Q&A with Kieron Gillen

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MULTIVERSE:  What has allowed creator-owned graphic literature to thrive as much as it has?

KIERON GILLEN:  In terms of comics, we’re in a fascinating boom period for creator-owned work. I came into comics late, circa 2000, via the Warren Ellis Forum; a hotbed of thinking about comics. We all had this idea of what comics could be. I was from there, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Sam Humphries and many more. In a real way, much of comics in 2016 is what we were hoping for then. “This is what winning feels like” is something I often say, normally with a trolly grin. Comics people are generally pessimistic – myself included – so doing the Vonneguttian “This is nice” in a time that is excellent is worth a moment.

You can go micro or macro the reasons. I think seeing it as the result of a lot of historical movements, going all the way back to the 80s and the first graphic novel boom. When there’s just a cultural bubbling “comics are fine” half the battle is done. Digital sales. The growth of the trade. The Manga boom. The webcomic book. All of this comes together.

Comics is the cheapest, most personal visual storytelling medium on the planet. Comics gets to put individual visions in front of people, with the least interference. This is powerful. This is what art is about.

 

M:  What was your inspiration for The Wicked + The Divine?

KG:  Basically it’s our love song to everything Jamie and I ever loved. Half-way through our run on Young Avengers, we realized that to follow it with a return to our old Phonogram book would be kind of a bad move for lots of reasons – not least for the fact that Young Avengers was all about the power of the new. Any step back after that would be a betrayal.

In a more basic way, the idea struck me a few days after my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This is a book about my response to death, and trying to answer the question of why, when life is so short, should anyone spend it being a creator.

 

M:  What’s an example of a handy tool in your writer’s toolbox that no writer should be without?

KG:  A crushing fear of death. I find it a great motivator.

 

M:  If you could have five dinner guests, anyone living or dead, who would they be?

KG:  You know, the maudlin answer to this jumps to mind: my Dad and my two sets of Grandparents.

 

M:  What three qualities should every gripping yarn have?

KG:  I immediately think of the line Mamet (I think) said – which is the only quality a story needs is to make the reader want to know what happens next. Except for this question, that’s clearly tautological. A gripping yarn by definition is powered by you wanting to know what happens next. That’s what gripping means.

I’m also resisting the urge to say “Gripping yarn” is some kind of weaponized woo weapon, used to immobilize people before people can attack them. I suspect that’s a Munchkin joke already. I digress.

Really? I think that stuff is necessary, but not sufficient. Something being gripping isn’t that interesting. I get this from my background as a game critic – people use being compelled to play a game (normally described as being “addictive”) as a good thing. Being compelled means nothing if the experience isn’t that interesting. God knows I’ve played games all day, but got nothing from them but time killed.

In terms of work I want to spend my time with, all I need is someone who knows their craft and has something to say. Not in anything as crass as a message, but work that’s clearly driven by a passion and a perspective on the world.

 

M:  Tell us about your background as a game critic?

KG:  I was an obsessive of the British games magazines when I was young. Worryingly obsessive, in that when I eventually became one, I used to freak out writers who I loved by being able to quote from decade old reviews. I ended up paying my way through my second year of university by writing for the byzantine period of Amiga Power Magazine, which is the finest organ in gaming history. When I left university, I ended up getting a job for PC GAMER, where I stayed for just shy of five year before going freelance. I worked for basically everyone – Edge, Eurogamer, Wired, The Guardian. I became moderately infamous for coining the phrase New Games Journalism. In 2007 I teamed up with three friends to launch the PC games site, Rock Paper Shotgun. I finally left writing every day in 2010, when I signed my Marvel Exclusive (and the site was entirely financially secure – considering we did it from scratch, with no funding, that is something I’m particularly fond of).

I’m still on the board, and certainly watch the scene. Many of my friends are games critics, or involved in games in some way. And I’m still about. I just got dragged out of retirement on Thursday to go and interview Warren Spector in front of an audience, for example.

I still have great joys doing tweets trolling fans of sacred cows and occasionally blog about all things miniatures at my tongue-in-cheek tumblr blog, Hipsterhammer.

Oh – and the games criticism stuff feeds into MODDED, the story I’m writing for Alan Moore’s CINEMA PURGATORIO. Ig Calero draws it. Basically it’s R-rated Pokemon in a Mad Max universe, but it’s really me turning a bunch of games theory and history into pop-action comics. I can’t help myself.

 

M:  MODDED sounds extraordinary.  Tell us more about that tale?

KG:  Alan wanted to run a comic anthology with his and Kevin O’Neill’s CINEMA PURGATORIO as the lead story, and I was asked if I had any ideas. So, before meeting up in London I rambled some out to my editor and wife, Chrissy, and I hit MODDED and she went “so… basically like the Fast and the Furious with Monsters?” and I was “YES! THAT!”

In the time I got across London, I had somehow added the whole intellectual background to it, in terms of the Etheric Invasion in 1978 which devastated the Earth, and the rise of various breed of Daemons to mirror the rise and fall of game design in the period. Fundamentally “Space Invaders ended the world.” Of course, there’s a prehistory to all that – Space Invaders wasn’t the first daemon, of course – but we’ll get there in time. Basically, I thought “what’s the one topic I may know more about than Alan Moore?” and came back with “Videogames.”

It’s the sort of thing where you can just read as a piece of brutal adventure fiction if you wish, but the more you know about games, the more you’ll spot the injokes (or actual critical points.)  Issue 3 is basically a fight between Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls.

I’m having a lot of fun. Calero is just a monster. His designs are incredible – he’s got that Brian Bolland 2000AD-esque approach to it with his inks.

 

M:  What haven’t you written about yet, that you are considering writing about next?

KG:  I’m actually dialing back my workload to leave more space to experiment later this year. Some of it is actually more form than genre – I want to play a little with my prose. I want to try writing something for the screen. That kind of thing.

As I wrote a short romance comic for FRESH ROMANCE recently, I’ve got that crossed off the list. A lot of what I’m thinking of doing is extrapolations of previous work…

Honestly, the thing I’ve never done yet and seriously considering is a straight fantasy story. I’ve moved in areas of fantasy, but I’m getting twitchy to get my High Fantasy on, Longswords +4 against Scarabs and all.

Or maybe a soap.

 

M:  Why not a soap called Longswords +4 against Scarabs?  It almost writes itself.

KG:  Even better, it doesn’t write itself, which means I can write it, and get money for it. It’s like magic.

That’s actually an old PC Gamer running joke we used to enjoy. We constantly said things were +4 against scarabs.

 

M:  In the grand scheme of things, what would you like to see happen next, in the world of indie comics, that hasn’t happened yet?

KG:  I’d like indie comics to become so successful that when you talk about comics, people assume you’re talking about books like The Walking Dead or Scott Pilgrim or Sex Criminals or Nimona or so many more – instead of Marvel or DC.

But in a short term? Continue in the way we’re going. Diversity of creative staff is the thing. I’m optimistic here as well.

 

M:  When the feature-length biopic about your life-and-times as a writer gets made, what will it be called, and who will portray you?

KG:  I would cast Antonio Cesaro and make my life story much more action-packed, because writers are basically dull. It would be called KIERON GILLEN HAS A MINIGUN and it would basically be about me teaming up with Beorn to shoot people with my Minigun. Beorn doesn’t get a minigun. Beorn turns into a bear and uses bear-martial-arts to kick ass.

 

M:  The idea of a minigun-toting Kieron Gillen team-up with a kung fu Beorn is a delight. We love it when a film’s title gets right to the point like that too.  Why beat around the bush, right?  Who will portray the antagonist in the film, what will his or her character’s name be, and what’s his or her beef with you and Beorn?

KG:  I’m glad you see the strength of the concept. I will have my agent start knocking on doors around Hollywood.

Knowing me, the antagonist will probably be a horde of giant ants called the antagonist. It would be voiced by Peter Capaldi, working in his The Thick Of It mode. His beef will be that Beorn and I are gathering all cows under our protection, and we have taken his cows. Beorn is, of course, a vegetarian, and in this story I am too. I’m not in real life, but that’s what fiction is about.

(Note: In my head, all Beorn eats is honeycakes.)

I actually have sat down and worked out when Beorn will be in public domain so I can write stories about Beorn. I also got the urge to do a Beorn Mega-mix of the Hobbit films, just using the Beorn scenes and padding it out with a lot of footage of Gentle Ben and Yogi Bear. I may have a Beorn problem.

 

M:  In your head, what do you suppose Beorn’s recipe for honeycakes is?

KG:  I don’t think Beorn would make honeycakes in my head. I hope not. He seemed so nice.

Really? I think Beorn’s recipe for honeycakes is delicious.

 

M:  What has the graphic literature medium taught you?

KG:  I want to make jokes, because that way, I don’t have to be sincere, as it will inevitably go weepy.

I came to comics properly late. It was like being 25, and suddenly discovering there was this thing called pop music, it’s been going on for 100 years or so and you can buy all this whole new (to you) form of expression from shops. It was like having a whole new library of human experience available. I am a late convert, and as such, somewhat evangelical. It’s a hell of a medium.

 

M:  Which indie or creator-owned comics helped you to become this “late convert,” and helped transform you into this thought-provoking quasi-evangelical creator of graphic lit who walks the Earth today?

KG:  The entry at 25 is my simplification – in a real way, I was a 1-2 trades a year guy from about 21 when I discovered Watchmen. Me actually coming to shops more regularly was in response to Moore’s ABC comic line, specifically League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The truth is to say I got into comics properly at 25, but I got into Alan Moore at 21.

(The other trades I bought were Preacher and the Invisibles – Ennis and Morrison are also big influences.)

The transitional creator was definitely Warren Ellis. When I started coming into shops, the first Authority Trade was there – I flicked, and it instantly seemed like comics had caught up with how I imagined superheroes as a child. Hitch, Neary and Martin just reinvent the genre, and (as I came to eventually see) gave us the shape of 00s superhero comics. So I bought that, and loved it, and came back next week about bought Ellis/Cassady’s Planetary, which was this pained eulogy for the whole of pulp. Then I picked up Ellis/Robertson’s Transmetropolitan, whose Gonzo Sci-fi journalism – as a 20-something magazine writer – completely reminded me why I started writing in the first place. The week after I’m on the Warren Ellis Forum, six months later I go to my first con, and I write my first script when I stumble back in.

The WEF was basically my education in the form. I didn’t know anything, and the conversation just pointed me at things which were my education in the form. Off the top of my head, and leaning the stuff right at the beginning… METABARONS, BLUE MONDAY, DOMU, QUEEN AND COUNTRY, LUTHER ARKWRIGHT, ENIGMA, CEREBUS, KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND (though that was a little earlier), LUCIFER, X-STATIX, Jessica Abel’s ARTBABE, JIMMY CORRIGAN, UZUMAKI, etc.

 

M:  The works of Moore, Ennis, Morrison, and Ellis are essential reading for open-minded adults everywhere.  Have you seen Morrison’s maiden voyage with Heavy Metal magazine?

KG:  I haven’t! I’m excited to see it. There seems to be a lot of that sort of editorial approach at the moment – Morrison at Heavy Metal, Gerard Way at Young Animal at DC and so on. Always interested in seeing how these things shake out.

 

M:  Where has your inspiration come from lately?

KG:  It’s actually another reason why I’m dialing back work later this year – I want to go and get a bunch of new inspiration, and do a bunch more reading. My main thing right now is reverse analyzing why I actually love stuff. Why do I care about – say – Warhammer 40k? Teenage nostalgia, of course, but more than that – what was the appeal? This, but wider.

Also the same as usual – lots of talking to friends, people I know, the papers. Life is a great inspirer.

 

M:  Life sure is that.  And, have you considered giving any tabletop roleplaying games a try?  If so, which ones?

KG:  Heh. I am not unaware of the form.

I played a lot as a teenager. I played a little at university. Since then, it’s only ever been sporadic. Last game I played properly was a few years ago, when I actually ran a 30-part or so campaign for a few friends, which was a weird joy.

(The weirdness is that I hadn’t GMed properly from before I’d started writing fiction, and I was shocked by how better I was at it. There are so many transferable skills. I keep on meaning to write an article about it one day.)

I made up a system on my honeymoon, and ran a game for my wife, where she played a dog given a secret mission to make contact with some Manatees (who the dogs thought were strange water-dogs, obviously).  At the moment, I’ve promised various friends who’ve never played an RPG that I’d run a game for them to see how it’ll work out. I’m trying to work out what system would suit my needs best.

I have notes on a Phonogram RPG lying around my hard-drive. Doing a THE WICKED + THE DIVINE RPG when it’s all over is something I suspect is relatively likely.

Games I’ve played significantly? In rough chronological order, off the top of my head…

MIDDLE EARTH ROLE PLAYING, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, PARANOIA, WARHAMMER FANTASY ROLE PLAY, GURPS, CYBERPUNK 2020, IN NOMINE, FENG SHUI, AMBER, ROLEMASTER, CHAMPIONS, FIASCO, MONSTERHEARTS.

I’ve read a lot more. I’m very much the sort of person who can read a rulebook to relax.

 

M:  Being no stranger to the D&D attributes of Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma, which of those would make the cut for your WicDiv RPG, and what original attributes might there also be?

KG:  Heh. Well, my initial awful urge is to lose all stats bar Charisma, and then have six types of Charisma. This is basically the game where not only Bards are the best class, they are the only class. Or we keep all the stats, and drop the wisdom stat, as no-one in WicDiv has ever shown any slight hint of wisdom.

I suspect the extra attributes would be exploring more on the emotional and philosophical side. I find myself thinking of Pendragon’s scaled sets of attributes, like LUSTFUL/CHASTE, and suspect that would make sense – it’s a book where being consumed by your passions and fears is a key thing. Alternatively, an approach akin to MONSTERHEARTS would really focus the book on the internal politics and emotional malaise of the book.

I suspect if there was an RPG, there would have to be that push and pull, in terms of how you wanted to run it. There’s certainly room to run it more like a classic adventure game which is based on them going out and punching the forces of darkness on the nose… but at the same time, a book about a group of doomed creatives trying to find meaning in their remaining time could obviously work as well.

 

M:  You have room enough in your travel bag, to bring any three books along with you on a round-trip luxury cruise to a destination of your choosing.  Where would you travel to? Why? Which three books would you bring? Why?

KG:  I find myself thinking of the riff Pratchett used when asking this sort of question, regarding the fire and the house, and what you would take from the house. (“The Fire” being a response still makes me smile.) It says much that when you present me with this sort of question, I always look for the loophole. That’s just how I think. I was the eleven year old who, when testing someone else’s spelling would do the “Antidisestablishmentarianism. How do you spell it?” gambit.

(The answer, of course, being “I T”.)

The hole I can see is the “destination of my choosing” which doesn’t include anything about it being in the real world or even what time. So I could basically use a deluxe Tardis cruise, and I’d go back to the early 20th century Europe and bring a copy of the nearest three history books to hand. One would be Eric Hobsbawm’s Age Of Extremes, I suspect. Maybe we could learn from history.

That it doesn’t need to be a real place means I could find a way to hang out with Beorn too.

If I’m forced to take it literally, however. From the UK, to Egypt. I’ve never been to Egypt, and would love to. Also, it’s not that far, so I won’t get too stir-crazy aboard the boat. I’d bring my copy of the Golden Bough, The Idiot and Paradise Lost. I’ve had the first two lying around forever and never actually read them. I’m in desperate need to re-read the latter. All three would be work related. You can put me on a cruise, but you can’t stop me working, I’m afraid.

 

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The Wicked + The Divine is intended for mature readers. It can be found at book shops, comic shops, and public libraries everywhere. Please read responsibly.

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