November 30th 2009

Kieron Gillen Interview

Man of the moment takes on the God of Thunder - LF talks to writer Kieron Gillen on projects past, present and future

Interview by Gavin O'Reilly

Liberation Frequency: Do you see any of your comic work ever being translated into another medium? If so, what? (film?)

Kieron Gillen: Impressionist dance! Well, we talk to people in other mediums. When we did “Phonogram”, the reason du jour among indie people at the time was that you do your own indie series, you sell it to be made into a film and you make a lot of money. I hated that logic. So when I made “Phonogram” I deliberately tried to make it as un-filmable as possible, or at least certainly not comfortable for a film. The captions are very old fashioned; there's something perverse in its approach.

We did have someone who wanted to do a radio drama. It was a sort of stroke of genius, in that it is the opposite of comics. We have pictures and visuals, we don't have sound or time, and they had literally everything we don't have. I thought translation could be really interesting, but I couldn't work out how they were going to do a radio series. They had the idea of it being like a mix tape, so you would actually play the whole records and you would have the dialogue in between, it could have been a bit like Chris Morris's “Blue Jam”.

LF: Phonogram has grabbed a lot of attention; do you enjoy the cross-section of fans it appeals to?

KG: It does get to people outside of normal comic books. I like there being a wide variety of comics, myself and Jamie wanted this to be the kind of comic we would read- we are the audience. I love the idea of someone's attitude towards comics being changed, but most people are into comics in some way without thinking of it like that. With Calvin & Hobbes, and Garfield, everyone reads comics; they just don't class themselves as comic readers.

One of the things I am most proud of is an online thing I did with Charity Larrison called “Busted Wonder” which was aimed at 11 year old girls, and very clearly so. It was fun trying to get them into post modernism and the idea of destroying everything with their minds. I like the idea that comics can be great for whatever situation you are currently in, like gaming, there is a game or a comic out there for everyone.

LF: Do you feel rooted in the indie UK comic scene?

KG: Yeah, it's where we came from. Even before I started in comics, I did music fanzines. The singles club and Phonogram are essentially fanzines with pretentions to comic goodness, but it got printed.

LF: How does it compare to the craziness of conventions in America, the likes of San Diego?

KG: Oh they are different. San Diego is how you imagine it. Thousands of Star Trek people walking about. I do like with the British shows how you can go to the bar and end up chatting to someone who does something really cool. Nobody worries about that person being famous here; it feels more like people just being in a pub. “Thought Bubble” in Leeds is really good, and it has a fantastic mix of people.

American conventions are more like a holiday, despite working 50 hours in four days. I quite like running a table, as it gives me something to do and it's kind of like a goldfish bowl, a very slow moving look at teenaged life. The best thing about the conventions in America for me is that you make so many friends and associates online that you never get to see until you go there.

LF: With a foot in the door of the Marvel universe, are you going to continue with Phonogram?

KG: The problem is money; we don't make enough from Phonogram. I would have thought we would have gotten more money than we did, but it is interesting to learn how it works in publishing, how many places money goes before you get any. We do want to do Phonogram again, and we have thought of different ways of doing it, but Jamie is blocked up for another year or so. In about two years we will probably do another one, if we could work out a way. Which - realistically speaking - is pretty unlikely.

LF: Have you got any other independent comics planned?

KG: I am doing a few things for Avatar, which you might not count as indie, they are me-created, but there is an actual commercial bone in their body. I am booked up with the Marvel stuff until early next year now. I am thinking of doing something more indie maybe next year, a three issue mini, I feel like I have blown my indie cred in a way. People think I am crazy for saying I want to do something more indie. The Avatar stuff is due sometime 2010, which I would describe as action/adventure with the violence turned up a little. It's called THE HEAT and is a cop-drama set on Mercury.

LF: It seems at Marvel you are beginning to occupy a nice space in the cosmic/space/mythology part of the universe- is this where you are most comfortable?

KG: It seems to suit me. Certainly more so than noir, y'know? I would be terrible at crime fiction. I have no pretensions of understanding how criminals think. I don't think I could write noir if I tried.

LF: Have you got an itch to do straight-up spandex super-heroics? Tempted to do a JLA or an Avengers story?

KG: I could do a “Stormwatch”, as in I think I write politically. I think I could write x-men, because it has a balance of street level with the cosmic, and has that identifying factor with anyone that has ever been persecuted against. I could see myself working on the large cast of people interacting. I am lucky with S.W.O.R.D. as it occupies a really interesting place in the Marvel universe, between “normal” super heroes and the cosmic side of things.

LF: With S.W.O.R.D you are dealing with your first ongoing series- how are you finding the flow ofthat compared to more finite works?

KG: It is different, with the other works it was like a short story or novella. With Thor I was taking over an ongoing, you have a set up and you want it to flow and keep it feeling like an ongoing. With S.W.O.R.D. I feel like I am building the engine- how it could work as an ongoing, and where the stories can come from. This could be canceled after five issues, or it could be canceled after five hundred.

I am trying to build a machine with a sound underpinning that could go on afterwards. I want to write something continual, because the Marvel universe always continues. I am trying to create a matrix of characters that are interesting enough for an ongoing, with a lot of possibilities.

I am trying to strike the balance of being happy to have a self contained story with what I write in it, but have enough elements that could carry on. With the universe being shared in Marvel, I am trying for it to enhance rather than hinder the stories.

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LF: With the Thor issues you have coming up, you are following up on a JMS run, on a comic that has been very well received since its re-launch- does this make you nervous at all?

KG: No, I mean after the vomiting and the screaming every day, I eventually calmed down. Yeah, I would be an idiot if I wasn't nervous. When I was offered the gig I asked the editor what he was drinking. It's a really big stage and you don't want to make a mess of it. It has taught me so much about the industry, the characters and how Marvel works; JMS had left it somewhere special. I think it will soon become clear how good a position he has left me to work in.

LF: On the other end, on a title like Thor, how much consideration needs to be given for the next writer to take up the mantle? Are you setting things up or giving direction- or is it complete free forall (and for your editor to deal with)?

KG: I am aware of the parameters of the issues to work in, as in I know where I want to leave it. I just want to provide an interesting narrative, as JMS has done I want to leave it in an interesting position for the person after me. I am pushing it in a logical direction, but it is from my perspective, and they are great characters. I don't worry about it too much; I think it will be a really good story in the end. You don't look for limitations; you just look for a great story.

LF: The next six months look they are going to be pretty jam-packed for you- do you think you could manage another project in that time?

KG: The good thing is I have been writing a lot of stuff ahead - so while the next six months is terribly busy, a chunk of it is already done and it'll only need a few more hours of tweaking at the art stage. There's other stuff in there too - I should have some of the Avatar stuff released then. There will be a few small things around the edge but I am basically booked up for six months. Though I do have an online adventure game which I'm working on with Littleloud for Channel 4, this is completely different and very interesting. I have a lot of control of the structure there - which is cool. It's called THE CURFEW and it's a near future civil-liberties game, believe it or not.

SWORD #1 starts a new ongoing series written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Steven Sanders, and is set to debut November 11th. Kieron's mini series “Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter” has just recently finshed, and his run on Thor begins with issue 604, due out November 4th. Check out his workblog for updates on all of his projects, including the acclaimed Phonogram series and Singles Club and the as yet unannounced Avatar Press projects.

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