A Coffee with… Pat Mills at the London Book Fair! Part 1

CA - LBF 16 - PM1 When I spotted 2000 AD creator Pat Mills was visiting the London Book Fair for a panel I dropped him a line to see if he fancied a coffee beforehand. As happened he did so we met up at the decidedly pink London Book and Film Week area and, happily, we were still going after an hour and a half.
Well the imminent Graphic Galaxy panel [article imminent] which we were both attending as panellist and audience brought things to a close but not before I’d scrawled enough notes for a worthy if overlong article – so I figured I’d cut it into three.
Here’s the first…

 

ON REQUIEM, PRINT AND DIGITAL, AND ANTI-SNOBBERY…

CA - LBF - PM - ABC Warriors cover CA - LBF - PM - Slaine cover Pat’s been scripting two of his classic strips and characters for 2000 AD – the ABC Warriors and Slaine – the latest of which have just seen, and now are seeing, print within those pages. But what else is he working on? The answer is Requiem: Vampire Knight which he’s created with Olivier Ledroit on art duties who Pat commends as one of the top French artists of today.

We’ve of course seen vampires done to (un)death over the last decades. But if these legendary supernatural predators have been diluted into teen romance fodder you can be damn sure that Pat Mills is going to take them the other way as far as he can. So Requiem is the name given to a German WW2 officer reborn as one of the vampire elite in a region of Hell called Resurrection: sounds about the ticket.

Requiem started on Comixology – which they then thought might be the final word on digital – but as Pat says, to make it you have to go multi-platform. It debuted in print in France via Editions Glenat and Panini publish it in England. Pat’s currently exploring the English Language digital rights options: he’s perfectly candid about his inexperience in the digital realm but expresses a real excitement about it, which increases the more he learns. CA - LBF - PM - Requiem V1
Pat notes that one of the initial digital surges was in romance books. Perhaps this was a lack of availability at local stores. Or perhaps (as I suggest) it’s felt to be a guilty pleasure: a digital purchase offers that anonymity on something that’s no one else’s business anyway. On a related note Pat relates how back in the 80’s he was challenged by a London bookseller as to why he was purchasing Nancy Reagan’s autobiography.

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Well anyone who knows Pat’s work – if not Pat himself – wouldn’t be in any doubt that it was for satirical research purposes. Still, why bother to denigrate someone’s purchase?

I’d put forward the more general idea that guilty pleasures are perhaps the wrong way of understanding this anyway. We all need our brain down time through escapism, whether that’s found in a soap opera, romance fiction, or C-list sci-fi – or a biography of a first lady for that matter.

Interestingly this conjures to Pat The Hobbit – the film of course – and we talk with some mutual annoyance as to how they stretched a book a third the size of one volume of Lord of the Rings into three films, Tolkien material or otherwise. We haven’t departed the original topic mind. Of course film is more mainstream than comics and, if I’m reading this right, to Pat the book’s commercialisation brings it further into the region of pop culture: no harm in it as such but more consumer-fodder than something it could have been. Hell, if you remember that the climax plays on ‘burglar’ Baggins moral decisions against greed and the better spirit those decisions inspires in others. Just saying. CA - LBF - PM - The Hobbit
But the subject of pop culture is particularly interesting here because American and British comics are seen as pop culture (straightforward action entertainment), low culture (unworthy, ‘for kids’) and cult culture. Of course that’s the Anglophone experience: comics on the continent have always been understood as a medium and not confused as having a particular genre. Comics on the continent, as in Japan, are mainstream.

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Even so 2000 AD has been subversive from the start and never needed to not be pop culture if that’s how you choose to see it. It’s never been a pleasure anyone should feel guilty for. But why should anyone be snobbish in the first place about anyone’s choice of entertainment?

 

ON BOYS AND GIRLS COMICS

Pat tells me that no-one wanted to write comics back when he began – but then there wasn’t a 2000 AD back then.

He and fellow 2000 AD architect and mainstay John Wagner had been scripting girl’s comics and war stories for Fleetway/IPC’s Tammy and Battle Picture Weekly, that latter of which they’d put together in 1975. It’s worth noting that, back in those days, girl’s comics easily outsold boy’s. This all reminds me that, before creating the iconic Marvel characters he’s best known for, Stan Lee had been putting out Romance and Western strips. You did comics because you wanted to do comics, which meant writing for whatever the current market was understood to be. CA - LBF - PM - 2000 AD #1 CA - LBF - PM - Tammy

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In America in the late 50’s DC had revived their superhero properties to great success and in the early 60’s Stan Lee, who was then actually considering quitting comics altogether, was offered the chance to create a new team book and characters for Marvel. Here in England in the mid 70’s IPC Magazines were looking to capitalise on a forthcoming wave of science fiction films and it was Pat they approached to create what would become 2000 AD, debuting in 1977.

Still it’s too easy to presume that writing girls comics was simply the gig an aspiring SF writer got and had to endure before graduating to their genre of choice. Not a bit of it. Pat expresses regret at not remaining part of the girl’s comic’s scene, saying that it died because there was no one to fight for it. After 2000 AD was up and running he created the girl’s comic Misty – essentially 2000 AD for girls with a more supernatural and horror angle than science fiction. In fairness Pat would have been more than busy with 2000 AD, and that required a good deal of fight to make it what it became and to keep it that way. But after a series of mergers – Misty and others into Tammy – Girl’s comics essentially disappeared altogether. CG - Re - Sep - Misty

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Well back to the present and Pat’s sheer enthusiasm for what they did with Misty was enough for Rebellion’s Head of Books and Comics Ben Smith to seek out the material and it’s been announced that 2000 AD will be releasing a Misty collection this September. Whenever those comics are brought up and a woman who grew up reading them is present the love of those strips is all too evident, so it’ll be a very welcome collection indeed for many when it comes.

 

GENRES, SUBVERSION AND ETHICS

So Pat’s writing is fairly characterised as being subversive and anti-authoritarian, a flavour and theme very much running throughout 2000 AD as already mentioned: Pat tells me it would be hard for him to write any other way.

CA - LBF - PM - Charlie's War cover This is true even in his war comics including the commercially successful and much praised Charlie’s War which he defines these as belonging to a sub-genre of Anti-War War stories. The appeal of the war genre fell away since the 80’s, mirroring the decline of girls comics, and we note that Garth Ennis as being a lone voice in the genre today – a top creator who writes such comics from his youthful love of the genre and which are more successful from his name than any current interest. CG - Av - Oct - War Stories V1

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Talking more about a counter-culture perspective of espionage-based prose thrillers, Pat notes that the huge majority of successful stories carry a right-wing message. It’s something that hadn’t occurred to me but it sounds on the money. Think about it: there might well be some entitled or downright evil elements in the establishment of the country of a given protagonist but it normally comes down to protecting the status quo. We might hope a more critical story might be presented in an anti-war war story and that it might just possibly be taken up by a similar readership. Certainly I’m interested in the ethical concerns of writers – I’ve made it one of the few questions I bring up in these casual interviews – but Pat’s suffuse his writing.

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Read Part 2 of A Coffee with Pat Mills here: On Slaine, Celtic Consciousness, and Scotland and Comics!