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Q&A: Kick-Ass Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr



Kick-Ass co-creators Mark Millar and John Romita Jr sat down for a chat about comics with Total Film last week.

Naturally, the first question on our lips was – What can we expect from upcoming comic sequel Kick-Ass 2 ? And naturally, we were expecting a lot of vague dodging about the matter. Instead, Millar offered us some juicy insight into about how he will be continuing the adventures of Kick-Ass.

“I always had this planned as three volumes, and each is a sequel,” he explains. “It’s not like a regular comic where it’s issue nine, 10 and 11. It’s Kick-Ass 2, Issue 1 sort of thing. It’s just starting where we left off last time.”

Cool, so what does that mean for the characters we grew to love in the first issue? It’s all about widening the spectrum, according to Millar.

“Through success [ he’s ] inspired other people, and what the heroes do is form gangs,” the comic writer reveals. “It’s a bunch of people in masks looking at each other’s Facebooks and going out and fighting each other. Like a massive fight in Time Square with hundreds of superheroes and hundreds of supervillains, and the police trying to break it all up.”

So does sequel mean darker? Sort of. “I think I’m actually just trying to do the flip side of it, because the first one was all about becoming a hero. And the second one really is about becoming a villain,” Millar says.

“It probably is darker because it’s exploring the villains a little bit more like this, you’ve got Red Mist who’s become like Alex in Clockwork Orange. So he’s a bit Heath Ledger’s Joker, a bit of all the bad guys I’ve ever loved in movies. So yeah I suppose it is darker, but I think a big part of Kick-Ass is the jokes, so it’s still funny.”

The first Kick-Ass , though, ended with foul-mouthed 12-year-old hero Hit Girl pledging she would never kill anybody again. Surely a bit of a spanner in the works for the sequel? Hardly.

“Hit Girl, of course, is back. At the end of the last movie she promised her step-father she wouldn’t kill people anymore, she’s just a kid,” muses Millar. “So I like the idea of doing a Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven , you know where the gunslinger hasn’t picked up a gun in 20 years, but doing that with a 12 year old girl.

"She’s watching Glee and all that - she’d rather be out there fighting crime."

Check out our full Q&A, in which Millar and Romita discuss Kick-Ass, Spider-Man , and their all-encompassing love for comic books…

Next: Mark Millar & John Romita Jr Q&A [page-break]

Mark Millar %26 John Romita Jr Q%26A

How much were you involved working with Matthew Vaughn on Kick-Ass?

Mark Millar: It was really non-stop, it was two years of both of our lives. I live in Scotland and I just seemed to be down in London every week, even in the six months before we released that issue, just getting there for initial talks and chatting through the plot because I’d only written up to issues five and a half, and part of issue six of the comic book before Vaughn started writing the screenplay.

So he didn’t know how it ended and things, so we were getting together at kind of Wayne Manor to just sit and chat about it. It was great, he said to me, the very first conversation we had about it when he said he wanted to buy the rights was: ‘You’ll be involved at every stage of the process’, but every writer hears that from every director and he can almost dismiss it. Vaughn was actually very true to his word, which is very unusual.

John Romita, Jr : Yeah that was his intention, he said do your work and I’ll tell you which artwork, which boards I want in it. So I would do a slew of them and then he would pick and choose, so he was the Director and I was a small D director.

John, how was it directing a scene for the movie?

JR: Interestingly enough, the irony was that it wasn’t difficult because Matthew Vaughn insisted upon it being an homage to the comic book, he wanted that consistency.

I didn’t want this just to be a movie based on a comic book, I wanted it to be enriched by the comic book in that first the visuals are bright and spark in their colours, different from what he’d already done.

And then he wanted the comic book influence, and there’s where specifically the animated sequence comes from.

And his words were, ‘Stick to what you do. Do not attempt to make a movie animated sequence, make it a comic book illustration, we will turn it into an animated sequence.' And that is where it comes from, and this is all thanks to Matthew’s vision.

I appreciate what he said, he settled me down because I would have been severely intimidated being told by this genius that I had to do a scene for a movie.

And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, just do what you do best, and we will turn it into an animated sequence’. So it was my direction in so far as visuals, but it was the computer generated guy’s double negative that turned it into the animation.

Do you feel it’s a sign of how far comic books have come that movie adaps now try to stick close to the source?

JR: That’s a great point, yes. That is due in large part to the quality of computer generated images. Computers have a lot to say in this, in that these brilliant out of this world ideas in the comics industry have suddenly been able to be adapted into film.

And I think all it does is it enables somebody to take a wild idea and apply a quality story to it. And that’s why thousands upon thousands of projects created by comic book creators are now fodder for the movie industry.

MM: The minute people start fucking with it is the minute it starts looking bad. There are exceptions, but generally you go into a Punisher movie because you want to see the Punisher, you don’t want to see Dolph Lundgren.

It happened I think with Sam Raimi, he was very true to the original Stan Lee Spider-Man, I think Richard Donner was very true to Superman, the costumes. Video game characters and comic book characters are very different, there’s just something about comic book characters that translate very well to the big screen.

Why is that?

MM: I think it’s a couple of things. One, they tend to be quite iconic. The ones that work in the comic, they tend to be quite iconic. And they also tend to have quite a good heart, and a very simple idea behind them.

You can describe Superman pretty simply, and you can desribe Batman very simply. Kick-Ass is actually pretty simple as well. I think the reason these things work is that they’re very simple, iconic characters and that works on the big screen just as well.

They wouldn’t work in novels, I think a Superman book would be boring as hell, or a Kick-Ass book, they wouldn’t work very well.

Next: First Heroes [page-break]

First Heroes

What was your first experience of comics?

JR: My father is a cartoonist and has been one since he was a young man, so when I was a very young boy he had been a romance comics illustrator, they didn’t pay much attention to it.

He went off into a different direction in romance, and then back in the early '60s he began working for Stan Lee again. And I remember the day I walked up to his desk in the attic and watched him work on a Daredevil cover.

And at eight years old I said, ‘What in god’s name-’, I didn’t say those words, but I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He explained to me what a superhero was and I was hooked. That was my first experience.

As a matter of fact it was Daredevil #12, it had Ka-Zar and his sabre tooth tiger and the Plunderer all on the cover, and my father explained the whole superhero genre to me and I was hooked. So I was eight years old, and I can describe my father’s office down to the last rivet in the wall.

Were any of those heroes for you?

JR: Specifically Spider-Man because that was my father’s work, but when superheroes were explained to me, this was the beginning of the humanisation of superheroes.

What I mean is that Stan Lee took Superman and made it a better character, and came up with Spider-Man. It was perfect. And here was Spider-Man, who was a kid from Queens, New York, whch is where I’m from, that was the other attraction.

My father would tell me, ‘listen, this is Peter Parker and he lives right down the block!’ that kind of thing.

And there was that hook of reality added to the superhero genre, and it explained to me that Pete Parker catches a cold and he gets beat up and he loses – this guy loses! – but he’s a superhero, he's got superpowers and he’s got an aunt and he dotes on his aunt and he worries about her dying.

All of a sudden you have a connection and that’s what dragged me in, and it hooked me.

You brought that bang up to date with Kick-Ass…

JR: Excellent, excellent point, that’s exactly what Mark and myself attempted to do. Mark from the inception, that was Mark’s attempt was to go further than Spider-Man and be real within the real world, not real within the superhero world.

And yet bring superheroes to that real world where people put superhero costumes on and try it out anyway. And it’s actually happening, here in the states people dress up and patrol the neighbourhoods, and things. It’s unreal how this has all played out.

MM: Yes I think, going back to Clark Kent, he was the first nerd’s superhero. And then Peter Parker made that nerd’s superhero a bit more real. He was actually a bit more three dimensional than Clark Kent, he had problems and so on, and then I think Dave Lizewski is the next step to that, it went up another level.

So the character went from one dimensional to two dimensional, to now Dave I think is quite a real life guy. He’s got a Myspace page, he’s got bands that he likes, he’s got his favourite TV shows.

He is a little person, more than Clark Kent and Peter Parker I hope. He does all the things that regular teenagers do that Peter Parker was never allowed to, like squeeze his spots or masturbate on the internet or whatever. So he’s just a real 15-year-old boy.

He’s very much modern day, of our time…

MM: Yeah, I think he’s a 21st century Spider-Man. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself, because the movie got made when only five and a half comics had been written, that even now there’s only been eight comics out there and Kick-Ass has already been a movie. You think, Superman and Spider-Man took 40 years. It’s just odd, it just caught on.

You don’t know what it was, but the comic outsold Spider-Man Issue 1. It’s just weird, it’s one of those things that I think there was a gap in the market, somebody wanted a 21st century version of these guys.

It tapped a vein…

MM: It did, it’s just massively luckily. It just came along, I think if we’d done it five or ten years earlier no-one would’ve given a shit, but it was absolutely on the money.

Were you surprised at how much it took off?

MM: Are you kidding me? Yeah, it’s crazy. I was watching Conan O’Brien the other week, and Jim Carrey walks out dressed in a Kick-Ass suit. I actually thought I was hallucinating, I felt like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind or something.

This is something that was literally a doodle on a WHSmith’s pad three and a half years ago, and for it now to be something that, you know, people get dressed up as a joke and the audience recognise it on the other side of the world, it’s just crazy.

So yeah I’m amazed. I’m amazed to find Angelina Jolie in Wanted and things. I have no idea what this massive run of luck is that I’ve had, but I’m delighted about it. I don’t know what makes one book commercial and another book not commercial, I just do what I want to read.

JR: Yes Kick-Ass has [been so successful], more so internationally, as well as just here in the States. An interesting aside, I don’t know if you’re familiar with a website called National Review online, but in the states here, it’s a political weekly magazine and also online.

And because of the comments about President Obama kicking ass over the gulf oil spill, they did a cover to their magazine where President Obama is dressed as Kick-Ass. The ultimate in compliments!

Your president is Kick-Ass…

JR: Oh yeah, and I think Nancy Pelosi dressed as Hit Girl...

Next: Hit Girl [page-break]

Hit Girl

Was it a shame that certain people in the media made such a fuss about Hit Girl?

MM: No I thought it was great actually, it worked out really well. Almost everybody loved it, there were only a couple of people who didn’t. There was really just Roger Ebert and the Daily Mail guy Chris Tookey.

It was interesting, Tookey in particular, the reaction on the Mail’s own website – and I read the Mail which makes it even funnier – even Mail’s own readers were like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Actually I think common sense kind of prevailed, people saw it for what it was.

Kick-Ass 2 is obviously geared towards a movie sequel. Do you feel the pressure of carrying it on?

MM: Not really, no. I always see the comics and the movies as quite distinct. Whenever I sell the rights to one of my books, I just try to make sure it goes to the best possible person.

I see the comic as the main job, and the movie or the video game or the T shirt or whatever is just really extras. It’s wonderful ‘cos it’s a nice advert for your book, but primarily that’s what I like doing. I have no interest in screenwriting or anything like that.

I love the comics, and I make sure I don’t sell the rights to anyone who isn’t going to do a good job. I joked with Matthew that I saw it as a big million dollar ad for the book.

When you sit down at your desk to take on something like Kick-Ass 2, is there pressure there?

MM: I suppose there is a little bit of pressure, but no more so than if you’re a band that’s already got an established audience. I mean, you do have that difficult second album, if you’ve had a great first album. But I’m lucky that I’ve been doing this since I was 19, so I’ve had a lot of books that I’ve done that people have liked.

So that worry about it kind of leaves you. And in a way it’s actually nicer, because with a new book it might not catch on, but if you’re doing a sequel for something that was very popular then it’s got an established audience already. It actually feels quite nice.

Would you say you’re a fan of comic book movies?

MM: Potentially they can be disastrous, because they are very difficult really to do. But I think the pedigree was been spectacular, when you think about there are maybe 40 comic book movies, and in the last 10 years there’s been about 25. And almost every one of them has been really good.

You’ve had two good Batmans, three good Spider-Man films, pretty much the X-Men films overall were very good. Who would’ve guessed that old TV directors and the guy who did Jaws 4 would be the guy you’d get to do a superhero movie.

Who would’ve guessed there’d be all the A-list talent, Bryan Singer, Chris Nolan, Sam Raimi, Ang Lee – these guys are doing superhero movies! In the last 10 years for some reason, they’re attracting the best actors and the best writers, and I think the movies have been quite good.

It’s got to end at some point, but really over the next few years it still looks strong. I mean this year there aren’t really any major ones out, Iron Man 2 was okay. Next year there’s Green Lantern, a new X-Men film, there’s like four massive comic book movies, Thor and Captain America as well.

Then there’s Batman 3, The Avengers and Spider-Man 4, it’s just crazy. It’s not showing any sign of stopping yet.

JR: Not necessarily comic book movies, I think that’s a danger in that people think that it can rest on its laurels, they have to be a quality story and I am a fan of balance between reality and fantasy. Too much of either can be dangerous.

If you balance it properly I think Stan Lee or my father once said this, you do 80% of reality and 20% fantasy, if that fantasy is set up properly by the reality, you have a brilliant story. If you do much of either, you get in danger, but it has to be a quality story.

And yet conversely, if you do 80% fantasy and make reality the attraction, you can do the same thing. It has to be a quality story, but you cannot do too much of each without having a nice balance. And even if you have an overabundance of one, if you do it properly.

I think Neil Gaiman does that well, as a modern day, more up to date writer, he throws in just a small twinge of fantasy in his stories, enough so that you beg for it. I think when we did Eternals together, here’s complete fantasy, but he threw in that twinge to reality to it. And I think that’s the brilliance of balancing it.

So I do not per se love comic book movies, I do love movies that have that comic book fantasy element to it.

What’s your working day like?

JR: Alright, I’ll give you yesterday as an example. I get up at around 6am, get my son to his school for his finals, came back, exercised and by 9am I am at my desk and work until 11pm. That’s the way things should be.

I’ll be working possibly until midnight tonight, that’s just – Listen, I’m not digging ditches and I’m not building bridges, physically it’s not taxing. I sit in my own house with my beautiful wife and beautiful son, so it’s a comfort zone. But you have to work six and seven days a week, minimum of 12 hours a day, and that’s just the way it is.

Is it a good job?

JR: It is as good as it sounds because there’s no age that doesn’t enjoy this. Whether it’s 85 years old or 52 years old, or 14 as my son is. Every age group loves this genre, and as an artist I will never feel like an old man. I

will always feel like a child because I’m in that fantasy. This is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

John, what are you going for look wise with Kick-Ass 2?

JR: The look - I am almost concerned with keeping up with what I did before because I didn’t know we would be doing two and three, second sequence and third sequence. The trick is to keep the quality up, I know Mark will keep it up with the stories.

The other artists Tom and Dean will do equally as well. I think the storytelling is what I’m concerned with, doing different. My attempt, as soon as I begin, is to try to do something that I have not done before and that’s where I’m concerned.

I know the artwork will be there, but to do something I haven’t done before visually is my quandary. That’s why I work 12-15 hours a day trying to do that.

Next: John Romita Jr [page-break]

John Romita Jr

All the projects that I’ve been making notes on and writing treatments on are that, equal amounts of fantasy balance against reality and vice versa.

So what I try to do at all times is to infuse cinema with my business, and think of it in that respect. Because this is basically sequential storytelling and working with a writer or working with my own imagination, it’s just applying it to the attempt at a film. It’s stop action filming, that’s what we’re doing.

I think anything from here on in that I work on has got to be able to be adapted into a film, it’s only natural.

Do you feel you’re racing against yourself to improve?

JR: Wow that is very insightful yeah, I think of it in a good way. It’s almost like an athlete always trying to improve himself. At some point you will run into a wall. I don’t know if I will run into the wall, I think I will only get better as I get older.

Perhaps I won’t be able to in my 70s, if I ever get to a point where I won’t be able to work 12-15 hour days, maybe that’ll be a concern but that’s a long time down the road, I’m healthy as a horse and I work at that for the sole purpose of being able to produce.

Yeah I am racing against myself, and I’m always competing with myself trying to do better. But again, working with different writers that does help that because it takes you off on a different tangent.

That’s why I’m working with Mark and his twisted imagination. It’s the same thing with his reaction to working with me, maybe I stretch his imagination too. But you’re very, very insightful in what you said, it is a race against yourself, to improve yourself.

As I get older its much like playing the piano, you can only get better as you work longer. If you don’t get better then you’re going to regress.

What people do you think read comics and why are they so popular?

JR: I think everybody reads comics, and because of the advent of the connection to film I think adults read them. But the attraction is the fantasy and especially because of Stan Lee, and I specifically go back to when he created Spider-Man, it linked reality and fantasy.

Whereas before that, it was just Superman being perfect. And Batman being the multi-billionnaire. This is what Stan attempted back in the early 60s was to make reality and fantasy a great combination and he did, Spider-Man is a superhero with human failings.

I think that’s what the attraction is – every kid picks up a comic and here we are with Kick-Ass, a kid picks up a comic and puts on a costume. That’s what we have in attraction is to put that in your mind – to read a comic and to fantasise about being a superhero!

What would you do? What mistakes would you make? And that’s what is so good about Stan Lee’s vision, was to infuse that reality into it. And it’s come to this! When Kick-Ass has been formed, and in complete compliment to Mark Millar, he got that perfect toe-hold on an idea that had been beaten to death.

He found that vein, that opening, that new road. And I think that’s a testament to Mark. Then he handed it off to me, and like a good rugby player I held onto it and ran as fast as I could.

It sounds like Stan Lee’s a bit of a hero...

JR: Yeah, he is, his work is. And that’s what I feel about my father and Jack Kirby. They did something that has set 50 years worth of ideas about, I’m just so impressed with it. Because Stan did, with the intention of infusing reality into it, he has done this.

This is all because of what Stan did with Spider-Man. You cannot do anything except tip your hat to him, because that’s exactly what he intended to do. That’s books, everything you think about, novels are that way.

Fantasy into political intrigue, that’s what you get with James Bond, er the Jason Bourne novels. Anything that combines the two, because listen reality can be boring. [laughs] That’s why people have drug problems and alcohol problems.

So you infuse it with fantasy and that’s what we’ve come to. Stan Lee’s work is my hero. Stan per se? No. My father’s my only hero. But Stan’s work is, that’s correct.

Do you hope that Vaughn makes Kick-Ass 2?

JR: Yeah I hope so. At the very least for consistency, but at the most because I think he’s a brilliant director. Brilliant talent, and I like the guy! I hope it’s the same group of people and we’ll see. I’m holding my breath and crossing all of my fingers.