In the year 2000, the first X-Men film came out to high praise and spawned a series of movies that have mined the long running comic books for their plots. The clear majority of those plots have come out of stories originally created by Chris Claremont, a British-American comic author who wrote several different series about the mutant superheroes from 1975-1991. This year Chris Claremont’s X-Men will be released, a documentary that focuses on Chris’s career and the creation and development of those fascinating characters.
What inspired you to make this documentary?
Patrick Meaney: Chris’s work is the thing that got me into comics, I watched X-Men, the animated show from the 90’s when I was a kid. I picked up Essential X-Men, Volume 1, which is a very cheap, vague book with the start of Chris’s run. Over the years I read the whole thing from beginning to end and thought this is amazing. It features all these stories that have become a part of our pop culture mythology, from Dark Phoenix, to Days of Future Past to just the characters. The characters weren’t stagnant, they changed and really evolved in a way that I think most people aren’t aware of. I don’t think they are aware of how directly Chris and the editors and artists he worked with created the X-Men.
They created everything that has become these movies that have become part of our cultural mythology and I wanted to do a project that would let them tell their story and the story of how all these things that we now take for granted came to be. The individual choices and the stories behind those. I felt like it would be interesting and fun to talk to Chris and find out for myself and fun to tell that story for future generations because I’m sure they will be rebooting Dark Phoenix again in ten years, in twenty years, in fifty years.
Chris Clairmont: (laughing) I hope they get it right this time.
I hope so, I hope they do better than they did the last time, I will say that. The comic was far more interesting than Singer’s adaptation, sadly.
Chris Claremont: You know, yep, no argument here.
Why did you decide to make it Chris? Did you just want to tell your story? What was your angle on it?
Chris Claremont: I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to watch two hours about Chris Claremont, yeah well okay that’s boring. Isn’t there somebody cool here? I figured what the heck, I’ll just start talking and see what happens. Also, I’m sorry, to sit down, even on a weirdly odd couch with Ann Nocente and [Louise] “Weezy” Simonsen and just babble with vigor and enthusiasm about characters and stories and moments that we all shared was just way cool.
Well it was certainly awesome to watch.
Patrick Meaney: Hadn’t you not seen Anne in a long time?
Chris Claremont: I was going to say, that’s it, it was a chance to see people I hadn’t seen at what that point felt like forever. Then just to reminisce and kick over the woulda-shoulda-coulda. If we had only stuck around another year, if we had only done this, if we had only turned left instead of right. What even more cool stuff could we have done? But that’s, you know, the interesting thing about periodicals is you are always aware of the road not taken, but because it’s a periodical there is always the opportunity to kind of turn things around and go in that direction anyway. You always have the possibility of coming back into a concept when an editor says, “Hey want to do a reboot?”.
I noticed in the documentary, I think it was Louise who said that with every new character you created, you would ask yourself, ‘Why can’t this character be a woman?”. I thought that was fascinating. I’m wondering if that is something you did on purpose and why did you decide to do that?
Chris Claremont: Well, because I know a lot of incredibly cool, talented, courageous, pardon the expression, ballsy women in my life. Reporters, scientists, military police, why is it always the guys? Bear in mind, [this is] 1972, which in comics, is ancient history. I mean, and this is an absurd thing, I was kicking an idea around last year in a class I was teaching at NYU, and I said, here’s a thought. You’ve got Peter Parker, but we also now have Gwen Stacy from another dimension, who is Spider-woman, or Spider Gwen.
What if they run into each other? Holy cow, there’s Peter, there’s Spider Gwen, they could recreate their romance. But what about Mary Jane? Well, maybe then there is a knock on the door and it’s Otto Octavius, and suddenly we have Doc Wat, Mary Jane Watson with the Doc Ock, arms wanting her guy back. “You know there is a miniseries waiting to be told”, I thought, because who does Peter choose? Or maybe the two women run off together, who knows, I mean the point is we have all these characters and all these primal emotions and if they are done right the characters are still young, for me they shouldn’t be grown-ups. Grown-ups, forgive me, are boring.
Clark Kent? Ugh he’s a stiff, you know Bruce Wayne? Oy. For me, it’s seeing adolescence, it’s seeing people making mistakes, who are still learning the rules. This is soap opera, and the beauty of soap opera is that you can throw anything at the wall and the ball could shatter, the wall could shatter, the ball could bounce back and hit you in the nose, and all of them are possibilities for stories. All of them are routes to an unexpected conclusion that in turn should springboard a whole host of other stories. To me, that’s what makes this so much fun, is that if you do it right you can stay absolutely on the cutting edge of time and circumstance, an event, but you can ground it in the constant reality of emotional interaction.
A boy meets a girl, two girls are best friends, two boys are best friends. What are they going to do to get through their lives together? Are they going to turn right, turn left, go forward, go back? Who helps them? Who hurts them? Every question leads to another question, and each answer you come up with as a creator maybe leads to a story and each story leads to a new insight, a new possibility, a new twist and turn. To me, it’s infinitely and endlessly exciting. The fact that I get to do it in collaboration with some of the finest visual story tellers of the modern age, is incredibly tasty icing on the cake. It’s like being able to make your own feature film, without needing 100 million bucks in the bank.
Right, just you and one other person. I have a two-part question for you, what was it like to watch your work grow in popularity over the years? Obviously, you started out at one level and then you grew to the biggest level. Was that different than what you experienced once the movies started coming out?
Chris Claremont: It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. Writing the book it’s not a problem because the better it got, the more pronounced a challenge [it was] to find more interesting ways to top this. I ended up doing an arc of stories about eight years ago now, and I am as proud of them as I am of anything, even though it turned out to be my swan song on the X-Men. There is always new stuff coming down the line. As far as the films go, it’s cool. I get to see characters I created brought to life by actors I respect. I’m sorry, that’s fan geek kind to the max. Deep down at heart, I’m 14, this is cool!
The ultimate fangirl question in my mind, looking back you created a ton of X-Men and X-Women, so which one that you created over the years did you find the most fun and interesting to write for?
Chris Claremont: I hate playing favorites, every time I do I always have a new one that pops up just on the same side. The stuff I ended up doing with Kitty [Pryde], in X-Men Forever, going into Genosha, getting involved with Ororo, I had all this neat stuff in the back of my head. Except that there was a ‘what if’, where we turned everything inside out and had Logan hooked up with Mystique, that would have been fun to play with. But then there was Nightcrawler, he has one girlfriend who’s a noble person and another girlfriend who’s a psychotic killer, but he loves her. How do you deal with that? The more I try to focus it down to a single character or a single story arc, the more complicated it gets because there is always someone right behind them going, ‘What about me?’ and I think, “Oh yeah, you’re cool!”
So, what I hear is you love all your babies equally?
Chris Claremont: Well, yeah. I hate to say it, I do, which drives me absolutely crazy. And probably drives [others] crazy too, but that’s the way it is.
That is the way it is when you are a writer. I just want to know if you are working on anything right now that you want to push out there?
Chris Claremont: Well, I’m working on lots of things, but I never talk about it until it’s actually done, otherwise I jinx it.
You can also read our review of the movie here!