We find our inspiration in the strangest places sometimes. Over the course of my recent book tour and during the mad scramble to answer a host of Q&A’s with various websites and publications, I’ve found myself reflecting more upon what brought me to write Queen Of The Dark Things the way I did than I ever had thought about while I was writing it. You don’t question inspiration; you just run with it. But when you do something a little off-kilter or dig up some arcane bit of folklore, people invariably ask, time and time again, “Where the hell did that come from?” Most of the time I have the answer at the ready – I remember the moment the inspiration struck. That odd scrap of a poem on a desk calendar, the late night conversation at a hotel bar with Neil Gaiman, the book that made me mad because it almost took me somewhere new but didn’t and I realized it was a place I wanted to go.
With Queen Of The Dark Things, I remembered with crystal clarity discovering half of the menace that permeates the book during the research for an aborted television show my screenwriting partner Scott and I had worked on for a spell. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember where the other half came from – my interest in Aboriginal Dreamtime. And as I found myself asked about it a few times, it really began to chap my hide. Where? Did? It? Come? From? And then it hit me. Chris Claremont.
The X-Men played a huge part in my formative years. I came into comics just after the Mutant Massacre when a middle school friend handed me a stack of the post-massacre run saying “You like comics? You gotta read these guys. Best comic ever.” He was right. I fell immediately in love and started collecting as much of the run as I could all the way back to Giant Sized X-Men #1. Claremont’s run on X-Men was unprecedented. He had near total control over that entire corner of the Marvel Universe for eighteen years and used it to do some really amazing, audacious things.
The greatest thing about X-Men as a title was that there was no one character the book needed to survive. It was about mutants. Members could come and go, lose their minds or their powers, reform themselves, die, they could disband as a team and induct new members, all without a major disruption to the title. And Claremont used that not as a sales tool, but instead to tell stories in which you always felt that every X-Man was expendable. His arcs were long, involved, overlapping, plot threads remaining unresolved sometimes for years. He took his time. He told epic stories. He reformed Magneto, turning him into a three dimensional character; saved Ms. Marvel from a series of bad stories, giving her the story arcs that now defines her as a character; evolved Wolverine into one of the world’s favorite heroes; and he created a team as multi-cultural as it was equally represented by both sexes.
But the most interesting thing Claremont did was genre hop. The X-Men were a strange mash-up of inspirations in their own right. While the core concept of the X-men was superheroic sci-fi, Claremont took them on a wild ride throughout the multi-verse ranging from high fantasy to space opera and everywhere in between. Sometimes they’d find themselves in alien empires riding around with space pirates, or battling demons from Limbo, wrestling with alternate futures, tangling with extra dimensional entities, fighting dinosaurs. They met gods. They wielded magic. And at one point they picked up an aboriginal member named Gateway. And Gateway, as fate would have it, would prove to be the appropriately named entry point in my young life to the wonderfully rich folklore of Aboriginal Australia.
In one story in particular (in this case penned by Ann Nocenti), Longshot dreamwalks. I’d never heard of such a thing. But it fascinated me. The X-Men of this era were famous for their one-off issues in between major storylines in which we were treated to small, personal tales that didn’t involve costumes or 50 foot tall robots. And this was just such a story. After I’d read it, I ran out and began reading whatever books I could find on Dreamtime and the ideas took root. For two decades I’ve waited to read a fantasy novel that played around with Dreamtime. Eventually, I’d decided to write one myself. I had just forgotten where the germ of that idea had sprung from. But once I’d found it, and began to reflect on what I’d written, it all crystalized.
I was, in my own way, ripping off the X-Men.
I looked at my multi-cultural cast of characters, the long games I play with them, their disposability for the sake of what I hope is a good story, the marrying of multiple belief systems into one coherent universe and realized that everything that I loved about Claremont’s run on X-Men had seeped into my DNA and was everything that I was grasping at in my own work. Chris Claremont is, above all others, the biggest influence on my work. And I only just realized it.
For years I’ve been asked about my influences and I’ve mentioned King and Burroughs and Bradbury and Kafka and Hesse. But never Claremont. Not until now. But that changes today. Claremont’s stories are not only everything I love about comic books, but everything I love about Storytelling. The man is a master. His work defines everything I’m doing and hope to do. And I’m certain I’m not alone.
C. Robert Cargill’s Queen Of The Dark Things is available now in hardcover for £11.55 at Amazon.co.uk. You can buy Chris Claremont’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past in hardcover for £28.49 at Amazon.co.uk.