They want me to entertain you bastards.
I don't mind entertaining you. Grant Morrison once accused me of being a "raconteur." This was based on watching me doing my daily hour-long Q&A sessions during the New Zealand and Australia conventions back in the summer. I'm presuming this is some kind of charming Scottish euphemism for "won't shut up." Mind you, Morrison's reaction to facing a roomful of people staring at him in obvious lust for Entertainment was to fold himself up into a big white plastic highbacked chair on the stage like Leo McKern in The Prisoner, as if trying to make himself as small a target as possible.
Strange conventions, they were. The Melbourne one is the one I still get asked about, or that my strange and beautiful girlfriend Niki prods me to talk about when she knows there's sf tv fans in the room. The one where several of the guests, for many and various reasons, discovered champagne on the premises. Which led inexorably to me and Claudia Christian putting on a floorshow in front of her fans while her manager cranked off a couple of rolls of film. And where, later that same day, I saw Frazer Hines, who played a young Scots lad in Doctor Who about a million years ago, walk past me dressed in the same bloody costume, a pint of beer grasped desperately in a claw-like, aged hand. Morrison and I ended up doing our last scheduled talks of the convention together, swilling down champagne in front of the gathered throng as we dispensed wisdom, refused to answer any question clearly and basically fell apart before their very eyes.
There is an inevitable odd distance to being an Englishman in Australia, but it treated me more kindly than it did the Americans. Another American tv actress on the convention got stopped at customs and had a Maori gift, a painted greeting stick, confiscated because it looked designed to smuggle drugs. Well, I say she got stopped -- actually, it was her very young son who got stopped, as he'd been told to carry it through for her while she struggled with seventy thousand pieces of luggage. I was whooshed through Customs with a "Welcome to Australia, Mr Ellis!" while carrying a Sumatran shaman's medicine horn, deeply impregnated with the residue of every jungle drug known to primitive humankind. This all at the same moment when some big Aussie probably had his hand up Morrison's bum hunting for plastic bags. The Lucky Country, they call it. Well, at least I didn't have to hoist and slam any mouthy fans into the wall there, the way I did in New Zealand... it's that one that sticks in my mind more, you know... it's not often you have to drop members of your audience...
No, if you want a raconteur, you want Garth Ennis, or Larry Hama, or Alan Moore. Ennis is a vicious mimic -- it's the same part of him that nails those speech patterns and intonations in his dialogue writing. He slipped up once, after a crate of Sierra Nevada in San Francisco, and I caught him "doing" me. Filthy bogtrotter tried to blame it all on Steve Dillon, but I know the truth, oh yes. Larry Hama, perhaps unsurprisingly, knows lots of people with guns, and so has marvellous stories to tell about stone lunatics with too much artillery who also happen to be comics artists. There's something about comics artists, isn't there? The few utter horrible frightening maniacs comics have produced -- and I mean the rapists, the child-molesters, the ones who chop up smooth young Puerto Rican men and clog up their drains with the poor bastards -- they're always comics artists. There was one guy, an inker, who'd gone this route. Typically, there was a DC editor on his case for pages -- he was probably only six months ahead of schedule or something -- and, phoning the guy's apartment, got a rather tense and direct New York detective on the other end of the line. No, young Jeffrey D here can't hand in his inks, he's in the cells for slaughtering, mincing and wiping himself with fourteen people...
Comics artists are not to be trusted.
The only comics writer I can think of who's attained any kind of notoriety for his transgressions is Del Close, who co-wrote the marvellous, ahead-of-its-time DC anthology series WASTELAND. Del Close was also an actor, teacher and director, and worked with the young John Belushi at Second City in Chicago. He worked with the older John Belushi in a slightly different way, allegedly, with reports of his shooting speedballs into Belushi's broad white Albanian arse while muttering "Junkies give the best fixes." (This is referenced in the uncomfortably mean Wired by Bob Woodward, by the way. Send him your mail.) Now, why can't more comics writers have things like that on their resumé? I mean, Alan Moore got expelled from school for dealing drugs. But I suspect he wasn't really trying. If he'd known then what he knows now, he'd've made damn sure he was expelled for being caught banging smack into the veins between Keith Moon's toes.
Alan's two daughters, Amber and Leah, are occasionally online, I'm told, at http://www.comicon.com. Someone once told Alan that they thought Leah was a lovely name. Yeah, he said. It's Hebrew for cow.
Where was I?
The intent of these columns is manifold. Obviously, in the first instance, it is hoped that I will entertain you in some unnamed and numinous Robbie Williams-like manner. Optimism has been expressed that I will manifest this special Raconteur ability and amuse the living shit out of you with stories gleaned from a fast ten years or so in comics, and from my occasional travels. One of the perks of the job is that I get asked to go to different places and talk about comics. I'm actually off to Iceland in a few days as I write this, in mid-November, and I'll probably write one of these columns while I'm there. If all goes to plan, then, in a month you'll learn how I died in Iceland, where they close off the interior of the country in winter because human life becomes unsupportable there.
More often, however, CIA will be the stage for lectures and essays on the comics form. There's a lot of things I want to say and a lot of ideas I want to test on you, and here's where I'll be knocking them into something approaching coherent form. The Western commercial comics form is in a fascinating state of flux right now, and I'd like to track the chaos with you as this mess we've inherited begins -- partly by design and partly by accident -- to turn into something new and unseen. We'll start slowly, from next week. We've got time yet, and these things need to be studied carefully. And I promise I'll drop in the occasional unsubstantiated story about Joe Quesada selling mixed crates of Polynesian adolescents to Mark Waid and Devin Grayson to lighten things up from time to time.
My name's Warren Ellis. I write comics. Pleased to meet you.
Come in alone.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My website, currently undergoing an update, is http://www.warrenellis.com. A COME IN ALONE message board has been set up here.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind (1998), listen to Comatose-Non-Reaction by Danielle Dax (Biter Of Thorpe, 1995), and hit the Viridian Movement Archive website at http://www.bespoke.org/viridian/. Today's recommended graphic novel is COMICS AND SEQUENTIAL ART by Will Eisner (Poorhouse Press, 1985). Now begone.