Caught in the Nexus: Garth Ennis

Garth Ennis is one of the premier writers in comics today with a library of work that includes such challenging and moving classics as Preacher, Hitman and War Stories. He has also worked on some of the most legendary franchise characters in comics including his current lengthy run on the Punisher, various mini-series involving the likes of Authority, Hulk, Nick Fury and Thor and also a stint in the early nineties as the lead writer of Judge Dredd for 2000AD. He agreed to take a break from his busy schedule to answer a few questions”¦

Will: Thanks for agreeing to do an interview with us Garth. This year saw the launch of your new mature readers Punisher comic that eschewed the comical approach of your two Marvel Knights volumes for a serious, more intense approach. What inspired you to change style?

Garth: Hard to nail down exactly what inspired the change. I was getting tired of the slightly ironic, knowing-wink-to-the-audience Punisher I’d been doing, and I knew the move to Max would require more than just a greater volume of violence and swearing. If I had to nail down one single factor it would probably be writing the Born mini, which was always going to be a brutal little walk on the dark side; sometime during that I decided- yeah, the regular book should be like this too.

Will: In your introduction to the TPB of your Marvel Knights miniseries you mocked the idea of trying to psychoanalyse what makes the Punisher who is. Yet your Punisher: Born miniseries and the first arc of MAX Punisher to a certain extent attempt this. Has writing the character for around fifty issues increased your curiosity about the motivation of the character?

Garth: Not so much curiosity as certainty, but yes, I can’t deny I’m getting into his head a little more. You’ll see more of this sort of thing in the next two specials (same format as The End), and the fourth arc of the regular book, beginning with #19.

Will: Your current arc in Punisher returns to your regular theme of Ireland something present in your first published work Troubled Souls. What is your perception of Ireland, the Troubles and the Peace Process?

Garth: I think Northern Ireland is now about a third of the way down the long and bloody road to peace- there’s obviously plenty more trouble to come, but enough people have gotten a taste for the quiet (and profitable) life that peace is what will slowly prevail. I have to say that the history of the conflict does not do much for my political idealism. When I look at all the butchery and filthy tricks and grim compromises that became the currency of the troubles, I can’t help but reach two overriding conclusions: a) The moral high ground means nothing, and b) beware of the man with a cause- any cause.

Will: You’ve also returned to do a Kev miniseries with Glenn Fabry. What originally inspired you to create the character?

Garth: Kev began with a joke, really, which was- what if some utter loser could wipe out a super-team? The fact that it’s a bunch of strutting bigmouths like the Authority helps, as does the fact that nobody really cares about them- by which I mean that nobody’s trying to sell millions of bucks’ worth of Authority merchandise, or pitch an Authority movie to a studio. So they won’t mind if I just go in and do what I want.

Will: This year has also seen the release of some of your War Stories in TPB form. These are in many ways homage to a style of comics popular in Britain until the mid-eighties yet have now almost completely disappeared, save Commando. What is it about war comics that appeal to you as a writer and a reader?

Garth: I think their basis in reality gives them a dramatic edge beyond almost any other genre. We’re talking about the absolute extreme of human experience here, not some bunch of multicoloured tits in tights.

Will: Moving away from your American work, it’s around fourteen years since you were approached to succeed John Wagner as the writer of 2000AD’s Judge Dredd stories. How surprised were when you received the call?

Garth: In a word: bloody.

Will: You’ve made clear you reverence for the character of Judge Dredd, what is about him that appeals to you?

Garth: His single-mindedness, his utter dedication to whatever course of action he’s chosen. And nostalgia; I grew up reading Dredd and, so long as John Wagne’s writing it, I probably always will.

Will: You’ve been quoted as saying that there only a dozen stories from you run as Dredd writer that your happy with, yet collections such as Emerald Isle, Death Aid, Goodnight Kiss, etc were well received especially by casual readers. What was is about your early Dredd work that displeases you so much?

Garth: I simply wasn’t up to the job. Sometimes the art’s crap, sometimes I see where the editor made a balls of things, but on the whole it’s a showcase for my failure to do anything original or interesting with the story. Which is not the source of torment to me that you might expect; I don’t think anyone but the aforementioned Mr. Wagner has done anything particularly inspired with Dredd either, not in the past 15 years.

Will: Could you see yourself ever working on Judge Dredd again? If so would you change you approach to the character in an attempt to bring more of your American comic’s style to bear?

Garth: Not a hope. I’m too close to Dredd, I like him too much. I can’t tamper with the formula; nor can I take the piss the way I do with superheroes.

Will: In an interview with Tripwire then editor Andy Diggle mentioned that you were considering revamping a number of series. Which series were you considering and why did nothing become of them?

Garth: I think one was Robo-Hunter, which I see Alan Grant has done anyway, and the other was Rogue Trooper, for which I still have an idea kicking about. Time got in the way, really; I was just too busy with other things.

Will: One of the stories that you’re a known fan (and at one time an aspirant writer) of is Bill Savage. In the past few months Pat Mills and Charlie Adlard have revamped the character in SAVAGE: Taking Liberties. What’s your opinion on the series?

Garth: Distribution of 2000AD is a bit spotty in New York, so I’ve only managed to read about half the series. But I like what I’ve seen; Charlie Adlard’s art is always a pleasure to look at, and I think it’s Pat’s best writing in some time.

Will: You worked with some fantastic artists during this period such as Steve Dillon, Carlos Ezquerra and Glenn Fabry who you’ve later worked with in American comics. You’re a writer who often works within a pool of regular, recurring artists. Do you find it important to have a close relationship with your artist?

Garth: Not particularly, I prefer to let people get on with things- to trust them to deliver a good job as they’ve trusted me to do. When I meet up with Steve Dillon or John McCrea or Glenn Fabry, the one thing we barely ever talk about is what we’re working on together.

Will: You’re a British writer whose most celebrated work has appeared in American comics. Do you think the extra space that the traditional 22page American comic gives you helps you produce your best work?

Garth: Never really thought about it, but it certainly can’t hurt. Nice to have the space to stretch your legs a bit.

Will: Your one of the writers that is frequently cited when its claimed that British writers are on the whole better than Americans. Is this true and why do you think being British is (as you once put it) “in vogue” over in American Comics?

Garth: I don’t think “better” necessarily, but the Brits continue to deliver a slightly more cynical, pissed-off worldview than the Yanks. If you look at the dozens of American writers working in mainstream comics, the only ones delivering a markedly different slant on things are Brians Vaughn and Azzarello. Out of a much smaller number of Brits, you’ve got Millar, Milligan, Morrison, Moore, Gaiman, Ellis, Diggle and myself, to name but the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

Will: Despite being a character perhaps best loved for his original work on series such as Preacher and Hitman you’ve worked on some of the most iconic characters in comics including Batman, Superman, Hulk, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Thor, Punisher and Judge Dredd. Are there any other Big Two or 2000AD franchise characters who you would like to write yet haven’t yet got the chance?

Garth: Nope, not really. Of the ones you mention, the only character I want to keep writing is the Punisher, so I think sticking to my own stuff will continue to work best for me. There is one character I’d drop everything to write in a heartbeat, though: Johnny Red, from Battle. God knows who’s got the rights to that one. There’s also a few B/C-list Marvel things I wouldn’t mind a crack at, like Nick Fury in WW2, Devil Dinosaur, stuff like that. And there’s this goofball WW1 pilot called the Phantom Eagle; I think I could have some fun with him.

Will: What do you planned for the future?

Garth: Coming up: the regular Punisher, a couple more specials featuring the same, 303 from Avatar, another Dicks Christmas special, a Ghost Rider mini for Marvel. Looking further ahead, possibilities include more War Stories, more Kev, the third series of Dicks, and a few other bits and bobs.

Will: Before we finish is there anything else you would like to say to you fans?

Will: Yeah, there is one thing. I’ve heard that my name’s shown up on the lists for a number of conventions over the past few years. Folks, I can guarantee that anyone including me on the list of promised guests for a con does so fraudulently, so don’t be fooled. Beyond that, I’d just like to say thanks for reading and keep on doing so; I feel like I’m on a bit of a roll right now, and there’s plenty more to come.

Will: Thanks for sharing you time with us Garth.

You can read the continuing adventures of The Punisher in his regular title published through Max Comics and available in all good direct market comic shops. You can read the current the adventures of Kev in the new mini-series More Kev published through Wildstorm and available in all. War Stories Volume 1 is published through Vertigo and can be purchased at direct market comic book shops, bookstores and from the likes of Judge Dredd: Judgement Day is released in the autumn through Rebellion.

Special thanks to Jamie Boardman of Rebellion for his exceptional help in contacting Garth.