At PopMythology, we get incredible opportunities to chat with amazing writers and celebrities, and now we get to include acclaimed comic writer and novelist Warren Ellis to our list of notables.
Ellis’s recent work with Image Comics – Injection – is a striking example of his ability to meld themes of human advancement and the surrounding environment. In this comic, we are introduced to a group of people with unique talents in physical sciences, espionage, mythological lore, logical thinking and informational technology who combine their abilities and accidentally unleash a threat to the world that only they are equipped to deal with.
We got a chance to explore this book further with Warren. The really entertaining aspect of this interview was Ellis’s refusal to take himself too seriously. Ellis’s answers were straight to the point, accurate and incisive, flavoured with a delightful dash of humour and humility enough for you to want to get to know him more.
We could have asked him so many questions. This is a comic that forces its readers to employ a multi-disciplinary approach in understanding the story. So we’ll content ourselves with enjoying his perspective on the development of this rich comic.
PM: The development process for Injection must have been intense when you consider how innovative this book is. In fact, the need for innovation is one of the themes in the comic. Can you talk about how you conceived the idea for this story?
WE: I have a feeling I was spending a lot of time in America when I came up with this, so some of it is probably about having distance from the mother country and its folklore and landscapes. But a good deal of it comes from the talks I’d been doing at digital, futurist and philosophical festivals over the last few years — a lot of them are collected in an e-book called CUNNING PLANS — which discussed the relationships between folklore and technology, science and magic, the future and deep time. It was essentially where my head was at, and it was natural to try and extend all that into fiction, to perhaps unpack and develop the central notions more.
Also it was probably therapeutic to sit and think about a nice walk around the White Horse at Uffington, and the summer ale at the pub down the road, while behind a window in the Pacific North West watching an ice storm fly past sideways.
PM: Injection is an amazing combination of Old English lore, scientific reasoning, government intrigue and Old English lore. As someone who studied Old English literature and as a native of the British Isles myself, I was especially excited to see the British culture in Injection. Other than your own background influence, can you talk about Britain as the setting for this story and your interest in British lore?
WE: Somewhere in there is the notion of “hauntological fiction,” I think, which was a passing concern of a certain kind of artist here a few years back. But, also, look at what’s happening here — these are staples of a certain side of British popular fiction post-war, from Quatermass to Doctor Who to Doomwatch and The Sandbaggers and so on. It’s the British Weird. And also why living through the 1970s was so terrifying and scarring.
So we now turn to look at the characters – scientist turned paranormal investigator, spy, detective, probable wizard, etc. Very British tropes, in their way. From one angle, the whole thing is probably just one episode where several different incarnations of the Doctor show up…!
PM: You introduce esoteric history in such a unique way that it’s probably one of your most recognizable hallmarks, for instance: Planetary. How do you manage to create such detailed backgrounds for your stories?
WE: This is one of those “how did you be so clever?” questions that the writer cannot possibly answer without sounding like a self-aggrandising dick, so let’s just pretend I answered this brilliantly and you fainted at the raw unfiltered glare of my genius and move on, shall we? Excellent.
PM: Okay, picking myself up from the floor after fainting. Truly I was blinded by the unfettered radiance of your creative prowess! [Laughs] Now I remember what I was going to ask next. You’ve had a great deal of success with your collaborator, Declan Shalvey. As a point of mention, Moon Knight made PopMythology’s list of top 20 comics for 2015. What’s it like working with Declan and could you briefly describe how the partnership started?
WE: I met him for the first time about five years ago, in Galway, where I was, improbably, being given a medal. He came up as a possibility when I was developing Moon Knight for Marvel, and I got him signed on to the book. Within a couple of issues, he, Jordie and I were talking about what we’d do after we finished Moon Knight. We meshed very quickly. So I sat and wrote INJECTION for Dec and Jordie. I made them write lists of the things they like, talked about art and mood and inspiration and reference, and the book was developed ground-up for them. Dec and Jordie co-own the work with me, and it quite literally would not exist without them.
PM: Your characters (Sim, Viv, Rob, Brigid and Maria) are incredibly vivid and engaging. Who did you enjoy creating the most?
WE: Probably Brigid, in a way — Dec and Jordie were not immediately expecting an Irish character and setting, and were certainly not expecting her to be black. And they love her.
PM: The artwork adds a jarring note of reality to this fantasy – just another example of the attention to detail in this book.
WE: Last time I was in Dublin, Dec walked me around a couple of places that he’d drawn into the book. Dec and Jordie were in New York for a while earlier in the year, so a chunk of Volume 2 (issues 6-10) take place in NYC.
PM: Can you talk about your characters’ creation process and who do you relate to the most?
WE: I wanted five tropes, in a way, five people for five hero types — as I said before, the troubled professor, the technologist, the cunning man, the detective and the spy. And, you know, kind of eccentric, in the British way, and in the way that brilliant people often become. They needed to fit certain archetypes, without being old-timey or too on the nose.
PM: More specifically, Maria Kilbride is the translation conduit who tries to rationalize the ancient folklore with modern day science in order to explain it to her superiors. The mental stress this causes her is tremendous. How do you manage to create such a believable portrait of an unbalanced mental state in a central character?
WE: Have *you* ever been a freelance writer? You just described the condition of a twenty-year veteran hack flailing around to keep his head above water … I particularly enjoy that my detective is a lunatic Anglo-Indian gentleman and my spy is basically Idris Elba with his head shaved. I like the picture of the British Isles that it makes. Mad geniuses who dress like mad geniuses.
Don’t look at me. I’m not crying.
It was great to get Warren to share his insights – tears notwithstanding. But it’s always good to get some sense of scope behind the creation process as well as learning something about the creator, particularly about this book. Injection hits all the right notes. It’s a combination of various perspectives on the fundamental nature of the world while at the same time including the most believable character motivation: a sense of guilt. Inherently good and diversely talented characters who are trying to right a wrong make the most believable ones and in a comic of weird, these are the solid elements that tie the story together.
Ellis has crafted an amazing story. Injection is currently on Issue #5 and sees Issue #6 comes out January 13th. Make sure you pick up a copy… and try not to cry.