The name Garth Ennis probably brings to mind hard-hitting, lengthy runs featuring no-nonsense characters. There’s “Hitman” at DC Comics and a character-redefining run on “The Punisher” for Marvel Comics. Of course, he’s perhaps even better known for creator-owned hits like “The Boys” at Dynamite and “Preacher” at Vertigo, with the latter set to debut as an AMC television series this May. Throughout his nearly 30 years writing comics, however, Ennis has written miniseries in just about every genre imaginable. 2016 is the year fans young and old will get the opportunity to rediscover some of Ennis’ best short form content when three long out of print miniseries return to comic shops courtesy of Image Comics.
Last month Image released “Bloody Mary,” collecting two different series illustrated by frequent collaborator Carlos Ezquerra about an assassin in a war-torn near future. May marks the release of “Pride & Joy,” a crime drama drawn by John Higgins, who previously worked with Ellis on “Hellblazer” and “War Stories.” A new printing of “Adventures in the Rifle Brigade” arrives this July, also illustrated by Ezquerra, collecting both miniseries about Britain’s top commando unit who execute missions so secret even they don’t know what they are.
To understand why these books are returning to print — and why Image is the right fit — Garth Ennis spoke with CBR News about what he called three of his favorite projects, what else from his catalog he feels need to be collected and what the future holds for him at Image Comics.
CBR News: Image Comics is reprinting three very different comics series from you this year — “Bloody Mary,” “Pride & Joy,” and “Adventures in the Rifle Brigade.” For those that missed them the first time around, how would you describe each of them to a new reader?
Garth Ennis: “Bloody Mary” is a future war story about a special-forces assassin called Mary Malone who goes to extreme lengths — both mentally and physically — to eliminate her targets.
“Pride & Joy” is a rather dark crime story about a single father struggling to keep his family together, with his criminal past returning to haunt him at the worst possible time.
“Adventures in the Rifle Brigade” is an extremely odd World War II-set comedy about a commando unit who always get the job done. Unfortunately it’s usually the wrong job; the right job doesn’t get done at all. In fact, they’re probably not even sure what it is.
You’re very busy working at many different companies doing a wide variety of books. I know you’ve worked for Image in the past on books like “The Pro,” but why did you think these books, which were originally published at Vertigo and Helix, would be a good fit at Image?
In creative terms there’s no real difference between Image and the imprints the books started out at, or indeed between Image and other places I could have found for them — like Dynamite or Avatar, where I’ve done the bulk of my work for the last ten years. But I thought it might be a good opportunity to dip my toe in the Image waters, just because I’m always interested in new homes for my work. If this goes well — and I’ve no complaints so far — I might do a completely new project with Image.
“Bloody Mary” and “Adventures in the Rifle Brigade” were both drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, with whom you’ve worked a number of times starting early in your comics career. What do you like about working with him and what is it like being able to work with an artist over time and on different kinds of projects?
In the case of Carlos it’s pure joy. He worked on the comics I read as a kid (“2000 AD”Â and “Battle”) and his art has been consistently excellent for 40-plus years now, so it’s a real treat to have him working on my scripts — in fact, we’ll have a new book out later this year. He’s a complete professional and an expert storyteller, with a wonderful sense of imagination. His style is unique — I can’t think of anyone whose art looks remotely like his. And I love his characters — everyone is instantly recognizable, which is extremely useful in military stories where you have numerous characters wearing the same uniform.
“Pride & Joy” combines two genres you seem to really like but don’t get to write that often — crime fiction and family drama. What do you like about them and what do you think combining them allowed you to do?
This was something I was keen to do at the time  largely because Vertigo was still dominated by gothic fantasy or new wave superhero stories — I thought it would be good to use the imprint’s creative freedom to do something relatively new for mainstream comics at the time. I still enjoy writing crime stories, most obviously “Red Team” for Dynamite.
“Adventures in the Rifle Brigade” is different from most of the war stories you typically write. How did you alter your approach for it?
“Rifle Brigade” came about because I wanted to write a World War II comedy, which is an odd sub-genre I’ve always had an affection for. The more hysterical war comics aren’t that far from comedy anyway, things like “Sgt. Rock” and so on, as well as some of the British stuff I read as a kid. So affectionate parody would be the best way of putting it. Carlos was hugely helpful here; his characters have a nice sense of caricature about them to begin with, a touch of larger-than-life.
For readers who know you from “Preacher” and “The Boys,” these are different kinds of books. Do you ever think about how your projects relate to one another in terms of genre or theme, or do you only focus on writing what what interests you?
Usually the latter, although it has occurred to me recently just how much material I’ve written and how many genres I’ve covered. In over a quarter century of writing I’ve done crime, action, horror, war, comedy, western, sci-fi, family drama, romance, even superheroes — some of it larger than life, some of it down to earth, some of it creator-owned, some of it work-for-hire. That doesn’t mean I love all of it, there’s probably a good quarter I’d like to write out of history. But I’m glad I’ve wandered around the different genres and tried as many things as possible.
What made you interested in making sure these books are back in print? Do you often go back and look at your old work?
Interesting question. Regarding “Mary,” “Pride & Joy” and “Rifle Brigade” it’s pretty simple; they’re three old favorites and I hated the thought of them being stuck in limbo. But beyond that, yes, I do take a look at old stuff now and again — sometimes just out of fondness, sometimes to be sure I’m not stealing an old line or scene from myself, as it were. I don’t live in the past — I’ve never read “Preacher,” “The Boys,” “Hitman” or “The Punisher” right the way through, for instance — but I am proud enough of them to have them on the shelf, as opposed to stuck in the box of shite at the back of the closet. What I still feel is the need to keep moving forward, keep doing new stories and trying different things.
Will you be trying to make sure that other books get back in print in the next few years?
With these three books at Image and the two volumes of ex-Vertigo “War Stories” with Avatar, I feel like I’ve got things pretty much back where they should be — at least in terms of creator-owned work. Dynamite and Avatar are good about keeping my backlists with them in print. When it comes to work-for-hire — where things are out of my hands to a certain degree — I’m certainly glad that DC are reprinting my old “Demon” series, and that things like “Hitman” and “Punisher” are kept around, more or less. Stuff I’d like to see back out there would be the first “Fury” book with Darick Robertson, that ridiculous “Thor” thing Glenn Fabry drew, and “Kev” — probably “Kev” most of all, as a matter of fact.
“Bloody Mary” is on sale now from Image. “Pride & Joy” and “Adventures in the Rifle Brigade” are scheduled for release on May 4 and July 6, respectively.
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