Come In Alone: Issue #21

Fri, April 21st, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Warren Ellis, Columnist

RETURN OF THE OLD BASTARD

I haven't used this column to seriously, directly promote my work. This time, I'm going to. Hope you can live with it, just this once.

First, go to http://www.warrenellis.com or http://www.delphi.com/ellis, where you should find a daisy-fresh press release about me and Image Comics. If you're up early enough, then you're reading it at about the same time as Jim Valentino is explaining it to a crowd of retailers at the Comics 2000 show in Bristol.

You're that lazy? Okay. Here's the basics of the press release. "I have just this week sealed an agreement to publish a slate of three-issue serials, original graphic novels and trade paperbacks with Image Comics."

When Jim Valentino and I cut this deal, it was with very specific intentions in mind. These intentions speak directly to The Old Bastard's Manifesto, and the Pop Comics Manifesto that preceded it. Here's the key phrase from Image's press release: "All of the stories will be squarely aimed at readers outside of the traditional comic book buying audience."

What is meant by that is really very simple. Stories that people outside the general comics culture might be interested in.

By "comics culture", I indicate the specialty comics store, its core audience and concerns. The comics buff; the person whose interest in the medium is not especially tied to a certain kind of story, a certain genre, but instead pretty much anything that's done in the medium. A real freak for cinema will watch any damn film no matter what the genre, and the comics freak is the same. Be it POWERPUFF GIRLS, FAUST or DROPSIE AVENUE, they're there. Many of them understand and accept that normal humans often display a like for a certain kind of story, and will limit their viewing to that, as opposed to watching every single bloody film that comes out. These are very useful kinds of lunatics. It's from their ranks that Scorceses and Schraders are produced. But I can't sell books just to you people. There simply aren't enough of you. Just because you want MICRONAUTS or ROM back, doesn't mean we can pretend to turn back time and ignore the fact that you people have thinned out a bit in the last ten years. We've got to move forward, or we die. And that means changing the culture.

"Just because you want MICRONAUTS or ROM back, doesn't mean we can pretend to turn back time and ignore the fact that you people have thinned out a bit in the last ten years."[Micronauts]

We need to make people who've never been near a comics store walk into comics stores.

Kurt Busiek said, in some interview or other, that comics stores are destination shopping. The footfall tends not to wander in off the street for a browse. People go directly there on appointment, to perform a specific transaction. The job, therefore, is to direct new people there, and to make them want to come back. My end of that job is to direct people there. That's what the Image Project is all about.

I'm not giving them superheroes. I'm not interested in writing superheroes, and the superhero remains the scarlet letter with which the comic is stamped, in the minds of the general populace. We've barely gotten past the Pow! Zap! Batman gets His Dick Out! Newspaper headlines as it is. I'm giving them what they don't expect; experiences analogous to popular movies, TV shows and novels - only smarter and prettier. And I'm using the tools of popular comics to do it. The spark and crackle and spectacle and explosiveness of the modern superhero comics form.

[Give Me Liberty]

I'm hardly the first person to think of this. The Wachowski brothers were there before me, and Hong Kong movie directors. Before them, Frank Miller was applying everything he knew about action comics - which meant superhero comics - to SIN CITY and the strangely underrated first GIVE ME LIBERTY series, which contains some of the best action sequences in modern comics. Not the first to think of it - but there aren't many people making a serious sustained attempt to reinvent and redirect the non-superhero action comic. And that's the main thrust of the project. To create easy-entry adventure comics fiction for people who don't read comics - but do watch John Woo films.

That's not the entire effort behind the project - the original graphic novels and trade paperbacks have different intents, that I'll talk about another time - but it is, for the moment, the main effort.

With this kind of control, I can make these books the kind of beautiful objects I've been moaning about in CIAs passim. I can do the kind of work I've been talking about. I can basically drive everybody nuts, if I haven't already.

"... there aren't many people making a serious sustained attempt to reinvent and redirect the non-superhero action comic."

This isn't to say I don't like working at Wildstorm and DC. I enjoy working there. I intend to continue to work there. Wildstorm has two new proposals from me on their desk right now. I've been in conversation with Vertigo about placing one or two major projects there. I have friends at these places; I want to continue my working relationships with Axel Alonso and Karen Berger and John Layman and Scott Dunbier. It's not like I'm going to short-change them, give them the old crap and save my best stuff for the Image Project. It's just that, for my own mental health, I need to be able to do what I do for them and something different.

Frankly, if I don't make a good solid attempt to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, then I'll end up on top of a watertower somewhere with a highpowered rifle screaming FUCKPIG! FUCKPIG! as I blow the skulltops off old ladies for hours on end.

And you can do me a favour. You can print off the press release on my website and give it to your local retailer. You can tell him or her that when the Project takes off, there'll be a Retailer Support section on the site, with downloadable or printable sales material, and a rolling list of where the books are being promoted. By the end of the month, in fact, there'll be the beginnings of a Favoured Comics Store list, providing the contact details for the stores that make a special effort to sell my work or have adopted the sales precepts contained within The Old Bastard's Manifesto. I've only assembled a partial list, and there's more of them than you'd think.

Thanks for your patience. This new deal has come as a direct result of the sorts of things I've been talking about here, and so this seemed like a natural venue to discuss my thinking about the deal in a little more detail.

Tell you what; next week I'll swear more and show you my cock. How's that?

I can be contacted by email about this column at warren@comicbookresources.com. My terribly beautiful website, updated today and now containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com. There is a COME IN ALONE discussion area here on CBR.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read V by Thomas Pynchon (1963), listen to THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO (1967) and hit the excellent news service AlterNet at http://www.alternet.org/. Today's recommended graphic novel is, in case you didn't get the point last week, ALEC: THE KING CANUTE CROWD by Eddie Campbell (Eddie Campbell Comics, 2000, $14.50 US in all good specialty comics stores). Now begone.

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