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Interview with Mike Carey

Written by Brian Burchette on Tuesday, September 29 2009 and posted in Features

The Outhouse's own Brian Burchette, aka Starlord, brings us an interview with the legendary Mike Carey, writer of X-Men Legacy, The Unwritten, and so much more!

Mike Carey

Mike Carey is one of the most prolific writers in fiction today. His entire Eisner Nominated run of Vertigo’s Lucifer has been lauded by many fans as one of the greatest runs in modern comics, to date. He’s currently the writer for X-Men: Legacy and The Unwritten, and has also written three highly entertaining novels that I highly recommend.

Mr. Carey was generous enough to take a break from his work to answer a few questions that I, and a few other staff members, asked of him.

Outhouse: I'd like to start with the Felix Castor novels. A really fun and fascinating character, mind you. How long did you have him sitting in the back of your mind before you put him on paper, and is he based off of anyone in your real life experience?

Carey: To be honest, Castor was sort of serendipitous. I'm a big fan of Raymond Chandler, and I'd also been reading and enjoying the Anita Blake mysteries - at the same time as writing Hellblazer. Somehow those elements came together in my mind, and I started to think about how you might do a supernatural noir novel in a Chandler-esque style, with an exorcist playing the role of Philip Marlowe. I pitched the resulting idea to Orbit, and they were convinced enough to sign me up for a three-book deal.

He's not directly based on any one person, but he does have bits of me in his make-up. A lot of his past is made up out of people and events from my own childhood.

Outhouse: Was it your plan to write several books with Felix?

Carey: I had a six-book arc in my head pretty much from the start. Writing monthly comics trains you to think in a hierarchical way: single issues building into an arc, arcs building into... something else that pays off over the course of several years. In the initial pitch, three books were detailed, The Devil You know very fully, Vicious Circle and Dead Men's Boots more sketchily. But I knew there was more to come, with a big climax and reveal that would almost certainly take six books to set up. The sixth book - title still the subject of debate - would pay off all the outstanding plot threads from the series so far, but would still allow room for further stories to be told.

Outhouse: All three of these books are highly entertaining and I enjoyed every one of them; though I do have my favorite. Is there any one in particular that you look back on now with a special fondness?

Vicious Circle by Mike Carey

Carey: From the first three? Vicious Circle is my favorite. The devil You Know came together as I wrote it, and I wasn't entirely sure I could do it until I signed off. Second time out, I felt like I knew what I was doing and I aimed higher. Vicious Circle fills in a lot more of the infrastructure of Castor's London - how the world has changed to accommodate the risen dead. You meet the Ice-Maker, Rosie Crucis, Jenna-Jane, Father Gwillam. It's a bigger book, with more room for grace notes. And - to my mind - the coda for Vicious Circle is the best ending of any Castor book to date. The final image of the little ghost girls running into the darkness, and the iteration of Abbie's name, just seemed like the perfect final beat to me.

The Unwritten #1

Outhouse: If we can, I'd like to move on to The Unwritten. This series has a huge following at The Outhouse and the questions came in fast and furious over this.

Issue #5's central character was Rudyard Kipling, do you plan on doing more of these issues about real-life figures, and how close to reality are you trying to stick to?

Carey: Oh yeah, very definitely. We want to visit lots of literary figures and the worlds they've made. That's a large part of our plan for the series.

The aim is to be one hundred per cent scrupulous when it comes to what's actually recorded. We'll interpolate things that weren't known or documented, but we won't falsify anything that was. So in issues 10 and 11 we look at Jud Suss - the movie, more than the novel - and the incredible circumstances that turned a novel by a German Jew into the most effective anti-semitic propaganda of the second world war. We build that story into our big, sprawling conspiracy theory, but we don't change anything about how the movie was produced and the agenda it served.

So our reality is built into the little holes and lacunae in what we already know about the writers of the past and the works they created.

Outhouse: How far back does this literary world stretch? Shakespeare? Chaucer? Folklore? Or is that stepping on Fables toes?

Carey: Much, much further than Chaucer. One story we'll definitely be referencing is the epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from the seventh century BC. The Unwritten have been around for most of human history.

Outhouse: What was it about the "Harry Potter" magician archetype that attracted you to it, to make it the prism for the wider study of literature? And are you a fan of the Potter books?

Carey: This is an awkward question to answer, because we see ourselves as drawing on a model that pre-dates and subsumes Harry Potter. The boy wizard is an iconic figure, with a lot of different resonances for a modern audience. What we mainly wanted to do was to pull away from our actual real-life model - Christopher Robin Milne - in a direction that would still mean something - still strike chords with readers.

Outhouse: What are your future plans for the series? Do you and Peter have the entire series planned out?

We have the first year and the ending completely planned out. In between we have a broad sense of where we're going and the route we'll have to take to get there. The details - as with Lucifer - fill themselves in as you go. There's an expanding canvas: we stay with Tom, most of the time, but we gradually start to fill in the wider story around him - the story of which he is, in a way, the ending. We've never done anything as ambitious as this: it's a story that covers about three thousand years of history and takes in a lot of other stories along the way, including the Bible, Moby Dick, the Song of Roland, the Odyssey and Brer Rabbit - although not necessarily in that order.

X-Men Legacy #223

Outhouse: Now on to those rascally mutants. First let me say that X-Men Legacy has probably been my favorite X-Men series since the days of Clairmont's X-Men run back in the late 1970's. Your Professor Xavier arc was one of the most compelling stories I've read in comics. It fleshed out and made a character that has been around over forty years, more real than any story I'd read before it.

Carey: Thank you, Brian! My work here is done...

Outhouse: What was the driving force behind your desire to tell Charles's story, and were you pleased with the outcome and the wonderful reception it received?

Carey: It was - as usual - a number of things coming together. The team I created around Rogue had sort of imploded with messiah Complex. I knew that was going to happen: I made it happen, to a very large extent. So the question was what the book would then become. Axel Alonso, who was taking over the X-Men office at that time, was keen on the idea of each book having its own unique perspective and rationale - so just building a new team, which was the obvious idea in some ways, wasn't necessarily going to be the frontrunner. I talked it over with my editor, Nick Lowe, and we came up with the idea of turning X-Men into a solo book with a rotating cast - choosing a member of the core X-Men cast and seeing events in the X-verse through their eyes for as much as a year at a time, then moving on to a new character and so on. "So who would you want to start with?" Nick asked. We both pondered that for a while, and then we both said "Professor X" at the same time.

I was sorry to say goodbye to that insane, dysfunctional X-Men team, but I had a great time writing the Professor X arcs. It allowed me to dive into old continuity and revisit all the moments that - for me - made up Xavier's story: which, in turn, were the pivotal moments in the X-Men's history. I was feeling my way at first, because I wasn't sure of that the right mix of past and present would be, but it seemed to come together - as early as the Xavier/Magneto issue, when the two grand old men got to revisit that big, endless argument about ends and means. It felt right. It felt like we were going somewhere.

Outhouse: How did your time on X-Men affect your writing on X-Men: Legacy?

It was a very necessary proving ground for me - as well as being crazy fun in its own right. I'd never written a team book before, apart from a two-issue fill-in on Ultimate Fantastic Four, so initially I had huge doubts as to how well I'd handle it. That first year on X-Men was a thrill ride, and it reassured me that I'd be able to mix old and new elements in a way that didn't seem forced - basically, that my grasp on the characters and the continuity was up to the job. I was painfully aware, at first, of the gaps in my knowledge - the bits of X-Men lore relating to times when I hadn't been following the titles, or spin-off books I hadn't followed. But I had a very good time filling in those gaps. It's always great to sit down with a stack of comics and be able to say "this is work".

Inevitably, too, as I was doing that reading and re-reading, certain themes and certain connections jumped out at me. It meant I had a lot of things very fresh in my mind when I came to plan the Xavier arcs of Legacy. I didn't feel like I was bluffing with an empty hand.


Outhouse: The character of Danger, first introduced by Joss Whedon in Astonishing X-Men, has come a long way in a short time under your pen. Did you ever discuss this character with Joss before you brought her into Legacy? Was it "the plan" all along to make her a member of the team? It is a her, right? lol

Carey: Well, it is a her in that that's what Danger chooses to be. Gender is much more a matter of psychology than of physical structure, which is why sex changes exist at all.

No, I've never talked directly to Joss about Danger - and in some ways, what I've done with her puts her on a somewhat unexpected arc, given her original motivation and her irreconcilable hatred for the X-Men. But Joss himself - in UNSTOPPABLE - plants the seeds for Danger to come in from the cold, so I didn't feel as though I was doing violence to his conception of the character. What I was doing, I guess, was showing that (as always) past events can be misinterpreted even by the people who lived through them. Danger's hatred was a rational response to a given set of circumstances; but the circumstances weren't as she'd thought them to be. The change in her attitude and behavior, after she's learned this, is sudden - but that's what you'd expect from a complex machine mind. She works through the consequences of the new data instantly, and abandons her previous position.

So there was no concerted plan, but there was - I believe and hope - a convergence of ideas.

Outhouse: How long do you plan on writing Legacy and what are the future plans for the book?

I'll carry on writing as long as they'll have me. I love the X-verse, and I take great pleasure and pride in being a part of it.

Future plans? Well, in the near future, we have the climactic chapters in the Messiah Child trilogy: that's going to dominate the first half of 2010 for me, as for the other X-men writers. After that, I'm planning to have a story arc that will re-introduce the Children of the Vault. And then we'll see: by then it might be time for the Legacy spotlight to rotate to another character, and I already know who that will be, assuming I'm still on the book.

Outhouse: And finally, if you will indulge me, some random and sometimes silly questions to end this interview with.

Do you have a favorite character in X-Men and Unwritten? If so, who?

Carey: In X-Men, lots of favorites: Rogue, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Cannonball, Mystique. In Unwritten, probably Lizzie.

The Unwritten

Outhouse: Since you've been so prolific in so many areas (comics, television, novels...) how do you decide what the best medium is for a story to go in?

Carey: Gut feeling, I guess. But more and more I get the sense that most stories - if they're any good - will play in most media. I can't imagine a Felix Castor comic, because the music is so big a part of the stories - and Dazzler repreatedly proves that music is hard to show on a comic’s page.

Outhouse:Boxers or briefs?

Carey: Briefs. Always.

(photo unavailable)

Outhouse:Is there anything you can reveal here at The Outhouse that you haven't told anyone else yet? We'd love for you to give us our first "scoop"!

Carey: I can exclusively reveal that the next novel I write for Orbit will not be a Felix Castor novel. It's something very different (although I will go back to Castor after that).

Outhouse: Final question comes from one of our staff members that is... well... he's "special".

What would you do with a sumo wrestler, an anvil, and giant sized sandals?

Carey: I'd cheat, obviously. Slip the anvil into my glove to add weight to my punch, and kick the referee's ass with the giant-sized sandals if he asked me why I was wearing gloves in a sumo bout. Either that or go on a fairy tale quest where it turned out that those three things were exactly what I needed to succeed. In which case, the sumo wrestler could carry the anvil.

Outhouse: Mr. Carey, I really want to thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. As I stated, you've got a huge fan base here at The Outhouse and I know a lot of us have been excited at the prospect of an interview with you.

Carey: Cheers, Brian. It's been a pleasure.


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