Mark Millar - A new kind of costume drama

Britain's bestselling comic-book writer Mark Millar has Hollywood's finest lining up to work with him. First, Wanted was made into a film starring Angelina Jolie. Now his tale of a crime-fighting schoolboy with no superpowers is set for the big screen. Tim Walker

During the 1980s, when Mark Millar was a schoolboy in staunchly Catholic, working-class Castlereagh, near Glasgow, being a comic-books fan was not exactly a socially acceptable activity. This was long before Christopher Nolan, Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi made it cool to like Batman, Superman or Spider-Man. But Millar and his friends nonetheless practiced their obsession in private. So committed were they to the cause of comics, in fact, that they lifted weights in the gym, trained in tae kwon do and even designed their own costumes to prepare for a future as a team of masked vigilantes. "For about six months," says Millar, now 37, "it was a serious career option."

Instead, he says, his friends became doctors, policemen or career criminals, while Millar himself ended up as Britain's biggest-selling comic-book writer. Recently, however, he returned to his teenage self to craft Kick-Ass, the graphic (in every sense) tale of high school student Dave Lizewski, who decides – despite his total lack of special powers or ass-kicking qualifications – to don a green wetsuit and fight crime. Lizewski, who becomes a YouTube star and christens his alter ego Kick-Ass, soon discovers that he's not alone: among his fellow amateur crime-fighters is an 11-year-old ninja named Hit Girl, an instant icon who could do with having her mouth washed out with soap.

The final issue of Kick-Ass has just hit the shelves and will probably, like the previous seven issues, outsell Spider-Man. Thanks to Millar's special relationship with the director Matthew Vaughn, a movie is due in cinemas just two months from now.

"There's never been a superhero comic set in the real world," Millar insists. "Watchmen begins in the real world, but by page 20 there's still a giant blue guy walking around. Even Batman has bullet-proof morphing cloaks."

Lizewski, too, is a more recognisable human being than his predecessors. "You can draw a straight line from the golden age of comics to Kick-Ass," says Millar. "In the 1930s, you had the one-dimensional billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne. You didn't even know what his favourite drink was. In the Sixties, Stan Lee re-invented superheroes and gave them a second dimension, so you have an alcoholic hero like Tony Stark [aka Iron Man], or a hero who can't pay his bills and worries about his schoolwork, like Peter Parker [aka Spider-Man].

"Dave Lizewski is a three-dimensional hero, a guy who plays World of Warcraft every night and whacks off to internet porn, just like a normal person. Over 70 years there's been a gradual drift to realism, and we're now showing superheroes as real people for the first time."

Millar was inspired to follow his instincts into the comic-book industry after meeting his hero, Alan Moore – the creator of Watchmen – in the mid-80s. Both of Millar's parents had died before he could graduate from Glasgow University, so he dropped out for lack of funds and eventually found himself working at 2000AD, the British stable that bred Moore and most of the country's top comic talent. By 1994, his work had drawn the eye of American publishers, and he began storylining top titles for DC, and later Marvel.

Like Moore, Millar developed a reputation for brilliant subversion of the superhero genre. He wrote the first gay kiss between male superheroes. He created Superman: Red Son about a world in which Kal-El fell to Earth not in Smallville, but in Soviet Russia, and became a socialist icon. His recent title, War Heroes, is set in a future where the war in Iraq has dragged on for decades and the struggling US military has begun to attract volunteers by offering to give them superpowers with which to fight their enemies.

Unlike the reclusive Moore, however, Millar is comfortable with the attentions of Hollywood. Moore's wonderful books have been made into almost uniformly turgid films: V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Watchmen. Millar has been somewhat luckier: before Kick-Ass came Wanted, his top-selling 2003 title that became a $340m-grossing movie starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, directed by Kazakhstan's surreal action specialist Timur Bekmambetov.

"Most of us that work in comics are read by a niche audience,"says Millar, "so if we go to the pub nobody's going to take the piss out of us for our book not working out very well. But if a film sucks everybody is going to know. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an amazing book, but people's perception might be a rubbish film. Alan's excellent work hasn't translated to the screen and he must be slightly embarrassed. If I hadn't been lucky with Wanted and Kick-Ass, I'd probably feel the same."

Millar is also working in a new world, where superhero films frequently account for the better part of every movie studio's balance sheet – meaning that the geeks who once surreptitiously passed comic books to one another under their desks have inherited the Earth. "Stan Lee always says that in the 1970s, when he was trying to get TV shows off the ground, nobody would look at them because they were comic books. Nowadays there's no struggle; you write a comic and you can get a meeting with Spielberg."

As easy as it may be to get that meeting, getting your idea all the way to the screen can be more of a challenge. Kick-Ass is a case in point. "One day," says Millar, "Peter Biskind is going to write a book about what Matthew Vaughn went through to get this film made."

Millar and Vaughn met three years ago through their mutual friend, screenwriter Jane Goldman (wife of comics aficionado Jonathan Ross). "Vaughn was going to film another book of mine, but I told him I was halfway through writing Kick-Ass and he really liked the sound of it. So he wrote a first draft, which Jane polished. When I read it, I thought it was the Pulp Fiction of superhero films. We were all so pleased with ourselves. Then Vaughn sent it to the seven major studios and they all said: 'We hate it. It breaks every rule about what makes a superhero film work'.

"We got seven rejections within 24 hours of sending it out. One of the studios said they'd consider it, but only if we made Hit Girl 19."

Instead of compromising, Vaughn decided to raise the necessary $50m himself and make the movie independently. Eighteen months later, he presented footage from the completed film to a rapt audience at the San Diego Comic Convention and the same studios who'd rejected the screenplay outright found themselves in a bidding war for the finished product.

What makes this all the sweeter for Millar is that Kick-Ass, like Wanted, comes from his own creator-owned line of comic books, Millarworld. Wanted's one million English-language sales made it the highest-selling creator-owned comic of the decade. Kick-Ass has the potential to surpass that – as might some of the other 13 or so books that Millar has in various stages of development. Millarworld's success is such that its CEO can spend half of each year working for Marvel, on prestige titles like Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four, and half the year working for himself. "This way I can satisfy both halves of my personality," he says. "I can create something brand new, but I can also please the superhero fan I used to be when I was a kid."

'Kick-Ass' and 'Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic, Making the Movie' are available from Titan Books. The movie 'Kick-Ass' is out on 2 April

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit