Legendary writer Warren Ellis took to the stage at Kapow Comic Convention for a rare Q&A session with fans, covering everything from his current work in prose to his views on the state of the industry. Opening the panel, the prolific author wasted no time in declaring that he is "bored" by the current state of comics.
"I'll give you a clue; I'm not really writing any comics at the moment. I'm bored by the field in general," he said in response to a question of how the business of comics has changed. He continued, suggesting that part of the problem was retailers not wanting to stock independent comics, due in no small part to the "superior rates" they can receive from superhero titles.
"We don't sell to [the reader]. We sell directly to the stores, who then sell to you. So what you get is what the stores choose to show you, rather than necessarily what we are doing. A lot of the stores just don't want to sell independent comics."
Ellis, whose comics presence has shrunk in recent years, commented on his relationship with Avatar Press, stating that it "was time for a change for me…other opportunities have opened up." Later, the writer admitted that freedom from deadlines played a big part in his decision to move away from comics. "After 20 years of weekly [and] daily deadlines…it was time to try something else for a bit."
The discussion naturally moved towards his upcoming novel "Gun Machine," out later this year, which Ellis excitedly spoke about. The novel follows John Tallow, a New York cop who stumbles across an apartment decorated with guns, each linked to unsolved homicide cases from across Manhattan over a span of twenty years. The story explores the consequences of accidentally opening the biggest cold case in history -- 200 murders, all seemingly committed by one hand, and the ramifications it has on the detective.
The talk eventually moved onto the next hot topic in comics; digital. Ellis firmly believes digital has a big part to play in the industry's future, but until comics as a whole embraces usability over profitability, digital comics will remain a niche.
"The big problem with the big digital services is curation," Ellis explained. "You run into the same thing if you go into a comic shop for the first time and stand back. It's just wall to wall 9comics]. With comiXology, for the first time, it's just a wall of tiny little thumbnails, so you can't really differentiate anything from anything else.
"What's going to be needed is curation, rather than product placement, which is what happens with digital services," Ellis continued. "I would settle for tagging. I'm interested in crime comics; just show me the crime tag and sort by that. Nothing. Nothing like that exists in digital comics right now, and until it does, it will remain a niche business. Anything that saves me having to leave the house is excellent," he said to strong audience response.
The panel was filled plenty of good-natured banter between the audience and Ellis, his advice for aspiring new writers receiving an especially warm reception.
"Answer A, I don't need the competition; Answer B, kill yourself now -- it'll be quicker; and Answer C, if you're not writing every day, you are not going to be a writer. That guy down the pub who tells you he's a writer is not a writer, because he should be at home fucking writing.
"You've got to get published, and I don't care where," Ellis continued. "A huge part of the learning experience is seeing what you've done in print, and you are going to hate it because you will see everything you did wrong, but you‘re not going to learn that shit until you see it in print. I don't care how tiny it is; get published, any way you can."
Wrapping up the lengthy conversation, Ellis confirmed that his project with Joss Whedon, "Wastelanders," was getting back underway now "The Avengers" is behind them. Ellis, who is not a natural co-writer and prefers to work in confinement, said it was Whedon's insistence of using his hotel bar to break the story down that sealed the deal. Warren went on to explain that they both wrote chunks of the script before re-writing each other's drafts, and he doesn't foresee any major problems with their partnership.
"I'm bigger, and I have a longer reach," the popular writer declared to the audience's amusement as the panel conluded.