Mark Millar is one of the most prolific and successful comic-book artists writing today. He has also been one of the most successful writers in transporting the visual page to the silver screen, with a repertoire that includes Kick-Ass, The Kingsman and the upcoming Nemesis. His latest comic, Huck, has also been picked up for a big-screen adaptation by Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8, and, judging by the first issue, this might Millar's most successful character idea to date.
Huck is the story of a small-town blue-collar gas attendant that derives inspiration from Frank Capra, Captain America and the movies of Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. It's the story of a guy who finds happiness in doing one good deed each day. This good deed could be rescuing a kitten from a tree or jetting off to another country to help out in an international crisis, yet, after he does this, he always asks for the people he helped not to talk about it. Huck doesn't want any attention, and, in that, there is a purity to his actions that is admirable.
Mark's artist collaberator for this series is Rafael Albuquerque, known for his brilliant work on Vertigo's American Vampire series. He creates a world that shows the small town with a 1940s vibe that portrays the type of Americana shown in icon films where white picket fences dominate the landscape and the local shop owner knows each person who enters. It's a love letter to the Gary Cooper age of cinema, as well as the feel-good movie era of the '80s, and it has a distinct flavor of the American mythos.
I spoke with Rafael and Mark about their series, its inspiration and how a writer from Scotland and an artist from Brazil could create something that so brilliantly showcases the romantic themes of 1940s/'50s America ...
I really enjoyed Huck, and it has quickly become one of my favorite first issues in a while. One of this character’s shining glories, that I would like to bring up, is that he loves doing random acts of kindness. Mark, can you talk about your inspiration in making a character like this?
Mark: For a few years I was thinking about this character who was a small-town guy that was quietly doing these things with a special ability. He lives in this small, Frank Capra-like community where everybody knows who he is, but people on the outside don’t. So this kind of thing has been in my head, and then I met this guy one day at a center I volunteer at every Friday. He was a little old guy with a learning difficulty, and he did a good deed every day. And that was a lovely idea that sort of stayed in my head. As a writer, you’re a little bit of a kleptomaniac. You jot little notes down about people you’ve met from time to time, but that always stayed with me. I think it’s interesting because both the character and the person I met has some kind of learning difficulties, and I kinda liked the idea of that, because there was a purity to it. There was no agenda. He wasn’t trying to make a point or prove how nice he was or anything like that. He just did it because it was the right thing to do. It’s what endears me both to the old guy as well as the character. He’s just doing it 'cause it’s the right thing to do, and as superhero fans, we just love that, don’t we?
Does the man know you formed the character based on him?
Mark: No, generally a million things happen in daily life that I throw together in a book. It could be a line or a situation, and many times when friends of mine actually read the book or see the movie they’ll say, Oh my God, that’s the thing that happened to me! So, generally, I keep a little law book and jot down these thoughts, but this guy I saw for two weeks and never saw again, yet the experience of meeting him obviously stuck with me.
Rafael, Huck’s environment looks a lot like a fairy tale. There are a lot of soft tones and brilliant hues. Can you tell us about how you wanted Huck to look?
Rafael: We were trying to bring a lot of nostalgia from the '40s and '50s, something that had that American feel from the past. We took references from Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis movies, and Norman Rockwell, or something similar.
The name Huck, itself, is such an Americana name because of its correlation to the Mark Twain novel, and you made him a very American, blue-collar hero. Can you tell me the decision in naming him Huck and making him blue-collar?
Mark: I love blue-collar characters, because so few characters are. We worry about billionaires like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark even though in real life these guys would fire us without a second thought, but there is something nice and pure about blue-collar characters because they’re a bit more like us. So I wanted to do a blue-collar Midwestern type of character, because I find that kind of endearing. And for the name, well, my first experience with America as a kid was a combination of Tom Sawyer and Superman, probably. I remember watching Mark Twain characters in movies as a kid, and it made me think of a world, kind of like Smallville, with white picket fences, where everybody knows each other. And that’s the kind of America I fell in love with. Even though I grew up in Scotland, I had the American flag in my bedroom as a kid. There’s something very romantic about that world. I don’t know if it ever existed, I don’t know if it exists now but I love that vibe and I wanted this to have a very American feel. As a foreigner I found that very romantic, and Huck is my love letter to that.
Was it easy to write in that romantic American environment, Rafael?
Rafael: Well, the United States has a culture so well spread, it is very familiar. There’s a lot of American movies and American comics, so it’s not such a big leap to understand it. Of course, when I look around, it’s not like Brazil, it’s definitely different, but with America, everyone can still relate to regardless of where you are.
One thing that jumps out is that Huck is blond and there are not many blond superheroes. The only one I could think of is Steve Rogers, Captain America. Did you come up with the idea of making him blond, and did Steve Rogers influence you?
Mark: I think we played around with it, but I can’t remember if it’s me or Rafael. When I talked to Rafael I said I wanted a big, heavy-set, blue-collar guy. He should look cool, but he shouldn’t look slovenly. He should be a well-bred, well-mannered, Midwestern guy who was incredibly strong and just looked reliable. Channing Tatum, essentially, but I’m not sure if I said that.
Would you say he’s a 1940s man in a 21st-century world?
Mark: Oh, absolutely. That’s why Captain America was a template for me. A lot of people say it reminds them of Superman, but for me, actually, fundamentally, it was very much that Captain America idea of somebody that is very straight down the middle and you know that he will absolutely help you get the job done whichever way he can. Another thing that was a big inspiration for me is a movie called Being There. It’s a Hal Ashby movie with Peter Sellers. It’s one of my top 10 movies of all time. I love that Peter Sellers was a simple character with this inner wisdom, and I wanted to create something like that.
Could you also talk about the gas station attendant uniform? Would you call that his uniform or his superhero costume?
Rafael: Huck is kindof an ideal hero within the real world, which is what makes this project special. I think what we were trying to get was pretty much something that would remind us of being in uniform with all the symbols and colors but also take place in the real world. He’s a working class hero and, as a gas station attendant, I could play with the design to make it like an angel or savior in a way. Every time you do a superhero, you’d like to have some kind of symbol or use strong colors and that’s what we did with Huck in a way because I wanted to get that brand on his back that would remind people that he is a hero and something that is iconic.
Mark: Totally! I like iconic characters that have something that makes them instantly identifiable. I think one of the best things about comics is you can look at them and immediately know who they are which is why the probably translate so well to cinema. I wanted something that was like a superhero uniform but also something that a normal person could wear in real life and garage overalls seemed perfect.
One of the things I’m curious about is that Huck not only does local nice things but he also does good deed after learning problems in international news.
Mark: I like the idea that he has been doing international things. Like, for instance, if someone lost a dog in France and it makes it on the television, or in a newspaper or something , he may sneak over to France and help out. You know the idea is that he does one nice thing a day and nobody really knows what that is. So, it might be uprooting a tree stump from a neighbor’s farm or it may be finding someone that has gone missing in Australia but we may never know. And I think that’s what might make him an American myth as a character because if you take how long he’s been doing this, say 10 or 15 years, and multiple that by 365, then that’s a lot of good deeds. And they can’t all be in the small town. So, I like the idea that if a kid loses his pet mouse he would find it, but he would also help those kidnapped girls in Africa as well. And the thing that he tells everyone is that since I helped you, please don’t tell anyone about it. I like that old fashioned super hero idea of not wanting to be in the front pages.
Now, it does seem like there’s an opposition between what he does and the world around him that seems to be more focused on material wealth. Are you creating an opposition of happiness coming from wealth to doing random acts of kindness?
Mark: I always like to have a fundamental idea with all of my stories and I think this comic’s idea is that doing nice things for people is ultimately what makes you happy. I work in Hollywood and I meet a lot of famous people and I would say that 99 percent of them aren’t happy. And it’s funny because people aspire to want this but the stress and the worries about their image makes it a curse. I believe there’s a moral to Huck since he’s not seeking fortune and glory and that quiet happiness comes from the fact that he’ll do something small for people, once a day.
I’m also interested in how all the violence happens off the page. What was the decision in making that?
Mark: I just like to mix it up. If I was doing a Superman movie or an Indiana Jones film I would make it so my seven year old self could watch it and love it. It doesn’t mean a lack of drama, though. Part of the fun of Kick-Ass was the silliness of a ten year old girl shooting guys in the face. You can only do that in a gory way, 'cause that was the gag. Whereas something like Huck, you’re working different muscles, and I like to mix it up. And where we’re at as a culture, I believe, with me as a viewer, I just want to read things that make me feel good.
Could you also talk about the movie cover variants?
Mark: That actually came from Sean Murphy. Sean came up with the idea, when doing Chrononauts of doing buddy movie variants. Like Back to the Future and Lethal Weapon those type of things. So, for Huck, we tried to do feel good movies like Goonies and Field of Dreams.
Rafael, you recently put a cover up for sale on ebay that sold for 710 dollars for charity. Can you talk about that?
Rafael: Lately, the metropolitan area in my state in Brazil has been attacked by flooding and intense rain, which made a lot of people lose their homes and sometimes farms and animals. So, they lost a lot. Basically, due to the situation, it’s a bit of a crisis, so we thought it would be a good chance to auction the cover and raise some money for the people.
How did you meet up with Rafael, and how do you work with him?
Mark: You know, we only recently spoke for the first tim,e and my accent is impenetrable. Rafael is Brazilian, and while Americans have trouble with my accent for Brazilians it must be even worse. So we spoke for the first time recently and while I could understand everything I was saying, but I secretly think he had no idea what I was saying. We’ve only done email before then and it’s worked really great. I’m such a fan of him as an artist. It just worked. It must have been how Richard Donner felt when Christopher Reeves walked out wearing the Superman costume. It just feels nice.
Rafael: Well, we both have weird accents so it sounds different. But for me all accents are tough. (laughter)