Having won himself a legion of devoted followers during his run on Batgirl just before the launch of the New 52, it's perhaps not surprising that the smartly-written Smallville Season Eleven has found an audience, or that Miller is using it as an opportunity to write a Superman book where the character can have some fun. It's a theme that runs through his work, including his upcoming all-ages graphic novel Earthward, a science fiction novella funded through Kickstarter.
Miller joined ComicBook.com for a discussion on Earthward, Smallville and the broad appeal he does his best to cultivate with his work.
ComicBook.com: Do you think there's a similarity in terms of the sensibilities that you have to write to with both Earthward and Smallville? I mean, with the former you're trying to write a book that's good for kids while keeping it interesting for their parents. With the former, you're working within, basically, what would be the constraints of TV which is arguably a similar approach.
Bryan Q. Miller: To an extent. The Smallville book is a still a book about adults and adult things for a 12/13+ crowd. With rare exception, I try to keep everything I write as open to all audiences as possible, but you have to go where the characters and the series take you. I'm certainly not trying to do anything more grim or racy than we would have done on the show. With Earthward, it was about telling a story in a way that both age groups could meet in the middle. Universal themes, relatable characters, danger without excessive violence, etc.
ComicBook.com: What made you want to do a project like Earthward? It's not as though you're pressed for paying gigs, and you took time out to manage a Kickstarter campaign for a project that will be a lot of extra work.
Miller: I would debate the former, but the latter is definitely true - taking on a Kickstarter is a TREMENDOUS amount of effort. Big time commitment. Good, but a lot of work. With Earthward, the goal was to get a book out there that carried the flag of All-Ages proudly - it isn't just something for kids and kids alone, but for shared audience. The other advantage was, by going the solo route, I'm free to release it as a long-form graphic novel(la), and don't have to worry about hacking it up to fit a monthly release schedule.
ComicBook.com: When I first read about Earthward, I felt like it reminded me a lot of some of the better stuff to come out of the Star Wars craze, when we got TV and comics and everything else that was kooky, family-friendly space adventures. Did you have any favorite comics that came out of that era?
Miller: I grew up without access to a comic shop. Like, the WHOLE time I was growing up. I didn't really have easy access to comics or trades until college. So, I'm a late bloomer, in terms of reading. The vast majority of my exposure to comic properties was through other media - toys and cartoons.
ComicBook.com: The kinds of projects that Earthward draws its inspiration from are fewer and farther between these days; why do you think that is?
Miller: That (as far as I'm concerned) golden period of mass-appeal Sci-Fi from '80-'86 had sequels, but wasn't ALL sequels. Franchise fatigue and "sequelitis" weren't really in play yet. Just as many features that came out were new-ish. Audiences weren't as hesitant to embrace new properties, and studios weren't as hesitant to make them. We all WANT new stuff today, but going to the movie has, for better or worse, become more about the comfort food aspect of getting more of what you know and love, and less about taking a risk as a viewer on something you're unsure of.
ComicBook.com: There's a bit of a similarity there to Superman, isn't there? I mean, so often we get modern stories that are darker and more angsty than what a lot of older fans expect from Superman, but with rare exception, creators who go with the classic feel have a hard time connecting with an audience. Smallville rides that line nicely; how do you balance it?
Miller: It's all about staying true to the characters and the larger ideal of Superman - he's a symbol of hope and justice. And "justice" is not revenge. It's about making sure the right thing happens. It's about reporting to a larger set of values. Superman is our Jiminy Cricket. Dark things can (and sometimes do) happen - it's all about how your players on the board handle that in determining tone. And for Smallville (and this take on Superman, at least), it's about action, adventure, romance, friendship, responsibility. Our Clark had his angst period - when he was a teenager. When you're supposed to have your angst. Stepping into his role as Superman took a decade. It wasn't approached lightly. Sometimes he deviated. Sometimes Clark got lost. Think about it - he started the show as a 14 year old. He ended as a 23 year old. Even having accepted his role by the age of 23 and being cool with it is a pretty big deal. Sometimes, self-actualizating can come quickly. Sometimes, it requires work. It's Clark's struggles to this point that have given him the insight he needs to know us better than we know ourselves.
ComicBook.com: Not to sound like I'm pandering, but I know quite a few people who have been calling Smallville Season Eleven "the best Superman title currently being published." And that's during a time when some top-notch talent has been attached to the New 52 books. Is that flattering?
Miller: It's certainly flattering! At the same time, the reality of the situation is that there are enough Superman-related books out there (both in the New 52 and the Beyond group and now the Adventures"title for digital) that, if you love the Big Blue Boy Scout, you've got a menu of approaches to choose from. Not every one is going to appeal to every fan, naturally, but there's power in choice!
ComicBook.com: How do you decide what characters you want to appear in Smallville? Certain recent stories (Henshaw, for one, and heading to the 30th Century) seem like they'd just have been really expensive to do on TV, so did you have some ideas percolating from the old days?
Miller: There are some idea that come into play that are remainders from work on the show - but I'm doing my best to make sure those are all ideas that came from me, and not ones that other folks worked on, too. It's not my intent to take sole credit for jointly conceived stories. Sometimes, these things blur, but I'm striving to keep everything just from the 'ole noggin. The Impulse arc we just finished ("Haunted") originated as a long-standing pitch from me that we never got around to doing, season after season. That kind of thing.
Character-wise, a lot of that comes from "Who's a new person for Clarkie to tussle with?" Gives me a chance to introduce the Smallville audience to characters that might not otherwise be familiar with. Or the chance to put my own/Smallville spin on characters they definitely do - like the Batman (who we saw in "Detective").
ComicBook.com: There's been a lot of art changes on Smallville. Is it odd to tell stories without having a regular working partner, or is it more like having different directors on the TV episodes?
Miller: It's just like the director thing. Each artist brings his or her own flair to the stories I'm telling. So long as we don't shift gears mid-story, it's a great way to give every episode its own flavor.
ComicBook.com: Skeets was barely in the television show, so there didn't appear to be any need to include him as a stand-alone character in this comic. Why choose to include Skeets, especially in a physical form?
Miller: Because I love Skeets. I've always loved Skeets. He's the straight man. And, as far as I'm concerned (thanks to Justice League Unlimited), he sounds like Billy West.
ComicBook.com: Do you realize that you've earned the eternal gratefulness of Boosterrific.com, who have been missing Skeets since before Flashpoint?
Miller: I didn't then, but I do now - and I'm happy to help!