It’s not every day that we get to enjoy seeing illustrator Max Millgate chime in on JACKBOOT & IRONHEEL and all things indie comics, so let’s do this, with relish.
Q: JACKBOOT & IRONHEEL drops in August. We’re stoked! What can you tell us about the tale, without giving too much away?
MM: Jackboot & Ironheel is a War/Horror story. The main character is a young English cockney guy called Eddie Neale, who’s on the brink of a very promising career as a footballer when his life is turned on its head with the outbreak of World War II. He goes from being a centre forward, shooting goals for West Ham United F.C to being the tail-gunner in a Lancaster bomber, shooting Nazis for the R.A.F. Things take a turn for the worse when dark supernatural forces seem to be pushing Eddie towards his most terrifying enemy yet…His own destiny!
Q: How far along into WWII does the tale take place? What year are we in?
MM: When it starts we’re watching Eddie on his debut and he’s scoring a very unique goal in his first match for West Ham United, but unluckily for him the year is 1939 and Britain has just declared war on Germany. However, later on the bulk of the story is set much nearer the end of the war, in the winter of 1944.
Q: How did these tales come into being? Where did much of your inspiration originate from?
MM: Well, inspiration can come from all kinds of places. With Jackboot & Ironheel it all happened quite organically. I’ve had an interest in World War II history for years. I have a bunch of friends and we’re really into Tanks, planes, weapons, uniforms and WWII battle reenactments etc, but I had no intention of incorporating that interest into my work in comics. It was just a hobby, something completely different that I could just enjoy away from all of that, but after decades spent drawing futuristic stuff I thought it might be a nice challenge to draw stuff that was based in actual history. Let me give you an example…if you draw a futuristic, sci-fi gun you can basically make anything up as it doesn’t exist, so it can be anything you want it to be. However, if you draw an MP40 German machine gun…it had better look right! It requires total attention to those details. I also picked up this really great book in a second hand shop all about old Germanic myths and legends. There was a short supernatural tale in it called ‘The Fire-Bell Of Cologne’ and I thought something similar could work great in a comic book about an English hero captured by the Nazis during WWII.
Q: Being an Englishman yourself, and being a WWII buff as well, which moments from that war really captured your imagination?
MM: Well, I find war and history to be interesting subjects. On a purely visual level I really like all of the hardware of tanks, planes, weapons and uniforms etc, but I’m also very interested in the actual ‘human’ perspective of it all. The personal stories are what really hit home. War brings out the very worst in people, but ironically there are times when it can bring out the very best in them too. Take Winston Churchill for example. He was a has-been politician and considered to be somewhat of a liability by other politicians before the war. He wasn’t taken that all that seriously by a lot of his peers, but he really saw himself as this great military leader. If you look through his family tree it becomes quite clear that he felt he had to live up to his well known ancestors. They had made these great military achievements during their lifetimes and Churchill believed he would fulfill all of his own military ambitions when the right circumstances came along. Then Adolf Hitler arrived on the scene and Churchill knew this would be his moment to shine. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as they say. Having said all that, I’m actually a very Anti-War, peace loving person myself. We really need to wake up and evolve beyond war, otherwise I think we’re all doomed, Y’know…as a species I mean.
Q: Very well said. Have any of the numerous WWII comic books ever found their way into your hands? If so, what did you think of them?
MM: When I was a kid I used to love reading Commando Comics. They were a handy size and you could fit them in your pocket. I also liked Battle Action and all those kinda things. Actually, the very first comic I ever got was a football comic book called Roy Of The Rovers. So, I guess you can see how some of those early influences have now found their way back into what I’m doing with Jackboot & Ironheel. A story about a football loving war hero!
Q: Why did you get started with creating your own comic book stories and projects?
MM: I’d done a lot of comic books and art based on other peoples’ characters, stories and properties and I enjoyed most of it, but as an artist I’d always liked designing my own stuff too. I’d sit and create my own characters and without realizing it I’d also be imagining their backstory, motivations…so on and so forth. I enjoyed doing it, but never really thought of myself as a ‘writer’. With Jackboot & Ironheel, I originally planned to just come up with the basic storyline and then get a ‘proper-writer’ to actually write the script for it. I began by collaborating on it with ‘Joshua Ortega’ who’d just done the Gears Of War comic books and he’d had quite a success with that series. But by the time Joshua came on board I’d already been developing Jackboot for 6 years on my own. After a few months he said that as I’d already got so much of this world clearly defined in my mind, that I should be the one to actually write it. So I took his advice. In hindsight, Joshua Ortega was exactly the person that I needed at that time, someone to give me the little nudge that I required. His belief in me and what I was doing gave me the confidence to go and do it myself and I’m eternally grateful to Joshua for that!
Q: Six years is a long time for the development of a tale. Have you also given any thought to a continuation of the tale, beyond the 4-part mini-series?
MM: Yes! That’s something I’ve already thought about. I actually have the basic outline for a sequel story. It would be set in Russia during the Cold-War and it would be called ‘Iron Curtain & Ironheel’. Obviously for that to happen I’ll need this first 4-part series to do well for me and also for the publishers, IDW. Hopefully enough people will enjoy reading it and they’ll be enough interest in it to make doing another one a viable option for us all.
Q: Have you read any good indie comics lately? If so, which ones? And what did you enjoy about them?
MM: To be honest, I don’t really discriminate between indie comic books or mainstream ones. Publishers like Marvel, DC and Dark Horse put out some really great stuff and also some stuff I don’t like, but I could say the same thing about the indie scene too. It’s horses-for-courses, as obviously we all have our own particular tastes, likes and dislikes. I’ll just pick stuff up and read it, if it grabs me. The only criteria for me is…am I interested? Is this any good? Y’know, as us Englishmen would say…”Is this my cup-o’-tea?”
One graphic novel that I read recently and really enjoyed was ‘Clockwork Angels’ written by Kevin J Anderson and Neil Peart, who’s the drummer in Canadian Rock band Rush. I’m a big fan of them. Neil Peart also writes all the songs and lyrics. It was based on the ‘Rush’ steampunk themed concept album of the same name. I used to play the drums in various rock bands in my youth and Neil Peart is one of my all-time heroes!
Q: Comics based on concept albums by well-known rock artists is something that there certainly could be more of, especially with so many concept albums to choose from. In addition to Clockwork Angels, which are some of the other concept albums that you feel could be adapted for graphic literature?
MM: I always thought ‘Operation Mindcrime’ by Queensryche could be adapted into a really great comic book series. It had a big conspiracy, a burnt out hero, sexy nuns, drugs and lots of murders. Y’know…everything a good book needs! Ha! Ha! I think there was some talk about doing a movie based on that story, but nothing came of it. I’d enjoy drawing it as a comic book though, as I loved that record.
Q: What are your favorite films?
MM: My favorite all-time movie list could change every single week, there’s just so many I love, it’s always kinda tough to pick them. Let’s just say that this week my top 10 is as follows…
1: Blade Runner
3: The Thing
4: Evil Dead 2
5: Dawn Of The Dead (original)
6: Mad Max – Fury Road
7: The Good The Bad & The Ugly
8: Cross Of Iron
9: The Bride Of Frankenstein
10: 2001 A Space Odyssey
Q: That’s one hell of a list. It’s nice to see director Ridley Scott placing so high there. And, Blade Runner 2 comes out soon too. It was beginning to feel like we’d never see it. What are your thoughts on all that?
MM: Blade Runner’s my all-time favorite film, but I’m not for a minute saying it’s a perfect film, not by a long shot. I can also understand why some folks will say “I don’t like it!” or “I just don’t get it?” To me, it’s like a flawed masterpiece, but that’s what I find interesting about it, as a piece of art. Let’s not forget Philip K Dick though, because without his incredible writing Blade Runner would never have happened. When folks talk about Blade Runner it seems to be too easily forgotten that it all started with Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Android’s Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ It was such a shame that Philip K Dick passed away before the movie was even finished. I’m sure he’d have been thrilled to see how it’s now become so hugely influential. Every time I watch Blade Runner it feels like I discover or see something new in it. It feels like it has so many layers to it, both visually, narratively and I just never get tired of it, which is probably not what Harrison Ford would’ve told you when he talked about working on it, back in ’82. The cast, crew and pretty much everyone involved with that production went through pure hell to get Ridley Scott’s vision onto that screen. It’s now rightly considered to be an all-time classic of sci-fi cinema, so it proves that sometimes adversity can give birth to greatness. As for a sequel I’ve heard about it, of course. Let’s just say that after Prometheus…I’m cautiously interested!
Q: The casting of Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty was a stroke of genius.
MM: Oh yeah! He’s quite brilliant in it. I’d say it’s his best movie, by far and the famous ‘tears in rain’ speech he gives at the climax of the film is superb.
Q: What hasn’t happened in indie comics yet, that you would love to see happen?
MM: How about the history of RUSH?! Now that’s one I’d love to illustrate! Ha! Ha! Seriously though, what I do like these days is that you can write a comic book about practically anything and they’ll be somebody that will get into it. It’s not like it used to be, just kiddie comic books for tots and then super hero comics, war comics or sci-fi comics, for boys only. These days the amount of subject matter is really a lot broader and it’s for both sexes, which is a real step forward. There’s something for absolutely everybody out there. I’d say that if you can’t find a comic book that suits you…then you’re just not looking hard enough!
Q: 2112 could translate well into graphic lit, and perhaps a continuation called 2113, about what happens next with the planets of the solar federation. Which other RUSH album or period of the RUSH years do you feel would translate best to graphic lit, and why?
MM: There’s actually a book I’m reading now called 2113 and it’s all short stories that are based on Rush songs. What a super geeky, but super cool idea! I guess a graphic novel of the original 2112 LP could be cool. Although, It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s one out there already?
Q: What do you suppose brick-and-mortar comic book shops could be doing more of, to remain relevant in these digital times?
MM: Well, firstly, I do have some sympathy for them. In this technological age of instant digitized media, online comic book downloads I think it’s fair to say that the ‘lazy’ factor has crept into a lot of peoples’ day-to-day lifestyles. It means they don’t have to physically go to a shop if they don’t want to. But it’d be a real shame if that comic book shop culture completely disappeared from the high street. They were worried about the very same thing happening with music shops a few years ago, but they’ve managed to turn it around. They’ve re-kindled that niche, vinyl collectors market and made the shops more of a ‘community’ space again. People have realized that it’s cool to just go and hang out in these shops, talk about what you’re into and then buy an LP. I think comic book shops should adopt the same kind of mentality. It’s no longer enough to have a run-down shop on a seedy back street, selling comic books out of a damp, old cardboard box. You don’t need tons of money. Just use your imagination and make it a nicer environment for folks to spend their quality time in. My local shop is Forbidden Planet in Leicester and I’d stopped going in there myself in recent years, as it was looking a bit sorry for itself, but the guys running it now are really great. They’ve made a really big effort and they’ve really turned it around. I love hanging out there now. I really do believe in supporting your local shops!
Q: Five dinner guests. Which five living illustrators (of indie comics or otherwise) would you invite to a dinner party?
MM: I’d invite illustrators, but not just comic book ones. So I’d cordially invite…
1: Alan Lee (Lord Of The Rings)
2: Jon Howe (Lord Of The Rings)
3: Bill Sienkiewicz (Daredevil, Electra Assassin)
4: Brian Bolland (Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson)
5: Derek Riggs (Iron Maiden LP cover artist)
Q: Man, that Derek Riggs sure can create art, can’t he?
MM: Yeah! He was a really big influence on me when I was a kid and into my teens. It looks a little dated now of course, but then art is like everything else, it keeps evolving, changing and moving forwards, so a lot of the stuff done in the late 70’s early 80’s is bound to have dated a little by the year 2016! The images he created on those Maiden records still have real power to them though. Derek Riggs amazing imagery is totally interconnected with Maiden’s music in my mind. I can’t look at those paintings without hearing Bruce Dickinson’s voice! The Trooper single cover and covers to the Live After Death and Powerslave LP’s are my favorites. For me…Derek Riggs still rules!!!
Q: Digital art versus traditional art. Discuss?
MM: I think they both have their pros and cons. You can achieve great results with both. The skill of the artist is much more relevant than the choice of media they used. That’s always been the case and it still holds true. For me, personally, I started out 100% traditional and then really got into digital art in the late 90’s. I then did nothing but digital stuff for about 12 years and I eventually began suffering a string of physical problems from it. I’d get bad eye-strain, bad headaches and then repetitive strain Injury. I then developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, from over using my Wacom drawing tablet and pen tool. As a result, I had to have surgery on my hand/wrist. After that I decided to go back to traditional painting, because I get none of those problems when I work that way. I also realized that I love the tactile thing of using real pigment and paint brushes on an actual surface. For me, with digital art there’s always that feeling of it not being quite as direct an experience. You’re always once removed from it…by that screen! It’s a bit better on a Cintique, where you’re at least drawing directly onto the screen/surface, but it’s still not quite the same. The other thing is, with traditional art you have an ‘original’ piece, that you can then sell on. There’s no actual original piece with digital artwork. It only exists on a hard drive as a bunch of ones and zeros. You can’t sell something that only exists in the ether of cyberspace. You can do prints, but a lot of collectors won’t buy them. They still prefer an actual painting that they can hang on their wall. I still do some digital art and I coloured Jackboot & Ironheel digitally, but for the reasons mentioned I’d pick traditional art as my preferred method, overall.
Q: What are you really looking forward to reading this summer?
MM: To be honest with you, I’m not really aware of what’s coming out later this year. These days I’m not one of those guys that keeps ahead of all the new comic book and movie releases. I’m more of a ‘find out about it later’ kind of person. It takes a lot more these days for me to get excited by stuff. I guess that’s what happens as you get more mature? You chill out a bit. I’ll hear about stuff from friends or social media and if it gets my interest I’ll then maybe go and look into it. Although the one thing in recent memory that I did crave was the Mad Max – Fury Road movie. I was aware of that about 10 years before it came out. I’m a big fan of the original movies and I absolutely loved the film when it arrived. I heard all the moaning from folks that it had no plot, no story, they just went from here to there and then back again. So what?! When the actions this good and the whole design and look of it was so amazing. I was totally happy watching that. If they do a sequel I’d love to work on it. Yeah, I’d be George Miller’s blood-bag, in a heartbeat!
Q: Favorite moments from George Miller’s first two Mad Max films?
MM: That’s a tough one. Rather than just list some moments that I like, let’s just say I just love the whole universe that George Miller created within those movies! When the first couple of films came out there was nothing else around quite like them. The stunts, car chases and crashes were on a totally different level. They looked dangerous and that’s because they were! I also really loved the whole warrior/punk-ish future look of those films too, especially with the second movie Mad Max 2 The Road Warrior. It was very fresh at the time. In the 50’s, 60’s and into the 70’s sci-fi had mainly been envisaged by shiny space suits, gleaming rocket cars and all that more pristine looking stuff, but George Miller helped to create and define a very different version of the future. Along with some of those other seminal movies from the 80’s, like Star Wars, Blade Runner and Alien, which all had the used-future vibe too.
Q: What are you most looking forward to this summer?
MM: Y’know I’d really like some time off! Maybe just drive up to some secluded sandy beach somewhere along the Norfolk the coast, eat an ice cream and wash it down with a beer or two! Although if you did those things in England you’d probably end up getting a parking ticket, it’d start raining and the pub would be closed! Cheers! Ha! Ha!