Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon sat down last Saturday at Wizard World Philly for a talk with fans and a trip down memory lane through their hugely successful and memorable works. The panel hosted by Dynamite editor Joe Rybandt.
Ennis began by mentioning the fact that Dillon is about eight years older than him, which he noted may not make much difference as they now approach middle age, but was fairly significant when he first met Dillon at the age of 11. At that point, Dillon was already working on the well-known British comics magazine “2000 AD.” They eventually reunited for DC’s Vertigo imprint on “Hellblazer.” When that successful run was winding down, the Vertigo editors came to them and basically offered to publish whatever they wanted to do next. That turned out to be their seminal series, “Preacher.”
Ennis explained that when he began “Preacher,” he conceived it as having a broad scope, with a great deal of freedom to maneuver and not tied to any particular characters. But as the series went on, the three main characters became much more important. Likewise, it was originally conceived to be in general terms “a very American story” with the setting ranging from Texas to New York, but he eventually settled on it as a “violent Southern gothic” and the series returned to Texas.
The creators were complimented on their vision of Texas by a native Texan in the audience, and they were asked how they were able to portray it so accurately. “A lot of it was educated guesswork,” Ennis confessed. Dillon added that over in the UK, they had grown up inundated with American films and other media, and they drew upon that. Ennis explained that even though the films only portrayed the “myths of America,” this worked for them, because in “Preacher” they were creating a myth of their own.
Asked about any restrictions they’d run into at DC, Ennis and Dillon agreed that by far, the limits were much more strict in terms of what they could portray in sexual situations, rather than violent ones. “Sometimes this made us better, though,” Dillon said. “There was one scene with Jesse shagging Julie, and we wound up doing it in shadows through venetian blinds, which worked very well.” Dillon noted that there is actually a “Preacher Headshot” website that has every panel where someone got their brains blown out during the course of the series. “Also, I drew a lot of scenes of people vomiting. I’m probably the world’s leading expert on drawing vomiting now.” Ennis mentioned that the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado did make DC panic briefly, and a special at the time wound up heavily altered to tone down the violence.
In terms of scripts, Ennis said his tend to be pretty sparse, because he doesn’t believe in giving artists a lot of unnecessary detail. “If you do that, they’re just going to have to go through it with a highlighter and pick out the relevant parts.” He noted that Alan Moore comes from the opposite school, but said that not everyone can do what Moore does, though many try. “You get some guys telling you ‘You should be listening to this music as you’re drawing this scene,'” he laughed. “In general, less is more,” Dillon concurred.
At this point, Ennis and Dillon mentioned their long-awaited Vertigo graphic novel “City Lights” is moving ahead slowly, mostly due to other commitments. It’s slated to be 250 pages, and they expect it to be completed sometime within the next two years. “This is basically our last thing for Vertigo,” Ennis said.
Both creators were asked what the most difficult or least enjoyable thing was about working on superheroes. Ennis was quick to respond, “Everything,” which garnered laughs from the audience familiar with his distaste for the spandex set. Dillon explained the costumes are sometimes awkward for him to draw, but the Punisher is fairly down-to-earth character with minimal spandex, and his work on “Wolverine: Origins” often allows for him to draw Logan out of costume.
Ennis started off relating some of Alan Moore’s comments about his own work on “Batman: The Killing Joke,” a work with which Moore has expressed dissatisfaction. As Ennis tells it, Moore began by saying that the point of” The Killing Joke” was that Batman and The Joker are two sides of the same coin, but concluded that neither character resembled anyone that would ever exist in real life, so who cares? Ennis said that this summed up his problem with superheroes. He also explained that he didn’t grow up reading superhero comics in Northern Ireland; instead, he was raised on war comics, explaining his frequent output of those to this day. As such, he has a more difficult time suspending his disbelief enough to enjoy superheroes the way those raised on them can. The only way he can really approach superheroes is to point out how inherently silly he finds them. He noted that “The Boys” is one such exploration of how superheroes would really affect the world. As readers know, it’s not a flattering take on them.
Asked if there was any superhero he hated so much that he’d like to kill off, Ennis said he couldn’t muster up enough emotion to hate them, but noted that Green Lantern is one character he always seems to put through the wringer any time he gets his hands on him. “Yeah, he just happens to find this atomic weapon he can wear on his finger. Isn’t that a lucky coincidence?” he said to laughs. Ennis admitted that he finds stories of superheroes in World War II particularly distasteful because these are situations where real people died, and he feels putting superheroes into that setting cheapens it. He also raised the subject of the Iron Man movie and cited the scene where Iron Man uses a weapon that conveniently kills Taliban terrorists while shooting around civilians. He found this particularly offensive because of what real soldiers have to go through. “Civilians are killed in war, and it’s unavoidable. So that scene really pissed me off,” he said.
Asked if he would ever return to the Top Cow character The Darkness, Ennis emphatically said no. “Not unless it was a case of extreme desperation,” he deadpanned. He called The Darkness a “bankrupt idea” and said he came up with it when he was personally “out of ideas.” Ennis also said The Darkness was one of the few times where he could say he did something “purely for the money.” But he added dryly, “For those of you enjoyed it, don’t let that stop you.”
Asked about the possibility of a feature film of “The Boys,” Ennis said he thought it would be easier to make than a “Preacher” movie. “In ‘Preacher,’ all the elements kind of rely on each other, and if you remove one, it kind of collapses. But with ‘The Boys,’ you could just do a movie about a bunch of guys that kick the crap out of superheroes. Of course you’d have to remove most of the stuff about politics and corporate culture.”
The panel ended with Ennis and Dillon being asked what comics they are currently enjoying. Dillon explained wryly that DC had stopped sending him comps once they realized he was no longer working for them, and Marvel only sent him copies of books he worked on. “Which is kind of a pain in the ass because I already know what they look like,” he joked. Ennis cited “Ignition City,” “Ex Machina” and “Gravel” as among his favorites.