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Wed, 29 Feb ’12

Comic Book Day: Getting Closure with Garth Ennis [Full Interview]

He’s just one of the Boys.

If you’ve read a comic with hard drinking, heavy cursing and a staggering body count, there’s a good chance Garth Ennis was behind it. His twisted take on the superhero genre, The Boys, may be coming to an end, but the Irish writer has plenty to be excited about in 2012.

Nerdist News: What are your influences – writers, illustrators, or even sources outside the comics universe – when it comes to comics?

Garth Ennis: In comics it would most obviously be Alan Moore, and then a lot more British writers like Pat Mills, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Gerry Finley-Day, Tom Tully and Alan Hebden.

Outside of comics, it’d be novelists like Cormac McCarthy, Joseph Heller, James Ellroy, Joe Lansdale, Stephen Hunter, Derek Robinson, Larry McMurtry and JRR Tolkien.

Filmmakers like Clint Eastwood, Don Siegel, John Ford, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, John Huston and Stephen Spielberg. And in TV, Rik Mayall, Ben Elton, Rowan Atkinson, Steve Coogan, Graham Linehan, Arthur Matthews, Troy Kennedy Martin, David Chase and David Simon.

NN: You seem to have something of a penchant for turning the superhero paradigm on its head, especially with The Boys. What is it about the genre that makes you want to approach it from this angle?

A total lack of respect.

NN: After a powerhouse run, The Boys is coming to a close. When a series like this is ending, do you feel a sense of relief, an eagerness to move on to the next project or are you sad to see it go?

In this instance, I’m a little sad because I know I’ll never write Butcher and Hughie again. When I finished Preacher I was happy to walk away, job done, nothing more to be said – and everyone got their happy ending. This time… you’ll have to wait and see

NN: What are some of the differences between working for an indie company and a larger publisher like Marvel and DC?

: It requires greater commitment, with everyone delivering their work on time, no excuses, no messing each other about. In the case of The Boys, you realize that the publisher’s commitment is total and it’s up to you to match that. The Boys has to pay for itself – it’s not like Hitman, say, where there are 60 issues of superhero stuff out there supporting the dubious sales of the funny little cult hit.

The plus side, of course, is total creative freedom and unfettered ownership of what you create. And a production team dedicated to making the book as good as it can be. On the whole, I prefer it this way, although I have to qualify that by saying I’ve mostly been pretty lucky with the people who’ve worked on my stuff at Marvel and DC. When I haven’t been, though, the difference has been pretty grim.

NN: Next up, you’ll be taking on a comics legend, The Shadow. Is it a challenge to tackle such an enduring character? What do you think gives a character like this staying power?

It’s no more of a challenge than anything else, because I never really consider that side of things. He survives because he’s a great-looking, mysterious, slightly sinister- and occasionally lethal – character.

NN: Were you a fan of The Shadow growing up?

No, first one I read was Chaykin’s, which I discovered in my early 20s.

NN: The series looks as though it will be firmly set in the pulpy, seedy era of gangland New York. How do you approach writing “period” or “genre” pieces like this?

Research is important. And trying as far as possible to avoid modern habits in speech and thought. An example of the first: I was watching a BBC drama set in 1953 recently; it was made a couple of years ago. One of the characters says to another, “You need to focus”, which no one was saying in 1953. Using “You need to” as an order didn’t come in until about 10-15 years ago, and “focus” wasn’t used in that context either. They’d more likely have said “For God’s sake, pay attention” or “Stop daydreaming and pull yourself together.”

An example of the second is Margo Lane, who I’ve tried to write as brave, intelligent and resourceful but still no more free of the societal restrictions women faced in 1938 than anyone else. Modern writers of period drama have a tendency to grant female characters freedoms beyond the wildest dreams of the most optimistic suffragette: it won’t piss anyone off, but then it won’t ring true to anyone who knows anything about society at the time, either.

NN: What is your relationship with Hollywood like? The first Constantine film was based off your “Dangerous Habits” story arc; Has there been any movement on a Constantine sequel? How is the Crossed movie coming along? That is your first foray into feature-length screenwriting, correct?

I slogged through Constantine a few years ago and just barely recognized about a scene and a half’s worth from “Dangerous Habits”; my only concern was the two hours I’d never get back again. Crossed bumbles along in the way that these things do. My attitude to Hollywood is to assume that none of this stuff’s ever going to happen, and then if it does it’ll be a nice surprise. Meanwhile: bank the option check and have some fun.

NN: We noticed that you’re making your first foray into children’s literature with ERF. How much “strawberry jam” will be flying from the characters? Kidding aside, how does writing for children differ from your usual writing and does it present any challenges?

None that I’m aware of. Tell the artist what to draw, put the words in the characters’ mouths.

NN: You must be buried in all manner of comics. What titles are you currently reading and enjoying?

I read almost none. Scalped in trades; I’m looking forward to Saga and I pick up 2000AD when John Wagner’s writing for it. Generally I follow Brian Vaughan, Jason Aaron and Warren Ellis, but I’m usually not into superhero books, and I’ll read almost anything Alan Moore writes.

NN: In the spirit of classic What If? comics, if there was a character or book you could have created, who and what would it be?

If you mean that I come up with, I probably already have or will. If you mean that I wish I’d written, there’s some stuff in the last six issues of Miracleman – the ones John Totleben drew – that takes my breath away every time. Particularly the very last issue, where our hero has built heaven on earth and is still wondering about it.

NN: Apart from The Boys coming to a close and The Shadow starting up, do you have any upcoming projects about which you’re excited that you can share with us?

GE: My favorite is probably Battlefields, which launches its third and final series this year, finishing up the stories of both the Night Witches and the Tankies. There’s a similar series coming up from Avatar, which is taking forever to appear. There’s the third series of Dicks with John McCrea, which I had more fun writing than is remotely decent or proper. 

There’s a new ongoing Crossed series, which I’m kicking off with a three-parter drawn by Jacen Burrowes, Fury from Marvel Max, drawn by the incomparable Goran Parlov. I had a blast with that, writing both Frank Castle and Barracuda guest appearances, and a couple of things I can’t really talk about yet – one with some old friends, one from Avatar that I think will surprise a few people.

The Boys #63 is on shelves now and The Shadow #1 debuts in April .