WW Chicago: An Evening With Warren Ellis

Sat, June 28th, 2008 at 10:11am PDT | Updated: June 28th, 2008 at 4:10pm

Comic Books
Seth Jones, Staff Writer

Warning: This story contains adult language.

Avatar Publisher William Christen announces Warren's arrival.

Dressed in all black, Warren Ellis slowly ambled into the Steve Gerber room at Wizard World Chicago Friday night. He looked out into the crowd. The packed room was going berserk for WizardWorld Chicago's guest of honor.

"(It's) times like this that I really think about forming a church."

Ellis then disappeared behind a curtain. Avatar editor-in-chief William Christensen had the honor of introducing Ellis to the crowd.

"We have one of the undoubtedly greatest writers in the industry," Christensen said. "Make a whole fuck-load of noise for Warren Ellis!"

At approximately 9:45 p.m. - only 15 minutes off-schedule - Ellis emerged from behind the curtain and began his talk.

Ellis quickly fired up a cigarette. "I get to smoke and you do not," he said. "This is performance art." Before he could light up, a fan jumped up to the stage to light Ellis' cigarette for him.

Ellis joked about how he's never seen Chicago - he's always whisked away from the airport straight to the hotel, straight to the convention center, and then vice versa.

"Guess there was fuck-all to do in Chicago on a Friday night," Ellis laughed as he looked at the packed room.

He then talked about how after "Black Summer," he's amazed he can get into the country.

"Fox News did a story on it, and they found some ex-FBI fucker who said if there's ever an attempt on the life of the president, I was the first person who should be arrested," Ellis said. He then continued with a story about going through the airport. "They take my ticket, and my passport, they run it through the machine, and they say 'please excuse me for a minute,' and she didn't come back for 5 minutes. And when she came back, she was with this large, burly Caribbean man. And I think, 'shit, the gig is up.' And they take my passport and run it through the machine... and he says, 'look, you just need to show it a little love!' Ten years of my life, just gone in that moment."

Ellis thanked Red Bull for sending 300 cans to the convention center. He then said that he'd probably be out by Saturday afternoon.

A smiling Ellis addresses the crowd.

Ellis then read two excerpts from his novel, "Crooked Little Vein." "I'm going to read to you as if you had learning disabilities," Ellis joked. "I'm losing some people in the back... 'I finished kindergarten, fuck him!'"

At this point, CBR's staff photographer caught the ire of Ellis. "You're going to be wearing that camera internally, you know that?" Ellis said. "You're going to click and flash when you fart!"

The two readings lasted about 40 minutes. The novel is about a hard-luck detective in Ohio. In the first reading, the detective mistakenly finds himself in a Godzilla bukake theater where most people are wearing Godzilla paws on one hand. After concluding that reading, he began to preview his second reading when fans started shouting for the "saline" chapter. Ellis laughed and said, "It's not the bit that I was going to read, but OK."

What came next was a 20-minute reading that had the crowd laughing and the men squirming. To paraphrase a section of the book, it was about the lead character's "testicular doom."

Ellis then took his first short break on what would eventually be a 3-hour session. At this time William Christensen announced that Ellis had agreed with Avatar to write an "Anna Mercury" series two.

Seated in the front row of the talk was Andy Hurley, drummer for Fall Out Boy. Also seated in the crowd was many of the Avatar creators, like artist Jacen Burrows and writer/artist Mike Wolfer.

Ellis came back out and began his question and answer session. "You know what you want from me better than I know what you want from me," Ellis said.

The first question was about Planetary - the fan wanted a Planetary "seminar," for Ellis to just speak at length about the book.

"That's not a question, it's 17 fucking questions!" Ellis said. "I wrote Planetary # 27 over a year ago. I got an email a week ago that he just started drawing it. Don't hold me to it, but I think it's 5 months away."

Ellis then refused to talk more about Planetary, saying he wasn't drunk enough.

Ellis was then asked how it's different writing for an on-line comic like "Freak Angels" than writing for a regular print comic.

Avatar artist and Ellis collaborator Mike Wolfer looks on.

"Not at all (different.) Sorry." Ellis then said that writing Freak Angels was like getting back to his roots. British comics come out in 6-page chunks in serials, so it wasn't odd for him to reveal 6 pages at a time. Ellis is writing the story in 144-page blocks. One thing to understand, he said, was that based on the 6-page at a time format, not every installment can end on a cliffhanger. "Sometimes it just fucking stops," Ellis said. "It's not because I'm completely incompetent."

Ellis mentioned that he never wrote for "2000 A.D." because they're a bunch of "thieving pricks."

Ellis was asked of he ever gets writer's block?

"Writer's block? I've heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn't a writer anymore. I'm sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living."

A fan asked if Ellis could take over all of Brian Michael Bendis' writing jobs. "Is Bendis in the room?" Ellis asked. "Just say no!" a fan shouted. "Was that (Bendis)? No it wasn't, was it? Or that's a really good make-up job."

Ellis then talked about what projects he would go back to, saying there "wasn't many." "Daredevil might be interesting," he said. "But I wouldn't touch it for a few years. ...I have thought about "The Authority" a few times.

A fan asked what Ellis would do if Marvel asked him to be "the architect" of their universe.

"I would go outside and fucking kill myself," Ellis shouted. "I'd find one of those bolt guns they use to kill cows... no fucking way."

Ellis was asked why he kept a CD collection when digital music is so convenient. He said there were two reasons: better sound quality on CDs, and he wants his daughter to one day be able to rifle through his CD collection the way he went through his father's record collection.

A fan asked what Ellis' favorite Bill Hicks bit was. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are a virus with shoes," he said.

Ellis was then asked if he could tell the audience what the last word on the last page of "Planetary" was? "Why?" was his answer.

Ellis listens to a question from a fan.

Was there any advice for an aspiring comic writer Ellis wanted to share?

"Apart from 'fucking don't'?" Ellis said. Then he thought about it and said, "Learn when to shut up. Seriously: Learn when to shut up." Ellis then told the crowd. "Some writers don't know when to let the art carry the panel. Don't use words where they don't need to be."

The fan then asked if Ellis could whisper that advice to Chris Claremont, which drew a chorus of "oooh!" from the crowd.

What would Ellis do if he had carte blanche with Marvel's characters? Ellis said he already had carte blanche with Marvel's characters, and if he wanted to make the Green Goblin walk around naked, then that's what he did. "I do what I want, and then (Marvel) says, 'Thank you, Warren, here's the money.'"

Ellis then talked about how in the 90s, when Marvel was having money problems and people were losing their jobs their, he once used two FedEx packages instead of one. Since this cost Marvel more money, they wanted to call him up to complain. According to Ellis, the Marvel editors were so afraid of him that they drew straws on who would call him up to tell him not to do it again. "They were terrified of me," he said. He also said that he often threatened Marvel editors, and a strange coincidence was that it seemed that after he yelled at a Marvel editor, that person usually lost their job soon after. And then he thought, "I am a vengeful god... what can I do now?"

Ellis was asked how he likes to deal with artists, he quoted a Chaz Palminteri movie, "Would you rather be respected or feared?" Ellis said he'd rather be feared.

He then talked about Alan Moore's direction to artists, and said that page 1, panel 1 of "The Watchmen" required a page-and-a-half description.

"Alan is crazy," Ellis said. "Alan's the guy who dug a cave under his house. Alan worships a sock. The Roman snake god, who was always represented by a puppet of a snake... which is essentially a sock. I love Alan, but I haven't phoned him in years because frankly there's not that much time in the day. Alan speaks very slowly and when he has you on the phone, you're kind of a captive audience."

Ellis then told a story about doing a convention in Iceland. He had a great time and they asked Ellis if he could talk Alan Moore into visiting for a show. Ellis said he took his own life into his hands and called Moore to ask him if he was interested.

Moore told Ellis, "I don't really leave Northampton much. In fact, I don't really leave the house. In fact, I don't really leave the living room... and truth be told, I stay on this side of the living room. The other side of the living room is a strange and different place, and it scares me.

A fan told Ellis that someone had been spray painting around Chicago, "Where's my fucking jetpack?" Ellis said when FEMA was putting the red X on houses in New Orleans, someone had put a big 'S' on top of an X. "Fucking Snowtown."

Sustenance.

Ellis was asked again to please talk about Planetary. Ellis then asked Christensen to punch that fan.

Ellis was asked who his favorite contemporaries were. He listed Bendis, Mark Millar, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, Colleen Doran and Brian Wood.

Ellis was asked a third time about Planetary. Finally, perhaps because he was drunk enough, he relented. He apologized for not wanting to talk about the book but said that he was peppered with a bunch of Planetary questions earlier in the day by comic book media.

"I didn't grow up on superhero comics, it's a genre I had to learn," Ellis said. "So by 1998 my head was full of this shit, and it was taking up the parts of my brain that were usually used for remembering to do the washing up. I wanted to do a superhero comic about the superhero genre, about why it had such an attraction for people before it had the barnacles all over it."

With a cash bar in the back of the room (beers were $6, mixed drinks $7) and the late hour of the event, apparently two fans in the back of the room did something to irritate each other. With one standing up looking for a fight, Ellis became enraged.

"You take it the fuck outside or you sit down," Ellis shouted. "You have two choices, take it the fuck outside or sit down!" Eventually the fan sat down and Ellis got back to the fans in line for questions.

When the clock hit 12:45 a.m., the panel was finally shut down. As Ellis walked off the stage, he headed straight for the crowd and said to no one other than himself, "Now I shall walk among my people."

Now discuss this story in CBR's Independent Comics forum.

TAGS:  warren ellis, anna mercury, planetary, black summer, wwc2008

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