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From 'Why Not' to 'What If?': Chris Claremont on other projects that never happened

The veteran Marvel writer shares more about his unexpectedly controversial Friday night panel

Chris Claremont at C2E2 2022
Image credit: ReedPop

Chris Claremont is having a moment, much to his surprise.

The veteran writer didn’t expect the online response to his Friday night Spotlight panel at C2E2, and, talking Saturday morning at the show, he’s not entirely sure why people thought he said anything unusual. Popverse caught up with him briefly to ask about changing Kitty Pryde into the daughter of the Black Panther and Storm, his current Marvel contract, and the importance of spitballing ideas and seeing what happens.

Popverse: I think one of the main things that people were upset about was turning Kitty into T’Challa and Ororo’s daughter…

Chris Claremont: That was probably my mistake, because that's usually something I just talk about at the table. You know, sort of “Just between us.” It's an idea.

I think what people get upset about was –

Turning a white girl into a Black girl. That's why I've always been hesitant [to talk about it more openly]. The weird thing is that –and it may simply be it's Chris Claremont doing the talking so therefore I will not react – it's not like, I've told this exclusively to white people standing in line. But I am curious to see how others are reacting.

One argument I heard as to why there was concern was that it was very similar to turning Betsy Asian –

Uncanny X-Men #256 cover by Jim Lee
Image credit: Jim Lee (Marvel Comics)

Well, I mean, the other side of the coin was that what we did to Betsy was originally just a three issue story. We were gonna put her back at the end of that arc. That was the whole point. It was never supposed to be a permanent change. But reader response was so viscerally positive that Marvel just went with it, and there you go.

The point is, from my perspective, all I'm doing is tossing out ideas, some of which were considered viable, some of which weren’t. If they weren't considered viable, all we have is an interesting exchange of views at a panel… take ‘em or leave ‘em. This is as far as it's gonna go.

It’s now an amusing story – theoretically, an amusing story. It’s like, gosh, how you know, one could say Pierce Brosnan was almost James Bond, but then they renewed Remington Steele for another season. If you interviewed him right after that, he would probably be really irked. Cut ahead five years and, surprise! It all worked out, and it worked out best for Judi Dench, so there you go.

The real world and the world of convention stories are two totally different realities.

I'm not sure I've ever heard you sound as frustrated at your current contract as you did last night.

It’s not frustrated, it’s just that… for most of the last five years, you know, I've done, what, two 10 page stories? I mean, [Gambit] and [X-Treme X-Men] are the first two series I've had – well, five issues – in quite a while. Since Axel [Alonso, former Marvel editor-in-chief] took over! I mean, that's going back aways. This is sort of the culmination of stuff that CB [Cebulski] and I started talking about when he took over, which is a ways back.

So on the one level, I'm looking at this and thinking, hoorah, I'm back kind of in the game. On the other level, I'm thinking, I'm not really, because I'm still locked into my era. Even though, with X-Treme, it’s extended.

For me as a writer, as a craftsperson, I go back to when people asked me about New X-Men, and what did I think of it? And I said, you know, I found I disagreed vehemently with a lot of Grant’s core decisions, not the least of which was making the X-Men public – it's like Logan's origin, once it's done, it's done. You can't take it back. Yeah. And you're stuck with it. But at the same time, I couldn't stop reading it. It was that good. So from a creator standpoint, he did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is get people excited and interested in the concept. That's his job.

In terms of what I would like to do with respect to [the current X-Men era], there's a lot of stuff there that I find interesting. For me as a reader – because I do end up reading all of the lore as much as I can get hold of – what's out there, what’s been revealed, is kinda limited, and so these are questions that I would ask in terms of, who's there? Where do they come from? All these kids all have parents, or are you telling me they're all orphans or all abandoned by their people back home? And if they're not, if they have parents, what happens if, as I said, on the panel, if they want to go home to visit their folks, or if their folks want to come visit them, if their siblings want to come visit them, but they're not mutants, so they can’t come visit them? I would like to play with what life is actually like [on Krakoa], maybe outside of the ongoing multi-panel-across-everything arc.

Chris Claremont and Veronica Valencia at Florida Supercon 2022
Chris Claremont and Veronica Valencia at Florida Supercon 2022 | Image credit: Popverse

What I was hypothesizing on the panel, just spinning off the top of my head, was something that occurred to me a week, maybe two weeks ago. Going back to the first moment [that Emma Frost appears], and the coloring booboo we made back then where Emma isn't wearing white. She's wearing gray. What does that mean? Is she in disguise? I don't know, we never asked nor answered the question at the time. But it's an interesting subject for hypotheses. And my hypothesis seeing this was, hey! What if there are shenanigans going on? What if Emma has a plan? What if Kitty has been part of that plan from the very beginning, even if she didn't know it, or especially since she didn't know it?

This is all stuff, if I were at a writers meeting or if I were an editor, or just sitting at the table, I would throw out to see how the people on cue want to react to it. What's intriguing? What [makes gasping noise], what’s [snoring noise]? This is spitballing. Spitballing is part of the writing process. I’d like to think what I was trying at the panel was just spitballing, throwing ideas out, looking at the audience to see if they go Ooh! or Ehh! and then, move on.

I don't know the details of your Marvel contract, but have you thought of going elsewhere? Can you go elsewhere?

Oh, no. I mean, under the terms of my Marvel contract, I am free to pitch graphic novel ideas in France. I did! Panini teamed up with Soleil to form [a publisher] called Fusion, and they published the first issue of a historical fantasy that sold 10,000 copies, which is less than I expected, and so the second they basically shut it down. The second issue exists with finished art but was never lettered. And the third issue is written but never got drawn because the artists got hired by Marvel and vanished from the face of the earth, as far as I know. But the point is, yeah, I had an option, or have an option.

[Editor's note: Claremont is referring to Wanderers, a 2008 comic series drawn by Phil Briones.]

But hey, I need an artist to work with! And both the artist’s style and my writing style have to integrate with what's considered to be publishable, but also profitable, I guess. If you look at the the standard structure of Bande Dessinée, they're much more visually – I don’t know if prosaic is actually the right word, but it’s much more regularized than American style. I mean, I was trying to throw in every visual trick I’ve learned over 30 years: double page spreads, across the page shots, panels underneath, stuff that all worked over here. But, you know, maybe this story sucked and readers didn't like it. Maybe it was the fact that there were three Arthurian fantasies being published the same month by the same company! I don't know. It never got finished. It's wherever dead stories over there go.

I mean, Dennis Medri and I sold a story, we did a deal with Heavy Metal, and he did, like 15, 16 pages that are at home, and then they went bankrupt. Apparently they never even paid him for the work in the first place. I mean, I thought it was a fun story. Apparently they did, because they bought it, but then it just went pfft and died. You know, I've pitched since then. But so far, no joy.

[Editor's Note: Claremont is referring to Hide & Seek, a comic series by he and Medri that was commissioned by Humanoids. Humanoids' US division remains in operation.]

Now, is that because everybody over there hates me? I don’t know. Is it because the stories I'm offering are not what the publishers think the market needs? Is it that I'm a writer looking for an artist, and they can't find an artist who's willing to work with me?

I mean, I had a deal back in the '90s, right after I got fired the first time, where a mainstream US book publisher wanted to establish a graphic novel line. They wanted a 160-page graphic novel, and they were willing to pay $90,000 upfront. The way I looked on it was, we’ll split it 60/30 – the artist gets, like $60k and is responsible for the coloring. I'll take $30k and I'm responsible for the lettering. We'll do a 100-page graphic novel, and I'll do a prose story with illustrations, and we’ll see how that will work. I mean, the money was ridiculous. And at that particular point in time, I couldn't find an artist who would wish that would jump for it. Because they made far, far more money drawing much simpler stories from Marvel, or DC, and better yet, selling art at conventions.

Welcome to reality. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But you keep swinging and hoping you get a hit. Welcome to reality.

Catch up on everything coming out of this weekend's convention with our comprehensive C2E2 round-up.