstream, but now what it’s doing is hitting the festivals and the art-house crowds. I love the fact that the GFT is going to be showing some super hero films. I could never have imagined that when I was a kid. I only ever went there in the hope of seeing some nudity in the foreign films.

Looking at the films you’ve included, they don’t seem to fit the traditional superhero mould. Has the idea of what a superhero should be changed?

I’d say there’s a generational shift going on. What we call the Golden Age of comic books, the 30s and 40s characters, your Superman and Batman stuff, they belong to an entirely different era, and it’s a completely different style of writing from the Marvel stuff created by Stan Lee in the 1960s. One dimensional characters became two dimensional in the 60s, and what I’m trying to do with the Millarworld line of stuff I do, is to create something a bit more realistic. Peter Parker owes a lot to Clark Kent – he’s basically a slightly more realistic version of him. And in the same way in Kick-Ass, Dave Lizewski owes a lot to Peter Parker. But, you know, you’re never going to see a Spider-Man film open with Peter Parker looking up porn and having a wank.

Never say never, they're filming another one right now.

Yeah, we’ll see what happens. They might have Andrew Garfield wanking up a storm in the reboot.

What do you think of that, the constant rebooting of Spider-Man and The Hulk films? Has Hollywood run out of ideas?

I think they've always been desperate for ideas. The place burns on them; it’s the fuel that keeps Hollywood going. If an idea makes money, they will keep using it till it dries up, and so far superhero movies have been getting bigger and bigger. This year you’ve got three or four major ones that are going to make a lot of money, but next year it’s going to get crazy. You’ve got the sequel to The Dark Knight, which will make a billion dollars; and there’s a brilliant team behind this Spider-Man reboot, that’ll be colossal; and you’ve got The Avengers movie, which looks like it’ll be the biggest of the lot. The minute that parabolic curve reaches its peak they’ll start to slow down, but Hollywood’s found a gold mine here and they’re going to keep digging.

I notice that one of the films in your programme, Griff The Invisible, sounds remarkably similar to Kick-Ass – a kind of Australian take on it. How does it feel seeing that your work's inspiring others?

It’s nice, I guess. Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism, you know. But it’s great that someone was into Kick-Ass and has done their sort of Australian version. I’d be annoyed if they’d managed to get their movie out before me, though.

The reason I programmed it is that I thought it would be nice to see a non-American superhero movie. An Australian take on the superheroes is something I quite fancy seeing.

Speaking of which, you mentioned last year at your GFF "in person" that you’d plans to make a Scottish superhero movie – how's it coming along?

I’ve actually shot about a third of it. I juggle about five different jobs and I’ve been shooting a bit every time I’ve had a spare week and a half. It should be all completed by about Easter. I wouldn’t call it a superhero movie, as such though. It’s people with super powers but it’s done quite realistically. I probably put it closer to a horror film. And it’s set in Scotland, partly out of laziness on my part because I like the idea of walking out my of house and into work, but mostly because I love the international thing. I love the fact that District 9 is an alien invasion movie in South Africa, not LA like all the rest of them. I’d love to see what an African superhero film would be like, what a Polish one would be like, you know, because they’re all going to bring their own identities to it.


You’ll have to wait a while yet before you can see Mark’s Glasgow set superhero film. Until then, you can enjoy his pick of superheroes at the Glasgow Film Festival's Superheroes in Glasgow strand