Sunday, 1 May 2016

Inspirations: Warren Ellis

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Warren Ellis, grumpiest man in comics, genius writer, and the lurker of Southend. He's one of the hardest working men I know of, He's funny, acerbic, and highly intelligent.

I first encountered his work in the pages of his cyberpunk via Hunter S Thompson comic Transmetropolitan, where the journalist Spider Jerusalem gives us a bastard's eye of the future. This was a blackly humorous book, one that took no prisoners and which hissed truth through its teeth. Every year there would be one issue that took a real world issue and transformed it into a scathing science fiction rant, whether that was poverty, homelessness, drugs, child prostitution, or whatever. Ellis revealed his heart through the series, his anger, and passion so strong that they crackle off the page.

This sort of righteous rage is something I associate with Ellis a lot, it seems to inform a lot of his work, and in an artistic fashion at least he speaks truth to power. His heroes are rebels, his villains faces of the establishment, politicians, generals, and other powerful figures. He has a political consciousness you don't seem to see in a lot of comics work, especially in superhero books (though he managed to bring that element to his work for Wildstorm. turning Stormwatch, their UN superteam, into a very modern book with a strong political aspect as he considered America's relationship with the UN).

His prose work contains the same elements, and draws on his love of science and technology (this is the writer whose series Global Frequency used cutting edge phones, and predicted where mobile technology would be five years after it was published). He maintains his sense of balance, never going too overboard and always considering the likely effects of some of the weirder elements of SF. For example the 'revivals' in Transmetopolitcan, people who froze their heads and were woken in the future only to find they are out of place, out of time, and trapped in a world that's forgotten about them, and does not care what they did. In his novels, he uses the internet, and ideas about maps and boundaries, including those that are laid down by things like mobile phone coverage, street cameras, and other forms, to create alternate maps of New York and America. This tendency towards being prescient continues today, with newspapers like The Guardian comparing this year's race for the White House with the presidential election in the second year of Transmet.

The important part for me, as someone who identifies as far more of a social scientist and airy fairy humanities type, is that he makes science approachable and does not seem to think that everybody should be capable of just 'getting it'.

He has a deep and abiding love for SF and comics, his Planetary series was a love letter to the form, touching on so many things and bringing them into sharp focus as he explored them. Again, this passion is inspiring.

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In real life too, he seems genuine. I don't know the guy, obviously, and he isn't as open about his family life as, say, Neil Gaiman; but at the same time the impression I've gained from reading his site, and being on his mailing list, is one of a caring man. At least half the 'grumpy bastard' thing seems to be a facade. I know he's helped out new comics writers, I remember him sitting down with his daughter when she started to read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to explain who everyone was and to guide her through it. Later, he used the proceeds from something to buy her a pony... hardly the mark of someone as cross and unpleasant as he claims. He has said that his fans talk about being 'Ellis fans', in a direct contrast to the 'Neil fans' that Mr. Gaiman has... but, in his own words 'I would rather be feared'.

I admire his Englishness, his weird mix of iconoclast and philosopher, the amount of knowledge he exhibits about the craft he practices, and the way stories operate.

I make not bones about the fact I'd love to see him write something like Captain America, or take on another high profile superhero where he could play around with politics because he is so very good at it.

Where possible I'm going to start providing links for these pieces (especially if the subject is still alive). So...

His official site:

His blog:

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