Tuesday Q&A

Tuesday Q&A: Paul Cornell

The CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI: 13 scribe explains why his series goes beyond the UK and talks about literature vs the Thing

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By Kiel Phegley With multiple sellouts for its first issues, mainstream media coverage and a general wave of positive feeling from hardcore fans, Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk's CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI:13 has shaped up to be the buzz book of the summer. The series has been full of shocking twists, obscure characters and big hero moments as the titular hero dies in issue #1 only to return with a new purpose and a new costume to take it to the Skrulls in the August 13th-shipping issue #4. But before that, Cornell dives into the American side of the Marvel Universe as he and artist Horacio Dominguez present FANTASTIC FOUR: TRUE STORY, which hits stores tomorrow, featuring the FF crossing over with rafts of characters from classic literature. To get a better idea of the British landscape in light of the Skrull invasion as well as hear the background behind Cornell's hit series and his first FF gig, Marvel.com tapped the writer for a lengthy chat.
 

CAPTAIN
BRITAIN AND
MI: 13 #4
preview art by
Leonard Kirk

Marvel.com: How are you doing, Paul? I think the last time I spoke with you, it was the week CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI:13 came out, and you had just been in a car accident. Paul Cornell: [Laughs] I was on the most extreme painkillers when we talked, and I was very spaced out. I can't remember anything about it. Marvel.com: Well, it must have turned into a pretty spacey week as there were major papers throughout Britain calling you up about the appearance of Prime Minister Gordon Brown in issue #1. Paul Cornell: Yeah, it was huge. The Gordon Brown appearance really took us by surprise. We thought we'd have a paragraph on page six in the culture column, not front page news. I think it was a slow news week. Marvel.com: Did you clip it out and send it to your mother? Paul Cornell: [Laughs] My mom saw it on her breakfast table! I'm not sure if it's the thing that one looks at and hangs on the wall. It's one of those things that happens in passing that's not got a lot to do with the work itself, you know?

CAPTAIN
BRITAIN AND
MI: 13 #4
preview art by
Leonard Kirk

Marvel.com: Well, speaking of the work, I remember hearing you talk at the last New York Comic Con about your work writing for British television and how there is no "writer's room" like we have here in America. You just get an episode assignment, write your story and turn it in. Has that working system made it easier for you to step into the Marvel U's big Secret Invasion crossover without missing a beat? Paul Cornell: Working for Marvel is really just like being part of a really small television team. I would normally talk to one person—my script editor—when I'm writing for TV, but they would forward down opinions and comments from lots and lots of people. Working for Marvel, I just talk to [editor] Nick [Lowe] and Leonard, and it's really satisfying on that basis. It's like all the good stuff about television and none of the bad stuff. Marvel.com: And you always know the performance you're going to get from Leonard's pencil. It seems an artist is easier to work with than a bunch of unruly actors. Paul Cornell: [Laughs] I wouldn't say unruly. The nice thing about [an artist] is that he's your one stop shop—he's the director, the lighting person, the casting director, anything. Once you get used to his style, you can anticipate, and [your] descriptive panels become shorter and shorter. And these days, we've got a really nice understanding going. And it's just gorgeous really. The best part about this job is getting new pages of artwork in my inbox.

CAPTAIN
BRITAIN AND
MI: 13 #4
preview art by
Leonard Kirk

Marvel.com: One of the things that has made the book a success is its accessibility. If you know the continuity, it can enhance things, but the story is pretty open to anyone, and even though it's set in the UK and deals with very British characters, it never comes off as written exclusively for a British audience. How do you balance the color of the story with the need to make the story accessible for someone who doesn't know much about Marvel UK or the UK in general? Paul Cornell: Well, that's exactly the tightrope. We don't want to be "that British book" because that would immediately say, "This is not necessarily for you." And we want it to be for everybody. It's "that super hero intelligence agency" book or "that super heroes against the supernatural" book or "that big Skrull war movie" book. At the same time, because we've got British characters in there and especially because it's a war situation and they're under tremendous pressure, I want this to be about how they feel in that situation. And that's the British character coming out. We don't ever stop to talk about anything. We talk about stuff along the way. Marvel.com: In issue #4, we're getting our first real look there of Captain Britain's new costume in action, and in a way, that was a pretty bold move to change the costume up considering that the last redesign on the character was done by Alan Davis. Paul Cornell: Well, I don't think there's any point in treating this stuff like you have to be careful of who the last guy was. If I even thought for a moment about the major influence on this being Alan Moore, then I would boggle. I wouldn't be able to do anything. But it's important to do stuff. And something that Steven Moffat

CAPTAIN
BRITAIN AND
MI: 13 #4
preview art by
Leonard Kirk

said about his attitude towards the forthcoming new "Doctor Who" that's the same for us is "We're not a nostalgia show. We're not playing on nostalgia for the past. We're making new nostalgia for the future." What Alan [Moore] did and what Alan Davis did was terrific, but we're not there now. We should be able to do something else without it being seen as a despoiling or a revolution. We're doing something else while offering them all credit and all respect. Marvel.com: Your own new creation Faiza appears to be playing a major role in this final battle in issue #4. What can you say about exactly how her powers work and how her involvement in the fight will carry her out into the rest of the series? Paul Cornell: Her powers are that she can take apart a body while the person is still alive. It's almost as if she's an excellent mechanic of bodies. She can isolate something, fix it on a cellular level and put people back together again. Of course, incidentally that means she can corpse people during that process. But there are great limits to this. We're just establishing what the limits are. She can't deal very easily with things that are magic; it bounces off them quite a lot. She can't hold more than two or three people still at a time. And it also depends somewhat on the nature of…well, if you get your head chopped off there isn't a lot she's going to be able to do for you. It's an interesting power in that it's hard to find aggressive potential for it. She's our Kitty Pryde in so many different ways—being our focal character, our young country character and also somebody on the face isn't expected of much. And some of these things I didn't realize until I looked back on Kitty's first appearance and realized I was playing it again because Kitty Pryde is such a favorite character of mine.

CAPTAIN
BRITAIN AND
MI: 13 #4 cover
by Bryan Hitch

Marvel.com: You've had the Skrulls combine all pieces of magic in the UK into one crazy magical chain, plus you've had Pete Wisdom release waves of villains out of entrapment in the fairy lands in the past few issues. Are these two plot elements that are going to play out over the long term in this series? Will we be dealing with the super hero realm and the magic realm together? Paul Cornell: There's a bit of both. The central menace of the Skrulls will come to an end with issue #4, but we'll be hearing from them for the duration of Secret Invasion thereafter. We won't suddenly cease to notice what's going on with that. The villains that were set loose by Pete Wisdom—not just the ones you saw; we're assuming that there are a lot more—will be immediately and continuingly one of the problems that MI:13 is set to deal with. At the end of issue #4 and [in] issue #5, we set up what our raison d'etre is going to be—what the series is about, what it's for. And a lot of it will be dealing with what got let out. Marvel.com: Also in issue #5, you have Blade stepping in. Do you have a real set team that we'll always see, or will you be bringing in a lot of Marvel and Marvel UK characters here and there to compliment each arc? Paul Cornell: There's a little of that, but we'll be a bit fixed with the core characters as of issue #5. Other heroes will come and go. Captain Midlands is in #5 onwards for three or four issues, much like Tink was in the first four. And we'll be raiding the Marvel UK store cupboard of other characters. Union Jack pops up in issue #5 because every British hero is a member of MI:13 whether they want to be or not. Actually, if they don't want to be, people just argue with them a bit and then let them off and let them know that they won't get a Christmas card. There will be cameos and guest appearances, but our central team will be fixed as of #5.

FANTASTIC FOUR:
TRUE STORY
#1 cover by
Niko Henrichon

Marvel.com: On the other side of things, you have this FANTASTIC FOUR: TRUE STORY limited series coming out soon where the team meets and interacts with great characters from literature, and…admit it: You sat down to mail Marvel an FF pitch and sent your freshman comparative literature paper in on accident, didn't you? Paul Cornell: [Laughs] Yes! That's exactly what happened! [Laughs] If I knew what a freshman was, that'd be great. I'm assuming it's some kind of… Marvel.com: It's a first year university student. Paul Cornell: Ah, right. No, no…[editor] Tom [Brevoort] asked me if I had a Fantastic Four series in me. And because I always liked them as explorers, I wanted to find something new for them to explore, so I sent them off exploring something they've never explored before. Marvel.com: The story kicks off with Sue in a bit of melancholy. How does that lead to the literary characters coming into play? Paul Cornell: The whole world is depressed. Something dreadful has happened, and Sue slowly starts to realize what it is. It's not just the FF that are in a mood; it's the entire planet. It's from that that they start working out what's going wrong and what they have to do. Then she realizes it has something to do with the relationship between human beings and fiction, and something evil has gotten into that relationship. From there, Reed has to invent an entire new field of human endeavor, which takes him five minutes.

FANTASTIC FOUR:
TRUE STORY
#2 cover by
Niko Henrichon

Marvel.com: Obviously, there are some surprise characters that you want to keep off the table, but have there been any favorite literary characters to write or any favorite authors whose voice you get to slip into for a few pages? Paul Cornell: I've always wanted to be able to have Ben Grimm crash into the middle of Jane Austen, and this is what happens. We've got the characters from "Sense and Sensibility" with the Thing bursting into their midst. This is what I'm after. The Dashwood sisters have always been my favorite literary creations, and to have them interacting with Ben and Johnny has been absolutely a joy to write. Also, my wonderful artist Horacio Dominguez…I have these things where sometimes I have to give artists terrifying things to do research-wise, like when I asked Manuel Garcia in WISDOM to draw the Welshist of Welsh pubs from his home in Barcelona. Here, Dante is garbed in the clothes of a Venetian lawyer from the 14th Century, and I haven't done the research myself so I don't know if it's exactly accurate, but he's given it a sense of verisimilitude. He's drawn something that makes me think, "Oh! He's done his research there. That looks interesting." Marvel.com: Aside from the main goal of telling an entertaining story, do you hope that this series might prompt a few comic readers to put down their floppies for a minute and pick up a classic piece of literature? Paul Cornell: Oh, I don't know. If that were my aim, it would just be stodgy and preachy. Actually, entertainment is purely our goal here—the sort of rollercoaster of "Well, that's funny. Oh, that's quite scary! Well, that's funny. Oh, that's quite scary!" That's what we're after. The literary allusions that come your way during it, you'll probably get them because they're mostly pretty mainstream. I've also leaned more towards American literature than English literature, so we've got "The Last of the Mohicans." I've pitched it a little more in the direction of a major audience, and it doesn't teach you anything you don't want to be taught. To learn more about Captain Britain, check out Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.

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