To say I’ve been waiting since this blog’s inception, that quite possibly the only reason I started this blog was to write this post, would not be inaccurate. I am so in the bag for Warren Ellis it borders on embarrassing. I read a lot of comic books when I was a kid, all sorts of superhero stories with the same uber-stretchy plots, and sub-par writing (I’m looking at you Spider-Man: The Clone Saga…looking at you and choking down vomit). Warren Ellis was a part of some of this: He wrote some Excalibur back in the day, kind of a British version of the X-men.
He was the first graphic novelist I picked up post-high school that pulled me back into the world of graphic novel geekdom. He wrote a 10 volume ditty call Transmetropolitan, a sort of futuristic fictional meta-biopic of Hunter S. Thompson, that has stuck with me for years, given me warmth when I was cold, and made me smile when I was sad. I really, really wish I was exaggerating. The complex story, the writer-writing-about-writing angle, the over-the-top dialogue that has influenced my own writing, it all adds up to awesome. I’ve read everything (just about) he’s writtien, from lesser-known indie and underground titles like Lazarus Churchyard and Switchblade Honey to the DC-Marvel works like Thunderbolts and Justice League.
Alright, the fan-boy portion is finished. Promise.
Ellis is a bit on the cutting edge of literature. Or he was. Might be a bit of an old curmudgeon now, but about 10 years ago he was at the forefront of social media interaction. A pioneer in the world of online integration with his writing, his availability and interaction with his fan-base may be part of the reason he’s gained a modicum of popularity, particularly in the “underground” of the graphic novel scene. He also wrote a very dark, gritty short graphic called Red that was (very) loosely the basis for the movie and the sequel of the same name. Hopefully he got a check from that.
He also has prose, which as promised, is what I’m going to focus on here. A hilarious private eye story, featuring all sorts of terrifying glimpses into the seediest, most shadowy nooks and crannies of American society (One word: Macroherpetophelia). It’s called Crooked Little Vein, and I highly recommend it. His second, and maybe a little more professionally fleshed out, is called Gun Machine, a bizarre serial-killer story based in New York.
I recommend you read both of them, and here’s why:
1) Dialogue/Monologue – As with most graphic novelists, the verbal interaction and internal monologue of Ellis’ characters is by far the most compelling facet of his writing. From the gloriously insane to the darkly direct, he has a way of spinning very far-out ideas into often-hilarious diatribes that run inside his character’s heads or spills our of their mouths. What makes his work supremely unique is the dialogue is not the main driver of the storyline, yet as a side-facet it grabs you immediately and makes you look forward to the next profanity-laced exchange between his characters. You’re taste needs to slant towards the…ahem, “unique” to fully appreciate a lot of his writing, particularly in Crooked Little Vein. Gun Machine is a little more controlled, and I’d probably recommend trying that one first. If you’re into it, then dive into Vein and have your mind blown.
2) Characters – Another big strength of many graphic novelists dabbling in prose work, Ellis creates people and puts them in places that captivate. They tend toward the insane end of the spectrum, but he makes them relatable enough that you don’t have to be a nutter yourself to appreciate them. In both works he challenges himself by writing from the perspective of an American. It kind of gives both books an “American from the outside looking in” perspective,as Warren himself is staunchly British. Staunchly. This makes the characters a bit…exaggerated, but still thoroughly enjoyable. And it’s something you don’t see everyday. Or Read.
3) Weirdness – He’s just out there. No other way to put it. He doesn’t write in a weird Joyce or Thompson-esque stream of consciousness; its all very understandable stylistically. He just likes the weirdness of the world, and sharing it with the uninformed. It can be a bit jarring at times, but I promise you’ll never read about a lot of his subject matter in any other place. And his gift of taking this weirdness, and spinning compelling, page-turning stories around it, is what makes him an incredibly unique writer. He can take the fantastic, the oddly scientific, the weird fact, and make them relevant to everybody, not just super fan-boys like me.
You can check out Warren Ellis here. Yeah. He blogs.
I cannot recommend this guy enough. If you are looking for a great graphic novels, look under E for Ellis. Do the same thing if you want some mind-altering fiction.
And please try not to judge for the rampant fawning.