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How Mark Millar conquered Manila

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“THE MANILA signing was the best signing I’ve done. What a lovely country and people!”

Like an interdimensional warlord from one of his action-packed comic books, Mark Millar descended upon Manila and changed reality—his own.

The superstar comic book writer, who has written everything from “Wanted” and “The Ultimates” to  “Kick-Ass,” had not known much about Manila prior to his arrival this past month.

He knew that émigré artists such as Alfredo Alcala and Tony DeZuniga were originally from the Philippines, but a lot more of what he knows came from the two Filipinos he had been working with, hotshot penciller Leinil Francis Yu and veteran inker Gerry Alanguilan.

“So I had a kind of long-distance relationship with it, through e-mail and so on. I’d get lots of glimpses into Filipino life, but I’d never even been near here so it’s not entirely what I expected—it’s better than I expected,” he said.

Earlier this year, Millar had announced that whichever comic book store ordered the most copies of the first issue of his brightly dark new mini-series “Supercrooks” would win a visit from him, wherever in the world it was.

The winner was none other than the venerable National Book Store, in a masterful gambit orchestrated by NBS marketing director Miguel Ramos. Millar was as surprised as everyone else.

“I thought it was going to be New York, Los Angeles or London because they had famous comic book stores,” Millar said. “But I’m really delighted it’s the Philippines because I’ve never been here before, and I’ve got friends here. And it gave me an excuse to hang out with my friends and pretend to my wife that I’m working.”

The response to his arrival has simply stunned Millar, who gamely battled jet lag throughout his stay. He was received like a rock star at the Summer Komikon. On the day of his signing at Glorietta 5 in Makati, fans lined up hours prior to the signing. Millar would eventually sign for more than 1,000 fans.

Born in Scotland

The Scotland-based Millar was born in 1969 in the town of Coatbridge, right outside Glasgow. When he was only five, he remembers drawing his own comic books, painstakingly creating multiple copies by hand and selling them to friends.

He would quit school to become a writer, eventually transitioning into work with British comic books. He rose to prominence when he brought a controversially violent, profane but always compelling style to comic books like “The Authority,” and truly came to his own with titles like the kinetic “Wanted” (which was transformed into a similarly kinetic motion picture) and the hilarious “Kick-Ass” (also morphed into a film).

He has taken on daring projects such as the Bible in “American Jesus,” and reinvented the Avengers through “The Ultimates” at Marvel. Now he midwifes his creator-owned projects over at his Millarworld imprint, with series like “The Secret Service” about Her Majesty’s agents; “Hit Girl,” starring the scene-stealing minor with major violence from “Kick-Ass,” and, of course, “Supercrooks.”

“Supercrooks,” currently on the third of its scheduled four issues, tells the story of super-villain Johnny Bolt, who realizes that the United States has way too many superheroes for a villain to make a living. So he organizes an ambitious heist, where he recruits his former colleagues (and one surprise) to steal from a powerful super-villain in Europe—where there are no superheroes.

It’s a smart, tight caper that features art by Yu and Alanguilan, with colors by Indonesia-based Sunny Gho (who also flew in to be with his “Supercrooks” teammates during Millar’s weekend run).

Millar admits to being a big fan of Filipino talent, but is particularly impressed with partner in crime Yu. “You guys might not be aware of what a big deal Leinil is, but he is a really big deal in the States. There are maybe three artists in the world who work for Marvel and DC who have made a big impact, and I think Leinil is one of those three guys. I think a lot of the people in the States aren’t even aware he lives in the Philippines. I think that’s what makes the work interesting, because he’s bringing a fresh perspective to American comics. You know we’ve gotten used to the same old stuff, but Leinil’s got a fresh take on it, all of which I absolutely adore. I’m very fortunate to have done ‘Supercrooks’ with him and hopefully we’ll work together forever. He likes working with me and I like working with him. It’s like a marriage.”

Testing the limits

Millar’s comic books have always tested the limits of the format in every way, often going over-the-top but not quite overkill, but he has also worked hard to get there. He makes sure to be behind the keyboard by 8 a.m. and then works pretty much straight until 7 p.m., fueled by cups of tea.

In the process, he creates worlds, invades other worlds and redefines superhero convention. This is the guy after all who reimagined Superman as a communist (“Superman: Red Son”) and between his work on “The Ultimates,” “Old Man Logan” and his creation of the Marvel Zombies franchise, has pretty much killed off every Marvel superhero at one point.

“Yes, I probably have,” he admits. “I feel like Magneto. It’s just that I like to be dramatic all the time. I get bored very quickly.”

He adds that he still likes realism in his work, so he enjoys “juxtaposing the idea of the fantastic with the very normal.”

Saying he has done pretty much everything he wanted to do at Marvel, Millar has been concentrating on his creator-owned properties, among other projects. Aside from “Hit Girl,” he is deploying an epic, sci-fi series called “Jupiter’s Children” with “Authority” collaborator Frank Quitely. He has a children’s book coming out later this year (“Kindergarten Heroes” with artist Curtis Tiegs) and may even write a novel in the future.

“But even if I write a novel, that won’t be my full-time job. Comics are much more fun.”

What he also loves are the opportunities afforded by other forms of media. Millar is working hard to shepherd his other series to the big screen, with “Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall” currently in the works as a film. He even received movie offers for the yet-unreleased “Jupiter’s Children” (He’s refused for now, saying he can get a better deal later once the book is out).

Warm, charming

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Millar is how his personality is quite unlike the larger-than-life dramatics of his work. In person, he is warm, charming and quick to laughter. He enjoys talking about his new baby. He is a practicing Catholic and has been a vegetarian since he was 19. He likes having a lot of dinners and parties in Glasgow.

“In Scotland, my hobby is really just going to the pub five nights a week.”

Yet for all the normalcy, Millar remains someone always working at the edge of the fantastic. His work on “The Ultimates” informed much of Joss Whedon’s blockbuster film “Marvel’s The Avengers.” Millar enjoyed the movie and loves the elements from his book that made its way to the movie.

At the end of his Manila sojourn, Millar can’t get over the overwhelming reception by his devoted local following. On the day of his departure, he tweeted: “The Manila signing was the best signing I’ve done and amazed at the patience of the people queuing up to eight hours. What a lovely country and people!”

Well done, Filipino fans. This is the Mark Millar—and you simply blew his mind.


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