It was the end of the day, the end of the convention and Garth Ennis' first and only panel at Wizard World Philly. Tired, eager fans packed into the Dave Stevens Room for the hour-long question and answer session, a rare public appearance from the mind behind "Preacher," "Hitman," "The Boys" and Marvel's "Punisher: MAX" series. The panel also featured Dynamite's Joe Rybrandt, Director of Marketing for the company.Garth was far from the ultra-violent, sadistically humorous personality one might expect. He was soft-spoken, thoughtful and deliberate in his answers, someone obviously appreciative of his fans but ill-at-ease in front of a crowd. At the same time, he radiated the kind of middle class, down-to-earth viewpoint featured in so many of his stories. Throughout the panel, he discussed military history, his take on Frank Castle, "The Boys" and his new series for Dynamite.Rybrandt began by asking for a round of applause for "The Boys" and the audience was more than willing to oblige. Then Dynamite and Ennis eagerly announced their new project: "Battlefields." A series of war-books in three mini-series with three different creative teams, in many ways this is Ennis' dream project. "Battlefields" comes in the wake of his critically acclaimed but under-selling "War Stories" series for Vertigo.The first of the three mini-series is called "The Night Witches" and follows a Soviet bomber squadron during World War 2, crewed by women. The story is inspired by real history and Ennis was more than willing to expound on the heroism of female pilots. "They were up against more than the battle. They were up against the potentially catastrophic consequences of capture by the Germans," Ennis pointed out. The second series "Dear Billy" follows a British nurse in the aftermath of the invasion of Singapore and her pursuit of revenge. The final series "The Tankies" is set in the aftermath of the D-Day invasion. "[It's] tanks clanking around the country side of Normany and blasting the Hell out of each other," Ennis explained.Ennis was also more than willing to talk about "The Boys" at length. "It's worth saying thank you to everyone who stuck by the book," Ennis said. He also explained that, like Preacher, he does have the series planned out to a definitive ending. "I've worked it out broadly storyline by storyline," Ennis said. "There's going to be one called Hero-gasm where we learn what really happens in cross-overs for instance... I've worked it out pretty clearly but left enough room to pop things in."
Ennis also commented that each of these arcs will be leading up to a final confrontation with The Seven. "I don't think it's giving anything away to say that," he joked. Ennis also told the audience that each character in "The Boys" will have his origin explained and his time in the spotlight. Butcher, he announced, will have his origin explained in his own six issue mini-series. "There's just too much to cover there," Ennis said.At this point, the floor was opened up to questions. One fan asked where Ennis' interest in war stories comes from. Ennis' answer was that it was likely the comics he grew up on. "It was reading those that started me on an interest in military history," he commented. "Those are the things that interest me. Acknowledging the heroes and villains that are being forgotten by history." Ennis pointed out that his upcoming "Night Witches" series is an excellent example of this.As for the economic feasibility of war comics, Ennis talked about the challenges of trying to tell such stories. "I've used war characters for Marvel or DC but it was just a vehicle to tell the kind of story I wanted to tell," Ennis said. "With the exception of Nick Fury. He's just this whore-mongering, bourbon-swilling monster like the kind from Frank Miller's Elektra. That to me was a character I could relate to."As for writing military fiction, Ennis says he does his research in several places. "I've amassed quite a library by this point in my life," he said. "I've never served in the military though - no thank you." Ennis has also occasionally fired guns for research. "That really gives you a sense of the smell of it, the feel, the taste. That really helps in writing it." Ennis said this was especially helpful for writing "The Punisher." "Frank is one of those characters. There's a comfort and familiarity to each of the guns he uses and you have to understand that."One fan asked whether Ennis would one day return to "The Punisher." "I'll always go back to The Punisher. I'm just taking a break for a while," Ennis said. He also announced a new Punisher book this Christmas with artist Steve Dillon. "That's not a MAX book. That's rounding out the 'Welcome Back Frank' stuff." Ennis also commented on the switch to "The Punisher" as a MAX book. "After 9/11, all of the sudden the world wasn't that funny anymore."Ennis talked about what it was like to write the Punisher. "Writing the Punisher, I usually try to keep my distance. His methods are grim, his ethos are reprehensible. His morality and mindset are not my own," Ennis said. This was, of course, before Ennis started doing research for his human trafficking arc. "Reading about human trafficking, that was the first time in my life I found myself wishing there was such a thing as The Punisher. It was reprehensible. I wanted someone to kill all of them."
One fan pointed out his love for the Punisher villain Barracuda and asked why Ennis chose to kill him. "I was going to kill him sooner than I did," Ennis replied. It was editor Axel Alonso that convinced him otherwise. "He [Alonso] said 'please don't kill this guy. There's more here.' And he was right." However, Barracuda's reprieve was only temporary. "I knew I was going to kill him the second time he appeared with Frank because I personally believe you can't survive two encounters with Frank."This lead to Ennis speaking about the compulsion to kill his villains in order to keep his writing fresh. "The characters I grew up reading: Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, etc. They were quite lethal people," he commented. "Their villains frequently did not survive and I think that was a very healthy thing for the creators because it kept forcing them to come up with new characters."And in his first arc, in which he killed Micro? "I killed Micro to make a point which is - you cannot get that close to Frank and survive. I don't care if you're on his side or not.""Why haven't more writers done good work on The Punisher?" one fan asked. "Most writers dislike The Punisher," Ennis surmised. "They see him as a one-note, murderous monster of a character with no supporting cast, set on his path to destruction and nothing else. And I see him the exact same way and I think it's great."Ennis went even further in his speculation about Frank Castle. "I sometimes think of Frank as a British character that was born over here by mistake," he said with a smirk.The one thing he was never allowed to do on "The Punisher"? "Kill a priest," Ennis said. "I wanted to have Frank shoot a priest."One fan asked what specific event led "The Boys" to be canceled by DC. "I don't think it was any particular one thing or moment," Ennis said. "I think what it came down to was: you can have a comic where people do awful things to each other. But you can't do a book where superheroes do awful things to each other. That makes people who publish superheroes uncomfortable."No news on The Preacher television show. "At this stage what I'm doing is assuming it's not going to happen and then it'll be a nice surprise. It's hurry up and wait as usual," Ennis said. As for who he'd like to see cast in a dream version of a Preacher film? "Simon Pegg would be quite a good Cassiday. Someone suggested Katee Sackhoff as Tulip."Nothing new for the "Just A Pilgrim" property, but Ennis did announce a new horror comic for Avatar with art by Jacen Burrows. "It is the most extreme thing I've ever written," he said and given Garth Ennis, that is quite a promise indeed.
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