Taking a well-loved set of comic heroes, wiping out their collective history, and recreating them in a brand-new book is no mean feat. To then actually outsell the original is almost unheard-of in the heavily loyal world of comic collectors. But as a wryly self-described ‘barely literate Scotsman from the ass-end of nowhere,’ comic author Mark Millar seems as surprised as anyone at what he’s been able to pull off.
Poached two years ago from DC Comics by Marvel, Millar penned The Ultimate X-Men, a revamp of the 40-year-old franchise that starts the story from the beginning in an attempt to pull in new readers. It turned out to be the highest-selling book of 2001, only to be ousted by Millar’s follow-up project The Ultimates, which sold 50% more copies than the X-Men franchise. ‘The idea behind The Ultimates is what it would be like if the Marvel superheroes existed, and how long it would take Donald Rumsfeld to sign them up,’ Millar says. ‘I’m always writing the kinds of things other people might not get away with, but as long as the books are bestsellers, the publishers are endlessly supportive.’
Since his success with Marvel, Millar has been courted by several prodcos interested in signing screen deals for projects he’s working on under his own Millarworld comic imprint. The first concept, called POW!, will attempt to draw in more girl readers and turn the superhero mythos on its head by telling the story from the bad guy’s perspective. Millar is also working on a sequel to the Bible that he describes as ‘Harry Potter for fundamentalist Christians.’
But comics are not his only forte. Last year, Millar revamped a major U.K. food chain’s character marketing strategy, and his four-year-old daughter inspired him to write a kids book.
Millar hit the comic industry’s radar in 2000 with the release of The Authority, which won best story at the 2002 Eagle comic awards in Bristol. Millar is still working with DC on the Superman: Red Son series that launched in April. It speculates about what would have happened if the American icon’s ship from Krypton had landed in communist Russia. ‘I see comics as a great opportunity to get my ideas across,’ he says. ‘It’s superheroes, yes. But we’re constantly talking about 9/11, the war on terror and all these things that children are fascinated by, but which no one else is talking to them about.’