Thursday, 24 October 2013

Interview - Pat Mills [Creator / 2000AD]


Pat Mills is the creator of 2000AD, who was not only responsible for creating the comic in the first place, but has been writing for it ever since its inception, often with one, if not two or three strips running concurrently in the magazine at any point. One of those series that he has been writing is the legendary, Sláine, which he co-created with Angela Kincaid in 1983.

I would argue that Sláine is up there with Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper when it comes to the most recognisable icons from the 2000AD stable of characters, and clearly the character is an enduring one, having appeared regularly in the weekly anthology since his creation, even being one of the rare strips to be awarded the honour of having an entire issue dedicated to it (Prog 1100). 

This month sees the release of the beautiful hard-cover collection of Sláine: The Book of Scars, which revisits the character’s 30 year history through a somewhat nostalgic trip (albeit, a painful one for the character) using key artists from each era to revisit old stories, so I was VERY lucky to be given the opportunity to speak with Pat about the character of Sláine and the 30 years they've spent in each other’s heads.


PCB Blog: Hello Pat, let’s begin by jumping back in time to the origins of Sláine, before his first appearance in Prog 330. At the time, 2000AD featured primarily science-fiction content – Were there any fears at the time about introducing a character, whose world of Celtic mythology and fantastical creatures/demons seemed at odds with the more modern, scientific nature of the other strips in the magazine?

Pat: No fears at all. Later there was some covert opposition from various fan sources outside 2000AD but they didn't represent the readers, only a small but influential faction who wanted to lead it down a direction that worked best for them rather than the comic as a whole.

They certainly held the view you’re describing.


PCB Blog: Did Sláine’s position within the fantasy genre (without any sci-fi slant) lead to any second thoughts about publishing it in 2000AD, and if so, were there any other options for it to appear elsewhere?

Pat: The question never arose. I knew the story would be successful and it was. Thus Angela’s episode one was Number One in the popularity polls. The first time ever that a rival serial had beaten Judge Dredd since around Prog 12


PCB Blog: When it came to plotting out the series, did you have a rough idea for a long-running storyline, obviously not 30 years’ worth, but how far in advance did you plot? 

Pat: A very long way. I wanted material for him to evolve and there are still concepts I had at the beginning which I haven’t yet drawn on


PCB Blog: Was it on a story-by-story basis, or did you have certain plot points you wanted to gradually reach?

Pat: I knew that … One day he would no longer be a wandering bum and would return home.

I also knew that I had to work out the Dark Gods responsible for bringing terror to his world.


PCB Blog: Looking back to how you wrote the series in the early days against how you approach it now, do you think much has changed?

Pat: In primary terms – no real changes. Pacing, character etc has probably gotten more sophisticated.


PCB Blog: One of the interesting things about Sláine is the richness of the universe, especially its ties with Celtic mythology and how it can be enjoyed on two levels – the purely surface level of watching a beefcake warrior with an axe, grinding the skulls of his enemies into mush, or following the adventures on a deeper basis with its strong ties to Celtic legend and its delicate blend of fact and fiction. As a writer, do you prefer to set your stories within the confines of the real world or legends and subvert it from within, or to have free reign to completely imagine your own rules and universe?

Pat: I think the real world and real legends are often more interesting than pure fantasy. I see what I'm doing as bringing them to life for a modern audience


PCB Blog: With Sláine: The Book of Scars, you had the chance to revisit some classic stories alongside the original artists involved, which must have been a unique experience to add to those adventures and retell elements of them. Were there any particular ‘eras’ of Sláine’s history that you were excited to revisit?

Pat: The Wickerman is a huge favourite of mine. I might even refer to it again in flashback in the forthcoming story. And Slough Feg fascinates me.


PCB Blog: Did you notice any changes in how you approached your scripts to suit the various artists involved in this epic journey through 30 years of Sláine?

Pat: Yes – the stories must adapt to different artists. So with Simon Bisley, there’s comedy as well as epic imagery; with Glenn Fabry there’s presenting Sláine as a rock star; with Clint – opening up the story to cinematic possibilities; with Belardinelli – the beauty of nature and the horror of the warp spasm, which he drew first. The scripts adapt to their strengths.


PCB Blog: Of the various creature designs by the multitude of artists who have worked on Sláine – do you have a favourite? I'm quite fond of Clint Langley’s Moloch, and its brutal eye piercing!

Moloch by Clint Langley

Pat: The monstrous dragon in Belardinelli's Dragonheist. And Moloch!


PCB Blog: Although Sláine himself might not ‘think it too many’, have there been times when editors have ‘thought it too much’ and asked you to tone down some of the more gory and risqué elements of the strip? 

Pat: In the Dave Bishop era, there were times when I don’t think they got some of the weirder Celtic ideas which are what distinguishes Sláine from other barbarians. So I had to modify them somewhat. And early on, there was some resistance to axe blows by comparison with gun wounds in other stories.


PCB Blog: As a reader looking in, the weekly Prog seems a much different place to how it was a decade ago, with the infamous ‘sex issue’ which came poly-bagged to protect children from the robotic sex-dolls in Judge Dredd, being the moment for me, as a reader, where 2000AD embraced its mature side and begun to slip in the occasional nipple or low-level swear-word without having to resort to emblazoning a ‘Mature Readers only’ warning on the cover. Have you noticed any differences in the way the stories, not just Sláine, have changed as the comic’s target audience has grown older?

Pat: Yes, there are subjects which I couldn't have hinted at in the beginning but which could be inferred or shown in a restrained way now. (e.g - The death of Niamh at the hands of Moloch)

That said, we shouldn't – in my view - become so adult that younger readers are alienated or not allowed to read it.


PCB Blog: There has been a resurgence of Fantasy-based TV serials recently, with Game of Thrones and Spartacus being notable examples. What are your thoughts on adapting Sláine as a similar TV serial drama, providing that it was given the freedom, as with Game of Thrones, to be completely uncensored with sex and violence? 

Pat: There’s been a little interest over the years. Of course it would be great if it happened.


PCB Blog: Have there ever been any attempts to make adaptations (Film, TV or Video-games) in the past, and is it something you would be open to, if it were to happen?

Pat: Sure. I know Duncan Jones likes Sláine. And there’s that brilliant Spanish trailer for The Horned God on YouTube.


PCB Blog: What do you think has made Sláine popular with the readers of 2000AD for these 30 years?

Pat: He’s based on a strong story dynamic that is relatively unusual: the dwarf who creates comical and dangerous scenarios for Sláine. And he is based on Ireland’s great hero Cuchulain. Plus I'm passionate about the character and the idea that Britain and Ireland are a great basis for fantasy. As opposed to the Greek or Egyptian legends. The Celts also are natural rebels, proto punks, which strikes a chord with me and the readers.


PCB Blog: And what about the character appeals to you to generate three decades worth of stories?

Pat: All the above. And exploring human nature. Fantasy is a good way to do this.


PCB Blog: Have you ever seen any cosplay of Sláine, or any of your characters before?

Pat: I saw a Marshal Law a while back. He was impressive! I’m looking forward to my Sláine beanie hat, but that’s as far as I would go! A few years ago I took some sword fighting lessons to get into the character further. I had all the gear: chain mail gloves, sword, helmet and shield etc. It was a lot of fun.


PCB Blog: One of the aspects of the stories that I enjoy the most is the relationship and banter between Ukko and Sláine – how do you see the relationship between the two of them? 

Pat: It was originally based on Minder and Steptoe and Son, although it has a life of its own now.


PCB Blog: Over the thirty years, there have been some critically-acclaimed stories, such as The Horned God and The Books of Invasion, but there have also been some amazing shorter stories that may have gone unnoticed between the bigger, more epic adventures – which would you say is your favourite story that you've written for Sláine, and why?

Pat: Probably episode one because it sums up the character in one story and introduces everything that counts. So we have Sláine cheating in a fight against a Rex by throwing a frog down its throat. The frog expands, choking the monster. Ukko’s idea, of course. This is very different to the way Conan and co would do things and that’s why I like it.


PCB Blog: Reading through the collected edition of Sláine: The Book of Scars, I was amazed at the comprehensive level of detail that went with the supplementary material, with hundreds of pages covering the various cover artwork that accompanied the series throughout its thirty years. Is there a particular piece of Sláine cover artwork that is your favourite?

Mine would have to be Prog 1095, by Duncan Fegredo, where Sláine is getting to grips with his religious side, quite literally, by romancing a nun. It’s such a beautiful and daring piece that just stands out amazingly. Equally, I also love Clint Langley’s wrap-around covers from The Book of Invasions.

Prog 1095 Cover by Duncan Fegredo

Pat: That’s a tough one. I think Clint’s covers have been particularly memorable; giving the character a cinematic quality. At the time of writing I haven’t got my copy of Book of Scars to check back, so there may be another. I look forward to checking out the Duncan Fegredo cover you mentioned. It’s been so long since I've seen it!


PCB Blog: Do you have a final story in mind for Sláine? How do you envision his end - a peaceful death surrounded by what loved ones he has left, or at the end of a blade in the heat of battle?

Pat: I think he’d have to die in battle. But even if I wanted to kill him, I don’t think 2000AD or the readers would let me. And quite right, too. He’s passed that point. Think of how Strontium Dog had to come back.

That said, I wouldn't be keen on anyone else writing him if I retired from the character. I doubt it would happen - these days there’s much more respect. Thus no one would write Halo Jones after Alan.

But – just in case – I always make my characters very difficult to continue with another writer by constantly shifting the story goal posts so there’s no obvious formula or setting for another writer to easily grip onto. This is very deliberate on my part. It’s not likely, but there’s the odd hungry hack out there who might be tempted. The damage these guys can do to stories is considerable. Thus the sequel to Charley’s War in World War Two killed the character stone dead in a matter of months.

But I think reader feedback would stop that happening on Sláine.


PCB Blog: In the short-term, what does the future hold for Sláine.  We know that there is a change in artist in the near future, with Simon Davis taking over from Clint Langley as the regular artist for the strip, but is there anything else you would like to tease?

Pat: Ah! Simon’s work is amazing. Every artist is brilliant in their own way and says something new. Simon is no exception! There’s a picture where Sláine is having a drink and looking thoughtfully at his victim and wondering whether to stab him with a sword or behead him. The victim meanwhile is rambling on to Sláine  unaware of his impending fate. The expression on Sláine s face is a joy! This is kind of new territory to me and is rendered by Simon in a way that an actor would have trouble competing with.

Sláine also enters a whole new fantasy world in Britain. It’s been covered a little in the past but now it’s fully explored. It’s based on the authentic British legends of New Troy which have been overlooked and have great potential.


PCB Blog: And finally, as a general question, do you have any other upcoming work that you would like to tease our readers with?

Pat: Lots on World War One. There’s a graphic novel of WW1 poetry and I’m dramatizing one of the poems with David Hitchcock. We also have our own project about brothers who fought in WW1, with the theme “The World is my Country”. Very necessary with these revisionist authors around at the moment whitewashing the butchers of WW1. I’m interviewing Joe Sacho this Saturday, so I'm about to look at his graphic novel on the Somme. The pages I’ve seen are superb.


PCB Blog: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Pat, I really do appreciate it and look forward to seeing more from Sláine and your other stories, in 2014!

Pat: Cheers, Jamie, I enjoyed answering them.



Pat Mills has his own blog where he frequently posts updates and he can be found on Twitter as @patmillscomics. Please visit him and let him know how much you enjoyed his interview here!

Sláine: The Book of Scars is on sale from 7th November, available through the 2000AD webshop and Amazon.co.uk.

To celebrate the book's launch Pat Mills, along with artist Clint Langley, will be signing copies at Forbidden Planet in London on 6th November

3 comments:

  1. Enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great interview! I loved your questions.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great interview. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete

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