Garth Ennis is a man who has continuously pushed the boundaries in the comic book world. From creating ground breaking stories like Preacher and Hitman to telling important World War II stories like Johnny Red, Ennis is a creator who doesn’t shy away from doing something different. I have had conversations with people who describe his work as “offensive just to be offensive” and I agree. If you’re going to try to push boundaries what’s the point unless you have people’s attention? What better way to grab that attention than making a lot of noise. In this day and age of over saturation of the comic book culture, we need comic book creators like Ennis to keep this media fresh and interesting. And I for one am thankful for him and all the offensive work he does!
Enough ass kissing! Garth Ennis has several new comic titles coming as well as TV series adaptation of his series Preacher ( Check out the first trailer here). Among all this is Titan released Johnny Red, written by Garth Ennis and art by Keith Burns (The Boys). Garth was cool enough to answer a few questions about Johnny Red, violence in the media and even talks a little Preacher TV series. Check it out below and be sure to add Johnny Red to your pull list!
Slack Jaw Punks: Garth, A majority of your stories feature graphic violence and intense hard edge stories (which we love!). How do you respond to people who argue that violence portrayed in media/art (comic books and movies in this case) directly correlates with violence in real life? You also tackle tough issues like class warfare, drug addictions, social justice… why do some creator shy away from it?
Garth Ennis: I’ve never believed that fictional violence feeds the real thing; if it did, this would be a vastly more violent world. The root cause of most actual violence is a mixture of need and greed- people are prepared to assault and/or kill either for what they need or what they want, or they’re prepared to selfishly lay the groundwork for the latter through their actions. A guy on Wall St. wants to make a fortune and he doesn’t care what happens to the workers at a factory that closes as a result of his buying and selling. The unemployed workers fall into poverty- some turn to crime to survive. The effect of our Wall St. guy’s actions overseas are even more acute, where the poverty that results sometimes leads to war. And so on.
Ideas like these are too complex for a lot of people, so they turn to the rather simpler notion of fictional violence as root cause- a useful bogeyman to stir up voters with, and a good smokescreen for the actual problem. Others just want to hide from such grim thoughts, which is where the creators who shy away from the issues you mention come in.
SJP: Having created some graphic stories have you ever felt you’ve gone “too far” or regret any particular story?
GE: There are things I wish I could remove from my CV, but only in terms of quality- stuff that I didn’t quite get right, or that failed completely. Having written comics for a quarter century, I have to acknowledge that I didn’t hit the target every single time. But in terms of content- no. I recently wrote a Crossed story- out next year- that includes an origin sequence in which I did temporarily appall myself. But then I read Alan Moore’s scripts for Providence, which he was kind enough to share with me, and I realised I was a childlike innocent with nothing to worry about whatsoever.
SJP: Garth Ennis is a name that holds a high standard amongst the comic world. You are responsible for some of the most beloved stories in recent comic history. Do you ever find it overwhelming to live up to that when writing a new story?
GE: It’s something I never think about. I write each story as I see fit, without worrying about the response- beyond the notion of selling enough to survive, which I believe is something that’s out of my hands anyway. Seems to work- everything goes the distance, nothing gets cancelled.
SJP: The comic industry has defiantly shaped the film industry. What effect has it, if any (the film industry) played on the way comics are created now?
GE: These days, I think a lot of independent and creator-owned comics are written with one eye on a possible adaptation- that’s perhaps not anything new, it’s just that the chances of success are now better. I prefer Brian Vaughan’s approach, which is to start with the idea that the comic is the destination, not just a stage on the journey. After that, come what may.
GE: Unfinished business, really. Johnny Red was my favorite strip for a long time, and the characters and their adventures retained a life-long grip on my imagination. The strip lasted a good ten years, but the latter three or four involved a long, slow decline, leading to a pretty bloody feeble ending. I always thought it deserved something better. Beyond that, there’s really just the sheer joy of writing a story I first encountered when I was eight.
SJP: WWII is a defining era in world history and is a topic that has been told by the best storytellers (in every form of media: books,TV, comics, video games etc) from every angle possible. How does Johnny Red set itself a part?
GE: It’s a strange beast, in a lot of ways- a British comic strip featuring the conflict between Russia and Germany, which was in fact the defining conflict of the Second World War. It brought that notion home to a generation of UK readers, and was pretty much unique in doing so. Other war comics largely featured British and Americans heroes against their Germans and Japanese enemies- the Russians didn’t get much of a look in.
SJP: When telling a WWII story do you feel a level of responsibility with handling this subject?
GE: Always. This is historical fiction, not fantasy, so there’s a real need to get the details right. The original Johnny Red always set its hero’s (somewhat unlikely) derring-do against the grim reality of the Eastern Front, and that’s something I was determined to continue.
SJP: I know you’re probably sick of answering it, but how involved with the Preacher series are you? Are you excited for it?
GE: I’ve given notes at every stage and been pleased to see most of them addressed. Beyond that I have no direct involvement. I’ve seen the pilot and the trailer, and I’m very happy with both.
Huge thanks to Garth Ennis and Titan Comics for setting up this interview. Be sure to check out Johnny Red available now at your local comic shop!