Caught In The Nexus: Pat Mills

Pat Mills is the most influential man in British comics history having effectively invented the modern British comic with his creator/editor/lead writer of the 1970s trio of Battle, Action and 2000AD that dragged British comics away from an outdated post-war mindset and into the more vibrant and subversive present. With 2000AD he helped discover such artists as Mike McMahon, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland and Kevin O’Neil all of whom went onto achieve legendary status often in collaboration with Mills. After quitting as 2000AD editor he became a full time writer co-creating and writing such classics as Ro-Busters, ABC Warriors, Nemesis, Slaine and Charley’s War for a variety of British comics. He has also seen success in America with the influential Marshal Law and above all in Europe with stories such as Requiem and Torturer proving popular. After a few years troubled by conflicts with the then 2000AD editorial team of Andy Diggle & David Bishop he has in recent years returned with new series of Slaine, ABC Warriors, Savage and an all new creation in Black Siddha. He recently agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us.

The Nexus: Thanks for agreeing to an interview with us Pat. Prog 1400 will see the return of the ABC Warriors for the second book of the Shadow Warriors. How pleased were you with the first book after the troubled The Third Element story?

Pat: It’s terrific.

Read the ABC novel in which the original dialogue for the Third Element was put back and you’ll see why I was justified in calling it editorial vandalism. In both cases there was a lot of input from Alan Mitchell who gave me some fabulous authentic black street dialogue that blew me away. That’s what I wanted for these crazy soldiers.

It’s important to always write from a position of truth.

You see, I don’t know anything about how G.I.’s talk; so I wouldn’t attempt it with bogus dialogue taken from movies or whatever.

And so this genuine black dialogue got messed up by Andy Diggle’s editing. I was horrified. My toes curled with embarrassment! Can you imagine a white guy editing and writing new lines – without consulting – to a black rapper’s lyrics? Well, that’s approximately what happened.

And then some!

That’s why I had to write the novel – with Alan – to put things right.

The Nexus: There has been a change in artist for the second book with Henry Flint taking over from Carlos Ezquerra. Have changed your writing style to get the most out of Henry Flint’s unique style?

Pat: Not especially.

The Nexus: This will be your fourth collaboration with Henry Flint after Nemesis, Deadlock & ABC Warriors: The Third Element. What is your opinion on him as an artist and a collaborator?

Pat: He’s great

The Nexus: Earlier this year saw your return to Judge Dredd with “Whatever Happened to Tweak?” and Blood of Satanus II. You played a large role in the development of Dredd yet have in recent years refused to write him due to your vision being out of sync with John Wagne’s. What made you change your mind?

Pat: I didn’t refuse to write him. On the contrary – I was deliberately and skilfully blocked by Dave Bishop when John Wagner and Greg Staples wanted me to do Satanus a few years back. We had to wait until an editor like Alan Barnes appeared who didn’t have any reason for stopping an old Dredd writer become a new Dredd writer.

The Nexus: Satanus is an example of your habit of linking your stories into a shared universe as through him Flesh, Judge Dredd, ABC Warriors and Nemesis are you linked. What interests you in having your characters share the same universe and history?

Pat: Often it’s the only way. Example; Years ago 2000AD editorial kept saying ABCs were coming back when they weren’t; and when they hadn’t asked me. I felt this was appalling and cheating the readers. So I brought them back in Nemesis. Similar reasons apply elsewhere

The Nexus: Staying with Judge Dredd Megazine, we’re in the middle of the second series of Black Siddha. This tried to marry Indian mythology and culture with superheroes, how successful do you think you have been?

Pat: The siddhis were the original super powers, so there’s no effort involved. As he says – “I can’t be a super hero. I’m not American.” The female’s reaction to this crap roughly approximates to my own. E.G. Since when have Americans had a monopoly on being heroes? Especially right now in Iraq. It’s time we lost this questionable Anglo-American monopoly on heroism. The rest of the world sure feels different about us.

The Nexus: You mentioned that your researched Indian culture to write the series including staying with an Indian family. How important is research to you when developing your stories?

Pat: 100 per cent important

The Nexus: The Megazine has also been reprinting your work on Charley’s War. Irrespective of people’s opinion of the moral of the story all have recognised that it’s a work of power and meaning made all the more amazing by the limited space you had to work in. How do you explain the ability of a twenty plus old strip to inspire such emotions when many ten year old Batman stories look old fashioned and twee?

Pat: Because its roots lie outside the fantasy genre. And because it’s real

The Nexus: Moving onto your 2000AD work, you’ve just completed the first book of Savage. This was a sequel to a series that you had wrote when editor or 2000AD only to see it harmed by becoming overly traditional. How did you go about updating it not only to your original intention but beyond?

Pat: Very easy. Research and thought. The publisher back in 1976 really gave me the leads, but I was too young to see the opportunities that I see now.

The Nexus: You’re a writer who is open about giving all his writing with a political sub-text yet many people were left struggling to decipher what your message was with Savage. What were you trying to tell people with the story British people’s guerrilla resistance to Volgan rule?

Pat: Well that’s news to me. I didn’t think anyone was struggling. I’d have thought it was so obvious! If you invade someone’s country you have no right to, people will resist and be called terrorists. Iraq etc. Clearly it has to be credible so the Russian stuff is heavily researched (e.g. check Zhirinovsky as a doppelganger for Vashkov). It’s a “plague on all your houses” – so it’s negative towards all Invaders whether it’s USA and GB in Iraq; or Russia in Chechnya. In both cases it’s all about the oil.

Frankly, I’m not fond of the question because you can’t win. If you write on the nose, some readers object because it’s too in your face. If you filter it, they “struggle”.

How about – just enjoy it and stop worrying? That’s what I do when I read a story. It’s more fun, believe me

The Nexus: Earlier this year saw the third book of Slaine: The Books of the Invasions. How pleased were you with how the story went?

Pat: Pretty cool

The Nexus: The Books of Invasions has been greeted with a positive reaction with many seeing it as a return to form for the character after the poorly received The Secret Commonwealth.

Pat: Well let me stop you there. The Secret Commonwealth had a great artist David Bircham who wasn’t suited to the story. I told David Bishop my concerns before I started and he said “trust me” and over-ruled my objections.

I suggest you direct this question to Bishop. I’m sure he will have some answer – but consider this”¦ As a result of his decision, David Bircham rarely gets to work for 2000AD which is not fair. Don’t blame the artist who needed the right story – crime or similar, not heroic fantasy.

The Nexus: What elements do you think are present in The Books of Invasions that weren’t in The Secret Commonwealth that makes the former a better story?

Pat: They are absolutely the same. Trust me. And that means a lot more when I say it.

The Nexus: Clint Langely has over the course of The Books of Invasions become one of the most celebrated artists in the strips history. How pleased are you with his portrayal of your writing?

Pat: Great. We usually meet up and talk it all through. (That kind of writer artist getting together was editorially discouraged in the recent past, by the way)

The Nexus: The likes of Neil Gaimen, Alan Moore and Warren Ellis argue that all good stories and characters need an end. Could you see yourself writing an end story for Slaine like you did for Nemesis in 1999?

Pat: Yes, absolutely. But we’re not there yet. Sorry, Rogue Trooper readers.

The Nexus: In recent stories you’ve used a lot of homosexual characters with villains in Blood of Satanus and Savage being openly gay whilst villains in Black Siddha and Slaine having a gay subtext. This has raised question as to the nature of your attitude towards homosexuals. What would be your response?

Pat: Black Siddha”¦? I’m lost there. Rak Shasa and Rohan are both hetero.

Quinotaurs in Slaine”¦? Hey – whoever has a problem there needs to see a shrink, I won’t even dignify that with a proper answer. Except find out where your sense of humour has gone.

Blood of Satanus. In Satanic circles, some branches of Gnosticism espouse gay ideology for questionable esoteric reasons. Check out the roots of Catharism and Bogomils. And don’t tell me that’s just Catholic/Crusader negativity because there’s much more going on – there’s any number of dubious Gnostic cults as well as positive ones, the latter I would relate to personally. It’s a subject I have heavily researched and therefore know that gay chap is valid as the leader of such a satanic cult

Savage”¦ Chantry is based on a guy I knew personally. Added to with elements of Anthony Blunt and that slime ball M.P. Tom Driberg – usually regarded as a great man because of his journalistic skills, which somehow made his deviant crimes okay. Check out upper class High Anglicanism and what Evelyn Waugh had to say about it and guys like Driberg.

I wanted an upper class fascist – so I drew on these three elements.

We have bad guy heterosexuals – who I will base on people in the same way. Is it invalid to have others?

What someone will say is – yes. If so, there’s no point in debating with the terminally p.c.

The Nexus: After that answer my question seems pretty silly and over-sensitive. Hope no offence was caused.

Pat: None at all. I’m very interested in gay issues myself. Some of my best friends are gay lesbians, but I think one difficulty is if we characterise a heterosexual or gay pervert we are often said to be anti-gay more than anti-hetero; when in fact they are both criminals beyond both cultures. Driberg was a good example. He is often highly and shamefully rated within the gay community as an icon (you’ll find him on one of the web pink pages) when he was a proven and self acknowledged paedophile. Although the references to this are obscure and minimal, they are out there. (he once asked L. Ron Hubbard the head of the Scientology cult how to hypnotise so he could have power over his young prey). I’ve read his autobiography and his biography, by a gay writer, I think. Both made me want to vomit. It’s unfortunate that the gay community don’t disassociate themselves from such truly evil but “cool” people – but if they don’t, then hetero people like me who have met scum similar to him will do it instead. He was very much the impetus behind Chantry, although there are only minor opportunities for hints of Driberg’s appalling behaviour. If comic villains are evil, they should be really evil – not Gothic pretend evil, although there’s no need to see this evil in detail.

Aleister Crowleigh saw Driberg as his successor, referring to him as the next Great Beast. They were both involved with black magic famous novelist Dennis Wheatley. So you can see how that also connects with my Satanus story. These scum were and are out there. Much of Driberg’s particularly dubious practises got hushed up, but I’ve traced strong connections between High Anglicanism (the established Church of England) and Satanic practises (especially in Britain in the 1930’s in East Anglia where Driberg lived) and Driberg, the spokesman for the High Anglican tradition (he met the Pope) to figure out what was really going on and what could never be recorded in print. You can guess. It’s not nice.

It’s why one of my favourite comic scenes is V for Vendetta where V gives a dubious Anglican Bishop poisonous holy communion

The Nexus: After Slaine: The Horned God in 1990/1 your achieved a large amount of fame in European comics. How does working this market compare to British and American comics?

Pat: I daren’t comment. But consider this”¦when I started 2000AD, my inspiration was principally European, mainly French comics. If you lose sight of your roots, you lose sight of who you are.

The Nexus: Heavy Metal have been reprinting Requiem, your tale of a German soldier who after dying goes to hell and becomes a vampire. What inspired you to write these tales?

Pat: H’mm”¦ Now that’s interesting you should ask that. Your questions suggest you have a certain insight into some of the things that make me tick. My dilemma”¦ should I answer that truthfully; or skim over the surface, given that your forum may not be the right one for a detailed answer.

How’s this? It’s inspired by re-incarnation themes which is something else I’m very heavily into. I gave talks on the subject to the Psychic Questing Conference for a couple of years. That gives you some idea of how VERY seriously I take the subject.

I’m not trying to be glib, but that’s possibly all you really want to know.

By the way”¦ what is it with us comic writers? We all seem to be into some aspect of the esoteric or another. What’s happened to the wholesome writers of yesteryear.

The Nexus: In an interview with Judge Dredd Megazine last year you mentioned a number of European series, what do you think are the chances of the likes of Torturer and Claudia-Vampire Knight getting an English language version either in anthologies like Heavy Metal and Judge Dredd Megazine or a Graphic Novel?

Pat: Torturer – unlikely. It’s very strong. Reincarnation again.

Claudia – yes. I believe it’s provisionally been agreed to run it in HM; subject to it looking cool when it comes out. And it does! The artist Frank Tacito is brilliant. How does he do it? The guy’s a doctor as well, you know.

The Nexus: This year also saw the release of the Marshal Law text novel Day of the Dead. How do you find the process of writing a prose book different to a comic book?

Pat: Yeah – there’s another Law novella after that.

I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun

The Nexus: Marshal Law is a character that has been cited by Mark Millar has an influence on the three big British exports to America of the nineties; Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and himself all of whom have had a massive influence on the shape of superheroes. What do you think of the thought that a character created to kill superheroes now helps define how they are wrote?

Pat: You must bear in mind, European comics are my main interest. So, although I like American material – like Harvey Pekar, for instance – I have no real idea what’s going on; and what influenced them, or even think about them.

You know, there are great comics in Europe. And the sales are pretty damn good, too. In many cases way ahead of American sales. Believe me, there IS comic life beyond your shores and beyond men in tights

The Nexus: You’re on of the most influential editors in comic book history with your work in creating Battle, Action, 2000AD and (de facto) Toxic pushing the boundaries in Britain (and later beyond) of comic writing, art style and attitudes towards creator rights. Based on this experience and the number of editors you’ve worked for what to you makes a good editor and are these qualities different from the ones you needed in the 1970s?

Pat: H’mm “¦ shall I rise to the bait on this question? Okay”¦ Editors in the 1970’s were a different breed. The talented ones could and were expected to creatively rewrite material and had to because of the need to shape the material for a new generation; plus the lack of talent amongst many of the writers they were using.

For anyone to do that today would be silly. The circumstances and the material and the times are so different. And without talent it would be a profane imitation, a kind of warped power trip, rather than a genuine intention with a positive outcome; confirmed by the high sales we got on 2000AD and other comics back then

In today’s world, a respectful interaction between established writer and editor with give and take on both sides would seem appropriate. And that’s what we have on 2000AD right now. Alan or Matt may e- mail me and say they like this, but think that should be altered on a story and they will confirm I’m happy to oblige. So I couldn’t be happier that a temporary Dark Age of a few years ago has gone by.

And so should the readers – because believe me you’re the guys who lose out when editors leave a lot to be desired.

The Nexus: What do you have planned for the rest of the year?

Pat: More of the same. And I’m itching to do more Savage – although I think Chantry has to die. Which is a shame – cos I’d really like to explore the sick personas of the scum that inspired him. But Bill’s got the shooter – not me. So all you p.c. fellas can relax.

And there’s a French Heroic Fantasy series I’m doing with a new artist which I really have got to keep my gob shut about. But the art is pretty damn hot

The Nexus: Before we close is there anything else you’d like to say to you fans?

Pat: Er”¦ Yeah. I’m guessing that you’re a 2000AD fans; so you obviously realise I feel the same way and have enormous affection for 2000AD. Just bear in mind a lot of the past history of 2000AD you’ve read about”¦ has been”¦ er”¦ filtered. So I get the feeling that some of you are drawing wrong conclusions without actually knowing what was going on behind the scenes at the time. The Bircham example above is a good one. I could survive that storm – but he didn’t. And I think that’s sad and unfair.

I think it’s more that many 2000AD fans are actually making points when you don’t know what’s really been going on behind the scenes and no one seems to ask the really relevant questions which should be asked…

Like the Fleetway film and tv projects about six, seven years ago. What actually happened there? To my knowledge that has not been asked about, looked at, and everyone seems to accept a brief official version which is not the case. That is far more relevant to the quality of the comic you read than some gay guy being defensive about all gay guys being whiter than white. It seems to me that some fans, at least, are more into what I term “creator baiting” – than concerning themselves with how their publication could be made better, by being aware of past mistakes crucial to avoid in its future direction. That would be a more positive usage of the power of fandom.

For example… What happened to all the thousands of pounds of profits from 2000AD that, despite many storm warnings from me and others, were poured down a drain on that project with the active knowledge of those running the ship at the time. (It may be outside your forum, but if you ever choose to pursue it, find out the basics elsewhere and then I’ll fill you in on the gaps; and possibly get you further info besides.)

If your Slaine fans – I wish there was a separate forum because I think you sometimes get drowned out in the overall 2000AD feedback. My experience is that Slaine fans are often a separate breed because you’re into the Celtic mythos first and foremost; which I relate to strongly. And of course that works the other way. Some regular 2000AD fans seem to dislike Slaine because it stands apart. That’s a shame. I wish it didn’t have to be quite so divisive

Remember the late Archie Goodwin’s advice”¦ “Keep telling yourself twice a day”¦ it’s only a story”¦ it’s only a story”¦”

And if your Charley’s War fans”¦ Titan are finally reprinting! Great! I am so thrilled. I am so crazy about Joe’s art. That man was such a genius. I feel so privileged to have worked with him.

The Nexus: Thank you for sharing your time with us Pat.

Pat: I enjoyed it. I hope I cleared up a few misconceptions.

You can read Black Siddha and Charley’s War in Judge Dredd Megazine every fourth Wednesday; issue 222 is out July 28th.You can read ABC Warriors every Wednesday in 2000AD. Both are available in all good British newsagents and worldwide through airmail subscription. Check Previews for American for Direct Market Listings for these titles and Heavy Metal magazine.

Thank you to Jamie Boardman of Rebellion for helping us contact Pat.