I recently had the opportunity to chat with Chris Claremont, legendary comic writer and author, who’s fifteen year run on the Uncanny X-Men is the stuff of Geek Legend. He is best known for creating The Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future’s Past, as well as a host of well known X-Men characters such as Gambit, Rogue, Mr. Sinister, Psylocke, among others.
Chris is appearing at the Niagara Falls Comic Con which runs from June 3rd – June 5th at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.
As of May 27th, advanced tickets are still available here, so if you haven’t gotten yours yet…what are you waiting for?
We’re so grateful Chris Claremont took the time to speak with us about his work, his career, and comics in general. I hope you enjoy.
[img via Red Ferret Comics]
Gary: Obviously you’re known for writing some of the most iconic X-Men stories ever. But before you took over, the X-Men was not a successful title. In fact, you’ve described the title at the time as a “second string, bi-monthly series that no one expected to survive.” You of course added that it was really cool, just under performing.
Did its lack of success actually serve as a blessing for you as a creator? Cause it gave you more freedom?
Chris Claremont: Certainly. In a sense…it was a concept that everybody liked, but nobody had, up ’til then, other than Stan and Jack in the very beginning, and Roy Thomas and Neal Adams in their issues, numbers in 50s and 60s (numbers of issues not numbers of years) found a way to get it right.
In a way, that is to say, present the characters in a visual manner that instantly caught the eye, and in a textual matter, to tell stories, for wont of a better phrase, caught the heart, of the readership. It never found the right mix of creators to, to, hold tight and just, you know, go for the fences. It never had those moments like Stan and Jack achieved on the Fantastic Four from issues from 45 and on where you suddenly had a line of adventures and,antagonists, and that grabbed the imagination of the readers and made them come back and desperately, excitedly see what happens next.
So, with the X-men, it was all there, I think; there in potential, but the way that Marvel, that Roy Thomas, and Len Wein, conceptually decided to catalyze the concept, was to make it, as has been said I think by Stan oftentimes, but definitely by Len and Roy, to make it international. To go for a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, cast of characters that took the whole vision of the team and of the concept out of the traditional, almost cliché, American dynamic that had dominated comics up ’til that point.
[ima via marvel.wikia.com]
Gary: Given the scope of some of the stories that you told during that run, and throughout your career, did you ever get significant pushback from editors or a company on a particular story or story line idea? And if so, which, and what was their point of contention?
Chris Claremont: You mean, a negative?
Gary: Yeah. Yeah they just –
Chris Claremont: No. I mean…the only; the only story element which, I suppose, you would fall under that rubric would be the death of Jean Grey. We felt was…which, we lucked into, in a sense, when Jim Shuter, made John and I re-examine the ending of 137 and make it conform to an editorial directive on his part that, that, Jean as Dark Phoenix had to pay a price for the extinction of six and a half or seven billion sentient beings, when she supernovaed the sun and destroyed I guess the world, Degarry, whatever it was. The bug people’s world – the pod people’s world, whatever they were.
Which was basically the right decision, and, you know…the right instinct on his part, and in my case the right decision to decide if the choice was either Jean going to jail for the rest of her life or dying, then she should die. That way the story comes to an end instantly, dramatically, powerfully, unexpectedly because then without the internet, and without the constant sort of interaction with readers, fans, and company via, you know, email etc. we were able to catch everyone by surprise with that.
[img via: comicbook.com]
Gary: Your work has inspired a good portion of the X-Men movies either directly, such as X-Men The Last Stand or Days of Future’s Past, or indirectly, such as the first X-Men.
Were you ever asked to consult on the films?
Chris Claremont: Depends on how you define the world consult.
Uh, in a primal sense, when Marvel was talking to Fox in the beginning back in the late nineties, I was an executive at Marvel, and I ended up writing a memorandum to Fox, because…when it all began, I was part of the group that talked to Lauren Shuler Donner about the production when she was sitting down with Bryan Singer to try and figure out how to pull this all together.
Sadly they wanted to do something, but they couldn’t come up with the right concept or a handle on it that made it work for them as a viable; for Bryan as a filmmaker, for Fox I guess as a studio, something that would make it different, something that would make it unique, and also lucrative – financially lucrative. And the X-men was on the brink of going into turnaround.
Uh, and I wrote a memo, to Fox, to Lauren, telling them what it was all about and why it was a marketable concept and the argument I made was the X-men as a storytelling experience had nothing to do with superheroes, superheroes, it’s like saying James Bond is exclusively about fast cars and sexy women. Those are the liner notes.
What it’s about, the X-men, in that sense, is a group of people gifted, talented, powerful, trying to fit in to a world that fears and hates them and is afraid of them simply because of their existence. But all they really want is to be accepted. And that, that turned out to be a handle that both the filmmakers and the studio, and it turns out the audience could embrace with enthusiasm and it did.
So in that context, you could say it’s all my fault. But as far as the actual specifics on the movies went, we talked a lot in the beginning, I’ve always been available to Lauren and to Bryan over the years but it’s a very real case where there are things that Bryan as a filmmaker, stories that he wants to tell, ways of telling stories that he wants to employ that don’t need outside input and he pretty much, I think, especially at this point, knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. So um there is – I’ve always been available, but he has own brain-trust and his own instincts to follow certainly with the X canon the proof, pardon the cliché, is in the pudding. The films for the most part have been quite successful and have more than justified his instincts and the studio’s.
[img via amazon.com]
Gary: As mentioned, you’re most famous for your work in the X-Men universe, but you’ve written dozens of other titles as well.
I’m sure you’re often asked what your favourite issue or story line is, and are usually led toward X-Men, but what I’d like to know is this: of what work are you most proud, but for which you aren’t usually recognized? Whether it’s a singular issue or story line, or title itself?
Chris Claremont:: Oh. I suppose if push came to absolute shove, I’d say the work that’s mine and not Marvel or DC’s. Um, the Marada stories that I did with John Bolton, The Black Dragon, the creator owned work I’ve done with Michael Golden. The thing is that I think for any writer, proud as one might be of the work one does for a publisher, in this instance and DCs instance, it’s always someone else’s stuff. You know the X-men no matter how many years I or anyone works on the X-men, it’s Marvel’s property, it’s Disney’s property. You know the things that one writer can do the next writer can undo.
Jean Grey being the classic example. With Dark Phoenix we told a story that had a beginning, middle, and an end, that took the readership by storm and in a sense changed the game for everybody.
Then five years later with X-factor she came back and suddenly in effect we told everybody who mourned for her and felt deeply moved by her “hahah we were just fooling” the problem, I mean, all well and good, but then how do you ever do it again? How do you tell any reader that anyone any death, any sacrifice, any reality, of that kind in a comic is meaningful because you know they’re going to bring the character back?
If it’s not this year its next year it’s the year after some new writer will come along some new editor will come along and boom, so if it never has meaning, why do you give a damn, and if you don’t give a damn why are you reading the book in the first place?
For me good, bad, or indifferent if I write a series like Sovereign Seven, or if I do Huntsman, my Huntsman, as opposed to the movie Huntsman, whatever happens good, bad, indifferent, it’s on my back. And I’ll take the rap for it but its mine, it’s not something the publisher can turn around and undo, for whatever reasons just because the character back on, you know, the boards again.
[img via conventionscene.com]
Gary: You’ll be appearing at Niagara Falls Comic Con, as I mentioned, so I’m wondering what is the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to you at a convention?
Chris Claremont: Um. [Thinking.] Meeting someone I admired more than anything and trying to tell him how much, and how impressed I was by his work, and having him tell me how impressed he was by my work…and reacting by making a complete fool of myself.
But no I mean the coolest thing at a convention is meeting people and they’re not always the people you expect.
And sometimes it’s the conversations that happen over dinner or in a bar where you just spitballing ideas up down and sideways and coming home and thinking “this is so cool” and to me that’s always the way it should be.
It’s not, the wonder of comics, is that it’s a business but it’s also really, really fun.
And in my case…it has allowed me the opportunity to tell stories that have had a really powerful effect on people. Then, God help me, 30 years later, meeting the same person again and finding out that my that the stories are having an equally impressive effect on their kids.
[I’m] thinking wow it really is pangenerational! That is so cool. To paraphrase Sally Field: “they like me, they really like me.” That’s the good news! The challenge that comes with it is “now do something better to justify it.”
I guess the more they like you, the harder you have to work to prove yourself worthy of that respect…and you know, that’s not such a bad challenge to face.
Featured image via sciencefiction.com
You can purchase some of Chris’ ebooks on his website here
As of May 27th, it’s not too late to get tickets to Niagara Falls Comic Con! Do it here