Fifteen years ago The Boys came out of nowhere- and the world of comics was changed forever. To celebrate the 15 year anniversary of this smash-hit series, Dynamite offers a rare look inside the creative process, featuring a selection of scripts by series creator Garth Ennis, along with the accompanying art of The Boys co-creator Darick Robertson (also featuring the art of Russ Braun, Keith Burns and John McCrea).
Garth Ennis (born January 16, 1970) is a Northern Irish-American comics writer, best known for the Vertigo series Preacher with artist Steve Dillon, his nine-year run on Marvel Comics’ Punisher franchise, and The Boys with artist Darick Robertson. He has collaborated with artists such as Dillon and Glenn Fabry on Preacher, John McCrea on Hitman, Marc Silvestri on The Darkness, and Carlos Ezquerra on both Preacher and Hitman. His work has won him recognition in the comics industry, including nominations for the Comics Buyer’s Guide Award for Favorite Writer in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
Garth Ennis is originally from Northern Ireland. He had become a citizen of the United States by July 2016.
Raised with no religion, Ennis’s first exposure to the idea of God was as a six-year-old in primary school. Ennis’s teacher told the class that God was a being who could see inside their hearts, was always around them, and would ultimately reward or punish them. Ennis described the idea as bewildering, strange and terrifying. He later used this experience in his comic book series, Preacher, whose protagonist is slapped after telling his grandmother that he finds the concept of God “scary.” Although the fictional violence in that story was not reflected in Ennis’s real-life upbringing, his classmates later reassured each other that they all loved God, though Ennis said, “I think I hate him.” Ennis later asked his mother about God, and when she asked him what he thought about the idea, to which Ennis responded, “It sounds kind of stupid,” a statement the adult Ennis clarified was meant to mask his fear. His mother’s response was, “Well, there you are, then.”
In 1987, Ennis befriended artist John McCrea while shopping at the first comic book specialty shop in Belfast, which was opened by McCrea and another friend. Ennis would later ask McCrea to illustrate his first professional comics project. It was here that Ennis first met comics writer Alan Moore who advised him to focus on creator-owned work rather than letting comic companies take ownership of his intellectual property.
Ennis began his comic-writing career on his nineteenth birthday in 1989, with the series Troubled Souls in the British anthology Crisis. Illustrated by Ennis’s friend John McCrea, as living in Northern Ireland meant he did not require reference material for the Belfast-based series, it tells the story of a young, apolitical Protestant man caught up by fate in the violence of the Irish Troubles. It spawned a sequel, For a Few Troubles More, a broad comedy featuring two supporting characters from Troubled Souls, Dougie and Ivor. In 1997, American publisher Caliber released Dicks, serving as another Dougie and Ivor adventure. Several follow-ups featuring these characters were subsequently published by Avatar Press.
In explaining why he chose to write Troubled Souls as his debut comics work, Ennis explained, “It was the kind of thing that was doing well at the time. I ought to be completely clear and say that, with hindsight, what Troubled Souls really represented was naked ambition. It was a direct attempt to get published. And that was the road that seemed most likely to lead me to success.”
Another series for Crisis was True Faith, a religious satire inspired by his school days, drawn by Warren Pleece. A collected edition was issued in 1990 but a series of complaints from churches and religious groups led to it being quickly withdrawn from sale. It was republished in 1997 by the U.S. DC Comics imprint Vertigo. The plot follows an atheist teenager attending Christian school. After publicly insulting his classmates’ religion to get back at a girl he was interested in who did not return his romantic feelings, the boy attracts the attention of a maltheist and is coerced into helping him murder clergy and bomb churches. Following the death of maltheist, the book ends with the atheistic hero willingly carrying out a shooting at his Christian school. In the introduction to the Vertigo edition, Ennis described this as wish-fulfillment. Shortly after, Ennis began to write for the UK comics series 2000 AD, and later wrote stories for the title’s flagship character, Judge Dredd, taking over from creator John Wagner for several years. Ennis’s Dredd stories include “Muzak Killer”, a pastiche of mainstream pop music; “Emerald Isle”, a tongue-in-cheek story set in Ennis’s native Ireland; and the 20-part “Judgment Day”. Ennis also contributed the story “Time Flies”, with artist Philip Bond, dealing with time-travel paradoxes and Nazis.
In 2001, following much work in the United States, Ennis briefly returned to UK comics to write the Judge Dredd story “Helter Skelter”. Ennis said afterward there was “not a hope” to his returning to writing Dredd as he was generally not happy with his run. “I’m too close to Dredd. I like him too much. I can’t tamper with the formula; nor can I take the piss the way I do with superheroes”.
In 1991, Ennis he took over the horror series Hellblazer, from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. He wrote the series through 1994, with Steve Dillon becoming the regular artist during the second half of Ennis’s run; Ennis and Dillon would later become regular collaborators on other comics, including the one-shot Heartland, exploring one of Hellblazer‘s secondary characters. Years afterward, Ennis briefly returned to Hellblazer for the five-part “Son of Man” story with artist John Higgins.
Ennis and Dillon went on to create the 66-issue Vertigo series Preacher. Running from 1995 to 2000, Preacher has been cited as Ennis’s landmark work. Its plot concerns a preacher with supernatural powers who literally searches for the Christian God, who had abandoned His creation. Mixing influences from Western and horror films with twisted humor and religious satire, it drew plaudits for Ennis from all sections of the media; the Guardian newspaper voted one of the Preacher collections its book of the week, and film director Kevin Smith described it as “more fun than going to the movies.” The AMC television series Preacher, adapted from the comic, premiered in 2016. From 1993 to 1995, Ennis worked with artist John McCrea on another DC title, The Demon, during which the duo introduced superpowered contract killer Tommy Monaghan, a character Ennis and McCrea would go on to do in the character’s own title, Hitman. With the exception of a reverent depiction of Superman, Ennis’s writing on Hitman was known for portraying superheroes as ridiculous, a characteristic common in Ennis material involving such characters. Hitman ran 60 issues from 1996 to 2001. Ennis also penned several Hitman specials and spinoffs. Following the main title’s cancellation, Ennis and McCrea returned to the world of Hitman for a Justice League crossover, and later a comedic miniseries following the supporting characters from Hitman, entitled Section Eight.
Other DC comics projects Ennis wrote include Bloody Mary for the Helix imprint; a run on The Authority for the Wildstorm imprint; and the first arc of the Authority spin-off series Midnighter, as well as a story for the series Unknown Soldier and the original creations Goddess and Pride & Joy, all for the Vertigo imprint.
Ennis’s first work for Marvel was Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe in 1995. Ennis noted that he quit writing for Marvel afterwards, as the dialogue in this comic had been altered without his consultation. Following the end of Hitman, Ennis was once again offered the chance to write The Punisher at Marvel. The initial 12-issue miniseries was illustrated by Steve Dillon, who also illustrated much of Ennis’s subsequent 37-issue run of the Marvel Knights Punisher series. No longer finding violence comedic in light of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Ennis relaunched The Punisher under Marvel’s MAX imprint, allowing for darker stories. His 60-issue run was released concurrently with several Ennis-penned Punisher miniseries such as Born and Barracuda, and the one-shots The End, The Cell, and The Tyger. The creators of Punisher: War Zone have attributed Ennis’s The Punisher MAX run as one of the major influences on the film, and Ennis and Dillon reunited for a Punisher: War Zone miniseries to tie-in with the film.
In 2008, Ennis ended his five-year run on the MAX imprint’s Punisher series to write the Marvel miniseries War Is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle. Illustrated by Howard Chaykin, it featured the little-used character Phantom Eagle, a World War I pilot. Other series Ennis wrote for Marvel include Where Monsters Dwell, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Hulk, Thor, and a series of Goran Parlov-illustrated Nick Fury stories under the MAX imprint. These stories stripped superspy Fury of his science-fiction trappings in favor of military and CIA situations, including a focus on the First Indochina War in one storyline.
Independent publishers and creator-owned work
Ennis has written a 2008 Dan Dare miniseries published by Virgin Comics, and origin stories for The Darkness for Image Comics and Shadowman for Valiant Comics. Original comics Ennis has created include the 5-issue mini-series Seven Brothers for Virgin Comics, on which Ennis collaborated with film director John Woo, a vulgar superhero satire entitled The Pro for Image Comics, the post-apocalyptic Just a Pilgrim for Black Bull Press, and War Stories for DC and later Avatar Press.
Avatar has published the bulk of Ennis’s creator-owned material, which includes the post-9/11 war story 303, a western entitled Streets of Glory, the extreme horror comic Crossed, Back to Brooklyn, a crime limited series co-written with Jimmy Palmiotti for Image Comics, Caliban, a science fiction horror series inspired by the movie Prometheus, and Chronicles of Wormwood, which dealt with the friendship between an African-American Jesus Christ and a benign Antichrist. In 2011, Avatar commissioned Ennis to write and direct an original short film, Stitched, produced to drum up support for a possible feature. Ennis was also the initial writer for the Stitched comic book tie-in, also published by Avatar.
Ennis has also done both creator-owned and commissioned work for Dynamite Entertainment, most notably The Boys. Mainly illustrated by co-creator Darick Robertson, who Ennis previously worked with on the Marvel series Fury: Peacemaker and Punisher: Born, The Boys ran for 72 issues before concluding in 2012. This creator-owned extended series was a superhero satire, bringing the genre to places far darker than Ennis had before, by not only portraying superheroes as ridiculous, but also amoral, malevolent, and deviant. Announced in 2006 and originally published by DC’s Wildstorm imprint, The Boys was initially cancelled after six issues. Ennis later explained that this was because DC Comics were uneasy with the anti-superhero tone of the work. The series was subsequently picked up by Dynamite. The series was successful and spawned spinoffs, including a mini-series focused on the anti-hero Billy Butcher. In 2019, The Boys was adapted into a TV series by Amazon.
Other original projects for Dynamite include the Howard Chaykin-illustrated crime comic Red Team and a metaseries of war comics called Battlefields, made up of mini-series including Night Witches, Dear Billy, and Tankies. In terms of commissioned material, Ennis wrote the pulp character The Shadow for Dynamite. In a surprise move, Ennis attempted to crowdfund a children’s book through the Kickstarter platform. Unable to secure a children’s book publisher due to its violent ending, Erf as the book became known, was ultimately published by Dynamite.
Ennis wrote Sara in October 2018 for TKO Studios, a war story following a team of female Russian snipers as they beat back the Nazi invaders during a brutal winter campaign on the WWII Eastern Front.
Ennis wrote Stringbags in 2020 for the U. S. Naval Institute. The graphic novel relates the adventures of Allied airmen who crewed a Swordfish airplane during World War II.
Influences and views on comics
Ennis has explained that as an avid reader of British war comics during his formative years, he did not read superhero comics until his late teens, at which point he found them ridiculous, although he frequently cites mid-eighties superhero material among his influences. For instance, Ennis noted that the first American comic book he read in its entirety and appreciated was The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, an author who would prove influential on Ennis’s subsequent work, with Ennis citing Miller’s portrayal of Nick Fury in Elektra: Assassin as his model for writing the character. Ennis said he was “blown away” by Miller, as The Dark Knight Returns was the first time he encountered a comic writer who approached his work like a novelist. While Ennis was already interested a creative profession, Frank Miller’s material and other mid-eighties mature readers comics like Swamp Thing and Love and Rockets inspired him to look into specifically writing comics as a career.
Despite being influenced by superhero material and having written a number of superhero stories both for and outside Marvel and DC, Ennis is noted for subverting the genre and mocking the characters in this work. For example, in the 1995 one-shot special Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, Ennis has the Punisher kill every single superhero and supervillain on Earth. As a World War II aficionado, Ennis also said he finds characters like Captain America “borderline offensive, because to me the reality of World War II was very human people, ordinary flesh-and-blood guys who slogged it out in miserable, flooded foxholes. So adding some fantasy superhero narrative, that has always annoyed me a little bit.” Nonetheless, Ennis has admitted to having appreciation for the idea behind Wonder Woman if not the character, and even to outright liking Superman, the latter of whom he was noted for writing respectfully in Hitman. Ennis has since explained that his issue with superhero comics is not over the genre in and of itself, but more over its dominance in the comic book industry and the constraints imposed on superhero stories by publishers. “I find most superhero stories completely meaningless,” Ennis said. “Which is not to say I don’t think there’s potential for the genre – Alan Moore and Warren Ellis have both done interesting work with the notion of what it might be like to be and think beyond human, see Miracleman, Watchmen and Supergod. But so long as the industry is geared towards fulfilling audience demand – ie, for the same brightly coloured characters doing the same thing forever – you’re never going to see any real growth. The stories can’t end, so they’ll never mean anything.”
Ennis has remarked that in terms of Marvel and DC characters, he prefers the ones he describes as more grounded, such as the Punisher, John Constantine, and Nick Fury. In particular, Ennis describes the Punisher as resembling the British comics characters he loved as a child more than Marvel and DC superheroes, which provided him with a way to the character. Though his Constantine stories, such as “Dangerous Habits” (1991), are widely acclaimed, Ennis grew to dislike the character. He told Vulture in 2014 that he had come to find Constantine morally repulsive and had “no desire to write a character who essentially gets his pals killed and then explains that they were doomed anyway, so why not just spend their lives and use them up.”
British by birth in the United Kingdom, Ennis had become a citizen of the United States by July 2016.
Ennis is an atheist, and said he feels disdain toward religion. Ennis blamed growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles for influencing this attitude. While he was not directly involved in the conflict as a child, Ennis would hear about it each morning on the radio. Ennis has related that having been raised secular, religiously motivated violence made no sense as to him, characterizing such conflict as a disagreement among participants over “how to worship their imaginary friend. That more than anything gave me my distrust of religion.”
[Latest Update: June 13, 2022]
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