You like the X-Men movies? Did you cheer when Big Hero 6 won an Oscar? This is the man you need to thank for all of it, Mr. Chris Claremont. A veteran comic book writer, he's responsible for the rising of Marvel Comics in the mainstream, he made the X-Men cool again, he created Big Hero 6 and he wrote the stories behind all of the X-Men films. Not to mention his amazing original fantasy comics, and the fact that he paved the way for female characters in superhero comics.
I was honored enough to be able to interview him at Long Beach Comic Expo on February 28th. I'm still in a little bit of shock, as this man is truly a legend.
1. When/why did you decide to get into comics?
Sheer dumb luck! When I was in university, they used to shut down in January and February for what they would call field period. Students were expected to go out and get a job related to their major. At the time, my majors were political theory and acting. It was January of 1969 and in the newly-elected Richard Nixon White House, the odds of a student at a radical leftist school getting a job in political theory were limited. And let's face it, there were no jobs in acting at all on Broadway in those days. So, I figured I'd get a job related to writing. My parents were good friends with Al Jaffee at Mad Magazine and I figured I could wprk as a gofer. That would be cool. Al called my folks and told them, "There is no way in Hell I am going to get your son a job at Mad Magazine. You are my friends. You would never speak to me again. Do you have any idea what goes on there? But I do know Stan Lee. Would he like to work at Marvek comics?" And I said yeah, that sounds cool. So Stan called me up and literally said, [imitating Lee] "Hello there, true believer!" He does talk like that. And he said yeah, we could use a gofer, but we're a small cheap publishing company and we can't afford to pay much. And I said, "Well this is for college credit: we're not allowed to ask for money." "You're hired!" Next thing I knew I was in the office for two months. It paid train fare, all of twenty bucks a week.
2. You've inspired many generations of writers. Who.inspired you? What did you like reading when you were young?
Books. Theatre books, classics of English lit, classics and modern American lit, anything and everything, including more science fiction than I can shake a stick at. The first professional sale I ever made was to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. So, I've been a member of SIFA for longer than I care to count. And when you read, you know, people like Henry Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, to walk in their footsteps is really cool. And to try and do better is even cooler. So, I guess my rule is I'll keep trying till I get it right! Fortunately, I still have a long wat to go.
3. You're known for giving female characters more prolific roles than others in your generation did when you were doing X-Men. Did you have any idea thay by doing that you were setting the bar for the future of women in comics.
I wasn't interested in setting a bar, I was interested in creating good characters. Most of the women I know are not wallflowers, they are strong, assertive, professional, pardon the expression, kick ass ladies. Why shouldn't they have characters on paper or on film that they can relate to, that walk the same path? It's like, why should Sue Storm be a wimp? She flew up into space: that takes guts. One of the most seminal elements of the X-Men success back in the day was that we were selling upwards of four hundred thousand copies an issue, aiming for five. At least a quarter of that were women. If you've got hundred and fifty thousand readers who are women, who are interested in the story amd inspired by the characters, willing to come back month after month, or twice a month as we were in the summer, then it impulses a responsibility on the writer to generate characters and circumstances that make the experience worthy of the audience. And because we're a serial meduim, keep them coming back for more...and the way to keep them coming back for more is give everybody stories they think are cool, and characters they relate to. That should be for any serialized publication, for any TV show, for any movie. [Seeing someone hand him the comic to sign] Big Hero 6, had really cool characters, many of which were female. Well, arafa is a special case, because John is just too darn brilliant for words. If you do brilliant, strong, dynamic female characters, you have to create dynamic male characters to stand with them, beside them. Dynamic evil villains to oppose them. You up the game for everybody. Half the fun of Mystique as a villain is she wins as often as she loses if she's done right. If you create great characters and put them in situations that are wotrthy of them, then ideally the audience will come, keep coming and want to see more. If everybody is interesting, it doesn't mean they're not flawed, or that they won't screw up. The point is, if the people in reality are exciting, the fiction should mirror that.
4. When you were originally working on comics like X-Men and Big Hero 6, did you ever think that, decades later, they'd be not just as popular but evem more so now?
I never think anything [laughs]. When I started marvel was a dying company. None of is thought that it woulf be around by the 1980s, so the whole point behind Dave and I doing the X-Men was we just wanted to have fun, and let the chips fall where they may. No one had any sense that the industry was about to turn inside out and take off like an ICBM. I suspect if we had, discussions would have been a lot more interesting in terms of ownership and character rights, but that's back in the day. You jnrow, if I could turn back time, if we could see the future...but we can't. You just had to play the hand you're holding and c'est la vie.
The thing with the X-Men was that I and the editors and artists I worked with managed to crystallize around an arc of characters who were fun to read and fun to write and fun to draw. Ideally, the audience kept coming back for more, and the sales kept going up. From my perspective, as a writer and a creator, that's exactly what I wanted. I think that's all any writer in a commercial structure would want.
5. Out of all the original, creator-owned comics that you've created, do any stand out as your personal favorite? If you could go back and and add anything to them, what would it be and why?
My favorite is the one I haven't done yet, so that's the next one on the list. In terms of going back, ehat would I do? I'd try to find a way to persuade John Bolton to do the next Marada the She-Wolf. I'd try to find a way to talk Michael Golden into finishing the project we started. I'd try to talk me into spending more time doing the creator-owned work than the mainstream ones, but that's...you play the hand you're dealt. I'd find a way to make Sovereign Seven more commercially dynamic. It would've been fun being an executive at Marvel and having a hit title at DC simultaneously.
6. What is a title that you would like to work on thst you haven't yet?
At this point, from that perspective, I've written pretty much everything. If I had my drithers, what I'd want to do now is my own stuff. I came into comics in an era when Stan's dictum was, he gives you a book. Doing stuff for Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse or anyone else, it's theirs. It's fun, but that's work. Id like to try and do more stuff that's mine. The frustration in terms of comics...I mean, years ago, I had an offer from a major book publisher, a three volume graphic novel, a hundred and twenty eight pages. They were willing to pay ninety thousand dollars a book. So the way it would be split was it would be thirty grand for me, sixty for the artist. I'd cover the lettering and he'd do the colors. And that was in 1990, so that was serious money. And it was a major publisher. Not a comic publisher, but a prose publisher. Couldn't find anyone, because artists could make more money working for Marvel or DC, and then selling the originals at conventions. It was a lot easier to just dp an issue of Spiderman, than to take the risk of a graphic novel. Maybe the ideas weren't perfect, either. I don't know. The personnel changed with the publisher and the deal went south. But that's the frustration of the real world of comics. Sometimes it meshes perfectly, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you'll have Mark Malar amd John Romita Jr. coming up with a kick ass story that is instant money. My problem is, the original stuff that I was interested in and that I worked with when we got published was all medieval fantasy. Not so cool. But that's life in publishing. You keep trying till you get it right.
7. Inspiration behind Shadow Moon?
George [Lucas] and I sat down and--I love this, I'm saying "George and I sat down"--we were together for a day at Lucasfilm, just talking about the concept, talking about the world, talking about ideas he had, ideas I had, and seeing what meshed and what didn't. My feeling from the start was that all we saw in Willow was a small fraction of a world, and I wanted to show more of that world. I wanted to get different people, different types of people, different cultures. To demonstrate that Elora Danan's role in the world was important amd why it was important. But also, if we're doing a book about Elora growing up, a whole arc about her, the essence was to create in her a tangible, real person that the audience can relate to, that they can understandas a human being. Not as an icon and then try and see what happens next. The same goes for Willow. It's not that he's just an object, the dwarf, he's a person. The elves were people. The idea was to do with the novel what I dis with the comics, with any other stories, make the protagonists real, identifiable, so that when you get to the end, you sit back and realize it was a good ride.
My wife's, the brains of the operation, attitude is: better I should have spent the three years working on something that was mine, not something that was George's, but the fact is I'm as much of a fan geek as anybody. The chance to work with George was just, like, "Oh, man, Mr. Lucas!" We are but fools. Not that it wasn't fun, it was great! It's just...woulda shoulda coulda. My Stan Lee moment done sideways.
8. Out of anyone dead or alive, be it an artist, writer, producer, or anyone, who would you most like to work with?
Shakespeare. I used to be an actor and I'd love to do it for real. Because, there's no way I can pick one writer, or one artist or one anything to work with in the present, because it would always be a "but". And even with Shakespeare, it's like, yeah, but you know...John Huston was cool, too. You win some, you lose some. Perhaps there's another dimension where there's Chris Claremont who's an actor.
9. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
I haven't a clue!
You can find more on Mr. Claremont at his official site.
You can attend the next Long Beach Comic Expo/Con, just click here!