Comics Vanguard Talks to MIKE CAREY

London Supercon didn’t start and end with Fred Van Lente, although I forgive you for thinking it might. I also managed to talk with one of my favourite writers, Mike Carey, towards the end of the day, and we ran through his career in comics thus far.

You’ve said that you first started writing comics after reading through some of the ‘British Invasion’ titles released by Vertigo in the Eighties, and became interested in their approach to fantasy.

I picked up some comics during the height of Vertigo, and started reading things like Sandman and Doom Patrol in particular. There was a darkness in the stories which appealed to me at the time –and still does – Doom Patrol remains, for me, the greatest team book ever written. I wrote a few articles for fanzines like Fantasy Advertisers. A few reviews, and then some longer essays about Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison’s literary style and vision. The editor, Martin Skidmore, happened to get a job working as a comic-book editor, and kindly asked me to pitch a few stories for him. None of the first few were accepted, but that’s where I first started writing scripts and got the interest in comics.

How were your first scripts?

I tended to take the tone of other writers around the time and shamelessly mimic it, to begin with – after reading some of Alan Moore’s scripts for Watchmen and other titles, I was consciously trying to adapt his style for my own. [Earlier on a panel, Mike had discussed this as a mistake, saying “Alan’s scripts are just the worst thing for aspiring writers to read, because he writes such lengthy description for absolutely everything. The first page of Watchmen, with the smiling badge getting blood on it, features something like a thousand words of description by itself”. Neil [Gaiman] was also a large influence in terms of how to write dialogue. I remember that Lucifer in particular began as homage to Neil’s version of the character, and took a while before he developed into something new in his own right.

After the success of Lucifer, you were also brought onto Hellblazer, which you wrote simultaneously. How did that compare to Lucifer?

It was closer to home. Both characters are dark in their own ways, and they certainly both have a smug confidence in themselves. But that confidence comes from different places for both characters, and they hold it differently. Lucifer was more anarchic, while Constantine’s life was, obviously, a little more grounded. It wasn’t particularly difficult to write about a man from Liverpool who moves to London, and I tried to keep his surroundings as real to life as possible, while maintaining the fantasy elements of the stories. I drew from my own experience in London – added places I knew to Constantine’s world, so he’d go into pubs I went into, and so on.

Which brings us to your Felix Castor novels, which have a similar sense of tone to Hellblazer.

They have some similarities, although they are vastly different characters. There’s a lot more noir in Castor’s world. When you write fantasy, to me, it’s more interesting when there are strict rules governing the supernatural elements, keeping everything in order. In the Castor novels there are werewolves, ghosts and zombies, but they’re all tied together and explained carefully. That raises the stakes and maintains a sense of order and familiarity to Castor’s world. As the series has continued, the focus has shifted from horror/noir to a thriller, and there’s been more focus on how the World is reacting to the rising of the dead. That’s something I’d like to explore more thoroughly in future stories – this provides such a chance to discuss ideas like religion, and I’ve only scratched the surface of it thus far.

You moved from Vertigo over to Marvel, where you were hired to write X-Men – how did that compare?

Writing Hellblazer and Lucifer gave me a chance to try long-form storytelling, so coming onto X-Men was a new challenge. Not only do you have to plan things out on an arc-by-arc basis, but everything you write has to be justified, and run past the editors. For example, Rogue could go on a mission and then come back to a completely new status quo with the rest of the X-Men.

When I did Endangered Species [a lead-in storyline to the Messiah Complex event] I had to be careful when I used Wanda, The Scarlet Witch, because she’s technically an Avenger. She belongs to the Avengers Office, and I had to have permission to write her before I could. She’s the daughter of Magneto, but she still remains with the Avengers!

What were the high points of your time writing for the X-Men?

One of the most enjoyable points was when I wrote the first team, the Supernovas arc which led into Messiah Complex. The team dynamic were so interesting, and it was a shame that I had to leave that so soon. I would’ve enjoyed another year of that, in honesty, but the event made their splitting up an inevitability. I remember also being very proud the first time I saw somebody else take characters I’d created,and use them in their own stories. Entering ‘canon’ was a thrill for me.

Did you know that Jonathan Hickman recently ‘ultimatised’ your characters The Children of The Vault, creating a new version of them for his ‘Ultimates’ comic?

Oh, that’s wonderful! I’ll have to check that out.

After Messiah Complex, X-Men became ‘X-Men Legacy’

That was also fun to write. The idea was that every year the book would shift focus over to a new character, and I’d delve into their world and have some fun with it. So first was Xavier and then Rogue, but we came into a raft of different crossovers partway through her story, which made it difficult to shift focus again. In the end, I decided to simply make her the axis to rotate in other underused characters and try to push them forward a little. That’s where the idea to have her become handler to the New X-Men began, and I spotlighted some other characters like Magneto and Nightcrawler.

While you’ve now left the X-Men to focus on other projects, you now have ‘The Unwritten’ coming out for Vertigo, with your frequent collaborator Peter Gross.

I still enjoy reading the Vertigo titles, and The Unwritten was a chance to explore ideas about narrative and fiction. The way Grant [Morrison] structured The Invisibles was so cleverly done, and The Unwritten was my way to ask some new questions about structure and narrative. I consciously attempted to create new story models that would help push and experiment with how stories are told, which led to issues like the one spotlighting Kipling. That issue pulls back from the story to change the reader’s perspective, and let them realise how the modern conflict involved at the heart of the story has been affecting literature for centuries.

I’d say it’s true that your voice as a writer has become just as known now as Morrison’s, and that your stories and use of structure have started to inspire new writers coming into the business.

That’s very flattering to say, and I hope it’s true. It’s certainly something I’ve been feeling more about my writing, as I’ve continued.

Thanks for your time, Mike. Before you go, can we ask one final question, to create havoc online?

Go on…

Who was your favourite member of the New X-Men?

That’s tough, but I’d probably have to go with Blindfold. Joss Whedon did such a great job creating her, so she wasn’t just a psychic character, but she had prophecies which may or may not be complete nonsense. She was so polite, but at the same time it’s hard to trust anything she says. I very much enjoyed writing her.

Thank you so much for your time.

Not at all.

Mike Carey is the writer of Lucifer, Hellblazer, X-Men Legacy, The Unwritten and the Felix Castor novels. He also has a new novel, co-written with several members of his family and others, called The Steel Seraglio, which will be published in only a few days from now, on March 13th.


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