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It’s Saturday, which means it’s time for one lucky comic creator to spin the big wheel–of questions, that is. Welcome to Robot Roulette, where we’ve come up with 36 possible questions, and each week I will randomly select which of those questions our guest has to answer.
Our guest this week is Mike Carey, writer of The Unwritten, X-Men: Legacy, Hellblazer, Ultimate Fantastic Four, My Faith in Frankie, Lucifer and many other comics. My thanks to Mike for agreeing to answer some of our questions today; now let’s get to it …
2. What was the last good book (not comics) that you read?
The Sterkarm Handshake, by Susan Price. It’s a very clever time travel novel that involves an embedded sociologist working in the sixteenth century “going native” and working against the best interests of her corporate employers when she learns what plans they have for the people she cares about in the remote past. That’s a very bare-bones summary of a complex and thoughtful book that in effect uses time travel to explore themes of colonialism and capitalist excess. It’s also immaculately researched and (with the proviso that it’s about time travel) uncompromisingly realistic. I absolutely loved it, and I’m currently awaiting delivery of the sequel, The Sterkarm Kiss.
13. Where did you grow up? Tell us something about where you grew up that we may not know.
I grew up in Liverpool, in the sixties. It was a city in long-term decline, its fortunes founded on shipping that was just no longer coming and on factories that were closing at the rate of one every couple of weeks back then. Margaret Thatcher was putting the boot into the UK’s industrial base, and we were all feeling the pain. My parents both worked at a bread factory in Walton, Taylor’s bakery – manufacturers of the now defunct Wonderloaf. Then the factory closed and they were both on the scrap heap, which was the start of a period of massive uncertainty and unhappiness for the whole family. We had both our electricity and gas cut off, then restored, then cut off again. We never knew from one day to the next how we’d survive, although one way or another we always did.
I remember one time when our gas supply was restored, they put us on a meter so we had to pay up front for all the gas we used. My dad cut a hole in the bottom of the meter so we could re-use the same shilling piece again and again, scooping it back out of the meter with the blade of a knife. After that led to the inevitable repercussions, he used to cook dinner for us on a coal fire. The back of a shovel, wedged in over the flames, became a hob top on which he could balance two pans at a time. He was an extraordinary man, my dad. He did whatever he had to do to get us through, including getting up at dawn and walking down to the docks to queue up for day labour at the shipyards – just like in On the Waterfront. When our current Tory government talks about the work-shy poor, I think about those times and about who made us poor in the first place.
17. Name one of your pet peeves. Why is it a pet peeve?
I hate people who pull other people up on the basis of so-called breaches of the rules of grammar, without ever recognising that the rules are changed constantly by living usage. An example would be the split infinitive. How many times do we have to listen to smug pedants telling us that “to boldly go” is a mistake, and it should be “boldly to go.” The whole thing is a non-issue. The rule about not putting adverbs between “to” and the verb stem was only invented about two hundred years ago, and passed off as a rule by classicists who would have liked English to have a one-word infinitive form as Latin and Greek do. Which doesn’t really matter at all. What matters is that “boldly to go” sounds weak and preposterous. Anyone who puts (supposed) grammatical correctness ahead of fitness for purpose is a twerp.
23. What’s on the desk around your work area (feel free to send a picture if you’d like)?
Let’s see. A big stack of mail that isn’t even current. It’s old bits of paper that were important once and that I haven’t sorted through in about two years. A bright pink robot that’s also a keyring. A pen-holder in the shape of two pelicans with their beaks touching. Two little “deform” statuettes of Rogue and Professor X, from the X-Men. A bronze bookmark in the shape of a leaf. And a conker. Umm… and dust. I’d better hoover in here some time soon.
26. What is your best childhood memory?
I have a lot of happy childhood memories that centre on comics. Getting the latest issue of Beano or Wham and sitting down to read it from cover to cover. Getting comic book annuals for Christmas. Stuff like that. But maybe my happiest memory is my sister coming back from a school summer camp. I was young enough not to be entirely certain that she was ever coming home, and I was overjoyed when she did. Plus she brought me a blackboard and chalks as a gift, which was icing on the cake.
31. What’s the biggest “missed opportunity” you’ve had in comics–or what project did you not take or start that you wish you had?
Hmm. I don’t have any serious regrets, to be honest. The things I’ve said no to, I’ve usually had good reasons for ducking. Having said that, when Will Dennis called me to offer me a stint on Hellblazer, my first answer was no – and I would have regretted it bitterly if I’d been made to stand by that. Fortunately, Will let me change my mind. I was afraid at that point that I couldn’t write two monthly books at the same time. That seems like a ridiculous scruple now, but I’d never done it and had no idea what my limits were.