U.K. creators Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, John Higgins and Alan Davis came together on Saturday evening at Comic-Con International in San Diego to tell the origins of their careers and converse about the comic book scene for U.K. creators over the last 40 years.
The panel, hosted by a representative of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, lasted just short of an hour with a lighthearted atmosphere surrounding the conversation. Ennis and Davis arrived just as the host began formulating his first question, asking the panel to comment on their time as young upstarts, which has affectionately come to be known as "The U.K. Comic Invasion."
An enthusiastic Morrison, one of the lead writers on the DCU reboot in September, was the first to speak and set the tone: "If we tried to invade Afghanistan, we'd all be dead."
Lloyd, of "V for Vendetta" fame, recounted how DC wooed him overseas with a simple meeting at a hotel and a complimentary meal. "[DC VPs] Dick Giordano and Joe Orlando came along and told us that they were interested in using us," he recalled. "Later on they selected a bunch of us and invited us all to the Savoy hotel. You were lucky to get a pot lunch from the British publishers."
Ennis, creator of "Preacher" and "The Boys," agreed that it was the treatment received in the U.S. that got him hooked. "I did not really like American comics when I was growing up," he admitted. "Distribution in Ireland was not good. I really liked the British comics that these guys [at the panel] were doing. American comics were just seen as a better place to work. Better treatment. Better conditions. People just genuinely seemed to care about putting out well-published material."
The liberties creators were given in the States was a major draw for "Watchmen" colorist Higgins. "When I first discovered American comics, they just blew me away," he said. "When I first saw the full color that they had in the late '60s early '70s, and the strength of the illustrations…the American undergrounds were so political, so horrific, so sexual, they just blew me away."
The host quickly turned to Higgins' "Watchmen" colleague Gibbons, a major "2000 A.D." contributor, involved in the conversation. "Our experiences are kind of the same," Gibbons said. "The specific moment I realized it was possible [to work in American comics] was when I was [picking up] my 'Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.' comics, and [some of] the art was terrible. I thought, 'God, I can do better than that.' It is possible."
Davis was the last to speak. "I gave up my full-time job to start working for '2000 A.D.,'" recalled the artist. "Then DC asked me if I wanted to do 'Batman and the Outsiders,' and that was it." Davis went on to talk about the Marvel U.K. experiments. "It was just a reprint house -- and there was no budget for it -- but when Captain Britain caught on, there was more money."
The topic then moved to the appeal of working for DC over Marvel. With a laugh, Lloyd simply commented, "DC asked. They took us to the Savoy. We could push the boundaries with 'Vendetta.' DC learned to push the envelope, especially Alan [Moore] with 'Swamp Thing.' They pushed to get rid of the Comics Code with 'Swamp Thing,' and they did."
Ironically, Morrison pointed out, "Marvel had kind of become very corporate. That was working very well for them, and DC started to do the opposite of that, bringing in 'Watchmen' and '[The] Dark Knight [Returns]' to try to do something cool and progressive. It was good timing."
Ennis added, "Marvel, until Joe Quesada took over, wasn't that interested in certain kinds of progressive stories. They were more into the Hollywood type. DC was more interested in taking a chance. Marvel never really made any bones about the fact that they wanted the same thing forever."
Gibbons mentioned an early project DC sought him out for that was later scrapped due to an unexpected turn of events. "DC was going to do Atari comics, this whole series of comics based on the video games," the artist remembered. "Then, three months later, Atari disappeared."
Even in the face of questions relating to how politics and history drove the European comics market, the conversation remained honest and playful throughout the remainder of the panel.
"Class was very important to me -- I like working on things that say something about the social structure," said Lloyd, before pointing out, "Comics is a juvenile medium. It's very sad."
"We [the U.K. creators] took social awareness mainstream," Ennis said. "All the American material like that was underground. 'Preacher' had a lot of questionable material that got through OK because all we had to go at was Jesus Christ and the Almighty, but with 'The Boys,' the villains of the piece are superheroes. I see them as a mixture of politicians, movie stars and pop stars. 'The Boys' got killed at DC because it resembled their main product strongly."
"It worked," Morrison added. "Superman at first fought for the common man, so it was very realistic."
With little time remaining, fans had the opportunity to ask questions. Many were of the typical "What work influenced you the most?" variety, which was almost unanimously Shakespeare from everybody, and Ennis added, "[Pat Mills and Joe Colquhon's war strip] 'Charley's War' is, to me, hands down the best comic ever published."
The final question was probably the most relevant: "Can the British comics industry be saved?"
"No -- the British publishers don't really care about comics," said Lloyd, with no disagreement from his fellow panelists.
Ennis delivered some hard facts about the current status of U.K. creators in the States. "I think '2000 A.D. ' will be fine for a while. The reprints of the old stuff are doing well enough, as are the movies. How [do] you expand on that? I don't know…I'm the youngest here, and I'm 41. The U.K. Invasion, such as it was, was a thing of the past, and I agree with that. I think new British talent now in the American industry is stuck in the superhero books. Marvel's making no bones that they are making the same thing forever. Vertigo is dying the way of 1,000 deaths. DC is turning into a marketing machine." Morrison, who is heavily involved with the DC Universe reboot, did not comment.
Ennis concluded, "At DC, the Vertigo contracts are being chopped down to where they're almost unattractive. Vertigo had a good run. But hopefully it kicked the door down to open the way for independents. There isn't much for the Brits anymore. We had our run."