Catching Warren Ellis out in the wild is hard to accomplish these days – he’d much rather stay home, write and drink whiskey, but lucky for us, he was invited along to this year’s Kapow! to do a panel and answer anything we asked him. His responses? A mixture of witty disregard for everything with some golden nuggets of advice gathered from an extensive and successful career in comics.
Being able to see Warren Ellis in the flesh was quite a treat, but it did seem a little ironic that he was attending a Comic Con when, by his own admission, he’s “bored by the field in general”. Ellis has worked long and hard in the comics business, but doesn’t feel that the field has gone quite the way he and other creators wanted it to:
It feels like we [the creators] fought very hard for a long time for people, but what people wanted wasn’t necessarily what we wanted. People wanted twice as many Marvel comics as there where. When I say people I’m also talking about the shops, because we don’t sell to you, we sell to retail stalls. Retail stalls buy comics on a hard sell, so what we get is what the stores choose to show you, rather than what we’re doing. And some stores don’t want to sell comics that aren’t superhero comics, or Marvel and DC comics.
Add to that the fact that “20 years of deadlines does grind on you after a while”, Ellis has decided to try some different mediums for a change. The success of the film adaptation of his comic Red has opened some doors for him (and allowed him to buy his daughter a horse). He couldn’t talk about those opportunities just yet, however he was able to go into some detail relating to his new novel due out later this year – Gun Machine.
Gun Machine is the story of a New York city police detective who while pulled out to a domestic incident that’s gone horribly wrong, discovers a sealed apartment filled with guns. They are all across the walls, the floors – it’s like a cathedral make out of guns. They pull a random selection of the guns for ballistics and forensics to get an idea of where they came from and who might have owned them. And it turns out that every gun in that room is associated with a single unsolved homicide that has happened sometime over the previous 20 years. So he’s just opened the biggest cold case ever. 200 unsolved homicides all committed by the same person, who then saved the guns and put them in this apartment.
Moving from the collaborative comics medium to working on his own was a “remarkably freeing” experience for him since he would usually put a lot of thought into what he wrote for the artist he was working with :
I’ve got to be thinking about who’s drawing it, their particular style, their particular strength and I’ve got to be tailoring what I’m writing to them to a large extent. So working on my own and not having to worry about anyone else, it takes some getting used to. I was often in a better mood after finishing Gun Machine pages than I was finishing a comic.
Although not currently working on any comics projects, there were plenty of questions about his previous work from the audience – including staple questions like “Is Spider Jerusalem based on you?” to which the response came:
No – at most Spider Jerusalem is me at most when I first get up in the morning. Basically for the first 5 minutes of everyday I’m Hitler.
Other members of the audience were singled out for asking daft questions like “When we will see more Fell?”:
There’s someone who doesn’t read my website – or my twitter. Or anything else I’ve been telling people for the last 20 years. Ben has had the script for little over a year now – but Ben’s had all kinds of issues which has meant he hasn’t been able to get into much of anything. He’s had a bad couple of years. So once he’s drawn that, I’ll write the next one.
There was also a lot of love for his web series Freakangels, which Warren himself had fond memories of also:
The nice thing about Freakangels was I could actually take my time with the story, because people could go “Get on with it, this is too slow, I don’t like it” and I could say “It’s free! I’m not charging you, I don’t care!”. It gave me freedom to just wander through all those characters and the setting. It was a nice work feeling – I really liked being out there every Friday. While it was like 2 and a half, 3 years, I really liked being out there every week.
The best audience reaction by far though was when Warren was asked the question “What would you work on in a perfect world with unlimited resources” – to which he deliberated over for a moment, unable to think of an answer because “we are so far from a perfect world”, but was met with a hebkle from the audience member: “Use your imagination!”.
When he wasn’t downsizing the audience, Ellis did impart some useful advice for new writers:
Which answer do I give? Answer A is I don’t need the competition. Answer B is kill yourself it will be quicker. Answer C is if you’re not writing every day you’re not going to be writer. There’s an old saying art teachers use – you’ve got 1,000 bad drawings in you, and you’ve got to get rid of those before you reach your drawing style. It’s exactly the same with writing. You’ve got 1,000 bad pages in you, you need to get them out of you, or you’re not going to get any better. And you’ve got to get published, but it doesn’t matter where, because a huge part of the learning process is seeing what you’ve done in print – and you’re going to hate it because you’re going to see everything you did wrong. You’re not going to learn that until you see it in print. I don’t care how tiny it is, get published any way you can. Once you feel like you’re getting there – get as many complimentary copies as you can. If you’ve got something published and you think that it’s good, that’s going to be your calling card to the places you want to be published in. You don’t keep them sat in your house, you don’t give them to your Gran, you mail them out to the places you want to be published with a covering letter and a post-it note flagging your piece of work. And you keep doing that. Robbery is going to be quicker though.
Looking ahead to the future, as well as starting another novel, Ellis spoke a little about his work with Joss Whedon on Wastelanders. It was hoped that most of the writing for the five-part Internet show would have been completed a long while back, but a little something called The Avengers got in the way of that:
On the last night we were having dinner and he said “They’ve offered me the Avengers film you know?” – and I said “You’ve got to do it”. Then the idea was that we had 3 or 4 months before he had to start The Avengers, so we were going to get the writing done before then. And then cut to a week later I get this email saying “I’m really sorry, I just signed the contract with Marvel and they said preproduction starts NOW!” That was it – the time to do it was erased. Once he’s recovered from Avengers, we’re going to get back onto finishing writing.
Unfortunately the panel had to come to and end, when Ellis driftef off into the distance (the pub, presumably). We’d have loved to have sat and listened to his talk for longer – let’s hope we see him at more events in the future.
Craig – @hastiecraig
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