One very difficult part of launching something new, for both entrepreneurs and for creators, is to stay focused and on target. It’s not easy to both have a vision and to stick to it. But I’ve been really impressed by Christopher Mills, who has a clear vision and has been tenaciously sticking to it as he teases fans with what’s to come. He’s got his future fans/customers all pretty revved up. I think that in turn keeps him engaged.
Christopher Mills’ Atomic Action will be a new line of comics, embracing a 70s nostalgia and infusing it with freshness and excitement. Dare I say I’m really looking forward to his new endeavor? I caught up with Christopher to find out more.
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ED CATTO: You’ve been teasing the internet with your upcoming Atomic Action project. How did this come about?
CHRISTOPHER MILLS: Just a little less than a year ago, as I was wrapping up a freelance comics script for American Mythology Productions, I came to the realization that even after 30+ years of working in the comics industry, off and on, for independent publishers, I was never going to get to write Batman. Or Conan, Or Flash Gordon. Or any other corporate-owned property that I loved. Not only that, but even if I was somehow to land one of those gigs, I wouldn’t be allowed to write them the way I wanted to. Those properties – and the comics industry as a whole – exist now in a state that holds very little interest to me. It seems very cynical, very calculated, and desperate to be “taken seriously.” I find very little joy in most of today’s mainstream comics, and have, in fact, stopped buying new material for the most part.
Having published a few of my creator-owned comics through Ka-Blam’s print-on-demand service, and selling them online through the IndyPlanet storefront, I knew that I didn’t need to persuade some publisher to let me write comics my way – all I needed were willing collaborators. Fortunately, in my three decades in comics, I’ve made some very good, very talented friends. I decided to write my own “Batman” and “Conan” comics, found friends willing to draw them, and before I knew it, two comics turned into a dozen.
EC: Can you explain with Atomic Action is all about?
CM: It’s about recapturing what I loved about comics when I was 10. That’s when I decided that I wanted to make comic books like the ones I read and loved. Unfortunately, by the time I finally broke in to comics (even in my very minor way), comics had changed a lot from those I’d grown up with. So I wrote my comics the 90s (and 00s and 10s) way.
Now, though, I want to write stories about crime-fighters who aren’t sociopaths, and about noble barbarians and heroic spacemen; stories with a sense of fun and adventure, without literary pretensions or smug ironic detachment. I don’t want to write decompressed “epics” that could have been told in two issues but are stretched out and padded to fill a trade paperback. I want to make comics like the ones that made me want to make comics when I was ten. That’s what these Atomic Action comics are all about.
As for the “Atomic Action” label, it started as a way for me to differentiate these “shared universe” books from my other self-published comics (I publish under the Atomic Pulp imprint) and because I had designed a parody of the old Comics Code stamp for these particular books assuring people that they were “Approved by the Atomic Action Authority.”
EC: There certainly is a focused vibe for your line – and you’ve seem to really hit the nail on the head. Can you explain the thinking behind it all?
CM: The conceit of these books is that they are comic books from an alternate timeline/universe, one where various Golden Age heroes that faded away into obscurity in the real world, actually managed to continue up through the 1970s… and they all co-exist within one shared universe from one “company.” I’ve chosen to use public domain characters rather than create my own for a few reasons. One, I like a lot of them, and think they’re worthy of revival. Two, they come with a built-in history that can be expanded and built upon, giving the stories a pretense of continuity, like DC or Marvel at the time. Three, it gives me an opportunity to play with characters created by artists and writers I have long admired, like Gardner F. Fox, Basil Wolverton, etc. And four, it’s tough coming up with super-hero names that haven’t already been used. This way, I don’t have to.
In some cases, I’m just continuing the adventures of the original characters, building on their history (rather than re-imagining them), and updating them as I think they would have been updated, had they been published continually into the Seventies. Others, I’m treating as second-generation iterations of the originals, as successors. A lot of folks have worked – and some currently are – with the same source characters; I’m hoping that my “Bronze Age” aesthetic will differentiate my versions from those being published elsewhere.
Finally, I’m striving for a certain level of professionalism in the presentation. Not only in the stories and art, but in the design and production of the books, the look of which is intended to evoke the look of Seventies comics, though not a direct homage or parody of any actual publisher. (Okay, I did base my cover template somewhat on DC’s “cigar band” trade dress from ’76).
EC: Your list of collaborators is very impressive. Who are you working with?
CM: Mostly artists that I’ve worked with in the past, either as a writer or when I was an editor at various indy companies. These include Peter Grau, who did a lot of work for Valiant back in the 90s, Rick Burchett, who is best known for various Batman titles at DC, Joe Staton, also a long-time veteran of DC, Don Secrease, Neil Vokes, David Zimmermann, and others. Some, like Chuck Patton, Gene Gonzales, Rick Hoberg, Andrew Peopy, and Sergio Cariello, have contributed various covers. I have talented friends.
EC: It’s obvious you have a passion for comics. Can you give us your backstory?
CM: All I’ve ever wanted to do was make comics, since I was at least 10 years old. I went to the Joe Kubert School in the early 80s, started working in comics as an artist, writer and editor in 1990 for a small, New England publisher called Alpha Productions, moved to Florida in ’95 to work as a writer and editor for Tekno*Comix (remember them?). After they folded, I co-published a comic series called Shadow House for a year, then spent the next decade or so creating webcomics, writing Kolchak for Moonstone Books, and writing a couple of creator-owned comics for other publishers that came and went without much of a ripple. I’m still doing some freelance writing – I just finished a 3-issue miniseries script for American Mythology – but I’m devoting most of my energies these days into the Atomic Action project, which has grown to about 12 stand-alone comics that I’m working on simultaneously.
EC: When should fans get ready for the Atomic Age of comics to launch?
CM: I’m hoping to launch an IndieGoGo campaign for the first book – SPACE CRUSADERS #1, starring Dick Briefer’s Rex Dexter of Mars – in late February or early March. This campaign will basically be a way for folks to pre-order the book and pick up some bonus stuff. After that, the book – and all of my comics – will be available through IndyPlanet. I’ll do the same for each subsequent book, as they are completed. Hopefully, I’ll get three or four of them out in 2019, though that depends a lot on how fast my collaborators – who are working on these books in-between their regular gigs – can complete them.
EC: Thanks, Christopher!
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