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Interview: A conversation with comics legend Chris Claremont Pt. 2

The Longbox Theory

The following is the conclusion of our interview with legendary comic book writer, Chris Claremont:

Are there any artists you’d want to collaborate with? Perhaps someone you haven’t had the opportunity to work with yet?
Scores! Lots of people! Yeah! That’s the nature of it. The thing about comics is that it is a landscape of infinite possibilities. And potentials that are breathtaking. In both how to tell a story, and how to just put the reader on the edge of their seat, and think…

X-Men #1 sold 8 million copies. Still the all-time record

X-Men #1 sold 8 million copies. Still the all-time record

All I ever got to do was edit Jack Kirby, and part of you thinks wouldn’t it have, and what if?.. On the other hand, I got to do an X-Men story with Milo Manara—who’d have ever thought of that? It was fun! I wouldn’t put it up there as a great story. For me, it was a Saturday afternoon movie. But it was with Milo Manara, so who the heck cared? It was fun. That’s what this should be—fun! I’ve had an opportunity to work with some of the best artists of the last two generations, and my chief way of relating to it is to think, “I’m not done yet.” I’d like to think I’m not even close to done yet. Who knows what’s gonna come next? But hopefully it’ll be really, really cool.

You recently returned to the X-men by contributing to the Kitty Pryde/Colossus Wedding Issue, can you share any other your future plans? Are there any projects you currently have in the works?
Yes–I did a short story for that yes.
And any other projects you care to mention–something in the works?
Umm–not really…like many writers, I tend to feel a tad superstitious talking about projects until they’re actually done. If I talk about them, I might not finish them and that’s self-destructive if not defeating.
Okay–we can change topics then…
Sorry! [Laughs] No worries, I don’t want to mess with your streak or your superstitions! Good! [Laughs]

Do you think the industry is healthy? That it will remain as it is, or even grow again? Obviously there’s been contraction, but there’s a lot of great work out there…
I think it’s a need to synergize the publishing of material with the distribution and sale of material. My argument back in ’91, when we got the numbers on X-Men 1, and we were sitting there like “Holy! Oh my goodness—this is scary…” I said what we should do then was spend the next year working to make the stories so dynamic and unforgettable that we hit issue 12 in spitting distance of seven figures. If we could get to issue 12 and still be in the high sixes, or maybe even seven figures, that’s the game changer! Who knows if we’d rolled into ’92 and ’93 with X-Men sales in in the six-hundred, seven-hundred thousand or more, would there have been an industry implosion?

glmkYou look around the world and you figure out a way to make a story matter to the readers. I mean, God Loves, Man Kills was Weezie‘s [Louise Simonson, long time editor and writer at Marvel] and my decision to sit down and do our ultimate X-Man story and to do it about something—so we did it about religion and prejudice. And we did it as a graphic novel because that would be a totally wrong story for the monthly series, because it would get lost in the weeds.

The thing about the monthly series is that you’re on a marathon—so you’ve got to pick your moments. And the moments might be cumulative, but the other side of it, at least for me, is that you’ve always got to be aware that you’re writing for an audience that spans a tremendous…[Laughs]…it’s a lot of people… in the sense that, a fifteen year old, or a kid in middle school can pick it up and get a kick ass adventure out of it, but when he or she is twenty-five they can pick it up and see something completely different in addition to the original story. And if they come back when they’re forty, they can see something even more textured.

Yes, in a sense, Comics are a niche hobby that actually has a broad and diverse audience.
Except that isn’t a niche hobby any more—that’s Harry Potter! You’re doing a story that’s creating a world that the audience wants to be a part of. Why do they want to be part of it? Because there are people in that world that they care about. And the one advantage is that the people in the world that they care about don’t age.

You mentioned that you felt a responsibility to look out into the world, and take current events or issues into account, and perhaps work them into your stories. Do you feel that’s still part of your role or your remit as a writer?
Of course! Otherwise, what’s the point? But for me, my argument always ways, “Everyone else can stay in New York, but I’ll take the rest of the world!” [Laughs] No, seriously. The whole point of doing the Excalibur series that we set on Genosha, was to do a) a post-apocalypse story, but b) to do one that was right next to Africa—and for the first time explore Africa as a potential for characters, for conflict, for resolution, and maybe go the other way and play the same thing with India. And cross the Hindu Kush and dance around Western China. I mean, the potential for stories, character, imagery throughout the Euro-African-Asian mega continent, is just extraordinary.

And the thing about comics is that you can hypothesize anything and not have to blow $20 million on special effects or locations or anything else—you just use your imagination. For me, that’s what makes comics transcendent. All you really require is the ability to tell a story…with a pencil. And you’re off and running.

Phoenix had to die, but it broke our hearts. Until they brought her back, and most just got angry

Phoenix had to die, but it broke our hearts. Until they brought her back, and most fans just got angry

And as I said, if you slip on a banana peel, you fix it next issue—or turn that into a story in and of itself, and make the audience laugh. I mean, nobody seems to have any fun anymore! I’m talking about the characters! It’s like they’re [grunts] there’s so much potential, and so much life, so much energy, and so much…relevance, in the Marvel pantheon! That to not embrace it, to not find a way to exploit it—in the best sense of that word—to not be energized by it as a creator or as a publisher, is insane! Everyone should just get their collective heads out of their collective asses and have a great time and let the characters fly! I mean, otherwise—what’s the fucking point?!
But then again, I’m an old fart—so what do I know? [Laughs]

The writer’s job is help the artist visualize a kick ass story and then fill in the nuances and textures that the art hasn’t. But in the end, it’s getting the reader to go from top left to bottom right, flipping the pages, until they get to the last panel, of the last page, and say, “Oh my God, what the fuck happens next?!!” [Laughs]

Is a deep existing continuity/canon a burden or hindrance, or do you see it as good shorthand? How do you engage new readers if you have ages of it?
I think it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. The thing about continuity is, if you can find something that makes you want to use it—and then you can make it work—use it. You figure out who the characters are and where you want to go with them, and whatever works to propel you down that road—mazel tov—and whatever doesn’t work, ignore it, and let someone else play with it! There are no limitations—there should be no limitations… Stan’s point was, “You’re given these character in trust, you can do whatever you want with them, but you’ve gotta put them back the way you found them, because someone is going to come in after you.

I suppose the one takeaway is, never limit your imagination in terms of approaching the characters or the concepts, just remember that everything, unfortunately, is fungible. And like it or not, it’s a lot easier to slip on a banana peel than not. You just have to keep trying, again and again and again. And hope that in the process you ignite and energize the audience as well.

Comic fans everywhere attest to the fact that Chris Claremont has succeeded as few others have in igniting and energizing his audience throughout his illustrious career. Here’s hoping he continues to do so for many years to come!

1 Comment

  1. marcoman

    March 25, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    I found Salute by accident and saw that you have a two-part interview with Chris Claremont. I was so curious as to what he had to say about today’s continuity in today’s storytelling and what he’s been up to. He and John Byrne had a huge creative impact on me and helped me appreciate the art of story-telling. I would travel for miles via public transportation to a frumpy comics store called Comic Books ‘N’ Things in Hawaiian Gardens, California. For my brothers, cousins and myself this was quite a journey and would be an all-day outing with comic books and blistered feet as our reward for trekking to get our clutch of comics. This was during the late 1970s and early ’80s. Thank you for bringing back those fond memories Carlos and Chris!

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