Peter Milligan interview

The writer chats about Greek Street, The Bronx Kill and why there’s more to comic books than superheroes.

greekstreettp1Can you talk about Greek Street and The Bronx Kill, as well as the genesis for each?

Greek Street is both influenced by and an homage to classic Greek drama, but mashed up and played out on the violent streets of modern-day London. Kind of Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels meets Sophocles. In Greek Street our Oedipus, rather than being a king, is a young guy brought up rough in a series of homes after his mother abandons him. When he decides to seek out his mother he becomes enmeshed in a wild story of incest and murder, while a murdered Russian stripper is brought back from the dead to wreak bloody revenge on mankind.

Greek Street came about initially from my interest in Greek drama. But one of the central themes of the comic book is that these ancient stories (Oedipus, Medea etc) still talk to us about our lives. Indeed, though we like to believe we are modern and have made huge progress since the days when these plays were first seen, in many fundamental ways humankind has remained the same. The same kind of fears and bloodlusts haunt our species now as then.

The Bronx Kill is another tale that explores the darker hinterlands of the human soul, this time set in New York. It tells the story of a young writer and his attempt to break away from the expectations of his second-generation cop father. When this writer’s wife goes inexplicably missing his life falls apart and he’s forced to confront the very family history he’s tried hard to avoid. The idea came from seeing the place name The Bronx Kill on the map. In this context Kill means a small body of water. The Bronx Kill is a narrow strait on the southernmost tip of the South Bronx, between that coast and Randall’s Island, connecting the Harlem and East Rivers. In the story it becomes both the scene of a murder and the place to which our characters and the story itself are ineluctably drawn.

What are the advantages of working with Vertigo? What kind of creative scope does the label offer to writers and artists?

I think what I’ve just written about Greek Street and The Bronx Kill should give you a good idea of the advantages of working with Vertigo and the creative scope this offers. Both Greek Street and The Bronx Kill are unusual and in some ways very personal books, and these show how Vertigo gives someone like me a platform upon which I can produce and explore often disquieting themes and stories. As far as I’m concerned, once everyone agrees that a certain book is going to be produced, there is an awful lot of creative scope.

You have a lot of experience working with both superheroes and other types of comic-based fiction – do you think there’s something odd about the industry’s blanket reliance on superhero-based content? The equivalent of that in the TV world would be if every hour-long drama was a cop show, for example…

In fact a lot of my work – I think a lot of my best work and the work I’m best known for (including Greek Street and The Bronx Kill) – has nothing whatsoever to do with superheroes. This is one of the great things about Vertigo. It is most definitely not reliant upon superhero-based content. And actually what’s going on here is that a lot of American comics are reliant on superheroes, and America, being the cultural force it is, tends to spread this interest. But if you were to go to a comic convention in Italy or Croatia, say, you’re more likely to find people producing comic books about detectives, maybe detectives with a supernatural twist. In France comics can be quite science fiction based, or simply about anything at all (preferably with a bit of sex thrown in). In Japan… well, you get my point. So really we have to ask ourselves what is it in the American psyche that reacts so strongly to the superhero myth. I am sure as we speak somewhere in the world there is some bright kid writing their thesis on just such a subject. And if there isn’t, there probably should be.

Vertigo has maintained a consistency through the years, wouldn’t you say? While other publishers rise and fall, there’s been an inherent quality within the line that’s remained.

I’m probably biased, by I’d say that by and large that is true. I don’t like everything they publish but I usually like the intent, at least. And I like the fact that can still take a few risks. Or at least I hope they still can.

How much pre-planning goes into constructing an original work versus a superhero story?

Whether it’s a superhero or an original story doesn’t really enter into it. Some stories are more complex than others (and trust me, some superhero stories are very complex) and maybe have some technical or logistic issues and these tend to need more work in the planning and constructing stage.

Greek Street: Blood Calls For Blood and The Bronx Kill are out now from Titan Comics.