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KIERON GILLEN INTERVIEW NOVEMBER 2014
November 19, 2014 By Robert Barker
KIERON GILLEN INTERVIEW NOVEMBER 2014
Kieron Gillen – a spirit deity/writer from the mythic future sent to the world of comics to tame Loki, adopt Iron Man and stick Herne the Hunter in the back of a taxi. This is a writer who’s bent the likes of Young Avengers, X-Men and Thor to his will, creating exquisitely plotted adventures that mix a Whedon-like ear for teen voices with extraordinary, incendiary set pieces that twist your blood.
Still, did he arrange his breakfast sausage and eggs into a delightful smiley face this morning, hmm?
Actually, I didn’t ask that. Gillen’s probably been preoccupied with more productive endeavours – such as the Ziggy Stardust-spontaneous-combusts of The Wicked + The Divine, WWII alt history title Über and which A-list artist to work with next. All of which we hammered out in my debut interview for World of Superheroes.
“Welcome!” He announces, when we meet up for a chat after his appearance at UK videogame festival GameCity. “Let me break you in easily,” he lies…
WoS: You’ve written lots about the creative buzz of musical movements like Britpop [in Phonogram] and Manchester in the eighties and early nineties [in Journey into Mystery], Kieron. Is there a similar point in comics? Is it now?
KG: It is now. Each of those periods is about people who are underdogs coming into a position of cultural legitimacy, or at least power. Whoever counts as my generation are currently at the apex of our careers in terms of relevance – it’s all downhill from here basically is what I’m saying.
Me and Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue and Rick Remender and Jason Aaron and Bryan O’Malley – that generation of creators – are now in a position where we’re doing our own Image books and they’re selling really well. We’re controlling the narrative to a degree and we’re defining the mainstream – or defining something near the mainstream.
“At the moment this is what winning feels like…”
WOS: Is that scary?
“Oh, no, no, no. I see myself as a fanzine kid – I still do fanzine stuff. But we’re in a position of power now and in some ways we’re the establishment. And people will come and kick against us and that’s great and that’s the churn of culture. At the moment this is what winning feels like though. And for somebody who’s defined themselves as a tragic loser that’s something incredible.
It’s not easy playing multiple roles simultaneously though.
You’ve got to still have love for the streets, if you will. Hey, this is my Stone Roses interview! It’s me being Ian Brown. “You gotta kick the shit down!”
WOS: Do you tend to do interviews in certain guises?
I’ve an awareness of the voices. For me that’s what writing is; you’ve got an awareness of what you’re saying. I’m generally aware when I’m saying something that’s gonna make people hate me. I have that level of self awareness. I know when I’m taking a pose of someone; like the Morrissey move which Grant Morrison lifted in his early career or Alan Moore’s ‘letter writing’ voice. Did you know Public Enemy used to practice answers to any reasonable question so Chuck D had an answer for everything? I’m kind of a bit like that!
WOS: My favourite elements of your panel work are the setups and payoffs between pages. You always seem to leave a decent amount of room for me to fill in something extraordinary in the space between…
Well comics is about closure – ‘Here is a picture. Here is another picture…’ Your mind fills in the gap between the two. And as a reader you’re a collaborator, the turning of the page being an act of complicity – Grant’s been using that in Multiplicity. I did it in Journey into Mystery. It’s subtle, but it’s kind of your fault because you turned the page. As in ‘you could have had a happy ending and now you’ve not…’ There’s a power there.
In comics it’s one of the primary pacing tools – how you choose to end the panel. The panel – the image you show before – creates the anticipation. And it’s actually how violence works in comics or action works in comics or really powerful emotion works in comics.
Sure. Someone reads Kieron and Jamie’s stuff = hipster scum. You get quite a lot of people who are like that. I think they’ve got quite a low definition of the word hipster – like how people who read Manga in the early 00’s were obsessed teenage girls.
Comics ebbs and flows like all culture though. I was talking about early-mid 00’s comics with Marvel editors recently and I described Chynna Clugston as comic’s Stone Roses. As The Stone Roses were to the Britpop generation, Chynna Clugston was to ours I think. I would love to work with her one day.
WOS: How far ahead do you think on those ‘I would love to work with you’ projects?
A lot of them are conversations. I know Chynna and she’s great. We’ve talked about stuff but I’m booked up pretty much to end of 2016. That said, there’s a couple of artists who I love to death, who are currently free and are really A-list artists. And I cannot work out anyway I can actually write something for them!
WOS: What are your ways in? You’re a name writer obviously, but do you approach artists with full story arcs, or broader concepts? Something else?
I’ve always got a big concept file of crap. You sit with an artist, or a friend, or another writer even and you just start bullsh*tting – and you see what comes out the other side. Which is a giggle!
WOS: Was that how the amazing double pager of Marvel Man taking down a nightclub full of goons in Young Avengers #4 came about? Between the isometric layout and the indexed step-by-step it felt like a Prima Guide or Haynes Manual for superheroes…
Yeah! That’s an interesting call. The weird thing is people in comics say the influence there is Chris Ware but we were more influenced by the kind of illustrated instructions you get on planes.
One of the rules we gave ourselves on Young Avengers was we’d never repeat an action sequence. To make every one a bespoke object. So I wrote what was gonna happen in that scene – gave a list of five options, “We can do it like this. We can do it like this. We can do it like this.” Jamie came back with one, which was building on something I’d already said but was very much an extrapolation. He realised there was space around the edge, so we brought in annotated pictures and added a key. Then the editor realised we weren’t quite sure about the flow. We were like, “Can we add arrows?” “No, let’s add numbers!” So they guide your eye around. We’ve talked about that page quite a bit, cos it’s a good example of the working methods we had on Young Avengers. Very fluid, very free and playful.
WOS: Are there other things you’ve wanted to put into comics that aren’t comic shaped?
Well that’s the driving force of Phonogram. The idea that comics and music are completely opposite art forms. In music you control the time and you have control of sound. In comics you don’t have any control of time and you have no sound. So trying to transfer effects from one medium to the other is by definition impossible and therefore has to be an act of transformative magic! You’ll create something else in the process too. One thing a music review can try to be is a synaesthestic attempt to create a sensation of what this thing feels like. The best music writing does that.
WOS: Are comic books easier to pull in these kind of shapes than other things?
I get bored easily. As a games journalist I was the same. Most games journalists tend to become a specialist in something and that gives them regular work. I didn’t. I became a very aggressive generalist. I’m happiest in comics when I’m working on four different titles. I was writing Über, my very mechanistic WWII comic, at the same time I was on Avengers. I don’t think there’s two comics which are abstractly in the same genre and as further apart aesthetically. So yes! But comics are also low rent.
“Comics are agile. That’s one reason I never got into games writing…”
I think that’s when they’re at their best…
If you were an artist we could sit together and a month later we could have a comic, we’d print it and it’d be in the shops three weeks after that. And we’d be on the same playing field as any other creators in the business. It’s not like I need $200m to do a special effect movie. As long as we have the talent we can do this. Comics are agile. That’s one reason I never got into games writing. Games take too long to make. The idea of spending two to five years on a game doesn’t appeal to me. I like the performance aspect – getting work out regularly.
WOS: Would you like to patch comics, like they do in games?
We occasionally do in the trades. I tweak things. Normally mistakes and minor factchecking. If you’re doing digital comics you can do it invisibly. I must admit I’ve been tempted to cheat. I’d love to do a digital comic that changed in a Silent Hill way, and just never told you. The idea of reading a comic, then rereading it – and it’s different! And you’re like, “It wasn’t like that! Or was it?” I will do that one day!
The Wicked + The Divine #5 is out now on Image Comics. Über #19 is out on Avatar. Both are available via comixology.
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