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Getting to Know Mark Gillins

by Michael Hutchison

Mark Gillins Fanzing: This month, we're going to get better acquainted with Mark Gillins, Fanzing's monthly double-punch. Mark not only pens (well, we should say "types") the JLA Casebook every month, but he also does the monthly "top dozen" article, Gillin' With The Homeboys, so his name is certainly known to our readers. What everyone may not know is that he's also our youngest contributor (unless Russell Burlingame is lying about his age!). How old are you now, Mark?

Mark Gillins
: About 17.6.. I turn 18 on February 12 – just in time to vote for our next President! (I need to get crackin' on all the political issues I can muster, so thanks for the editorial you put out last month!)

Fanzing: You live near Seattle, right? Is it a suburb or a small town?

Mark Gillins
: I'd call it a suburb, but I don't get out much… The name of the city I live in is Renton. It's definitely not nearly as busy as Seattle or its neighboring city Bellevue, but we get our share of rush hour traffic and we've got a few important businesses/tourist traps that keep us developing. For instance, I believe Jimi Hendrix's grave is just a few miles away from my house. Other than that, though, I can't name any specific places right off the top of my head.

Fanzing: Where do you go to school, and what are your favorite subjects?

Mark Gillins
: I attend Charles A. Lindbergh High School (named after the national hero who flew the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic – the farthest distance ever flown nonstop at that point in time). It's sometimes hard to choose my favorite subjects while I'm still in those classes, because I can't immediately see the fruits of my labors, but at this point I'd say that Graphic Arts has been a class I've really enjoyed (I'm taking my third semester of it this year). The teacher is somewhat clueless, but the work isn't that hard yet I feel like I'm gaining good experience for the future.

I've also enjoyed other art classes I've taken in the past, and most recently I've surprised myself by taking some pleasure in Humanities – a class where pretty much all we do is listen to the teacher talk about ancient history, take notes on what he says, and then get tested about twice a week on our notes. It's a lot of work, but it's also really good preparation for college, the lectures are actually pretty interesting, and we don't get a lot of homework.

I've taken 3.5 years of Spanish. I would have completed my 4 years, but I recently moved from Kirkland (about 25 minutes north of where I live now), and the foreign language curriculum up there is much better than down here in Renton. I took 3 of my 3.5 years of Spanish in that district, and in that time I learned a lot and can sometimes actually have a small conversation with a native speaker. However, after I moved and decided to take one last year, I discovered that this new district is behind in terms of academic advancement: I got placed in a combined 3rd/4th year class, and every student in the class spoke as if they were just barely finishing up their 1st year! The teacher really wasn't that good at getting the students to comprehend and speak well, and since I felt like I wasn't learning anything I dropped the subject from my schedule.

My final favorite subject that immediately comes to mind is Leadership. I got elected Senior Class Secretary last year, and because of that I am forced to take at least one semester of Leadership class. It's great! I've gotten to know so many more people this year through that class because we're constantly doing things to stay involved with the school. Plus, the advisor is the same person that is my Humanities teacher, so I get to hang out with him that much more.

Fanzing: You recently became an Eagle Scout. What does one have to do to achieve that?

Mark Gillins
: That's kind of a tough question to answer because a lot of young men just let their moms do most of the work behind the scenes while they take most of the credit… So if the Eagle Scout truly did do everything, here's pretty much what he had to do:

  • Earn at least 21 merit badges from the time he entered Boy Scouts, about 2/3 of which are required to earn in order to achieve Eagle rank. Some of the required ones are Camping, Citizenship in the World, Citizenship in the Country, Citizenship in the Community, Swimming, First Aid, Safety, Emergency Preparedness, Communications, Personal Management, Family Life, and Physical Fitness – and that's just a few! Through these merit badges he gains a broad range of skills in wilderness survival, economic preparation, effective teaching, how to deliver quality speeches, how to be heard in political issues, etc., that make him more prepared for the future. The non-required badges aren't easy ones, either, but they offer more variety for the scout. I took such badges as Wilderness Survival (you have to sleep in the woods in a structure you built yourself for one night – without a sleeping bag or blanket!), Fingerprinting, Computers, and Astronomy.
  • Carry out a huge service project in which he had to mainly plan it and lead it, so the rest of the troop does more of the actual project while you make all the phone calls, get all the signatures, make sure the project is carried out smoothly and correctly, reserve anything you need to get, etc. It's really quite a big deal because he has to have more that just a few hours of work in for himself, and then he has to have about 10 times more from the boys who help him out.
  • Stay involved in his troop, going to all the activities, campouts, etc.
  • Fulfill all the requirements of the previous ranks that build up to the Eagle rank, which are far too many to be listed here. Some requirements involve going to a city council meeting, drawing the layout of a house (including the wiring, etc.), or even building structures using rope and wooden poles (yes, you have to know your knots – about 25 of 'em!!!). It's insane how many different requirements there are, and it's so broad that there isn't one single Boy Scout that could easily whiz through them because of his skill.

So, as you can see, the program involves much more than helping old ladies across the street. It offers useful experiences and knowledge for young men in order to make them strong leaders of the future. Many of the famous heroes and historical figures we have today are Eagle Scouts, many of whom are political leaders, athletic stars, and astronauts (I got to meet a few of them at scout camp this year). A lot of service is involved in the program, so much that you almost become a drone to yourself!

Fanzing: When did you first start reading comic books?

Mark Gillins
: I read my first comic book in a barber shop (I believe it was either Archie or Spiderman), and after I learned to read (and about 10 years more added onto that) my dad bought a pack of 20 comic books at Costco and split it up between me and my two brothers as stocking stuffers for Christmas. The first one I read was my brother's Flash comic book (it was one of the issues from the #70's, and Dr. Alchemy was the villain). After that I read all of the Superman comic books that we had received, and it so happened that Doomsday had just made his grand entry into Superman's life when I picked those issues up. I got glued on the story, and was pleased to find a copy of Superman #75 at my elementary school's book sale (unfortunately it was a 4
th print – I wasn't into comics enough to realize how little that issue was worth! When I picked up my first Wizard I assumed that my copy was the black bagged version and thought it was already worth 28 bucks!). The Death really got me hooked to comics, and after reading a few X-Men comics I decided to stick with DC. I then went on to Justice Society, and after dropping that I went to Justice League Europe, then to Robin, and finally found a comfortable monthly spot in The Flash. Whoa.. before I go too far I should just continue right in the next question…

Fanzing: What are your favorite titles?

Mark Gillins
: Right now I read The Flash, JLA, and Green Lantern on a monthly basis. My absolute favorite title fluctuates between Flash and JLA – it seems that Mark Waid and Grant Morrison rotate their periods of greatness back and forth between each other. I've been reading The Flash the longest – monthly since about issue #80. I've read JLA since it came out (although I only recently found a copy of the second issue), and I started reading GL with #95 or so. I think the main reason I'm so into The Flash is because of the TV show that lasted so short a time. It truly was great. Watching the reruns on the Sci-Fi channel, I realize that the muscles sewn into Barry's suit look ridiculous, but other than that the show was awesome and should have been given another shot.

I started reading JSA, Hourman, Martian Manhunter, and Young Justice, but I recently dropped these titles due to horrible art, horrible writing, or a combination of both. The only really new title that I've stuck with is The Titans, which is looking better and better as it goes on.

Superman needs to pick up its slack before I ever read another issue of his again!

Fanzing: This is something we've been discussing a lot lately. As a young man in his late teens, are the comic prices too prohibitive? How many books a month can you reasonably collect?

Mark Gillins
: Yes, the comics ARE too prohibitive (at least for me)! I can only reasonably collect about three titles a month, which is another reason why I dropped all of those titles I listed in the previous question. I have to be really selective with what I read because I don't have an income (yes, I need a job, but even then I'd be socking the cash away for college!). Right now I'm reading four titles a month on my parents' money (they give it to me only because I'm willing to do some odd jobs around the house), plus whatever various miniseries, specials, and one-shots that catch my eye (like the Day of Judgement crossover).

And right now, because I've been spending more than usual (that's what happens every year when DC has its crossovers) I've had to go longer without going to the comic book shop. I still haven't picked up a copy of DOJ #5, Flash #154 (where the Dark Flash reveals his identity), or JLA #35 – and I'm afraid they're going to sell out before I can get to them! I already missed Flash Secret Files #2!

Also, I've been spending a lot of money lately to keep up with my JLA collection. I have the entire run of the current series (FINALLY, after searching for years for JLA #2), and DC keeps putting out these dang one-shots the past three months or so – it's getting more and more difficult to fork up the money! I'm going to have to wait until Christmas in order to get the $25 "JLA: Earth 2" hardcover coming out in early December. It would be great if prices could go back to $1.25 or $1.50 like when I started collecting. Now you can't find a comic book without it costing at least 2 bucks! Oh, yeah.. and every time my dad picks up a comic book of mine to glance at it, he notices the price and lectures me about how "when I used to read comic books as a kid they cost a nickel each, and you didn't get any of this 'to be continued' junk.. You got an entire story packed into one issue!".. and then I find myself trying to defend something I myself am a little peeved at… sheesh…

Fanzing: Do you hope to work in the comics industry, or is this just for fun?

Mark Gillins
: Oh, man! It's my DREAM to work in the comics biz! Seriously, my goal is to one day pencil for DC, or maybe even write. A lot of people think this is kind of unrealistic. Once I was in a car with my brother, his old girlfriend, and somebody else and someone brought up the question of what we all wanted to do when we grow up. I stated that I wanted to draw for The Flash and my brother's old girlfriend told me, "Well, don't you think that's a little far-fetched?" I sat in the back seat and wondered how anyone could try to tear up my dream like that!

However, I know I've got a lot of work to do! Every time I look at the artwork that's submitted to Fanzing I always feel so intimidated, but then I realize that most of the contributors are old farts compared to me and I still have a while to work on my skills.

This summer at my family reunion we all told each other some goals we had to set and we have to fulfill these goals by the next reunion. My goal was to get in a submission to DC Comics – not necessarily in hopes of getting a job, but rather to see how they think I'm coming along. I need to get cracking on it! And, hey, I may even turn it in to Fanzing once I've completed it!

A difficult point, though, is that the comics industry seems to be going downhill. I don't know if, by the time I am able to pencil for DC, I'll be able to support a family and make a decent living off of working in comics. It would still be a blast, but the pay could be really low by then.

So I've got a few other things I wouldn't mind doing: getting into the graphic design biz could be kind of fun, or advertising art. And if not anything to do with design, I could really get into acting or singing in plays (and maybe even get into Broadway!). So whatever it is I do, it would most likely be in the Arts category.

Fanzing: What are your other interests besides comics?

Mark Gillins
: I like computers a little bit. I've taken a computer networking class, so I know a little bit about that sort of thing, and my brother and I are working on getting Microsoft Certified pretty soon. I also have a website that I fiddle around with every now and then (I'm working on remodeling it right now, but due to situations with my own computer, Bruce Bachand's computer, and lack of writers, it's coming along pretty slowly), and when I've got a little bit of free time I play some Quake 2 or Starcraft with some friends from school.

I enjoy singing – I'm in my school's choir this year (I was going to be in the "select" choir after school, also, but I didn't have time for it because I also run cross country) and I've been in several musicals at my old high school, including Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof. Sadly enough, I moved right when I got to the point where the director was going to start giving me the big roles. I'm not in any plays right now mainly because I've heard the drama program at my new school bites, but I still watch musicals every once in a while and listen to the soundtracks a lot.

Like most "normal" teenagers, I really enjoy hanging out with my friends (especially the friends I grew up with in Kirkland). I go with them to a lot of dances each month and I usually have a few dates each month (I hate to boast, but I hardly ever do the asking!). I also like to just "party" with a group of friends – just hang out at someone's house or go to the park or something. I have access to a car most of the time, and since the speedometer's busted (nobody knows how to fix it!) I tend to speed a wee bit, and it's fun to scare my buddies that way.

Oh, and speaking of my car (or, rather, my parents' car), the wiper-fluid-sprayer thing is broken – the one on the right-hand side of the windshield sprays straight out to the right of the car rather than on the windshield. You can bet that I've had a lot of fun with my friends after school drenching the punks, skaters, and gangsters (and pretty much anyone else that annoys us)! It's a funny look they give you when they notice the salty, soapy water on their clothes. The other day I got a whole group of kids who were smoking in front of the school – it was great! They flipped me the birdie and EVERYTHING! A rather unique hobby of mine that is hard to match.

I'm sure there's something else I do during the day, but I just can't think of it…

Fanzing: You took over the "JLA Casebook" from Bruce Bachand, although you've got a lot of JLA history to catch up on. What is your favorite era of the JLA (so far)?

Mark Gillins
: Right now my favorite era is still the current one with Morrison – but the Giffen era is catching up fast! Morrison has restored the JLA to the lead characters of the DCU – the way it belongs. However, Giffen had a lot of great storylines with fantastic humor, and he also managed to cram a lot of his stories into one book rather than take a worldwide threat and make the JLA drag it out for six issues. I think the current JLA would be supreme if Waid somehow incorporated Blue Beetle and Booster Gold when he takes over. Watching them interact with Plastic Man would be a riot!

Fanzing: Your "Gillin' With The Homeboys" columns are always fun to read, even though they're just one fan's opinion. Do you ever worry that your decisions may be too controversial?

Mark Gillins
: Not really. This month I actually tried to make it MORE controversial to maybe tempt a little more response out of the readers. I realized recently that a lot of my subjects can be retitled as "my favorite (insert rest of subject here)", so it probably wouldn't generate comments as people would read it as opinion, not fact. I want people to look at my column and think either, "Gee, this guy's hit it right on the nose!" or "What is this screwball thinking?!", not "Wow, he really hates Wonder Girl, too!" I mean, what do you write in about that? There's nothing much to say! Showing the impact of certain aspects of superheroes is also something I want to work on… sort of like the Top 12 Superhero Insignias that I did a few months back.

I also am going to try working more on writing in a manner so I don't CARE about response, in hope of GETTING response, you know what I mean? While I do want to hear what people agree with/disagree with about my column, I don't want to worry about it so much. I'd rather try to write for the sake of writing, and worry about improving myself rather than getting the points with the readers.

Fanzing: What are you planning to do on New Year's Eve, 1999?

Mark Gillins
: Probably what I do every New Year's Eve: go to a dance with my friends in Kirkland. What will be different this year, though, is the fact that a lot of people will be freaking out about Y2K. It'll be interesting to see how people are reacting during the final countdown, you know? I wonder if people are really that scared, or if our world is smart enough to let other people worry about it and just do what we can. It would be depressing to watch people commit suicide over something that could very well be for our benefit – if it's even going to become a problem at all.

I'll probably just tape the news or something and go do my thing. Sure, it's the end of the '90s, but we shouldn't treat it like it's the end of the world – it's just time moving on like it always has been! Just party and do your thing, and don't get drunk (there'll probably be a lot of perverts who want to take advantage of someone "before the world ends" or something).

Oh, and if they even play that stupid Prince song like they did last year, I swear I'm going to beat the DJ to a bloody pulp.

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This column is © 1999 by .