I should probably start this article with a disclaimer, in the interests of transparency. I am a friend of Kieron Gillen, and have known him for some years now from doing conventions in the UK, starting as an attendee to now an exhibitor with my own books. Kieron has always been at pretty much every big show I've attended and has always been super friendly and supportive, and is frankly a gentleman.
But it's through knowing him and his wit and insights that I knew this would be a helluva panel to check out. And of course, who better to pull the details of his rise in popularity and success than his longtime partner in creativity, Jamie McKelvie.
We start with a big cheer from a roomful of The Wicked + The Divine fans, followed by Jamie and Kieron taking their seats to be awarded by Comic-Con International for their in comics.
Jamie begins talking about some of Kieron's bibliography, from Phonogram to WicDiv, to Marvel work like Journey Into Mystery, Young Avengers and Uncanny X-Men, which Jamie jokes he's the only creator to get that book cancelled twice.
Kieron then talks about his childhood growing up in the Midlands in the UK. Jamie brings it around to Kieron's first awareness in comics, and Kieron talks about finding collected Scottish comic strips from family trips up to Scotland. He then talks about reading their reprint editions of US comics printed in the UK, and the old British Transformers books. And Zoids, which was written by Grant Morrison and Kieron describes as like a dry run for The Invisibles.
Moving on to what other pop cultural things made an impact, Kieron talks about how he feels he always came into things late. Being an eldest child, he found that he was brought into things by his younger brother, rather than the other way around.
Tolkien was also an influence, especially The Hobbit text game which brought into that whole world. His first RPG was a Middle-Earth RPG. In terms of video games, he fell in love with the magazine and the idea of pop critics, and games press being able to discuss their opinions on pop culture. He got a lot of back issues, and Jamie comments this may be why he's such a research based writer
Moving onto music, Kieron explains his first music love was metal, which Jamie points out as kind of a Midlands thing. Kieron says from there it evolved and mutated to a love of pretty much all kinds of pop music.
He began writing criticism work before university, and he mentioned how that work was how he got through university. He talks about how his first comic he can remember making, aside from a small God vs. the Devil vs. Eddie, the Iron Maiden mascot, was basically a Transformers story about the Dinobots making a new kind of robot to prove they're as good as everyone else.
At university, Kieron didn't actually take writing or English, and actually did sciences, working in labs and dissecting human brains in a Schizophrenia research lab in Denver. But it was through this that he realized he wanted to be a writer, and applied himself to magazines like video game mags and NME.
But after getting a very positive feedback on his coverage for NME, he realized he didn't to go with that publication, and wound up writing for British music press like Plan B and Callous Talk, and those actually led into Phonogram. Many of the characters in the series are basically from how Kieron could write in the critic characters of other writers in the medium.
He stayed in Bath after university, where there are a lot of writers and journalists, and he was actually approached about writing for Amiga Power in a bar.
They then welcomed Kieron's mother to the stage, Jeanette Gillen, who admits their description so far seems accurate, but seems there was far more going on than she knew. Even from a young age, Mrs. Gillen says they knew he could be a writer, how even in school, at the age of 9 or 10, he wrote a story that even made them cry. She describes the story, and yeah, it seems Kieron was prepared to break the Internet and make the fans cry from an early age. He always had ideas.
But she always thought he'd be this great scientist, and his father thought a lawyer, so falling into writing was a kind of surprise, but one they could understand.
Mrs. Gillen describes how Kieron was always into girl groups, and his first favorite she remembers was Bananarama, so she was always aware of his love of music. When he fell into Metal, that 'was when black came into his life' (none more goth, indeed). The love of BritPop, which fans of Kieron and Jamie's work may assume had come in early due to their work together, was something he came into much later. Mrs. Gillen talked about the excitement of the BritPop movement, and mentioned how Kieron was in a variety of a bands (his first band was called Phalacy – yes, the puns were always there it seems) and played bass.
Sadly, it was at this point that technology failed me. Having continued to write up the panel as it progressed, the shocking state of wifi (there is none) and data connection spottiness caused this entire latter chunk of the panel to not be saved properly and lost into the ether of the practically non-existent internet in the area.
From memory, Kieron and Jamie went on to discuss Kieron's comics career at this point, and Kieron talked about how he's been cutting his output down somewhat, and that right now he isn't too sure what he is going to do next. He says ask January 1st and he'll know.
He does have a new, final book with Marvel coming soon that he teased was just too good to turn down and feels like settling unfinished business.
Any regrets? Kieron mentions once having a list of things he'd love to send back if he could and make changes, but a biggish one he mentioned is he regretted doing Iron Man, as at that time, personal matters in his life made writing that book very hard.
There was an incredibly brief Q&A as they'd overrun, but both questions centred around Young Avengers. Speaking on America Chavez, they liked her because at that time she was interesting but pretty much a blank slate, and they wanted to do a character that people would assume was one legacy character (a Captain America type) but was actually another (a Wonder Woman type). Kieron also wanted to do a cosmic level character with street level attitude.
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor and comic creator. He's the writer of LGBTQ superhero team series, The Pride, and co-writer on Welsh horror comedy series, Stiffs. Both are available on Comixology.