“Warren Ellis, hands on bollocks. I can see the headline on BleedingCool.com tomorrow.” – Warren Ellis to Lenny Henry.
Sorry Warren, you’ll have to settle for the top quote instead. Yesterday, as part of the Comica 2011 Festival in the City of London, comedian and actor Lenny Henry took to the stage to interview Warren Ellis, before the UK premiere of the documentary about his life, Captured Ghosts.
Lenny appears in the film, along with the likes of Bruce Serling, Matt Fraction, Helen Mirren, Joe Quesada, Cully Hamner and Kieron Gillen (in the audience for the Q&A, he didn’t stay for the film – afeared of seeing his face so large, I’ll bet).
Smoking cigarettes, and drinking back and forth between whisky and Red Bull on the stage as well as in the screen was an od sight, especially given current smoking laws in the UK, the stage performance was as much about Lenny’s love of Warren’s work, describing Fell as “Columbo in a Bosch painting” and getting the news out from Warren that the series with Ben Templesmith will be returning for eight issues next year, during which we will find the terrible thing Richard Fell did that saw him sent to Snowtown. He also recounted a scenario he saw in Oakland that fed into Fell, a mounted policeman outside a crack house.
Lenny also asked about Planetary, how it came from John Cassaday’s desire to draw something different every month and Warren Ellis having read a metric ton of superheroes comics so he could write them, needing to find something to put all this concentrated and distilled knowledge into.
Warren also talked about his caffeine intake and how he has a nuclear scientist friend who distills the stronger coffee bean into something far more potent with the potential to kill – and who describes Warren as his “extreme test subject”, able to take far more than his other customers.
And then there was Desolation Jones… which Warren has decided not to pursue after the collaboration with his second artist on the book, Danijel Žeželj, didn’t work out. And also gave us the heartbreaking news that it was a hair’s breadth of becoming a JJ Abrams TV series.
Oh and how he drowned Hackney in Freakangels because he hated Hackney as a child, as a result of unfortunate trips to see unfortunate relatives.
The film attempts to take these kind of disparate comic book events spread through Warren’s career and tie them together as an work of journalism, writing and reporting the future based on the more extreme events happening now. A kind of Joe Sacco once removed. And that the Captured Ghosts in the title refers to Warren’s belief in how technology sees us talking less and less to people and to machines, virtual personalties, without any other human intervention, creating these ghost people around us.
The film tried to recreate this literally, a trick it does throughout the film, culminating in “hobos fucking the future” that feels right out of Chris Morris’ Jam. It also plays beautifully with the concept of person and character, with Warren stating right at the outset that a character is what you will be seeing during this film is a work of convenient fiction. A number of his friends and colleagues try to dissect the various versions of Warren Ellis through the film, and ending on a killer line that sees Warren doubting the validity of his own work so far – until you relisten to that line in the context of everything on the screen being fiction. It’s another face of Warren, and while this film does so much to fill out our knowledge of the man, it fails spectacularly at ever cracking the layers of masks he wears. Instead it seems happy to just enjoy the journey – and that may well be enough for any of us.