Today I sit down and talk to the Marvel writer behind the new Marneus Calgar comic – Kieran Gillen.
To give a bit of introduction Kieron Gillen is the writer for the upcoming Marvel Comic about the Warhammer 40k Universe – Marneus Calgar. Obviously a story about the trials and tribulations of Marneus as he tries to become the best Powerfist welding captain of the known grimdark 40k Universe. Kieron is known to do some amazing Star Wars comics for Marvel, a lot of other Marvel books (Upcoming Eternals), a slew of creator owned stuff (Check out DIE – it is amazing), and a lot of other awesome things (journalism, letter writing, lover of music). Oh and he also paints Warhammer figurines too and plays the game when he can. If you haven’t figured it out I am a big fan and extremely excited to get a chance to ask him some questions.
First of all thank you for letting me ask you some questions about the upcoming book. I have it on my pull list at my local comic shop so I shouldn’t miss it.
My first question in all of this is – why write about the Ultramarines and Marneus in particular?
This is the start of Marvel’s 40k comics. As such, I want to introduce 40k, and start from first principles. If you ask someone who is vaguely aware of 40k to think of 40k, they’ll likely think of a Space Marine. That’s the icon. We have to start with the icon, which means starting with the Ultramarines and Calgar as their paragon. The thing with the Ultramarines is, when it comes to being Marines, they wrote the book. Literally. The book in question being the Codex Astartes. The other big chapters are in part interesting in how they’re aberant from what’s standard – knowing that the Space Wolves are not like the Ultramarines is one of the reasons they’re cool, if you see what I mean. I also want to really go into how Marines are made, and Marneus Calgar as an example of that – the rush from selection, to surgical implantation and training and all that.
Of course, while I want to be accessible, I’m also aware I’m writing for those of us whose houses are haunted by the bleak grey of armies of unpainted miniatures. It also has to land for those who know everything. The model of the book is basically the classic Batman: Year One. That worked simultaneously as an introduction to Batman’s universe while hitting every single button a Batman fan would like to see. I want to be able to hand the book to my friends who always wanted to know more about this obsession of mine to explain it a little, while also handing it to my gamer friends so they can enjoy the truly gleeful destruction I get to wreck with Power Fists.
It’s only when finishing issue 5 that I realised that Marneus Calgar is a love story, but it’s a love story between me and power fists.
Are there any other characters/stories from Warhammer 40k you might like to write about?
Oh, definitely, but I’m also interested in seeing what other writers do with characters or factions. There’s writers I would kill to see write (say) an Adeptus Mechanicus book. It’s a big space, no pun intended. Some of the work I’ve been doing with Marvel is talking about future possibilities, and areas of Warhammer that are really interesting for a potential story.
Are we just going to be seeing stories from the vantage point of the good guys – or are we going to see some stories from the “bad guys”, or maybe “less good guys”?
I think my preferred phrasing is “the worse guys.”
The first story is a five issue mini, and while we get some perspective of the antagonists, it’s mainly Calgar’s story. While the urge to include everything is always there, you want to make sure the story you’re telling is focused. That said, this is a mini which includes elements from across all of Marneus’ career – while we’ve got a focus, there’s quite a few cameos before the end, if only in a flashback panel. This is in part wanting to make sure I can get Jacen to draw a bunch of fun stuff. If you have a choice to stick an Avatar of Khaine in there, why wouldn’t you?
If I do another book? We’ll see. I’m someone who has a reputation in my work for spending a fair bit of time on my villains, or doing Villain lead books, so I’ve certainly got form.
What is your favorite Warhammer 40k Army? Your favorite AOS Army?
If I express anything other than neutrality, I’d be murdered, surely? You won’t get me that easily, Goatboy.
Honestly, part of the whole Warhammer thing has always been the process of exploration, and falling in love with bits you didn’t really pay much attention to before. Some of it is always in your head, in terms of those “One day” projects. I mean, I still have my bare-metal 1980s Harlequins that one day I’ll paint.
My first 40k army was the Imperial Guard, in the days when they didn’t have tanks and their minimum army list size was over 1000 points. I played Dwarfs in Warhammer fantasy then. My main 40k armies right now are my own Space marine chapter and a Necron force – I’ve also got a fair chunk of 30k Sons of Horus (I always had a soft spot for the Black Legion in their falling-apart-mess stage before Abbadon got them organised again). This year I’ve painted a fairly chunky Nighthaunts force and a boutique Stormcast one, and there’s a decent sized of Blades of Khorne army, but my biggest and longest standing one is Skaven. I believe I’ve got a little over 300 of the little snifflers. I’m in the process of, between larger projects, rebasing them and making 2000-point theme armies. The first one was Moulder. It feels almost sacrilegious to have a Skaven force which doesn’t have at least 100 clanrats in it.
Do you prefer playing the game or building/painting armies?
I’m always intrigued by how the interests move around. This year I haven’t had much choice – I’ve mainly concentrated on painting. When I was younger I very much leaned towards the gaming aspect, perhaps helped by the fact one of my best friends was an amazing painter, so my armies always looked terrible compared to his. Even now, I’m someone who leans towards being a speed painter – I slow down for leaders, but the thrill of painting is seeing an army take shape. The interesting thing for me about Warhammer is how all the aspects of the Hobby feed into each other – if I’m painting, I’m thinking of playing and vice versa.
I’ll say what I dislike most – assembly. Rather than gaming and painting, which are steps building up from nothing, leading to a better thing, assembly is steps AWAY from perfection. My lack of attention to detail just leads to a worse model. At the moment, I’m trying to push myself into making assembly more fun, by doing more small conversions and base work, to make it less about just Doing It Right.
(I mean, I can be really bad at this. Once when assembling a culexus assassin I got so lost I stuck both his heads onto the model, on top of each other, and only realised after I started to paint him. Honestly, it kind of worked.)
That’s what I mean, in terms of your interest moving around. I try to set myself little things to work on. With the nighthaunts one of them was “More attention to basing and conversion” so I started doing things like sawing the Hex Wraiths in half to have them going through walls, and using green stuff to improvise some kind of Hex Wraith Goats from the left over parts.
You try to have fun, right?
Is there anything you want to say to try and get our readers to grab this comic – or heck any of your other books you write?
Give us two pages, and you’ll soon see the level of attack we’re bringing to the comics. It’s not a book that believes in subtlety. It’s a book which believes in coming at you, chainsword in the air, screaming.
Still, beneath that berserker fury, I think there’s a Calgar-level sense of planning. There’s been really strong Warhammer comics before, but with the resources that Marvel can bring to bear, I think we’ve done something which hasn’t been done before. It’s an issue which feels engineered and brutal, and kind of unstoppable. You can imagine it as a Land Raider of a comic, grinding the reader underfoot. I hope we evoke what I’ve loved about Warhammer – the mixture of the utter horror of this hellish universe and the strain of bleak, gallows humour.
As BoLS isn’t just about Warhammer I thought I would do a quick shout out that everyone should be reading Kieron’s book called DIE. It is basically a mix of Jumanji, the old D&D Cartoon, and the angsty bit of teenage life. It is pretty amazing and it has its own roleplaying system. Plus the art is friggin awesome.
Why thank you. Stephanie Hans is a tour de force. The RPG is available in Beta, so folks can download that now to have a nose.
Thank you once again – would it be ok to find some pics of your painted Warhammer stuff to add to this?
Sure! If you look down my twitter feed, you’ll find a bunch. Also if you go back my instagram, you’ll see a bunch more in there too.
~Make sure to check out the new Warhammer 40k Comic – Marneus Calgar coming out Oct 14th at your local Comic shop.