Garth Ennis is without doubt Ireland’s most popular and successful comic writer. Since 1989, Ennis had had stories published in over 900 comics. He started in Crisis with Troubled Souls, with beautifully painted art by fellow Belfast man John McCrea. It is still one of the finest works to look at ‘The Troubles’ and I continue to recommend it.
One of the fascinating things about Garth Ennis is that he is honest. He is not afraid to look at the darker parts of the world and perhaps reflect them in his comics, but he doesn’t attempt to be something he isn’t. He is just a good story teller. An example of this is when he admitted to Alex Fitch during an interview in The Imperial War Museum during the Comics and Conflict exhibition, last year that when he wrote Troubled Souls, he just wanted to write comics:
‘I should be frank and say and this is partly with hindsight really what troubled souls represented was a nakedly ambitious attempt to jump start my career, by whatever means necessary. If it had been deemed that pink people from Pluto was the way to go, I would have got straight to work on my pink people from Pluto story but Northern Ireland it was. Crisis was a political comic,
that was an obvious angle and that’s what I wrote. Very little of my own background is in TS. I grew up in the suburbs, a quit little town outside Belfast, the kind of upbringing most people would recognise, and while what was going on in Northern Ireland was always part of the backdrop of one’s life it wasn’t the reality for me as it was for people who had to live in ghettoised parts of Belfast in semi warzones in south Tyrone and south Armagh.’
It is this frankness that makes him so interesting. He started work on Crossed in 2008 and from word go, the boundaries were pushed in a similar way to the way they were in the superhero genre with The Boys, which saw that title change publisher.
Crossed pushed the post-apocalyptic survival story genre that are very in vogue now and dominated by zombies, but have been popular in earlier times as well. The Day of the Triffids by John Windham itself influenced by War of the Worlds shows the heritage to this subject. Zombie fiction is of course nastier than plants in that it pits humans against what were once humans, although other authors have had very good variations on the human catastrophe story such as James Herbert’s ’48 which has humans acting in a dastardly way. Crossed not only pushes a boundary, it crosses a line. With the release of the Crossed Badlands Graphic Novel, collecting the first nine issues of the comic allowed us the opportunity to chat to Garth.
J.B.: Crossed seems especially gruesome. There is undoubtedly no creature as cruel as a human, but what was your aim with this story?
Garth Ennis (G.E): ‘Precisely that. Crossed is essentially human evil weaponised as a virus- that may not be the infection’s actual origin, but it’s certainly how it turned out. I wanted to do a horror story that would be truly horrific, no vampires for teenagers to cuddle up to, no existential zombies for the post-ironic age. And I was heavily influenced by things that were bothering me at the time- America lurching to the dark side in the time of Bush, the abandonment of the Hurricane Katrina survivors, etc. A general sense of people being flung out into the storm and left to fend for themselves.
J.B.: Stitched caught me slightly off guard. I was expecting a military story and then it goes quite dark and mystical, if that is the right phrase. Have you plotted where you are going with this comic and how long it will last for?
G.E.: I wrote a screenplay that Mike Wolfer adapted as the first series, after that my involvement ended. The comic series is Mike’s party from here on in. Whether there’ll be a longer movie remains to be seen, no immediate plans right now.
J.B.: Female characters, be it Tulip, The Pro, Kit have featured strongly. Have you any plans for more strong female comic characters?
G.E: Anna Kharkova of the Night Witches has one last story to go, starting next February in the latest and last Battlefields series- always thought she was a pretty tough cookie. Whether or not a female character is strong is obviously in the eye of the beholder, but I think Shirley DeFabio has made a bit of an impression in Fury- be warned, though, there are few happy endings in that one. My cop drama, Red Team, will introduce one Trudy Giroux, who’s certainly not inclined to take many prisoners- that’s in February from Dynamite. And looking further ahead, I have two new series coming from Avatar- one war, one sci-fi- that will hopefully have their share of well-received women characters.
J.B.: Would you be able to work for DC again, or want to, and which titles?
G.E.: They have no characters I’m particularly interested in, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t bring them something new if the conditions were right.
J.B.: Battlefields continues the war story element in the tradition of British war comics, with gritty anti-war messages. What plans have you for this genre?
G.E: The last series has just started, featuring the Tankies’ Sergeant Stiles at the Battle of the Imjin River in the Korean War, and the aforementioned Anna Kharkova of the Night Witches in an odd saga that stretches from the end of World War Two to the nineteen sixties. Beyond that, I’ve a new series starting with Avatar next year that will continue the Battlefields tradition- the first three stories involve American bomber crews over Germany in 1944, Israeli tankers on the Golan Heights during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, and a little German unit struggling to survive as vengeful Soviet forces tear their way into Eastern Germany in 1945.
J.B.: In many ways you have cornered the military comic genre. Are there other current works that you would recommend?
G.E.: There’s not much I’m aware of in comics (see below). Outside that there are relatively few writers of military fiction currently working, particularly the historical kind. Head and shoulders above the rest is a novelist called Derek Robinson, who wrote Goshawk Squadron and Piece of Cake, among others- the latter reads like Catch 22 written by Evelyn Waugh. He has a new one out in January called A Splendid Little War, featuring the Allied expeditionary force that went to Russia in 1919, in an ill-conceived attempt by Britain, the US and France to aid the Whites against the Reds. A particularly obscure conflict, that one- the only other time I’ve seen it tackled in fiction is by Pat Mills, in Charley’s War. I would, of course, recommend the fantastic Titan reprints of Charley’s War, Johnny Red and Darkie’s Mob- they’re hardly current, but they’re hands down the best war comics ever published.
J.B.: Have you any plans to look at the war genre in comics for the anniversary of 2014?
G.E.: In terms of stories about the Great War, no. I tend to find WW2 and later conflicts more interesting anyway, but the real trouble with writing about WW1 is that you can’t go very far without running into- here it comes again- Charley’s War, which is simply so good that it makes the very prospect of tackling the conflict extremely daunting. That said, Charley’s War doesn’t start until mid-1916, so It might be interesting to look at some of the earlier actions like the Marne or Gallipoli. Maybe some day.
J.B.: Hellblazer is now going to DCU as John Constantine. Some readers may remember the violence and sex that was in the pages of your run. If you were allowed, what sort of reboot would YOU give John Constantine?
G.E.: I probably wouldn’t bother, I went off the character some time ago. I’ve known a few too many charming rogues who leave chaos in their wake to find Constantine’s routine all that impressive. Not that I don’t understand the appeal- I tend to cut people like that dead, but I have a couple of friends who allow themselves to be f**ked over again and again by the same predator, and their explanation is always “Yeah, but you know… he’s a mate…” The “mate”, meanwhile, continues on his merry way knowing full well that he’ll be able to circle back and take advantage again when the dust settles. Constantine’s refrain about how some people are born victims and there’s nothing you can do to save them, therefore you may as well use them, cuts no ice with me. That’s why I like Frank Castle: you know where you are with Frank.
As for the DCU Constantine thing, the lesson there is really that independent comics belong with independent publishers.
J.B: Have you any plans for another 60 to 70 comic run?
G.E. Oh lord, no. Not for a while.
J.B.: Regarding Jennifer Blood, you were always good at bringing in people whom you know, but who are distinctly very good in comics. If you were allowed to be a commissioning editor, for a comic publisher – who would you be looking to team together or with at the moment?
G.E.: I’d probably just steal all my favourite artists away from whatever they were doing and keep them working on my stuff forever- guys like Russ Braun, Carlos Ezquerra, Steve Dillon, Jacen Burrowes, Peter Snejbjerg, Goran Parlov, John McCrea and so on. But if I was forced to let other writers get their hooks into them, I’d go after Alan Moore, Brian Vaughan and Warren Ellis. Other writers that impress me at the moment are Si Spurrier, Dave Hine and Jason Aaron.
J.B.:Are you reading much of interest at the moment?
G.E.: Not right now, but then I’m painfully out of touch and read almost no comics at all. Saga and Fashion Beast and a few of the other Crossed stories, and that’s it.
And that was it for us, for now. We are very grateful to Garth and Titan for arranging the interview.
Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano, Leandro Rizzo & Jacen Burrows
From the award-winning author of the best-selling series The Boys, Garth Ennis, alongside Jamie Delano with artists Leandro Rizzo and Jacen Burrows, comes the eagerly anticipated Crossed Badlands (Avatar Press, November, £18.99).
Badlands gathers together tales of a group of desperate survivors in a world overrun by psychopaths who are ‘crossed’ with the mark of the zombie plague, which makes those infected carry out their most evil thoughts and who live only to spread it.
Over 300,000 individual Crossed comic books have been sold to fans through comic shops and convention sales. The story has been optioned by Trigger Street Productions (the production company founded by Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti) for a film adaptation.
Crossed (Volume 4) collects Crossed: Badlands issues 1- 9 and contains the first two story arcs of that ongoing series.
Notes and links.
Alex Fitch of Panel Borders (http://panelborders.wordpress.com) spoke with Ennis in the Imperial War Museum during their Comics and Conflict exhibition and you can hear the full 70 minute interview here http://archive.org/details/PanelBordersGarthEnnisBattlefields
Continually updated Garth Ennis bibliography on Enjorlas World maintained by Micheal Karpas
Comic Buzz review of Johnny Red
Comic Buzz review of Volume VII of Charley’s War.