Locked & Loaded: Garth Ennis talks "303"

You know Garth Ennis from the gripping stories he's told in books like "Preacher" and "Punisher" or maybe the various "War Stories" books from DC/Vertigo. His work is raw, honest, sometimes a bit gruesome and always pushes boundaries. This October Ennis weaves an all-new creator-owned tale in "303," a six issue series coming from artist Jacen Burrows and Avatar Press. CBR News spoke with Ennis to learn more about the series.

"'303' is the story of a Russian Special Forces Colonel, who, after a particularly brutal bit of black ops nastiness in Afghanistan, decides to walk to America to take out a highly important target," Ennis told CBR News. "It's a story I've had kicking around in my head for the last few years. The title refers to the rifle he's going to use for the job, an antique British army Lee Enfield, three oh three calibre."

The Colonel Ennis speaks of is a war weary one (having known no other life but conflict) and this battle in Afghanistan changes his life forever. While some current events and Russian history do play a part in the story, it's only as a backdrop for the main plot.

Ennis says the story also focuses on a British Special Forces leader that our hero finds himself at odds with and, once the story shifts to America, a small town American Sheriff who, according to Ennis, is "finding it harder and harder to do the right thing."

"We meet few actual villains in '303,'" continued Ennis. "Most of the players are simply soldiers trying to do their job, then getting caught up in events beyond their control. We see people doing pretty dreadful things to one another, but even the worst atrocities are usually done at the behest of some higher authority. The real villains of the piece are kept very much in the background until the end of the story, for reasons that will become clear when you read the book.

"[The Colonel's] journey is physical, though the story's as much about the people he meets and the ideology that drives him as it is about the actual places he goes. I wouldn't go so far as to say there's a spiritual aspect to any of this, but there are certainly moments when things take a turn for the odd."

Despite the fact that U.S. forces still remain in ongoing military conflicts in Afghanistan, Ennis is not concerned with the possibility that some readers might react negatively to his setting "303" in the controversial nation.

"I can't say I'm concerned about it; criticism of any kind I tend to pretty much take for granted. I don't think we're at the point yet where an opposing viewpoint will automatically result in calls for censorship. That's me, though: the eternal optimist."

With his numerous and highly acclaimed "War Stories" books for Vertigo and now "303," it's clear the writer is fascinated by the stories that come out of warfare.

"I've been interested in war stories all my life, really, probably a result of all the war comics I read as a kid (British ones, that is; I didn't read 'Sergeant Rock' and so on until I was much older, and found most of it pretty bemusing)," said Ennis. "I wrote an afterword for the recent collection of 'War Stories' from Vertigo, where I said that the true drama of war fiction lies in its basis in reality. Stories inspired by such extreme events have so much more power than some superhero or science fiction fantasy."

The ongoing conflict in Iraq has played a part in the creation of this comic, but Ennis doesn't feel that fact makes "303" any more or less relevant.

"It's hard for me to go around shouting about the relevance- or otherwise- of my war comics; I'm not going to claim that all the answers to the world's current problems lie within the pages of '303.' But it was partly inspired by the disastrous maelstrom we've managed to get ourselves into, and provides an outlet for some of my thoughts on the subject."

Joining Ennis on "303" is artist Jacen Burrows (Alan Moore's "The Courtyard," Warren Ellis' "Scars") with colors by Nimbus Studios. Ennis is very pleased with the work he's seen from Burrows, although he has had little contact with the artist.

"My relationship with Jacen has been just like the ones I've had with nearly all the best artists I've worked with: absolutely minimal. [Avatar Press Editor In Chief] William Christensen sends me pages to look over, and I offer comments- very, very few in Jacen's case, the guy seems to know precisely what he's doing. Be nice to actually meet or speak to him at some point, but at the moment we have the ideal (in my view) writer-artist relationship: we trust each other to get on with the job.

"All the artists I've worked with for long periods of time have been the same. For all the years I've worked and drunk with Steve Dillon and John McCrea, we very rarely talk about what we're working on."

Look for issue #1 of "303" from Avatar Press in comic shops this October.

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