In the Spotlight on Garth Ennis panel at Baltimore Comic Con, Ennis hosted by Dynamite Senior Editor Joe Rybant, blamed his grim sense of humor on being British. Growing up with Fawlty Towers and watching his own father’s tendency to make dark, humorous statements influenced Ennis, he said.
Rybant pointed out that talking about Ennis’ work takes you to multiple publishers. Ennis said that Avatar Press is reprinting the old DC War Stories in two trade paperbacks. Avatar are also now doing the new War Stories following the Battlefields format. He feels with all this in print, we have the chance to really see the “best that I am capable of”, Ennis said. Rybant said there’s not “a lot of happy”, but there is always humor, even in his war stories.
Other current projects Ennis is working on are Red Team, and some upcoming series that haven’t been finalized yet with Dynamite, who he always has an “open door policy with”, according to Rybant.
There are elements of “crime” and “detective” in Ennis’ Red Team work, which Rybant described as “pure” in those genres. He asked why it took Ennis so long to get to those genres, and he explained that he had been working on The Punisher for so long. He never thought of himself as a horror writer, but wrote Hellblazer for 10 years, and never thought of himself as a crime writer, but now has done Red Team.
Rybant talked about Ennis’ work on Punisher as a “real psychopath in the Marvel universe” alongside a cops and crime setting. Ennis never thought of the Punisher as a superhero, but more of a gunfighter, someone who “simply does not have a superhero mentality”, but a vigilante. He finds the Punisher “an incredibly simple character which is possibly why Marvel have messed him up so much”, like putting him in space, making him a demon-hunter and the like.
“He doesn’t really work in a superhero universe”, Ennis said, because you know the other Marvel superheroes “will survive”, whereas that’s not what happens in a Punisher story, where “everyone dies”. He feels he did his best Punisher work when they “scrapped” the rest of the Marvel universe, and feels the only other Marvel character who really exists in his world is Nick Fury. The only one he really knew in terms of versions of Nick Fury was the “one who turns up in Elektra: Assassin”, as “comfortable in Washington politics as in the field and a complete maniac, to be honest”. If he had seen a 60’s Nick Fury first, it wouldn’t have occurred to him to include him alongside the Punisher. Rybant commented that in Original Sin, the version of Nick Fury is closer to that version now.
Caliban, with Avatar Press, has two more issues to go, Dicks is currently running, and Rover Red Charlie is coming out. Ennis will be skipping Crossed this coming year, but Kieron Gillen will be doing the anniversary work. “Once a Warrior King” is 11 episodes long and contains a scene where “I finally did run into my own limits”, Ennis said. He had to procede “purely with instinct”, knowing it was where the story would have to go. Comparing himself to Alan Moore, though, he feels like an “innocent”. That story will begin with Crossed #100, in March 2016, and it will be “his final statement on Crossed for awhile”. There’s some great stuff coming up with Crossed, with some really great people creatively, that are going to be a “surprise”. Ennis is personally quite “staggered” by what’s coming up for Crossed.
In questions from fans, regarding Preacher, Ennis reflected that with renewed interest in the series due to the TV show development, he considers a “turning point” when he realized that it was a Western and that he was writing a book “about America and a very American story”. He doesn’t consider Custer a Christ-figure but a figure out of the Wild West.
When Ennis was asked if Caliban is “Lovecraftian”, he thought it was more of an influence of HR Geiger, who Ennis will never get to thank for “giving him nightmares”, and it was more the result of having been influenced by films at an early age. Robocop, Predator, Road Warrior, and above all Alien may have been the transmission points for some elements that sync with Lovecraft. It’s more second-hand for Ennis. Now at Avatar Press we have more Lovecraft material coming up from Alan Moore, which he finds more impressive than what Lovecraft accomplished with his work. Lovecraft, working for pulp magazine, once said that the trouble was that editors wanted stories from him that were “life affirming”, Ennis related, and that for Lovecraft, it was the “opposite” of his work. His world is one where humanity are “less important than insects”, so he found it difficult to get employers to see that. He had a “vastly more dystopian starting point”, Ennis said of Lovecraft. Caliban was influenced by things that were influenced by Lovecraft in that way.
One of Ennis’ favorite works is Hitman, and he hopes in the future to bring in a certain degree of absurd contrast and “ridiculousness” in his upcoming work, something he hasn’t explored enough, he said.
A fan asked if Ennis is afraid that the TV development will “water down” Preacher, and having read the script for the first episode, Ennis can confirm they are definitely not watering it down and really “get” the characters. He’s consulting on it, and feels that everyone sees “eye to eye”. Rybalt commented that people making TV shows are in a position to make great TV of subjects like this, with the success of The Walking Dead. Ennis confirmed that many have said to him that the “time is right with this” and after a series of failures bringing it to screens in the past, though it could still be “derailed” somehow, he feels they have a “better shot” this time.
What other properties by Ennis might make it into film came up, and Ennis said Crossed was a likely candidate, though nothing specific had happened yet. He’d love to see an animated version of Rover Red Charlie, he said, too.
When asked about his writing process, Ennis said that he trusts stories to work themselves out, and if he has to, takes a walk or a break if the ideas don’t come to him, and that most of his writing takes place in the afternoon and evening after doing e-mails with publishers and artwork checks in the mornings.
Ennis talked about a series he’s written that’s coming out next year called Johnny Red, a historical property. Back during its heyday, writers usually kept going until they were told to end it, and Johnny Red got a “terrible ending” in its own run. A British publisher has been reprinting the old material, and it’s Ennis “chance” to give the original story a “proper ending” and he “leapt” at the chance, having been the writer of the introductions for the collections.
“We nearly all of us write about conflict of one time or another”, Ennis said, and he’s “naturally drawn to the real world”, to write about conflict. And the two places he finds that in the real world are law enforcement and war, and he writes about them to be relevant, he said.
When asked if he’d be working with Jacen Burrows again, Ennis said that Alan Moore has snatched Burrows up for awhile and the two would end up fighting over Burrows like a “couple of old queens”, which he wants to avoid, he said laughing.
When asked about Crossed’s inception, Ennis said that though he initially thought it would be 10 issues, both he and William Christensen of Avatar Press realized its bigger potential afterward, and now “every single writer on Crossed has gone further than I would have”, he laughed, and made him think, “Oh, fuck me!” afterward. He just maintained his own set of characters but was very happy for others to work on Crossed, and particularly loves Si Spurrier’s webcomic (Crossed: Wish You Were Here).