Exclusive Interview: Legendary X-Men Writer Chris Claremont

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Legendary scribe Chris Claremont has done more to define the X-Men than any other writer.  To many fanboys and fangirls, he taught us to love our differences.  Many fans may not have read much literature by great civil rights leaders, but they learned diverse views on the debate for equality through his characters.  Claremont fully understood the political and social implications of racism at an internalized and institutional level.  Historic social movements were intertwined with science fiction, giving readers the opportunity to enjoy great stories while learning important lessons.  Even though I was a Judaic Studies minor in college, I learned more Jewish history through his work than in any of my classes.

Claremont joined the title in 1975 when the series was on the verge of cancelation.  His work on the X-Men transformed it into one of the most popular, best selling franchises to this day.  Claremont created numerous spin offs including New Mutants, Excalibur and the Wolverine limited series.  During his original 17 -year run, he wrote all the land mark stories, such as God Loves, Man Kills, Days of Future Past, and The Dark Phoenix Saga.  These are the same stories currently making craploads of money on the big screen!  Many of the most popular X-characters were co-created by Claremont- Gambit, Psylocke, Rogue, Sabertooth, Mystique, Jubilee, Rachel Summers, Emma Frost, Mister Sinister, KITTY PRYDE, and so many more!!!

Claremont’s last work in comics was in 2011 when he wrapped up X-Men Forever 2New Mutants Forever and the limited series Chaos War: X-Men.  Since starting his hiatus from comics, he has focused on his prose novels.  His big return to X-Men is slated for November’s 50th anniversary celebration in X-Men Gold #1.  In this special edition, Claremont will treat us to an untold story of his X-Men along with other creators such as Stan Lee, Fabian Nicieza, Bob McLeod , Louise Simonson, and Walter Simonson.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Claremont at NY Comic Con to discuss diversity in comics, the X-Men movies, modern comics, and his current work.  It is my pleasure to share the following interview with you fans.

UTF: When you first came on to the X-Men they were trying to promote the title to other countries by diversifying the team. How did you write characters from backgrounds that were not your own?xmen94

If the reader reaction was any indication, I did it well. Basically, drawn past experience, people I know, circumstances, situations, realities and the same way any writer writes any character. Part imagination, part research, part personal knowledge. The advantage of living in New York, as I did then, is that you can walk down the street and run into representatives in just about culture, society, country, whatever on earth and you can get more reference than you can shake a stick at.

UTF: Was there any backlash during the time, because you were writing heroes from African, Jewish, Latino and other backgrounds?

Backlash from whom?

UTF: People who might now have been so open-minded to these backgrounds.

Not that I was aware of. My presumption is if you don’t like the book, don’t buy the book. If you like the book, buy the book. I think I would prefer to rephrase the question or the answer to the extent that one of the hallmarks of my run on the book was how broad and deep and positive reader-response was, both to the characters and the stories and the themes presented.

I’m sure there are those who didn’t like it, but that’s fine. … When I left the book, we were selling a half million copies an issue. To me, that suggest, there a whole lot of people who thought we were doing the right thing and wanted more. One way or the other, we were in the groove.

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UTF: Were you ever afraid to make Magneto a holocaust survivor, that people might get upset about that?

Why? Why would they get upset?

UTF: Possibly because he was a major villain.

My ploy was he … even just as easily say, once upon a time Menachem Begin was hunted by the British with a shoot on sight order, 25 years later he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Everything changes, everything evolves. …. If the British had caught George Washington in 1778 he’d been killed on the spot as a traitor. 1788, he was president of the United States and the British would have treated him with the respect due the leader of a foreign nation.

Realities change. The character of the man or women is what matters and my stories were intended to show what the character was of Magneto, what drove him to do the things he did and how as a consequence of his interaction with my X-Men, he changed. If my hope was to fulfill that evolution by ultimately having him replace Charles as headmaster of the school and leader of the X-Community indicating that he was making a conscious choice to try and heal the wounds he had suffered during the holocaust and after the holocaust where his family was destroyed by prejudice and to find a better, more positive, more encouraging way of achieving the objective of integrating mutants with society by focusing on the fact that we are all human beings and take it from there.

It’s just that, for me reality should allow for the growth of characters. You should not have every character forever locked into an unchanging cycle of events. That’s me, the writer, crashing headlong into the giant rock of the company as a commercial enterprise and the character as an expression of that enterprise. For management and for a number of editors and staff, the Magneto they wanted was the Magneto they read, not the Magneto I was involving him into. As owners of the property, that’s their prerogative. I just tend to take a more libertarian view I guess.

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UTF:  The X-Men comics today are much different than the story lines you wrote during your epic run. The movies are still based on your stories. What story line would you love to see in the big screen?

I would have loved to have seen Dark Phoenix on the way that it should have been, the way that I think we all hope that it would have been. Asgard Wars would be a real pip. I don’t know, it depends on what they cast they want to use, what everyone wants to play with. At this point I’m delighted to see what’s coming up.

UTF: What do you think of the casting of your characters in the movies?

Golly, to see that my characters played a half dozen Oscar winners, two Knights of the Bath, two … G-D knows how many … an Olivier Award winner, Emmy Award winners, Tony Award winners. Some of the best actors of the last 30 years, if not more. Not to mention, Bryan [Singer] a phenomenal director and Lauren Shuler Donner a brilliant producer, what is not to … I’m sorry, I just sit there and kinda go “Wow!” You cannot have a better foundation for a film than that. As I said to Bryan, I cannot, as a member of the audience, imagine how you’re going to do those actors and characters and that story justice in less than three and a half hours. He just laughed.

I figure, he’s one of the best there is in what he does and I bet you, he’s going to surprise the living daylights out of us in May, in the best of all possible senses.

UTF: Do you have input on the movies and how they take your characters?

 I wrote the source material. Why should I tell Hugh Jackman how to play Logan, he knows far better than I how he’s going to do it. I haven’t seen him misstep yet. Though, I would love to see him a song number, a song and dance number. I think that would be cool. Oddly enough, he didn’t. When  you have Hugh Jackman come up to you and in his Hugh Jackman Wolverine voice, snarl at you, “We are not going to do that.” It’s like, “Okay, maybe we won’t do that.” It would have been fun .…

UTF: You often refer to these guys as your characters, how connected do you feel to these characters and what do you think of the current direction in comics where Professor X is dead, and Cyclops is the one who killed him? What do you think of the way your characters have gone over the past years?

I call them my characters because a significant majority of the X-Canon at this point is my creation and a good chunk of those that aren’t my creation, I took over with the second issue they appeared in and defined them. Being only human, I do feel a proprietary interest to them. That said, I’m under the disadvantage of not having read the current canon of the book because no longer being involved in the writing of the material, there’s no structural reason for me to keep current with it. I’m sure it’s superb work. Certainly, the artist, Olivier Coipel, I am so jealous of Brian [Michael Bendis], him being able to work with Olivier.  But it’s not my game anymore. I’m not equipped to comment on it.

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UTF: Marvel recently launched an all-female X-Men team, you’re known for writing strong diverse women characters.

I created the entire cast.

UTF: You created the entire cast. What do you think about this current status of women in comics?

 I don’t know. What is the current status of women in comics?

UTF: As it relates to how many characters, their representation in it as leaders.

Again, I haven’t read. I am not conversant with current comics. My reaction to the all-Chris-squad is “wish I were writing it,” but there you go.

Marvel does what editors and writers feel is best to serve the characters and the company and hopefully by extension, the industry. You have to hope from a fan’s standpoint or from a corporate standpoint that they know what they’re doing, if they do the books will sell. If they don’t then they or the corporation will make changes to correct any missteps. That’s the game it’s always been.

UTF: What are some current projects you’re working on?

Marada [The She-Wolf] just come out from Titan books. My first X-Men story in quite a while is in the 50th anniversary book along with, I believe work by Stan Lee and Len Wein and I hope Roy Thomas, among others. That should be a real treat.

I’m doing mostly work in prose, which sadly takes a whole lot longer than writing comic books.

UTF: Where can fans buy that work?

That’s the other side of the coin and you have to write it and then you have to publish it. As everything gets done, it will get announced on my website, ChrisClaremont.com or when stuffs up, there will start yelling from the rooftops.

UTF: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time.

You’re quite welcome.

X-Men Gold #1 is set to be released November 13th!  Be sure to check out Claremont’s website here for news, interviews and to purchase his E-books.

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Jay Deitcher, LMSW(@mrdeitcher) is an educator on comic history and runs successful Free Comic Book Day events yearly.  You can see a listing of his incredible articles at JayDeitcher.com.

Author
Jay Deitcher is a writer and licensed social worker from Albany, NY. He is currently taking MFA courses at the College of St. Rose. You can read his other work at JayDeitcher.com.