In December, the 'first season' of Marvel's "Young Avengers" will draw to a close, and author Kieron Gillen has big plans for what happens next... But before launching into the next big storyline, he's giving them a second to kick back and have fun, as he (and series artist Jamie McKelvie) are assembling an all-star lineup of artists and guest stars for some post-New Years revelry in the special issue "Young Avengers - The Afterparty"! I took the chance to speak (and geek out) with Gillen about the story, the collaborators and characters, and his experiences creating this title.
MTV Geek: What's the set-up for this story? And how, exactly, do the Young Avengers party?
Kieron Gillen: They do something pretty awesome and decide to have a party afterwards. After the climax of the story arc is the after party, etc, etc.
In a real way, I just thought it'd be a fun way to use the real world timing – the two issues come out the week before and after New-Year – to add a little extra to a story idea. That the teen heroes of the whole Marvel Universe gather to party and see in the New Year struck me as a fun, and somewhat romantic concept.
Also, it's an excuse for infinite cameos.
Geek: There's an incredible line-up of guest creators announced as working on this story – how are they fitting in? Is each one handling a single scene, or are they contributing pin-ups, working on specific characters…? And Jamie, as he's also announced as providing art, how is he fitting in around that?
Gillen: The plan is this!
Basically, it's a sort of folded narrative set inside a single night at a single nightclub. Each artist does five pages, except for Jamie who does 10, as I like making him work for his supper. Each section focuses on one of the team-members. It may feature other ones, but it's mainly about them, and where this year has lead them.
The two-part story is entitled "Resolution". I'm not subtle, me.
Jamie's doing the first five pages of issue 14 and the last five pages of issue 15, to book-end the whole endeavour. Basically, the easiest way to describe it is a miniature The Singles Club in the MU.
Geek: How did you determine which artists to use, and figure out how to slot them into the story?
Gillen: Way back in issue 1, I said that we wanted to make Young Avengers feel like a gang book. This is a bunch of friends, doing work, as we love it. In terms of finding artists, we went through that filter. Who do we love? Whose work do we love? Who may have time? Who will get their round in at the con bar? And that narrows it down to about 600 people.
Honestly, some of it was just really casual. We had the idea, and when we were with someone, and the idea came up, we mentioned it. Jamie and Becky came up with it at TCAF. Christian Ward and I maybe lead that way in our New Cross local.
And in terms of casting, I haven't actually finalised it completely yet. Sometimes it was in our opening conversation in someone saying “Oh, I'd love to draw Captain Spandangle!”, and we'll make that wish come true. Some of it is going to be cast upon style and the content of the story-section. I'm still making some of the choices.
Oh – there's another artist who we haven't mentioned yet, because we're not 100% sure on the schedule. We hate to disappoint.
Geek: This series has spawned a very vocal and passionate fanbase – how much do you consider the audience's expectations when telling these stories?
Gillen: I don't.
I'm lying, clearly, but it's closer to “I don't” than “I do”.
Geek: You've been acclaimed for your handling of these characters – the naturalistic way you've dealt with Hulkling and Wiccan's relationship, your portrayal of different races, genders, orientations, etc. It's a very inclusive and welcoming book, and that's been a huge factor in creating such a passionate audience. Do you ever have trouble striking the balance between telling a story you want to tell, and maintaining these characters as, well, not role models exactly… But identifiable, relatable, positive figures?
Gillen: Firstly, thank you. You're very kind.
I think you come close to answering it yourself. “Not role models exactly”. Exactly – they're not role models – they're just not borderline offensive in the way a lot of genre fiction can be. The characters make a mass of mistakes, and that becomes our stories. And as we're all people who become mistakes, generally speaking, we can identify with them.
In short, I think that no matter what a pigs ear they make of anything, they're still positive figures.
Geek: You've also developed a reputation for experimenting with layout, and utilizing unorthodox methods of visual storytelling in this book. How do you go about coming up with those devices? And how do you ensure that those moments are in service to the story, and not just being clever? Do you ever have to pull back, and just use a nine-panel grid?
Gillen: Well, issue 2's experimental sequence was a nine-panel grid. The majority of Alan Moore's highly imaginative output is nine-panel grids. What have you got against nine panel grids, Patrick? I'm judging you. I'm judging you.
The theory is that we render the normal moments in a more grounded grid-based style, and we render the most fantastical magical moments in a style which reminds us how fantastical and magical those moments are. That's easy to forget, especially in this corner of comics. We can be blasé about the “OMG! THAT GUY IS FLYING!”ness of it. The page layouts are one technique to try and refresh that wonder.
I can't recall any time our desire for clear storytelling and our desire to play have ever conflicted. We've known to be experimental (I prefer “playful” - it's only experimental in context of a mainstream superhero comic. We're never not a pop song.) but I can't think of any place than our ideas have been less efficient or unclear than a more conventional approach. The issue 4 spread with Marvel Boy as a schematic could have been done with a standard 4-panel-per page action sequence, for example. “Unusual” doesn't mean “Unclear”, and I like to think our choices are in service of the story, or at the very least, not conflicting.
Or I could be drunk. Again.
The exception would be people who find people doing unusual stuff distracting in and of itself, no matter whether it's clear or not. Can't worry about them too much. They'd have hated any storytelling innovation at any point in the history of comics just because it wasn't what they were used to.
Jamie and I basically generate ideas. I put a bunch in the script, Jamie has a bunch in response to the concept, and we just cherry pick the ones we want to try. The only rule is we don't do the same thing twice, unless we're being self-referential, which never happens, I'm sure.
In short, the idea that style and substance are antagonistic is nonsense.
Geek: So far, "Young Avengers" has occupied its own corner of the Marvel Universe, effectively being an Avengers-family title in name without being overly tied to the other Avengers series. Do you have plans for crossovers or tie-ins down the line, or are you happy skating around the edges?
Gillen: We're more sucking everyone into our orbit. As we reach the climax of the year, we're cameoing every single teen superhero that we could get our hands on into our story. And, yes, that's why they're all at our afterparty.
Geek: Have there been any characters or concepts you've wanted to utilize, but ended up being off-limits due to their involvement in other series?
Gillen: A few. There's certain characters I'd have loved to have at the afterparty, but they won't be available.
My favourite thing is barring the FF characters from coming, as they're too young. I am very mean.
Geek: When I hear about an "Afterparty", my immediate association is R. Kelly's 'Ignition (Remix)'. As you're renowned for incorporating musical references into your scripts, did that song provide any inspiration for this story? And which other songs are on the soundtrack for a Young Avengers party?
Gillen: BEEP! BEEP!
A little. The idea of a superhero afterparty makes me smile, and Ignition (Remix) is just a glorious slice of party bonhomie. In a real way, music generally is an enormous influence on Young Avengers. The playlist has has topped one hundred tracks, I believe, and they all feed into the mix. I was just writing a Marvel Boy scene – inevitably, he's the DJ – and had the most Phonogram-but-not-Phonogram beat ever. I was kind of astounded.
What's on the playlist? Oh, please. You only know if you come to the party. This isn't an event for sitting at home and dancing in the bedroom. This is all floor-fillers, all killer, and if you're not there to welcome a new year, you don't get to know.
i.e. BUY OUR COMIC, PLEASE!
Geek: Without revealing too much about this story, can you give us any hints about where the series will be going next? Is there a long-range master plan, or are you simply enjoying yourselves and making it up as you go along?
Gillen: I always described 1-15 as the first season. The one thing I've never done for Marvel is a self-contained sequence of issues. My plan for Young Avengers was for that sequence to be exactly that – a big, pure burst of what McK and I do with superheroes when given an agreeably long leash. We develop our themes, and reach a – ahem – RESOLUTION, and then would see where that left us. And we'll talk about that when we get there.