It's no stretch to say the launch of Mark Millar's new comic book The Magic Order this Wednesday marks the most important debut of his career. It's so big, you half-expect the cover of the first issue to be plastered with bronze age-style proclamations like "Because you demanded it!" or "Fantastic First Issue!"
It's important because it's the start of something new. Millar is one of the industry's top talents and a proven hitmaker (see: The Ultimates, Ultimate X-Men, Old Man Logan, Civil War, Superman: Red Son, Kick-Ass, Wanted, Chrononauts, etc.), and his new title marks the first-ever comic book series released by Netflix. The streaming media giant bought Millar's publishing company Millarworld last year in a massive deal that shook up the comics industry, and now a lot of people are watching to see how the book performs. Will if Netflix's magic touch extends to comics?
Early indications are looking good. Pre-orders for The Magic Order #1 are huge, reportedly the biggest for the launch of a new comics franchise in 20 years. As Millar told SYFY WIRE on stage at C2E2 in the spring, his new series is a bobbed-up take on magic, a sort-of Godfather meets Harry Potter tale about five families of magicians. There are monsters and myths and Shakespearean influences all over the story, laced with violence and sex. In other words, it's tailor-made for multimedia success.
SYFY WIRE hopped on the phone with the Scotsman to talk about his first official project as a Netflix employee. We also discussed how the move changed his creative process, and he explained why he kept two of his biggest properties, Kick-Ass and Kingsman, out of the Netflix deal as a favor to Matthew Vaughn, who just revealed big reboot and expansion plans for both franchises. The always-candid Millar also shared his thoughts on how Netflix getting into the comics game is going to impact the Big Two, and he even revealed the one killer gift he received after getting all that crazy stupid Netflix money.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for The Magic Order #1 below**
The gangster crime family influence is quite apparent in the first issue. I'm curious about which mob movies influenced you while writing this comic?
I wanted to go super-real with this one. I wanted something in the vein of a Donnie Brasco, which is very grounded and a '70s-style movie. The reason for that is that I've had this idea for the story really since I was a kid. It was the way I rationalized ghosts and things when I was really little. I thought, ‘well, no one's ever really seen one so maybe there are people who are there to take care of all that stuff, you know?' I mean the monsters, ghosts and all sorts of things.
So the idea has always been in my head but it obviously didn't crystallize until I was an adult. But there's been so many things that are magical and fantasy and everything, so I didn't want to do something that looked like every other thing. And I love it when two things that shouldn't go together are put together. Like Superman and communism in my Red Son book for DC. The idea of fusing two very different things and juxtaposing them was interesting to me as a writer. So something very ethereal like magic with something as grounded as monsters just suddenly felt interesting to me, because it was something I hadn't seen before.
The first issue gives us a great introduction to these characters. I think Cordelia is going to be a fan favorite. I know I was instantly drawn to her, because she's such a MESS.
She's the one you can count on least, which makes her the most fun to write. She becomes the lead in the series as it goes on. It's funny you singled her out because she has all the screen time in the next issue. In the first issue you only get a little bit of her, but in issue #2 you get her origin story and that's a ton of fun.
Are we going to see different characters take the spotlight in each issue?
As it goes on, yeah. And the story takes two or three very radical turns, things you will not expect at all. You find out stuff you don't expect to find out. The Magic Order has been around a thousand years, so there's a time travel element that comes into play — we''re going to meet the 1940s Magic Order at some point — there is lots of stuff you're not expecting coming up.
What's really nice, actually, is there's a whole world to explore. And it has a pre-established history worked out; I took two weeks and sat down and worked out the histories of these characters who you're actually never going to really see that much of, I worked out their backstories and built a big diagram of everything going back a thousand years. Where the old headquarters was, that sort of thing. So there's tons to explore here. So you're just getting the tip of the iceberg here with this six-issue series.
The last page of issue one is one great ending. What can you tell me about the meaning of that scene?
That person you see in the final page of issue #1 is someone the wizards can't see coming. It's an assassin, one who can actually kill wizards. Whoever is wearing that outfit [the assassin is wearing] is undetectable. So the wizards can't be prepared for it. That character is a big, big deal in the story and it's very interesting where that story goes.
We have a great design team here at Netflix. This is not like a regular creator-owned comic like I used to do in the old days where I would just get together with an artist and make something. I have a team of designers now and we put together a character bible once I had written the story treatment and I said to Netflix, "we're going to do this as a movie or television show at some point, but I really want to do this as a comic book as well." And they saw the potential in the comic too, and they said to me, "well, here's our design team. Use them, and get the best comic book artist you can get."
I told them Olivier Coipel is the number one guy in the industry right now. I don't think anybody is drawing like him at the moment. And he really rose to the occasion here. When we hired him to draw this, I knew it was going to be good. But you've seen the first issue; this is next-level stuff he's doing. I think it's the best art in a comic book that my name's ever been associated with.
Walk me through the process where you collaborate with the Netflix design team. Is it about creating a more consistent look for the eventual transition of the comic series to the screen?
It's actually other way around. Because I'm now on staff at Netflix as an executive, so what happens is, I create seven projects a year for them; that's my deal. Three or four of them each year I'm going to turn into comics. And that's just because I love comics. The Netflix people actually see the value in the comics as well. A lot of them love comic books and they told me, "Hey, it would be really cool if you did some of these projects as comics." So the process is, I create everything I'm doing at Netflix as a movie or television show, but we will also do comics for maybe half of them. I just like having something on my shelf. I'm a comic guy above everything. The idea of not doing comics for even a year would be horrible to me.
So this is the best of both worlds. And Netflix has given me the budget to get anyone from Marvel and DC that I want, which is great. Another benefit to this deal is through Netflix, I have new ways of promoting comics. That has basically been the same my entire life. Comic stores have always been there, the industry has the same distributors, nothing's really changed. The first time I walked into a comics store was when I was 12 years old, and I'm now in my 40s, and it's still basically the same. Things haven't changed at all. But Netflix, they have lots of clever people there and they have great ideas. The Magic Order is the first bet, and they're trying out new things in terms of producing comics and promoting them. The trailer they just released for the series is just the tip of the iceberg.
Why did you decide to not go back to print on the first issue?
The orders for this book are better than anything we've ever had. Ever since I sold the company, there's been a certain amount of interest in what was the first thing we were going to do. People seem to like the concept and the art so it's been a perfect storm of good luck. I think that's helped boost the orders for the first issue. And you know what I really miss? I know some people are down on it, but I miss the scarcity of something.
You know, when a comic is gone and sold out and you can't get it anymore, it's really exciting. I know that can be frustrating for fans, but at the same time it forces them a bit to be there Wednesday morning when it comes out, and get it. I kind of love that and I miss that about comics. Because now, everyone will just print more copies of an issue. So I like the excitement this generates and I think I'll be doing this a lot in the future, meaning no second printings. I just like the idea of people getting it and feeling like it's a treasure. 'I got the book!' And everyone else has to wait for the trade.
You recently handed over the reins of Kick-Ass to a new creative team because your Netflix duties demand so much of your time. What kind of workload are we going to see Mark Millar take on now?
I've always had a relatively small output of work compared to some of my comics friends. What happened here is that, I wrote Kick-Ass before I sold the company, I'm talking about the first six issues of Kick-Ass and the first four issues of Hit-Girl. And I knew I would be bringing in new people to work on the books because those characters aren't part of the Netflix deal.
I kept them out of the deal to keep things simple and easy for Matthew Vaughn, the producer and director of the movies. I didn't want things to get complicated for him by selling it to Netflix and then he's in an unusual situation. So I kept that franchise out of the deal; it's still owned by myself and John Romita Jr. as individuals. I told Netflix that I had written these two volumes that will come out after our deal starts, and then I would hire other people to write and draw the comics moving forward. Because I'm on staff at Netflix, 100% of my attention has to be on them.
Which will be the first Mark Millar-helmed live-action project that we'll see on Netflix?
It's kind of hard to tell at this point. Netflix is very content-hungry, which is very exciting for a creator, because you want to make everything. What that means is there are certain actors, writers and directors we like, and it means we maybe have to wait on them a few months to finish up another project or whatever. It really just comes down to schedules and availability.
Your deal with Netflix is emblematic of what we're seeing across the business. Top talent is getting scooped up to work for one big entity - you at Netflix, Robert Kirkman and his Amazon deal, Brian Bendis at DC ... are more deals like this coming for comics, and is it good for the industry?
Netflix owns all of Millarworld, I don't own even 1 percent of any of the 17 franchises under the Millarworld banner. And now I'm part of their team, so my deal is a little different than say, Bendis' exclusive deal with DC. But I do think that if you're valued by Marvel or DC, they always try to lock you in to a deal. That goes back years. I was exclusive to Marvel for nearly 10 years. Brian was there what, 17 years?
I do think that what is really good for comics is people are jumping from company to company. It's great that DC got Brian. I think the idea of moving between the biggest comics companies is healthy; it gets the blood flowing a little bit, you know? I've never seen Brian write Superman so I'm curious. I'm really interested to see what that's like. And I'd love to see it happen the other way, with some DC guys going over to Marvel. I think it's healthy for people to be moving around in the industry. As for me, I don't really ever plan to work at any other company or on any of their characters again. I'm just focusing on the Millarworld project. I just want to create my own characters and shepherd them.
I imagine you have no problem getting artists to work with you anyway, and now you're at a company where every project is very high profile. It must be appealing to creators.
Well, remember that when we sold Millarworld, the artists on those franchises were co-owners. So those 15 different artists all got seriously rich from the sale. A good half of them have told me they don't plan to ever work again (laughs). I worry that I've seriously destroyed Marvel and DC's talent pools. One of my friends, and I'm not naming names, but one said he'll be on holiday for the next three years! He's just going away on vacation. Another guy told me that he's thinking of taking the next five years off.
It's weird because I'm still working as hard as ever, even though I sold the company. But it's because I love it. And that's how I realized I don't do this for the money in any capacity. I do it because I really love it. And that was the ultimate test, after I sold the company. A lot of people said, 'you're just going to buy a yacht or something.' And I was like, ‘No, tomorrow morning I'll be in front of a computer writing a superhero story (laughs).' When I was five , my dream wasn't to lie on a beach. It was to write superheroes.
It's like when Jerry Seinfeld sold his show into syndication and made a ton of money. He was still performing in comedy clubs in New York with 40 people in them. And I completely understand that now. Getting back to artists and working together, for them, doing it is a no-brainer. The promotion behind the books is so far beyond what Marvel or DC can do, and then it will become a TV show. Whenever something like that happens, like what happened with The Walking Dead, it brings new readers to your comics and trades. So any artist who chooses to work on Batman or X-Men over something at Netflix has got to be crazy. It's such a great deal. Which is why every single person I've went to has said yes. I've got all my artists lined up for the first two years, which is great. I'm talking to people now about 2021. One guy told me he's definitely going to do it, but he's under contract until January of 2021. So I wrote a note in my diary, "have a script ready in January 2021 for this guy."
I know you say you have no interest in buying a yacht and retiring to the south of France. But you're a major nerd and I know you like collecting comic art. Have you treated yourself to anything special with your Netflix windfall?
Yes, I did, sort of. Actually, it was my wife who got me a great one. Since I'm Scottish, I'm cheap and I really hate spending money, you know (laughs)? So I've been telling myself, "Now that I sold the company maybe I'll buy a new pair of jeans!" But my wife Lucy, she knows there's a piece of Superman art that I've always loved. Inside the first Superman comic I ever got back in 1975 when I was five years old was an ad for another comic that had a cover featuring a photograph of the Statue of Liberty and Superman flying by with a kid on his back. It was drawn by Curt Swan and inked by Bob Oksner. I was a little kid and it was the greatest thing I'd ever seen in my life.
I've actually never owned the comic before — it was one of those giant Treasury edition comics — and I always wanted it. But it was never distributed in the U.K. so I could never get it. But my wife actually tracked down the original artwork to a dealer in the States and surprised me by having it sent over for Christmas. So when I opened up my presents I had the original art to this comic. It cost a lot of dough, and probably was something I would never have bought myself. But it was so amazing she bought it for me. And then I felt really bad that I had just bought her perfume and a CD.
Lucy is a keeper.
Oh, I know, believe me. And here's a nice P.S. to that story. My favorite artist of all time is Alex Toth. Everybody who loves comics loves Alex Both. I got three Toth sketches with the Superman art. And the dealer who sold my wife the Curt Swan art said, "Hey, I've got these sketches lying around. And since you paid so much for the other piece, consider this a little gift." And the sketches are some of his original storyboards for the Super Friends cartoon show.
I almost burst into tears when I saw it, it was like the greatest thing I'd ever seen. I hadn't even noticed it at first because it was on the back of the Superman artboard. A couple of hours after I opened the present, they fell out and that's when I saw them. Original Alex Toth art. It was amazing. Just when you think Christmas can't get any better, it gets better.