An Interview With Graham Millar

Graham Millar interview by Anthony Andujar Jr 7/9/22 Interviewer: Anthony Andujar Jr Interviewee: Graham Millar  What were the comics that inspired you to get into comics as a creator?   […]

Graham Millar interview by Anthony Andujar Jr 7/9/22

Interviewer: Anthony Andujar Jr

Interviewee: Graham Millar 

  • What were the comics that inspired you to get into comics as a creator?

    GM: I’ve always been making comics to some extent.  I think the first comics I made as a kid were Star Wars comics. I had read superhero comics before that, Ed McGuiness’ Batman/Superman comics stand out from this time period. Whatever the Star Wars comics I was reading in about 2006 with Durge is what I was trying to emulate.  The inspiration to actually make the comics came from an Andrew Clements book where the main character made mini-comics. The book described how to fold them so that’s how I got into creating comics. I think the title was ‘Frindle’; I can’t say that for certain. That was First grade.  I drew a few more Batman comics when I was in 4th grade. I was reading Frank Quitely/ Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin stuff and the Batman: Brave and the Bold comics. 

  There was a long gap where I’d design some characters and maybe draw a cover, but I didn’t make a ‘real’ comic again until I was 19 when I made a 3 part anthology as a final for an English class in college.  I think it was 18 pages and I’m pretty happy that I’ve never looked at that again.  That same year I found Nate McDonough’s Conan minicomic and that also pulled me in a new direction.  It was the first time I saw what was clearly a self-published comic in a comic book store and it took the pressure off of me to make comics epic.  Seeing that book next to X-men Grand Design and Transformers vs G.I. Joe in Phantom of the Attic in Pittsburgh is definitely what drove me to make my first printed comic, Mozzarella: A Rumble in the Jungle.  At this point, I had been listening to Kayfabe as well and I was trying to read just about everything I felt ‘behind’ on-Sin City, Copra, Love and Rockets.

  • You’ve contributed work in projects such as Image: Grand Design and Grand Disaster. What was that process like working on that project with many other creators? How did it inform your current work?

      GM: I don’t really have an opinion on working on Grand Disaster; I had already drawn the Viper Crash strip, and the Rob Liefeld /Eazy E meet up strip before I knew that project was officially in the works.  It was cool seeing everybody else do their own thing and I’m happy I was part of the group, but I was essentially just donating old rope.  

  • You currently have an ongoing strip that you serialize on your social media, titled Iron Whaler. What was the inspiration for this project? What is it about?

        GM:  Iron Whaler and Modern Mollusk are characters my friend Keith Meenan created for his senior project. His film was inspired by World War 2 Era Serial films like Buck Rogers, Batman, and Captain America. The germ of the idea started one time when we were riffing about what a ‘Namor’ serial from that era would look like, but when he wrote the script he really made it his own thing. I started drawing the comic so I could continually promote the Indiegogo campaign for the film with new material every day. Iron Whaler is the only detective licensed on land and sea, which makes him a very strange character. I like him a lot, not just because I played him in the short film, but because the weird blend of aquatic adventurer and detective seems like it’s the desperate creation of a cartoonist or writer trying to figure out how to cash in on the Superhero craze that would have been taking off in the late ’30s, while not fully understanding what a ‘superhero’ was.  

    The strip, despite being created after the film, is set before the war, to differentiate it from the film. The Iron Whaler strip is more of a crime-fighting detective comic, akin to the Spirit or golden age Batman comics. One character, King Crab, is a direct riff on Will Eisner’s Octopus character, as I only ever show his hands. Most of his evil is done without him appearing on the panel. He’s kidnapped Whaler’s sidekick, the Modern Mollusk, and every step the Whaler makes seems to lead him directly into King Crab’s clutches. This contrasts well with the film, where a caricature of Mussolini is the primary antagonist, while still remaining thematically faithful, I feel. 

  • What’s it been like developing Iron Whaler? What are some of the challenges that you’ve experienced creating this series?

      GM:  At times it feels much easier than drawing my previous comics because I have a pretty standard format, being the 4-panel grid.  I don’t have to worry about elaborate page layouts and I can focus on providing the necessary information.  Sometimes it can be tough to decide what the most necessary information is to convey in just 4 panels. Is what I’m drawing going to be satisfying for one day, does it stand on its own or does it feel like a page 1 that’s completely set up for page 2? The other challenge is maintaining the pace, but I’ll come back to that.

  • When serializing the strip, did you create scripts beforehand? Or is it crafted with a stream-of-conscious approach?

      GM:  There is no official script for the series. Keith and I had a phone call after I drew the first strip and he created a ‘bible’ with some meaty ideas about new characters in the series. He named the eel characters and their city, and he came up with King Crab’s art theft gimmick, he also described the specific visual gag of the first eel, Snabbug, wrapping his tail around Whaler in the shape of the noose. That’s probably the closest this series has come to having an official script. I’ve gone back and tacked a few things into the bible here and there, but largely I look at what I have done and figure out which characters need to do what next. Sometimes I can only come up with one day of thumbnails, sometimes I do four or five days of thumbnails at a time in a notebook, before copying those layouts to my iPad. I wouldn’t say that’s a stream of consciousness, because other than maybe one or two panels that just didn’t quite work when actually drawing them, I don’t think there’s anything I put onto the page that wasn’t blocked out in a notebook beforehand.  

  • What’s the scheduling for producing the strip, and how do you maintain that consistency?

          GM: I drew 11 days’ worth of Whaler comics before I started serializing it.  I’ve tried to maintain a page per day.  I’m not currently eleven days ahead, but there hasn’t been a day yet where I had to draw the strip the same day I release it.  I letter it on the day of publication, with rare exceptions. Fortunately, I only work part-time, so I have the luxury to crank out at least one page a day.  

  • Iron Whaler is crafted as a black and white comic. Was it always meant to be serialized that way? Was there any intent to have color? Or was it more so an homage to the black and white boom of 80’s and 90’s comics? What do you enjoy about working in Black and white and what are the benefits of crafting comics in that format? 

      GM: I considered coloring it for about 30 seconds before I realized that would likely be an impossible schedule for me to keep. I do feel like I’m homaging older comics with the Black and White look, but I wouldn’t say it’s a call back to the Black and White boom. My biggest inspirations on Whaler, are newspaper strip artists, especially Milton Caniff. I don’t think I’ve mastered the brush strokes he used to ink Steve Canyon’s duster, but I can’t stop drawing trench coats.  I said earlier that I’m a fan of Sin City, and it would be disingenuous to claim that that isn’t an inspiration to this comic, but I’m also trying to look at Frank Miller’s influences on that series, like Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese, which itself was influenced by Caniff comics. I guess you could say the book that served as the prelude to the black and white boom, Cerebus, indirectly inspired my Whaler comics, because Dave Sim’s newest book, The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, taught me about all these old newspaper cartoonists.

   As much love as I have for TMNT and Warlock 5, I’d say that love isn’t as apparent in this strip as my love for everything else I just listed.  As far as what I like about working without color, I think that working in black and white is making me a better artist.  I hope it is. It’s important to have clear layouts because you run the risk of two elements blending together if you accidentally put black on black or white on white.  Learning how to separate these elements just through their placement leads to better storytelling and better drawing.  

  • Given that you write, illustrate and letter Iron Whaler, is there an ending in mind for this series? And what lessons have you learned that can be applied in future strips down the line?

     GM:  I do have an ending planned for Iron Whaler, although it may outlast the actual Indiegogo campaign for the movie because I don’t have it strictly plotted out.  I think it blends Keith’s ideas about King Crab well with the bombastic elements of classic comics.  I’m thinking specifically of the giant type-writer issue of Batman, but I don’t want to give too much away.  As I explained previously, I think composing clear panels is the most important lesson I’ve learned from this comic.

  1. What are you most proud of thus far with Iron Whaler as a series thus far? 

   GM: I’m proud of my ability to maintain a consistent output (knock on wood), but more importantly I’m proud of my friend Keith for creating such a weird project, and such fun characters to work with, I’m proud of the crew that volunteered to make the film happen, all my co-stars, none of which were acting majors, and I’m thankful to our producer, Jessica Cook, for running our Indiegogo campaign.  

  1. Are there any projects that you have in the pipeline that readers should check out?

   GM: As I mentioned, Mozzarella: A Rumble in the Jungle was my first printed minicomic.  It’s a Kaiju wrestling comic for sale on my Etsy page.  Knuckle Headz Book One: Ready to Rumble is a 110-page super-villain graphic novella, available through Kindle Ebooks or Amazon’s print-on-demand service.  This is a comic that really captures the late 80s and 90’s energy you asked about earlier.  I don’t claim to be nearly as gifted an illustrator as Denis Beauvais, the artist of Warlock 5, but his sense for character design was not far from my thoughts when I put that comic together.  

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Anthony Andujar Jr.

About Anthony Andujar Jr.

Anthony Andujar Jr. is an NYC cartoonist and lover of comics and music. So much so that it led him to writing comic book reviews in between it all.