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New to the Mansion - Part I

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Some might consider it the luckiest job in comics. Others might say it is the most scrutinized. But one thing’s for sure, if any X-Men book has your name as the writer, you are going to be in the spotlight.

Mike Carey is going to be one of those people. He will have his name next to what is arguably the most popular comic book franchise out there as he takes over writing chores for Marvel’s X-Men for Peter Milligan. Although he is a bit of a newbie to the House of Ideas, Carey has been in comics for quite some time. I was able to have a chat with him about where he has been, where he’s going, and just how he deals with the attention that writing a book like X-Men brings.  What I found was a man who knows his stuff, who has a great love for these characters and their stories, and has a plan to get the best out of them.

Now if only I could find a way to transcribe a British accent…

BROKEN FRONTIER: Mike, seeing as how you would be the least-known of the new X-Men writers, would you like to give a little introduction on where you have come from?

MIKE CAREY: Oh yeah, sure. I’ve been working for Vertigo for about 7 years and it’s my Vertigo work that I’m best known for: Lucifer primarily, a 3 year run on Hellblazer, and a variety of other projects like My Faith in Frankie.  Before that I did a lot of work for [independent] publishers: Caliber in the US, Trident in the UK.  So I’ve been writing comics for more than 10 years, but my Marvel work has only been in the last year and half, really.

BF: Now, I guess the big thing for people who just look at your work and see a lot of the stuff here from Vertigo, it realms more into horror/fantasy than a lot of the Marvel stuff.

MC: Yeah, it does.

BF: As a two-part question, first, could you talk about coming from fantasy into superhero and then going from “mature” mainstream stories at Vertigo to the “teenage/all ages” mainstream in X-Men.

MC: In some ways it’s sort of a historical accident that my reputation is so much based on horror fantasy writing, because my tastes and interests are much broader than that.  It just so happened that around the time I was pitching material to Vertigo to begin with, I was heavily under the influence of Neil Gaiman.  I had been reading Sandman and some of his earlier work like Violent Cases and I was trying out stylistic and formal experiments that were to a large extent based on what Neil was doing at that time.

And I still regard him as one of the finest mainstream comic writers. But at the same time, my own interests have always been extremely wide and I have a great love for superhero comics.  I grew up reading them. And I think when it’s done right, superhero work can be some of the most enjoyable comics writing.  So it’s true that I don’t have much background in that genre apart from the stuff I’ve been doing for Marvel over the last couple of years. Yet, that’s not because I’m not interested in it, it’s because my first big break happened to be at Vertigo and in the horror/fantasy field. So, from that point of view, it’s not as big a departure for me as it might look like from the outside.

As far as the shift in readership is concerned, I think, as people like Philip Pullman, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore have proved, it’s possible to write works which while they don’t rule out a young audience, while they don’t have any kind of content or language which would make it impossible for children to read or enjoy them, are still extremely mature and thought-provoking and don’t talk down to their audience at all.  And I think that’s the kind of superhero work that I’m going to aim to write.  You can call it “all ages”, but not in any sense “kid’s stuff.”

BF: Let’s get to your X-Men run a bit more specifically, coming up after Peter Milligan’s. It’s hard to qualify it, but it looks like with the X-Men they always hit a real big name, a real big comic name, and then a guy for more of the aficionados.  You know Whedon for the big name, Claremont for the X-Men name, and then Milligan which was like, for the people who read the [non-superhero] books.

MC: Right. [Laughs]

BF: Will you be following some of the themes Milligan had going?

MC: I don’t think so. Obviously, I’m writing in continuity, so there are things that he has seeded that I’m going to return to. But while there are themes and some elements that relate to his run that I will revisit, in no sense was any specific sensibility or approach or body of material pushed at me.  I was given a clean slate and I was invited.

[X-Men Editor] Mike Marts basically said, “How would you want to take the book, what type of stories would you like to tell with it?”  So no, it would not be fair to say that they had approached me to continue things that Pete had begun or to carry on in the same vein.

BF: What type of stories are you looking to tell?  Epic?  Down to earth?  Small arcs?

MC: I’d have to say epic.  I think that’s the natural mode of the X-Men books, the natural register.  There are other ways to handle it, as Peter showed in X-Statix, but epic is what I’ll be aspiring to.

BF: At the start of Milligan’s run, it didn’t seem like fans and critics really jumped at it.  They might have been very excited about the announcement, but never really warmed to him as the writer. Do you think there’s a special microscope that X-Men writers are put under and do you feel any pressure coming from that?

MC: I think the fact that there’s such a large body of dedicated readers does make you feel like you are under scrutiny, being watched by an awful lot of people and sort of forming their judgment of you. I guess there is a certain sense of pressure or performance anxiety that arises from that. It’s particularly acute with the X-Men book but it must be sort of true for all the top 100 books. 

But just because the X-Men have been going for so long and because they’re ever popular, there are an awful lot of readers out there who have invested a lot emotionally in these characters and they’re watching anxiously to see what new creative teams will do with them. I think every X-character has its own following and people immediately start to give you a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” on the basis of who you chose and what you might do with them.

So yeah, I do have the sense of that spotlight, I do have the sense of that microscope.  I try not to let it bother me. [Laughs]

BF: [Laughs] Well, I can assure you that you’ve avoided one constant complaint because Wolverine isn’t on your team.

MC: Right. [Laughs]  On the other hand, I’ve got Sabretooth, the Wolverine substitute if you want.

Visit us again tomorrow for the second part of our Mike Carey interview!

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