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Pat Mills: On Horror and Subversive Heroes

March 7, 2017       Meaningful Life
Pat Mills
On Horror and Subversive Heroes
in Comic Books

REACH Interview 
by Michael D. Kanoy

REACH magazine was fortunate to talk to Pat Mills for an interview about his horror writing, his work as the Godfather of British Comics on 2000AD, and our favorite topic: the seminal and underrated Requiem:  Vampire Knight graphic novel series.

Pat Mills might be more familiar to comic book fans as the creator of the more popular Judge Dredd character—vigilante lawmaker and lawbreaker.  We mine Pat for his thoughts on the British comic book scene, his writer work process, and how horror works as some of the best reading in comics.


Image Credit:  2000AD Comic Book Author Pat Mills  (used with permission)
ABC Warrirors and Judge Dredd Creator Pat Mills with
his new Serial Killer novel on his display. He's holding a Ro-Jaws
mug and an Mongrol action figure sits on the desk, waiting to maim.

REACH: How did 2000AD come into being at the time you put it together—when reading pulp format magazine comics was the rage--and anything on the newsstands sold like pancakes.  In the 1970s  and 1980s pulp men's adventure stories and adult westerns were selling like crazy too.  Did 2000AD feed off that boy's and young men's market or was it an entirely different reading market for 2000AD in Britain?

Pat Mills: Totally different in Britain. In Britain, boys comics were in serious decline, whereas girls comics (like Tammy) outsold them by two to one. I had a girls comic background and was brought in revive boys comics. I started by creating Battle with John Wagner, then Action, then 2000AD. They worked because I treated the readers with respect (hitherto not the case) and also my stories had a strong subversive anti-establishment sub-text which the readers responded to.

Image Credit:  2000AD Comic Books  (Fair Use)

REACH:  British comic writers are revered for their subversive take on heroes and dry sense of humor.  Karen Berger is said to like you guys having a story perspective that is always fresh no matter how mundane the comic book title may seem to imply on the surface—like Alan Moore working on Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman on Sandman and China Mieville on Dial H.  Does this come from your country's rich folklore and mythical traditions (Celtic, Welsh and Scottish) where unruly characters upend the powers that be?  How do Brit writers take on a story—write something familiar or write something that makes the reader do a double take?

Pat Mills: My reply here may be a little controversial, but I believe it to be true. Americans have an equally – if not more extreme dark sense of humour. Consider Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm which is far ahead of anything we do in the UK. There are numerous other examples. But Marvel and DC are corporate comics and to succeed writers have to toe the line. It’s why I only work occasionally for them.  In other words, American satirical humour is suppressed in comics. Or indeed anything political. It used to be there. Consider Warren Comics or Last Gasp Comics, Robert Crumb etc. But in the mainstream there is little place for it.  But in Britain we have the freedom to be more controversial, primarily with the launch of Battle, Action and 2000AD. I don’t believe that Vertigo is the same. Whilst some stories are really commendable, and I applaud them, I know – from my own experience – they would never touch anything genuinely controversial. For example, Vertigo asked me to submit something controversial and I came up with the story of one of your unsung truly great American heroes: the true story of a private detective Frank Fitzpatrick who tracked down a paedophile priest (Father James Porter) The true story was ground-breaking, Fitzpatrick is a real hero, and I wanted to do a fictional version. No reply from Vertigo.

Image Credit:  2000AD Comic Books  (Fair Use)
Cover to graphic novel collection of ABC Warriors story arc.

REACH:  ABC Warriors may be one of your titles that could be considered ahead of its time: a futuristic, grimdark, retro-dieselpunk design sense that grows on fans as they devour the adventures of a futuristic rat-pack platoon out to save the world from itself and from the forces of alien darkness (like the culmination of all the war-adventure comics you've been doing in the early part of your comic book career).  Are there any working plans to get it on the silver screen (iMAX) soon? 

Pat Mills:  Thank you for that lovely description of them!  My feeling is that no 2000AD characters are likely to make the big screen. If Dredd had been more popular, perhaps.  Comics need to be originated in the States for there to be any likelihood of it happening.  There are exceptions – like my Accident Man is being made into a film, currently in post-production, starring Scott Adkins, but we are unlikely to get most of our stories into film.   

Image Credit:  Titan Comics  (Fair Use)
Accident Man is a comic book about an assassin who makes his
hits look like accidents and is now made into an action movie
to be release soon.  We hope more of Pat Mills comics
become movies

REACH:  Alan Moore fondly describes you and  (Should be JOHN WAGNER) Robert Wagner in one of his You Tube interviews as his contemporary writer friends from 2000AD who came from 11 years of writing British girl's comics--making them funny and cynical and then turning utterly evil as you and Robert started 2000AD with the sci-fi and grimdark stories.  You are described as someone for whom girls' comics has a special place in your heart (and that the most popular stories you guys did were the stories that make girls cry).  

Image Credit:  2000AD Comics  (Fair Use)
Reprints of 1970s girls horror comicbook Misty for
nostalgia fans as well as fans of old school horror.

Misty is described as a girl's comic magazine with supernatural and horror themes.  Since most of the dystopian YA  novels coming out right now are right up there with supernatural and horror, will you guys revive an imprint like Misty and characters like Moonchild?  The rundown of comic strips on Misty seem to foreshadow current popular supernatural YA tropes:  Raggsy Doll mirrors Annabelle (the evil elemental-possessed doll), School of the Lost may even be a better story than Divergent or Mockingjay. Are you up for the challenge of writing YA girls' stories with supernatural and horror themes again for this generation?

Pat Mills:  Great observations!  Misty is being reprinted. Moonchild and Four Faces of Eve are in the first collection. I would love to do more.  Possibly as YA text novels. Currently I have a text novel series out – “Read Em and Weep. Book One : Serial Killer”. 

It’s a dark comedy about the world of comics with some insider’s views about what really goes on.

When that is complete, maybe YA next!

Incidentally, if any of your readers buy a copy of Serial Killer, we would love a review on Amazon.com or similar. We have reviews on Amazon.co, but others would be really welcome. Thank you.

Image Credit:  Pat Mills  (Fair Use)
 Black humor crime novel, Serial Killer by Par Mills has received
very interesting reviews from prude editors--more reason to 
check the book out .

REACH:  Down here in most of Asia, kids and adults are gadzooks nutty over supernatural horror stories and film.  Your bizarro-sensual feast:  Requiem Vampire Knight might be that guilty pleasure that Asian closet goths and true-blue horror fans will enjoy tremendously if they could get started on the mythos.  How did  you and Oliver Ledroit to put together the vampire-themed, alternate-world as your big entry into the French comic book market considering that vampires are sort of overused by other writers that they have become a cliché already for most of horror fiction?  Are there other horror tropes you'd like to explore that are Bizarro-supernatural in nature given the rich folklore and mythical tales from the British isles?

Pat Mills:  Requiem is definitely a feast for Goths! Olivier and I had worked on Sha before, then we developed Requiem together. I think the series originated from my strong interest in reincarnation and what happens to us when we die… It’s a serious subject and – to make it entertaining and readable – it was better to write it as a dark comedy. 

Image Credit: Oliver Ledroit and Pat Mills (Fair Use)
The fan favorite Euro Comicbook instant classic,
Requiem Vampire Knight is a goth feast of eye candy, black humor
and great storytelling for horror fans.

REACH:  Has anyone optioned Requiem: Vampire Knight for a movie or even as an R-rated TV series yet?  Would you like the Wachowskis to have a shot at the property if they were interested?  Even if it gets an R-18 rating?

Pat Mills:  I fear it’s too vast for a film. Once again, like British comics, French comics rarely make it in Hollywood. Yet behind the scenes French artists hugely influenced Hollywood films. (Blade Runner, Star Wars etc – see Valerian, for example).

REACH:  You've championed comics and storytelling in general to work better if targeted at mainstream readers--which from what I understand is you pushing for the pulp adventure genre with underdog, salt-of-the-earth, heroes.  Most of the comics book lines you've worked on--World War 2 stories, supernatural girls' comics, even the grimdark tropes of ABC Warriors and Judge Dredd or the Sturm und Drang nature of Slaine the Horned God are pulp stories that hold their own over time and never grow old.  Heroic scoundrels against "Establishment" villains seem to work for almost everyone who can make magic out of them.  This manner of writing has been making a comeback from kids' movies to epic science fiction movies as well as in comics and men's action adventure novels themselves.  What do you make of the power of underdog or suicide mission adventure stories and scrappy heroes as the best tropes to work on for almost any kind of comic book?  Is storytelling always the holy grail aka Pulp as opposed to literary writing where a story has to mean more (an insight into the human condition as taught in writing school) than the sum or division of its parts?

Pat Mills:  
We need more working class heroes. Conventional (literary) publishing is snobbish and elitist in the UK and reinforces establishment values. Thus their interns must come from wealthy families because only rich kids can afford to live and work in London for nothing. This is a serious problem which British newspapers like the Guardian have written about.

In my view, it’s far more serious. Most fictional heroes are middle class or upper class. Look at the background of every superhero. Arms dealers, lawyers etc. Then look at most fictional text heroes : Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Richard Hannay. All upper class.

This is no accident. It’s deliberate, so we look up to the upper classes. When you consider what cretins they often are (consider our current rulers) this is Orwellian.

John Buchan (Richard Hannay) is a particularly sinister character I must write about some time. He was the spin doctor of World War One and lied about the mass murder in the trenches.

In the meantime, there is my Marshal Law (DC books)  – super hero hunter who exposes the crimes of super heroes.  And Charley’s War – my anti-war saga.

We need more working class heroes like Marshal Law and Charley.

REACH:  Is there a chance that you consider a shared-worlds story of your different comic book properties:  ABC Warriors accidentally entering Resurrection and fighting Claudia and the Vampires who've claimed Slaine's soul?  Or is the concept of a Shared-Worlds comic book story with your different creations too American and unwieldy (might dilute each other's story universe) to work for long time fans of 2000AD and your other stories?  Even as a one-off  magazine special issue?

Pat Mills:  It would be difficult to get the permission of the artists involved. In fact, these days it often takes longer to make a comic strip than a movie! I’ve had stories that have taken three years to appear! I’ve become so frustrated by the delays that I’ve started switching to text novels. Hence  “Serial Killer” (see above)

Image Credit: 2000AD Comics (Fair Use)
If you want your soldiers creepy and badass, read ABC Warriors.

REACH:  Horror as a genre or fiction trope in writing seems to touch a chord with most fans no matter how schlocky the film or how sleazy the writing—people go out of their way to collect bad horror films and pulp pocketbooks from days of old.  As a horror writer yourself who has explored every device—from serial killers, to supernatural boogeymen, to sci-fi horror like post-apocalyptic cyborgs in worlds gone mad, how do you make a horror story connect with your readers?  What's in it for you when you scribe a horror story and what's in it for British horror fans when they look for scary comics or novels and films?

Pat Mills:  I base my stories – no matter how obliquely – on something I have experienced or know about intimately. So Celtic legends were a great source for my Slaine. Reincarnation was the inspiration for Requiem and Sha.   It’s cathartic for me as a writer and readers sense it’s written with sincerity, conviction and passion.  This makes the story better than a sleazy story just written to shock.

REACH:  Are pulp comics or pulp graphic novels still huge in Britain as it was in the 60s-70s or is it better today with the availability of the web to make the imprint and characters more known to reading fans looking for something special?  For 2000AD, is it harder to get new readers onboard and hook them into the entire mythos or is the comic book reader an endangered species the world over?  When you started out in the pulps: from girls' comics to war adventure comics, was it harder to break into the reading markets for a fledgling writer?  Is the future of pulp comics never as good as its going to get with the web and groupies helping spread the word?

Pat Mills:   Comic fandom is huge in Britain! There are comic conventions in almost every town. There is tremendous interest and enthusiasm for comics. Especially 2000AD.  Yet, paradoxically, the British comic industry is in serious decline. 2000AD is one of the few survivors with a much smaller circulation today. And kids today rarely buy comics in the UK, even though in France they’re as big as ever. The reason is that the British comic industry is no longer dynamic. It’s run on a shoestring. The energy and the muse has passed elsewhere. It still works, but on a much more modest level. Hence why I’m starting to switch to text novel writing. The web makes this possible. So, thanks to a good marketing campaign, my book Serial Killer – which was launched at 2000AD’s 40th birthday celebrations in London last week – seems to be a success.  I think this is the way many writers will go

REACH:  Thank you Pat Mills for helping us get to know more about British comics and we are honored that the Granddaddy of British pulp horror and sci-fi has shared with us and continues to share epic pulp graphic novel sagas like Requiem: Vampire Knight and ABC Warriors, as well as Judge Dredd.

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