The marshal plan
Legendary British writer Pat Mills tells Henry Northmore about his new project, working with Kevin O’Neill and the world of French comics
If you have even a passing interest in British comics, chances are you’ll have read some work by Pat Mills. Despite his legendary status inventing characters like Slaine the Barbarian, Nemesis the Warlock and ABC Warriors, he actually started out writing for IPC’s girls comics in the early 70s. It was a move to Battle and Action where he really made his mark. As one of the creators of Battle he went on to conceive the epic Charley’s War, an often poignant depiction of life on the front line in World War One.
The next phase of his career included helping to launch 2000AD and Judge Dredd (also writing the classic Cursed Earth saga), shaping the British comic industry as we know it today. However, it was the introduction of 1989’s Marshal Law that resonated on both sides of the Atlantic. Printed by Marvel’s Epic imprint it was a cutting satire set in a nightmarish world of degenerate superheroes and the ultimate anti-hero, Marshal Law, a man charged with policing the decadent superhero community. ‘He hunts superheroes and, as he says, he hasn’t found any yet,’ explains the verbose and excitable Mills. ‘People ask “how come he hates superheroes so much when he’s a superhero himself?” And of course the answer is “because he’s fucked up!”’
The character was brought to life by the intricate art of Kevin O’Neill, Mills’ most frequent collaborator and sparring partner. ‘I think it’s fair to say that we share a similar dark sense of humour,’ Mills notes while reflecting on their new collaboration for Marshal Law: Origins, a double bill of blackly comic prose adventures. O’Neill adds some splash pages of black and white art and even gets a co-writing credit. ‘One of the things that I think has held Kevin back in the past is that he doesn’t possess a typewriter, a word processor or anything of that sort,’ says Mills. ‘But he contributes tirelessly. I think for a long time he’s been an unsung writer and on this one I thought “we really should do something about that.”’
While Mills has written for the big American companies, with stints on Punisher 2099, Batman, Death Race 2020 and even Star Wars, his dark humour has struck more of a chord with a UK audience and over the last few years has made a mark on the French bande dessinée market with his Requiem Chevalier Vampire series. ‘In Paris you go along to their equivalent of Sainsbury’s and you’ll find there’s a whole graphic novel section,’ says Mills. ‘And they can cover subjects which we couldn’t cover. You have a wonderful book about the Paris communes of the 1870s and you couldn’t do the equivalent about some historical event in Britain in 1870. The standard is really high.’
It’s fair to say there’s a heavy streak of anti-authoritarianism running through Mills’ work. Perhaps the fact that he didn’t grow up as a comics fanboy, preferring political cartoons to superheroes, gave him a unique perspective on the medium. ‘We’re not trying to be trendy or have a dark point of view just because we’ve got an older audience. Anyone who’s read Marshal Law knows I really fucking mean it.’
Marshal Law: Origins is out now published by Titan Books.