Come In Alone: Issue #12

Fri, February 18th, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Warren Ellis, Columnist

The lightning came down in sheets, and the rain tore at your skin like claws. Well, I say your skin. But it was my skin. I mean, you weren't there, were you? Oh no. No-one bothered to help me on a Shakespearian night in the middle of bloody winter when the gates of Ellis Castle needed chaining up. There I was in the pissing rain, lashing the wrought-iron together, the only cheer in my life at the moment being the sound of the grounds' attack wolverines pouncing upon and shredding an unwary visitor to the estate.

Lights flashed on me as I finished wrestling with the gate. A big car pulled up to the perimeter, headlamps glaring. A 1950's American car, rag-top convertible. Someone who couldn't possibly have been Britney Spears was driving -- she was wearing nothing but smeared make-up, black rubber and sperm -- accompanied by porn director Greg Dark (who directed one of Ms Spears' most recent videos) and several men, women and Beautiful Things of indeterminate gender. I heard a horribly familiar voice from the sea of breasts and swinging Corbenesque members; "I rented 'em from Morrison."

At the mention of the word "Morrison", there was a terrible fusillade of orgasm: a wet 15-gun salute flew into the air. Horrible.

Mark Millar clambered out of the car, wearing something difficult to describe. "No need to mention this to the wife, eh?" he smiled.

Mark Millar was once considered Grant Morrison's disturbed and worrying catamite, but he has always been more than that. "He frightens even me," says Morrison. "He can hypnotise people, you know. He moves through Glasgow at night like Jack the fucking Ripper; no-one sees him, but you know where he's been."

I like Millar, despite his habits. Therefore, the estate's trained security animals are ordered away from him, to focus their hungry attention exclusively on the perverts who arrived with him.

"Come up to the house. Drink with me by the fireplace and tell me things. And take my coat. I don't mind the way you dress, you understand, but Niki's mother is visiting, and she has a weak stomach."

"This is all the rage in Coatbridge," he says. Actually, he said Coot-Bredge, because he has the incurable and tragic affliction of being Scottish.

"Bullshit. Lavender butt-plugs and Teletubbies keyring figures dangling from scrotal piercings have never been trendy anywhere. Get inside."

I set his Bavarian schnapps alight and hand it to him in its little clay saucepan-like pot. I don't talk shop too often, but I know Morrison and Millar dissect the business almost daily. I ask him about his current view of the market. Which might sound boring, but it allows Mark and I to judge whether or not we can feed our children next year.

Not that we have children together. You know what I mean.

"I think it's still contracting, but I'm not worried about it. Essentially, this is inevitable in a boom/bust capitalist market. We're a pop industry, after all, and nothing can be fashionable for ten years out of every decade."

I suspect you've been putting some weird analysis on the numbers.

"It's interesting that '95 was perceived to be the worst year. In terms of cancellations, of course, 95-96 had the biggest number of kills, but this was artificial because the market and talent pool had been stretched gossammer-thin thanks to bad planning by the big companies. I think the REAL killer for the companies will be the coming twelve months. There's an awful lot of books just surviving on the break-even line. An AWFUL lot of books. Once the market contracts a little more, and it's still a steady decline, there's going to be a wipe-out and I think, for the first time, this is going to hit staff at the companies. By the end of this year, the big two will be mainly publishing their brand name characters and I think even those books are going to get trimmed to a sensible number for a rebirth."

Morrison expounded your joint theory of industry cycles and a coming cycle upturn while we were trapped in Auckland. Do you still see evidence for that? And isn't the executive structure at the majors too fucked to take advantage of it anyway?

"I'm a political buff and have watched with interest as the Western parties have swung from left to right every fifteen years in the 20th Century. Comics seem to work in twenty year cycles and Superman always seems to get popular when they're at their lowest ebb. Maybe we just turn to the more inspirational and outlandish characters when things are in a slump.

"The picture I paint sounds gloomy, but it's entirely natural and it's something I predicted years ago. If the past is anything to by (and it always is) things should start looking up by the middle of the decade. I'm utterly convinced that the industry will be unrecognizable by this point (in terms of management and even talent) and there will be a whole new way of selling books (possibly via the comics equivalent of amazon.com). The people who try to hold things back will be swept aside in the next comics revolution so the smart will get with the program and make the most of the next gold-rush.

"The books themselves are, on the whole, better than they've been in years. They're just not fashionable. They need to find hot-shots who know how to get people excited about them again."

So what makes a perfect comic book?

"A good writer, a good artist and an editor who trusts them and himself enough to stand back and let them shine. It's that simple."

Which is what I always enjoy about working at Wildstorm. They get me the collaborators I want and then get the hell out of the way. For better or worse, you wouldn't have gotten a book like THE AUTHORITY at another company.

"I think landing The Authority has let me rediscover my radicalism. I had a lovely time writing the mainsteam superhero stuff after SWAMP THING, but my origins in comics are a little more dangerous. All my earliest work features babies being buggered, priests being burned, etc, etc, etc. It's tremendously liberating to work on a book where I can write superheroes for what are essentially PREACHER fans."

What're you planning to develop in the wake of THE AUTHORITY? It's gotten you notice you haven't received in a while, so striking while the iron's hot and all that...

"More work along these lines, I think. At least in terms of comics."

I detect the same glint in your eye that Morrison and Ennis have, when you suggest media other than comics. What are you up to? You keep mentioning SIKESIDE.

"SIKESIDE is a horror I'm writing and directing for Channel 4 over here in the UK. I planned this as a ninety minute TV movie, but they asked me if I could turn it into a TV show instead because it's easier to schedule. Basically, if I stuck with my original format, we'd be sitting for almost two years before it found a slot. As a six parter, it should be on our screens around the end of this year. I've got the first two episodes to write for March the 15th and I'm genuinely having a lovely time. It's the sickest, most fucked-up thing which will have ever been on television, but it's also really funny and charming. Keep an eye out for it if you get a chance."

Other media seem weirdly receptive to us. And when comics writers seem to be able to turn their hand to other media with relative ease, writers in other media have a fairly poor history when it comes to jumping the fences. And we could both name a few writers from other media who've fucked up comics work horribly. What's going on there?

"Having dipped my toes into film and telly recently, I'm struck by how different we are from other writers. Most TV people spend all day sitting around in wine-bars and talking about a project they've had in development for three years. Comics are the modern-day pulps. We work ten hour days, five or six days a week and see our work in print only weeks or months after coming up with the idea. We're more prolific and have a wide-ranging imagination TV and movie people can seldom match. Maybe it's because we're never restricted by budget. Comics are also, on the whole, much better than books, TV or movies. The percentage of comics I read every month as a fraction of the overall market far outweighs the number of other media worth paying attention to. There's a lot of high quality products out there."

So what's next? Tell me the future.

"Comic-writers are the next big discovery. Movies, TV, interactive media, etc, are all just beginning to realize how good we are and how shittily many of us have been treated in this funny little medium which we can't help love."

You're not wrong in that latter point. I think I've developed more horror stories in the last year in the business than in the previous five. I said in a lecture in Norway once, the comics industry gives me new reasons to quit it every day....

"The industry itself is going to hit its biggest boom ever between 2005 and 2013 and then it's going to virtually disappear (like the old pulps) a few years later, but exist in other mediums. Trying to second-guess what format they'll take will only look embarrassing six months down the line so I won't even try. I'll just leave you with this analogy and let you make your own mind up.

"Imagine the industry as a human life-span. The Golden Age Boom was our crude infancy. The Silver Age Boom was the playfulness of childhood. The Dark Age boom was angst-ridden, sexually fucked-up adolesence where we were embarrassed about the playful stuff. The next boom is maturity/adulthood where anything goes. What comes next is death and transformation. Your guess is as good as mine what this means in twenty years."

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.

My thanks to Mark Millar, who really did say a lot of this stuff.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read CRYPTONOMICON by Neal Stephenson (1999), listen to ENGLAND MADE ME by Black Box Recorder (Chrysalis, 1998), and hit The Planetary Society at http://planetary.org. Today's recommended graphic novel is HOTEL HARBOUR VIEW by Natsuo Sekikawa & Jiroh Taniguchi (Viz, 1990). Now begone.

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