Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield talk FreakAngels

Warren Ellis’ “FreakAngels,” the free weekly webcomic about a dysfunctional “family” of twelve super-powered individuals in a post-apocalyptic Whitechapel, wrapped up it’s 144-page Book 1 back in August. Next week, the trade collecting the first 24 installments of “FreakAngels” hits stands courtesy of Avatar Press, and CBR News caught up with Ellis, series artist Paul Duffield, and Avatar Publisher William Christensen to reflect on the first chapter of “FreakAngels” and find out where project goes from here.

Twenty-three years prior to the inciting action of “FreakAngels,” twelve children were born at the exact same moment, each with pale skin, purple eyes, and a unique but decidedly superhuman ability. Seventeen years later, the world as we know it came to an end. Six years after the apocalypse, 11 of the 12 FreakAngels do what they can to make life easier for the remaining inhabitants of the now-flooded, future London. But little do the denizens of future Whitechapel know their would-be saviors may also be responsible for the world’s horrible plight.

Luke, KK, Caz, Jack, Miki, Karl, Sirkka, Kirk, Arkady, Connor, Kait and Mark all share a telepathic bond, and the ability to influence the minds of normal human beings. The group collectively agreed that mind control was only to be used as a last resort, but Mark’s frequent and flagrant violation of this rule earned him a permanent exile. He now appears to be creeping around England and murdering people.

“FreakAngels” book 1 opened with a shotgun-wielding woman named Alice, programmed by Mark to execute his former brethren. Mark is oft-referred to by the rest of the FreakAngels, but has yet to appear in the flesh. Warren Ellis told CBR News that readers aren’t likely to see Mark anytime soon. “He could well be dead by now; Alice's information is several months old, after all,” he said. “Of course, he could also still be out there somewhere, planning to keep firing telepathically-loaded people into Whitechapel like human missiles…”

Through the end of Book 1, the FreakAngels were content to maintain the post-apocalyptic status quo. But increased aggression against Whitechapel by a coalition of the other factions in London lead the FreakAngels to re-evaluate their situation. “Taking out raiders and sending threats back isn't going to work for the FreakAngels forever,” Ellis said. “Turning Whitechapel from a ragged-arse settlement into a home and a keep is going to require making the surrounding area safe.  Before the surrounding area gets up and comes after them en masse.”

Book 1 of “FreakAngels” gives readers little to no idea about the state of the world outside of London, but Ellis promises readers will eventually get a glimpse of how the rest of the planet is faring. “At some point, some of the FreakAngels will have to venture outside London entirely,” Ellis confirmed.  “And it's not pretty out there.  London might be flooded, but the rest of the country got it worse.”

Ellis made the unusual choice of telling this story in six-page installments. “I just picked the format and schedule that I thought served the work best,” he said.  “There's lots and lots of ways to skin a cat.  But make sure you've drugged it first.  Those things are sharp, and they wriggle, you know, a lot when you try to skin them.  You never get a clean pelt.”

Artist Paul Duffield admits that producing six pages of “FreakAngels” a week can be very tiring, depending on the complexity of that week’s script. “I think a typical ‘FreakAngels’ week is 60-plus hours,” Duffield told CBR. “I've got a great coloring assistant who helps me by laying down flats for me to alter and work over, so sometimes it's straightforward. However, if the script becomes more complex, if life decides to get busy, or I've got other projects to work on, I don't end up with much free time!”

With nearly 200 pages of “FreakAngels” under his belt, Duffield has developed a thorough understanding of the sorts of challenges that Warren Ellis’ scripts present. “And I feel like my work has improved on a technical level as a result,” Duffield said. And the creative process works both ways: Ellis has said that Duffield’s character designs have influence how he’s written the characters. “I think [Ellis] mentioned in an earlier interview that he was surprised by the range of facial expressions I could handle.”

As far as Ellis is concerned, “FreakAngels” has no end in sight. “I've got enough rough notes and ideas for five volumes, right now — that's some seven hundred-odd pages of comics,” Ellis revealed.  “With ‘skip weeks’ and all, that's probably pushing three years, and I'm figuring it'll probably go to five years.  Maybe I'll find an ending on the way, I don’t know.  I'm letting the thing grow at its own pace.”

Going into “FreakAngels,” Avatar Publisher William Christensen realized it was going to require a long-term commitment. “But every project we've done with Warren has been a great investment for Avatar, and ‘FreakAngels’ is going to be no exception,” Christensen told CBR. “There are obvious short-term differences -- the way the cash flow works, and the weekly production cycle of getting it online. But I'm very happy with where we are with preorders on the first [print] collection right now, and as these things usually go for us it'll take off even more when it hits stores and people have a chance to see it in hand.

“There are three versions of the book available,” Christensen continued. “The regular trade paperback ($19.99), a hardcover edition ($27.99), and a limited hardcover ($39.99) signed by both Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield. We're bringing Paul over to sign copies of the book and talk to fans at WizardWorld Texas, November 7-9.”

Duffield is excited to be representing “FreakAngels” at Wizard World Texas. “I don't know what Avatar's plans at large are, but there's a great line-up of guests including Christos Gage and Jacen Burrows,” Duffield remarked. “I know that I'll be signing copies of the new ‘FreakAngels’ collection, and also running a few art workshops. I've been working with Avatar on an Art Book for the convention over the last few months, so there's that to look forward to as well!”

If anything, William Christensen believes that making “FreakAngels” available for free online has facilitated the development of an avid fan base for the series. Originally designed as a message board to discuss “FreakAngels,” the Avatar funded Whitechapel message board quickly became Ellis’ new home on the internet. “The growth and enthusiasm of the online community has been absolutely incredible,” Christensen said. “Through Whitechapel, ‘FreakAngels’ has enabled us to introduce a new audience to Warren's other projects and everything else we do as well. Furthermore, there are a great many people who are buying the book who have already read it all on-line for free. Many readers are more than willing to pay for good material when given the option, even when it's available for free.”

And free “FreakAngels” will stay. “We're not taking down the first 24 episodes just because they've gone into print,” Ellis confirmed.  “The whole ‘FreakAngels’ story will be up there for free, for as long as we're doing it, updated every Friday at a little past noon UK time. And I like that.  We've become part of people's weeks, a Friday ritual.  Lots of people come together for it.”

“FreakAngels” episodes #1 through #32 are available for free at www.freakangels.com right now, with the print collection coming to finer comics stores next week from Avatar Press.

Loki Wields Thor's Deadliest Weapon - and We Don't Mean His Hammer

More in Comics