Chris Claremont is a British born American comic book writer. His name is inextricably linked to the X-Men, having been their only writer for fifteen years, from 1975 to 1991. In his career he has also written fantasy novels and stories for DC Comics (Sovereign Seven) and other Marvel characters like Iron Fist and the Fantastic Four.
Dear Chris, thanks for joining us. It is hard but we decided not to explain how your work affect our way of reading and loving comic books. So we won’t tell you it made it in an enormous way.
Lee and Kirby, first creators of X-Men, were Jew. You are Jew too. You lived for a few in Native Hallamad He. You faced violence of religion war. Do you think that exile, antisemitism and violence in some way helped you and previous X-Men creators to imagine how a genetically different group of people could be treated by “homo sapiens”?
The cheap and facile answer is, of course, yes — although I feel obliged to note that the only person I can truly speak of here is myself. I wouldn’t presume to answer for Stan or Jack, or any of the other writers associated with the X-Canon, before or since. Speaking to the question, I don’t find it appropriate to “limit” the presentation of prejudice against super-powered mutants to a signal subordinate group of Humanity. It applies just as validly to the treatment of Blacks in the United States, which I saw when I was growing up in the South, to prejudice against non “establishment” religions, which is how the Mormans were viewed not so long ago, to gays, to Muslims, to Japanese and Chinese — in effect, the old kids on the block always viewed the newcomers with suspicion. That, sadly, is as old a reality as the republic itself. My responsibility as a writer was to craft characters in the X-Men who overcame whatever prejudice or sense of animus that might exist in the reader(s) and enable / persuade them to look on these people as simply that, people. Individuals. Potential friends, rather than strangers. And perhaps by doing so, some of the same tendencies might also carry over into so-called “real” life. You never know — but you should always hope, and try.
Do the actual stories of the X-Men have a politic background more than an ideological one? Your X-Men were struggling for their “ideas” (Xavier last speech in X-Men #3)… we feel that actually their concerns are more political. What do you think?
I think, with respect to the speech you reference, I was looking on that moment as the last hurrah of my vision of both Charley and the X-Men. Whatever came after me, I wanted readers to know where “my” guys, my stories stood. Before that, though, the stories were structured, hopefully, to be good / great stories; they were never meant as polemics. The core essential was character, the character was defined by the individuals themselves. The readers’ observations and conclusions derived from that basis. If the X-Men had evolved into polemics, it’s wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near as long as it did, nor had the impact.
With the plot “destruction and rebirth” you, in a certain way, created a “loop” that survived his creator. Don’t you think that characters maybe had to start growing in a most continuative way rather than starting again the process each rebirth?
I have no idea, because the “destruction and rebirth” plot structure you refer to was one imposed on us by management, beginning with the resurrection of Jean Grey. The whole point of her dying, aside from providing a cracking good ending to the Phoenix story arc, was that we treat it as a real death. That we make clear to readers and characters alike that there are risks and consequences and costs to the roles they play. If we were willing to kill Jean and make it stick, then none of them were safe, in the classic publishing sense. The fact that Scott worked through the loss of Jean, met and married Madelyn, had a child and ultimately had to choose between becoming a husband and father in the fullest sense of the words or subordinating the family side of his life to his “job” as leader of the X-Men was meant to show that these characters evolve and grow, as do the readers. He came to a point where he chose to move on. By the same token, his absence allowed for the opportunity to showcase new characters and thereby establish potential bonds between them and a whole new generation of readers. As the audience evolved, so would the cast, with fresh blood all around. And at the foundation of it all was the notion that we (the creators) should always look for the means and moment to catch the audience by surprise, to make them think, “holy cow, we never saw that coming!” And hopefully as well, think the moment was way cool. Obviously, Marvel as a corporate structure, had other ideas. Since the X-Men is their concept, they get the last word.
Your first run on X-Men lasted from 1976 to 1991. Would you be so kind to tell us the secret of this longevity? How did you manage not to be bored and which were your feelings once you left the X-Men title?
The reason’s simple: I had great characters, I was working with great artists (and for the most part, great editors), I like to think I was coming up with some good/great story ideas. Under those circumstances, how does one get bored?
Plot of X-Men #1-2-3 was a sort of Legacy you left to X-Men. It was in a some way a result of the fact you were leaving the title?
No “some way” about it. The only reason that story exists is because I was heading out the door.
In your X-Men stories we found a lot of strong female characters. Any idea of how you look so able to handle them? Do you think that this is a common talent you share with Bendis?
Re. Brian, you’ll have to ask him. Re the women characters in X-Men, I like to feel I handled them pretty much the same as I did the male characters, as distinct individuals.
With X-Men Forever you showed that you still had a few ideas to bring ahead the X-Men title. What did you save from your ideas of 1991 and what did you add on 2009?
What did I save, the good stuff. What did I add, the really good stuff. (Writers never talk about their plans, we may yet need them.)
We think about what you did with Nick Fury in X-Men Forever… are there more no-mutants
characters you liked to use in your X-Men title but for some reason you did not?
Whole bunches, probably, but that’s more something that evolves as the story / series progresses.
Magneto and Sinister are two villains that in your hands had a complex growth, becoming full of aspects. Do you like how actually Magneto is depicted? Is the same for Sinister?
If you’re referring to both characters’ presentation in the X-Canon subsequent to my leaving the series (in 1991) I really can’t say. I don’t think I ever wrote them during my subsequence work in the Canon.
Is there something now in the X-Men title that you feel is missing? And something good you never thought to put in?
I really can’t say; I’m not familiar enough with the current Canon to have any opinion.
What if you have the power to cancel just one single event in the whole X-Men continuity? And why…
That’s simple: I’d go back in time, cancel my departure in 1991 and continue on from where I left off.
Which is the mutant that has been forgotten too fast?
Sorry, haven’t a clue.
You worked with dozens of artists (from John Byrne to Jim Lee just to tell two names). Is there an artist you think was the best one to draw them?
First ones that come to mind, in no particular order, are Jack Kirby and Neal Adams and Dave Cockrum; they were the artists, especially Neal, who got my attention on the concept and characters. And without Dave, of course, the X-Men as we’ve known them the past 40 years simply wouldn’t be here.
Interview conducted by mail and ended on 2013/04/05