Pat Mills is widely regarded as the godfather of British comics and he is inarguably one of the most imaginative writers of the last fifty years, shaping the minds of a whole generation with dystopian post-apocalyptic future scenarios stalked by psychologically-scarred robots, revolutionary aliens that make the Taliban look like tea party-enthusiasts and trigger happy anti-hero cops with fascist leanings.
Now, the man who brought the world Judge Dredd, Nemesis The Warlock and ABC Warriors has turned his subversive skills to the multi-billion dollar gaming industry in order to champion young comic talents and parody celebrity culture. We caught up with him to talk addiction to the spectacle, virtual worlds and the all-consuming future of the interactive illustrated form.
Dazed Digital: You’ve been working on Infamous II a game that parodies celebrity culture – what you think the psychological effect of celebrity culture is upon the species?
Pat Mills: Well, to give you a short answer, it’s brain rot. I look at newspapers online and I find myself looking at these appalling celebrities and following their ghastly lives, and I think to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?!’ I suppose it’s a mild form of addiction and, arguably, it’s better than drinking too much coffee, taking hard drugs or smoking a fag, but I think the serious addicts who have to go out and buy Heat magazine must be in a bad way.
DD: There is an argument that the mainstream media is engaged in keeping consciousness at a low level by bludgeoning us with idiocy…
Pat Mills: Yeah, it’s definitely got a touch of David Icke about it, hasn’t it? There is something mildly sinister about it all. I mean, to be fair, I think there’s always been that fascination with celebrities, and I don’t know if there’s any way of measuring whether it’s any worse today than it was a couple of decades ago. I think the assumption we would make is that it is worse, and I wouldn’t challenge anyone on that. I don’t know what drives it really…
DD: Considering the ever-more powerful multi-billion dollar gaming industry, could you envisage a future where one can engage with celebrity culture in a virtual universe?
Pat Mills: I think eventually that’s going to happen. There must have been science fiction stories that feature virtual celebrities or reanimations of classic celebrities. I mean, some of them we’ve never really let go of, like the true classics – Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and so forth. There are certain images that somehow go right through into the subconscious and endlessly renew themselves, and you get the feeling that those kinds of icons are going to be around forever in some virtual form or another.
All those kind of things are possible – we’re looking at them even where digital comics are concerned, and thinking about all the things that could happen in the future. It won’t just be a straight comic strip – it could be customised in various ways to suit the reader or the player.
DD: Can you imagine a situation where you get to hang out with a virtual James Dean?
Pat Mills: I think it’s happening already – a lot of these characters have their own Facebook page, and someone takes on the role. Presumably, someone is paid to sit there all day responding as that iconic character. There’s always been that tendency to do that, but obviously with modern technology, the possibilities are limitless…
DD: And are those possibilities exciting to you, or dod they seem sinister? You tend to write quite dystopian future world narratives…
Pat Mills: Well, I suppose the standard answer is that they can be positive or negative, but from a dramatic point of view, we only really want to hear about really bad stuff. The latest story I’m doing is called American Reaper and it’s about identity transplants, so you’ve got old people stealing young people’s bodies and running around inside them. As always, these are very negative views of the future, but if you look at modern science and the state of the world, it’s not totally unrealistic.
With a game those scenarios can become all consuming. I think what you’ve got with a game like Infamous II is that you enter a world that is totally recognisable – you can identify with it – and yet all these people have different so-called superpowers. Once you’re engaged in it, you’re hooked on it, and you’ve got to go all the way.
To celebrate the launch of infamous 2, PlayStation 3 have teamed up with Pat Mills and Howard Marks to explore the concept morality with a series of fantasy celebrity comic strips. View the strips at www.infamousthefame.com.