Come In Alone: Issue #4

Fri, December 24th, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Warren Ellis, Columnist

So I was out for a drink with Garth Ennis the other night. Garth and Ruth, in fact, Ruth being his fiancee. Drink was actually organised by John Higgins: this is the withered arse-end of some Britcomics tradition, it seems, established by the Marvel UK people back in the Eighties.

Vertigo Winters Edge #3
Vertigo Winter's Edge #3

I was here last year, and there seemed to be a lot of people identified to me as Marvel UK editorial staff. No sign of them this year. John Higgins, of course, brilliantly illustrated my first HELLBLAZER story, HAUNTED. Shares a studio in darkest Luton with Steve Dillon, who couldn't make it tonight due to having five hundred pages to draw before Christmas or something. But Dave Gibbons made it: "Who wants to be seen sitting with Comics Royalty, then?" He was only glassed a few times for this, and remained conscious long enough to bask in praise for his HELLBLAZER short in Vertigo's WINTER'S EDGE 3 annual anthology. Sven Larsen was in, which was nice: I knew him as a fine PR guy at Marvel, and he's now in international sales for the British book publishers Little, Brown. Which means he's fallen on his feet, basically, and gets paid lots and lots of money to travel across the entire bloody world. Pleases me to no end. He was one of the few people at Marvel with the truth in him during its darkest time, and one of the few progressive voices. When I think about some of the worthless animals still at that company now... well, what the hell. I don't have to deal with them. One of them even ended up begging for a demotion just so she could keep a job. Strange how I wish ill on editors, and somehow it happens to them. As soon as Ruben Diaz gets crippled and mutilated by a speeding car, I've got a 100% hit-rate. But anyway.

There was something I particularly wanted to talk to John Higgins about, and I never got the chance. Too many distractions. You know how it is at Christmas. Ruth was shouting at Garth that he should talk to me about how to buy lovely things for girlfriends (I'd just come from Harrods, and was loaded down with said lovely things, plus a few packages from Tiffany & Co and a Philip Treacy hat), and Garth was not looking at me with love in his eyes, and I made a comment about how I thought a Spitfire model kit and a bit of peat was a beautiful gift for the woman you love, and all of a sudden he wasn't so glad to see me, and then Dez Skinn appeared in a cloud of sulphur, chucking copies of Comics International at me and asking if I've gotten too good for them because they never talk to me anymore, to which I answered, "You ought to try fucking phoning me, then," which got a response not unadjacent to, "Oh, good idea," and then I met a couple of new artists, Leigh Loughridge and John Watson, who both seem worth looking out for, and Simon Furman thanked me for the interview in WRITERS ON COMICS SCRIPTWRITING, and I meant to talk to him about animation but then Gibbons swept in with choirs singing his name and handmaidens strewing rose petals in his path...

"Ruth was shouting at Garth that he should talk to me about how to buy lovely things for girlfriends ... and Garth was not looking at me with love in his eyes..."

Dave Gibbons, in fact, is the source of one of the scariest computer-related things that ever happened to me. A couple of years ago, there was a brief fad in UK publishing for magazines on CD-ROM. They were mounted on a magazine-sized card that was displayed in newsagents, and sold for an upscale-magazine price. I found one that claimed to feature some stuff by Moebius, so I bought it. Upon running the thing, I found listed an interview with Dave. Clicked on that, like a good boy. Must support these elder statesmen of the medium before they start pissing themselves in public and talking about the war, you know how it is.

And then Dave Gibbons' large severed head appears on the screen with no bloody warning at all, jabbering something about Art at me. Nearly shat myself. And then the sodding thing starts bouncing around the screen, yapping and gassing about God knows what. I was too disturbed to listen, to be honest. This... this thing that Alan Moore later characterised as a "hideous Banquo-like vision" rattled around my computer screen for a good five minutes before I finally worked out how to make it go away. And I was never the same afterwards, frankly.

"Dave Gibbons' large severed head appears on the screen with no bloody warning at all, jabbering something about Art at me."

And I've never forgiven Dave Gibbons for that, nor treated him in quite the same way, since.

But I was trying to talk to John Higgins about RAZORJACK.

RAZORJACK is John Higgins' first foray into self-publishing. It's a hefty eighty-page bugger with a spine on it declaring it as Volume One. It contains the first episode of the lead serial, RAZORJACK, and two episodes of what you might call a remastered director's cut of Higgins' and Jamie Delano's late Eighties/early Nineties serialised sf graphic novel, WORLD WITHOUT END. It also contains litle oddments that are here for no apparent reason, like a Robbie Morrison/Charlie Adlard short, seeing its first Anglophone publication. All as published by Jack Publishing.

WORLD WITHOUT END has special interest for me because, as Jamie reveals in his introduction to the appearance here of the remastered first two episodes of this six-chapter work, it was precisely the wrong thing to do at the time. He recalls DC president and publisher Jenette Kahn coming up to them both and suggesting that they'd be marvellous doing a painted BATMAN miniseries. Later that same night, Jamie sees Kahn deep in conversation with Grant Morrison, and imagines that Grant went home to write the best-selling BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM graphic novels, thereby making a shitload of cash. While Jamie was writing WORLD WITHOUT END. Because John and Jamie said to Kahn, no thanks, we've got this creator-owned sf novel in six parts called WORLD WITHOUT END that we'd like to do instead.

Obviously, this was a mistake of berserk proportions. If they'd just bent over for the Bat, Jamie today would not be living on a raft adrift on some vile Middle England canal rich with old bicycles and shoals of used condoms, and John wouldn't be the broken, grey, beer-sodden and incontinent wreck I saw before me down the Finnegan's Wake the other night.

But no. They followed their passion instead. For John Higgins is an innovative and driven artist, constantly looking for the next level, constantly expanding his capabilities. And Jamie Delano is one of the most challenging and gifted writers Britain's produced, possibly the medium's premier prose stylist. And they took the chance to produce something that came from them, something new.

It has its roots in the social novels of Sixties science fiction. It's a story of social engineering as well as biological engineering: like all art of worth, it is ultimately about human life. But it has a fierceness, a hardness of eye and an inventive power that marks it still as something current, something speaking to the here and now, fin-de-siecle and beyond. It was a greatly underrated work on first release. Hopefully, there is now an audience for this oddly beautiful, meat-coloured immorality tale.

And you don't know anything about it because it obtained barely an inch in PREVIEWS, has had no publicity, no word of mouth, no nothing. John had an entire support system at his fingertips and didn't use any of it. (About which more in a near-future column. Quite a lot more.)

So if you want to see a copy of RAZORJACK, ask your local comics store to get it for you. Or order it online. It's $11.95 in the USA, £7.95 in Britain. And if no-one wants to sell it you, ask for help at jack@turmoilcolour.demon.co.uk.

Please do have a look at it. Because this is exactly the sort of thing I've been talking about: people who don't take the comfortable way. People who are compelled to do something new. Doing things new is the point.

"Doing things new is the point."

As you read this, I will be gone; in seclusion for the Christmas period at the eccentric, exclusive and rambling Frogg Manor in the depths of England. Miles from anywhere, and, specifically, miles from any computer, modem or phone line. And it gets worse, because my family and I are spending New Year in Germany. So your cherished emailed comments, death threats, abuse, half-bright "debates" and all the other bollocks you people drown me in will go unread for a couple of weeks. I look forward to addressing you all by handwritten note passed from town to town by Kevin Costner on a horse after the Y2K disaster has sent us all back to the Stone Age.

I can be contacted by email about this column at warren@comicbookresources.com. My website, currently undergoing an update, is http://www.warrenellis.com. There is a COME IN ALONE discussion area here on CBR.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer (first published 1890, abridged edition approx. 1922 ), listen to Bengali Bantam Youth Experience! by Black Star Liner (1999), and hit the Jamie Delano website at http://www.argue.freeserve.co.uk (and tell the cranky old bastard I sent you). Today's recommended graphic novel is FROM HELL by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell (Eddie Campbell Comics, 1999). Now begone.

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