Warren Ellis

Since 1990 Warren Ellis has written more than 30 graphic novels, including the award-winning SF work
Transmetropolitan, Wolverine: Not Dead Yet, Stormwatch and Planetary. He was also responsible for writing the PC game Hostile Waters and has featured in Entertainment Weekly's 100 Most Creative People In Entertainment, and in Rolling Stone's Hot Issue list of creatives. Keri Allan caught up with the man whose twisted mind is responsible for creating, amongst others, the warped Spider Jerusalem...

Keri Allan: Why do you think comic books are seen as geeky, when there are so many good writers out there?

Warren Ellis: Because there are a lot of geeky comic books. I mean, it depends who you talk to. There are people out there who have only read From Hell or Transmetropolitan or Sandman, who genuinely have no idea that Transformers and GI Joe comics are still being printed and buy their comics in graphic novel form from the bookshop. If people go to a James Kochalka or Kid Koala gig and buy one of their graphic novels afterwards, are they going to think they're geeky?

KA: What's the worst thing about your profession at the moment?

WE: The smell.

KA: Are there any artists you'd love to work with?

WE: The ones I'd like to work with the most are all dead. Which may simply indicate that I like artists better when they're dead, I don't know. We should kill some and find out. I know you would help me.

KA: Have you ever seen your vision destroyed by a megalomaniac artist?

WE: As a rule, the only megalomaniac on a project I'm involved in is me. When an artist goes sideways on a script, I have it changed back, and then I have them fired. I mean, e-mailing or calling me and saying, "this bit isn't quite working for me, can I do it this way" is one thing, and that's fine. But I've had artists completely change the last five pages of a story, just drawing something completely different without talking to me or anyone else first. And I had it changed back, and I had the bastard fired. What can I say? I'm a horrible man.

KA: Are you, or the Transmetropolitan artists, fans of the League of Gentleman? - I noticed two characters appear - getting shot - in the latest graphic novel.

WE: Yeah, Darick discovered it when it was shown on BBC America and worked them into one of the pages during the period of his obsession with the show. We forgive him for this because he is American and therefore manifestly "Not Local".

KA: Where does your inspiration come from? Do you take from you own personal experiences when you're writing?

WE: You take it from everywhere. It's like making compost: you stack up a big pile of crap until it starts steaming, and hope something useful fuses together at the bottom of the pile. You take in as much information, as much experience, as possible, and let it float around until bits connect together and form something new. That's inspiration. That's writing.

KA: How do you feel about the success of Transmetropolitan? Did you think its following would get as big as it did?

WE: I knew that if we could get two graphic novels collections out, we'd get somewhere. I knew that half of the book's potential audience would never go into a comics store - that they'd buy it from book stores and record stores. So, while I wasn't expecting it to become this big weird cult thing, I thought we had a shot at getting somewhere.

KA: Do you feel that any of your other work has been overlooked due to the success of Transmetropolitan?

WE: Hard to say. I've got 30 or 40 different graphic novels in print, all in different genres, written at different levels and with their own audiences, and there's not a lot of overlap. Many people devoted to Transmet have no interest in Planetary, and not a lot of Planetary owners possess a copy of Stranger Kisses. I'm slightly disappointed that no-one bought Scars outside of (apparently) fellow professionals. I'm still pleased with a lot of that.

KA: What do you think of movie/comic book adaptations?

WE: No opinion, really. If they make good films, then great. If they don't, then it's not really harming anything.

KA: There have been rumours of a Transmetropolitan film for a while now. Is there any truth to this? There's also been rumours that Patrick Stewart would be in line to play Spider. Do you think he's the right man for the job?

WE: Nah. Once or twice a year, someone enquires after the rights and opens a conversation - you'd recognise some of the names if I told you - but nothing's come of it yet. We also got close to setting it up as an animated series for broadcast on the web, with Patrick Stewart doing Spider, but the web people decided to be pricks at the last minute, so we told them to go away. And then they all got fired. Ha ha.

I think Patrick would do an excellent Spider. There's a whole other side to Patrick that you don't see if you're just watching X-Men or a Trek rerun. There's a streak of genuine eccentricity in Patrick, and it is a thing of pure joy to imagine him yelling profanities at complete strangers in the street. Patrick's also very politically engaged, and, oddly, started out as a journalist... Patrick's a friend, and I'd love to see him do it. All we need to do is convince someone else.

KA: Which of your work would you like to see turned into a movie? And which would you not?

WE: I'd still like to see Transmetropolitan made. I think Patrick Stewart would still like to do it, too. I'd kind of perversely like to see Global Frequency as a movie or a TV series. Planetary was optioned for TV a couple of times, but no-one could really see how it'd work. Orbiter is all there, bar maybe a few second-act scenes - a movie on paper.

KA: Ok gotta ask - do you bring a lot of yourself into Spider? In what ways is he like you (if any)?

WE: Spider is me when I get up in the morning. I hate everything in the morning. I hate mornings, too. I don't hold all of Spider's opinions, by a long chalk, and I hope to god his personality is radically different to mine, but the voice... yeah, it's the voice. I loved writing that voice. Suffused with hatred for everything.

KA: What are you currently working on, and what plans do you have for the rest of this year?

WE: Short works for the rest of the year; completing Global Frequency, publishing Tokyo Storm Warning, Red, Two-Step, a few other things. Completing the script on a new graphic novel, Stealth Tribes, that'll be out next year. And then dying a little before Xmas and coming back in January as a horrible sexy zombie. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

KA: Thank you for your time.

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