[Two weeks ago the news broke that DC/Wildstorm was canceling The Boys, the dark and scabrous superhero book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, due to content concerns. DC graciously agreed to let Ennis and Robertson take the book to a new publisher – even though the book is creator owned, DC could have held it up for a while, but chose not do. They also gave Robertson leave to work on the book outside of his DC exclusive contract.
While the Internets went wild speculating on the exact reason for the cancellation, publishers were swamping the creators with offers. It was a Cinderella story, with The Boys, a covert ops team of blaspheming hooligans brought together to rein in superheroes who get too big for their britches, the ones trying on the glass combat boot.
This week it was announced that Nick Barucci’s Dynamite Entertainment would be the new home of The Boys. A trade collecting issues 1-6 and the already completed issue #7 are waiting in the wings to spring more mayhem on an adoring public.
Ennis agreed to a brief interview explaining as much of the behind the scenes of the last few weeks as he could. So let’s just get to it. Thanks to Darick Robertson for suppling a few pages from #7. Click for larger images]
THE BEAT: In terms of moving to Dynamite what can you tell us about the time frame?
ENNIS: We are hoping it will be a matter of a couple of months. I can’t tell you much more than that at the moment. The problem is, of course, we’re at the very early days here. But we’re hoping it will be a matter of a couple of months. It’s a shame I can’t tell you more!
THE BEAT: Issue 7 was already completed, right?
ENNIS: Yes, #7 was in the can and parts of 8 through 11.
THE BEAT: So it’s in pretty good shape. Darick is still exclusive so I imagine he’ll be doing some stuff for DC. Can you talk about his schedule at all?
ENNIS: He can tell you more about that but as far as I know he intends to be doing a fair bit of stuff for DC.
THE BEAT: So…why did you choose Dynamite?
ENNIS: Well, a number of things. They’re not too big, so we’re not going to get lost, and they’re not too small, so the company’s not going to go under before we finish publishing the thing. Nicky Barucci played a big part. Darick and I know him to begin with. He’s someone that I like and trust and am looking forward to working with for those reasons. We both see Nicky as a guy who’s going to work his ass off to make this book a success. We know he’s going to go all out to promote it and do all he can to make sure it succeeds. As I mentioned earlier, at a big company you might get lost. People have a tendency to maybe put out the book and say, “Here’s your book, sink or swim, best of luck.” We think we’re going to get a little more personal attention at Dynamite and that’s going to make all the difference.
THE BEAT: Speaking of big companies, let me go back a bit and talk a bit about the previous history of The Boys. What was your original plan to “out-Preacher Preacher?” What did that mean?
ENNIS: What that meant—the most direct translation was “Look at this. Look at this. Buy it.” Beyond that, it was really just something to stick on a poster like “In space no one can hear you scream.” Something like that. I think it communicates a vague sense that this is going to be an extreme book and there’s going to be a lot of naughty things in it. Beyond that it was really just something for promotional purposes.
THE BEAT: And it was put on a poster, correct?
ENNIS: Yes, exactly. What we’re going to put on the next poster, I don’t know. Actually, I do have a bit of an inkling, but you’ll have to wait and see.
THE BEAT: Okay, we’ll be waiting. What can you tell us about the specific problems that caused The Boys to leave DC?
ENNIS: I think if I were to sum it up in one line, it would be that you can have comics where people do awful things to each other, like Preacher, but you can’t have a comic where super people do awful things to each other, like The Boys, and I think that rather than any specific instances—panels or pages or lines in the story—that was really the problem in a nutshell. When you have comics that—even superficially—look a bit too much like the company’s regular output, and the characters in them are doing the most ghastly things and behaving in the most awful way, and blaspheming and swearing and so on, that creates a real problem. That just will not fly. And that, more than anything else, was what brought an end to The Boys time at DC.
THE BEAT: So it wasn’t like, what people have been speculating, a big wig at DC specifically opening up the book and seeing a hamster crawling out of a dead man’s ass and saying, we can’t publish this.
ENNIS: That’s in issue 6. I think once they had a chance to read the whole thing, the damage was done long before issue 6. If I could just guess at a couple of things, there’s an orgy sequence in issue 4, there’s a sequence in issue 3 where a girl has to effectively blow her way onto a superteam. Things like that did the real damage long before any hamsters appeared.
THE BEAT: Why do you take so much joy in destroying the wholesome image of the superhero?
ENNIS: Well, I don’t know about destroying, Destroying sounds kind of final and I think we know that superhero comics will be around a long time after The Boys has finished.
Why do I find it so interesting? Just as with Preacher I was sort of having a go at something I don’t like, Christianity, organized religion, in that instance, faith and its abuses, so with The Boys I was doing the same thing in the shape of superhero comics. The whole thing started as I recall about 5 or 6 years ago when me old chum Steve Dillon gave me a couple of James Ellroy books for my birthday, American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, which are both excellent and I thoroughly recommend them. I’ve read Ellroy before but with these two what he was doing was winding politics and history and crime together to form a picture of American life in the 50s and 60s that I don’t think had been done in that way before. He was really forcing us to acknowledge, as he himself put it in the introduction, the debt that we owe to bad men. The way that bad men have helped to form our political life over the past 50 years. He was talking about everyone from the FBI to the CIA to the Mafia to corrupt policemen, to bent politicians…
THE BEAT: A wonderful spectrum!
ENNIS: Indeed. So I read these books and I loved them and I just began to think what would it be like if I did that with superheroes. What would it be if I took 50 years of superhero history and put the same spin on it? You look at what really happened. What goes on behind the mask, what goes on behind the public version of events, the official history that we’re fed. The Boys is more or less what I came up with.
Why superheroes, as with many other things that I don’t like or don’t care about, I find at the same time there’s something weirdly fascinating about them. Not done the way they’re normally done but as a place to begin, as a thing to twist and do in a different way. I think you’ve got all kinds of opportunities and possibilities then.
THE BEAT: Well in listening to you speak, it does become a lot more clear, why perhaps publishing this book at a publisher best known for superheroes probably wasn’t going to work out.
ENNIS: Yes, there was a sense all along of well, hardly believing we were able to do this thing, and yet as issues went by and there was no response or no reaction, I thought, “Oh well, maybe we’re going to be okay. Maybe we’re doing all right. Maybe the fact that we’re at Wildstorm which is its own odd little corner of the company to begin with, is going to work for us.” Famous last words, as it turned out.
I would like to say thanks again to the guys at Wildstorm, Ben and Scott and Jim. If anyone’s the loser in all of this, it’s going to be [Wildstorm]. I think this is probably going to curtail their ability to do Mature Readers books and it’s shame when that happens to anyone, I think. At the end of the day Darick and I are going to be able to take our book and go somewhere else and do it with a lot more creative freedom, make more money and probably get a bit more attention because of all this. DC, they’re fine. They’re going to divest themselves of something they don’t want. The readers will get their book back. The retailers will get their book back, hopefully after not too long a delay. So yeah it’s the Wildstorm guys I feel the most sorry for.
THE BEAT: To an observer, it seems that DC has acted in a very fair manner, all things considered. But it wasn’t like there was a struggle leading up to it every issue.
ENNIS: No. Jim Lee was very very helpful along the way when one or two things came up, but not really. [But the situation is really for the best.] We could have been absolutely sunk. They could have insisted on continuing to publish some neutered form of the book, which would have been absolutely impossible. Instead they’re just doing the sensible thing and saying, “Look, we can’t do anything with this, we don’t want it. You take it back and have fun.”
THE BEAT: It’s certainly commendable. So after this news broke, I understand you suddenly became the belle of the ball. You were very popular.
ENNIS: (chuckles.) I think all told we had about a dozen offers from different publishers. Not all of them quite lasted the course. Once they found out what it would entail, they gracefully backed out. And that’s cool. But yes for the last couple of weeks, Darick and I have been considering offers from all these people. And for the most part they’ve been very nice about it. Even when I delivered the bad news to most of them the other day, the most common response I got was “Oh well, maybe we can do something again, best of luck. ”
THE BEAT: I imagine you heard from a lot of people you had never considered working for before and perhaps you didn’t this time, but was there anything that surprised you about what you were hearing or observations you drew?
ENNIS: Not so much from talking to the publishers. I found the response to the announcement that The Boys was being cancelled quite interesting. Going online and looking at message boards, which is something I never do. It was interesting. It wouldn’t necessarily encourage me to do it again, because we’re talking about thoroughly exceptional circumstances here. But it helped to see that the book was working, that there was a definite base of support for it. You see sales figures but that’s just a number.
But it’s encouraging to see that a lot of people are understanding the book for what it is, and want more of the same. So that you’re not just singing in the wilderness, as it were.
THE BEAT: You’re definitely in something of a unique position in that you’re one of the few comic creators with a track record that is strong enough to be a brand name. Did you ever consider doing something with The Boys where you would have more of the back end deal? An Image-type deal where you would have more risk up front but the payoff would be bigger down the line? You are one of the few people for whom that would be a very small risk.
ENNIS: Well, I do have Darick to think about there. What’s easy for me to do is not necessarily easy for him.
THE BEAT: There are still so many constraints between being paid a page rate and having any great creative freedom.
ENNIS: Generally the smaller the publisher the more the creative freedom you get. At Avatar, William [Christensen] pays me the same as DC does, but there is absolutely no restraint whatsoever. Avatar is where I run up against my own limits, probably before I run up against William’s actually! And I think the same will be true of Nicky, too.
THE BEAT: I can’t imagine Nick will try to rein you in too much!
ENNIS: Apart from anything else, Nick knows what he’s getting—he’s read the first six issues.
THE BEAT: Right, it’s not a pig in a poke for anyone. So this is supposed to be a 60 issue story overall…what’s going to happen to Wee Hughie and everyone?
ENNIS: Well, let’s see. The next four issue storyline is called “Get Some.” And it’s the pervy one. They find themselves investigating a superhero in New York, someone who has developed a rather embarrassing problem. And it’s kind of a smaller scale story than the first one, just to show Hughie building a relationship with the rest of them, Butcher introducing him and teaching him a lot more about how they work. [We also meet] some allies of the Boys who are kind of important in the way they carry out their missions.
THE BEAT: So there’s more to this world to see.
ENNIS: Very much so. It’s not simply superheroes do awful things every month. Gradually the more you get into it, the more you’ll see that the people behind the superhero and the people behind the Boys are part of a wider political drama being played out. Butcher drops a couple of hints about it when he’s talking to Hughie towards the end of issue 6 about the state of play politically in America, the superhero version of America. You’ll see a lot more of that.
The third storyline, which begins in issue 11, moves the story to Russia, temporarily, where you’ll see a lot of the international political stage and where the Boys figure in that.
THE BEAT: When I asked you earlier about why take on superheroes you made it pretty clear, but there have been other dark takes on superheroes, like The Authority. Was that an influence on you?
ENNIS: Not really. As usual, my influences kind of come from outside comics. Very much in the creation of The Boys themselves and the world they’re in. It’s a very very dark view of the world, although some might say it’s an accurate one, although it’s got superheroes slotted into it. You have to think of things like Hollywood Babylon…My own take on superheroes is that if they really existed they’d be between movie stars and politicians. They’d be movie stars because they’d be glamorous and fabulous looking and the people would follow their lives exactly as if they were reading fictional adventures. But they’d be like politicians because they’d have a genuine and tangible effect on our lives and our world.
THE BEAT: Right, so it wouldn’t be just like Angelina and Brad jaunting around.
ENNIS: It would be as if Angelina and Brad were the First Couple.
THE BEAT: The other Boys [besides Hughie] seem to be a rather dark and nebulous crew.
ENNIS: You’ll learn more about them as you go. You won’t learn everything right away. We’ll peel back the layers a little bit at a time while involving the characters in ongoing adventures. I have to say that with The Boys it was the first time I consciously sat down deliberately determined to write a 60 chapter graphic novel. I decided from the word go—a little arrogant, but I did it—[that] this is going to last five years. Ironic in the light of what happened, but I thought, this is going to last five years, 60 issues, it’s going to be 8 to 10 books, it’s going to last, and I have to think about each episode of it, not as a stand alone issue, but as a chapter of a story. With Preacher and Hitman I couldn’t really do that because, frankly, I had no idea they were going to last. This is the first time I’ve really been able to do that. In the case of the other two, I had a rough idea of where things were going. With this I have a definite sense of the book developing as it goes, sort of at its own damn pace really.
THE BEAT: Will there be anyone coming along who’s a little bit lovable?
ENNIS: Well, lovable is in the eye of the beholder, but I think you’ll find out more about the characters, you’ll see why they are the way they are. You might have a bit more sympathy for them as you discover more. I don’t know. You may find also that just because they act one way in a fight, in combat, or just because they have an attitude towards superheroes, that seems particularly hostile, doesn’t mean they are that way generally.
Also there will be new characters and some people that we’ve already met, not necessarily in the Boys, who will be fleshed out a little more and will turn out, much to their own surprise, perhaps, to be much different people than who we thought they were. One obvious one, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here, would be Annie January, whose unfortunate initiation to the Seven we saw in issue #3. I think I can promise you a “rich tapestry.”
THE BEAT: What else are you working on now?
ENNIS: Right now, finishing up the last issue of WORMWOOD, which I’m having a ball with, one of my favorite things I’ve been writing recently. Just about to write issue 50 of The Punisher, which is pretty cool. It’s going to be a double sized one, with art by Goran Parlov who I think is the discovery of last year.
THE BEAT: He’s one of the very best Gorans!
ENNIS: Yes, he’s a quality Goran, there’s no doubt about it. Issue 50 is going to surprise a lot of people I think. It’s going to take us down a road we weren’t expecting maybe.
There’s a Western from Avatar I’m writing called Streets of Glory. Mike Wolfer is drawing that but it won’t be out probably for a year. Another Punisher mini-series for John Romita Jr. Another miniseries called Back to Brooklyn from an idea that Jimmy Palmiotti and I came up with. Not sure yet of the publisher. Apart from that I’ve got a few upcoming things I can’t talk about just yet.
THE BEAT: Here’s a question that comes up all the time, so let’s get it out of the way. What is the status of City Lights? [This is a graphic novel by Ennis and Steve Dillon that has been in the works at Vertigo for at least five years.]
ENNIS: Don’t hold your breath is the status of City Lights. Really, Steve is in no shape to be doing it right now. He’s doing his Wolverine book and he’s getting a lot of attention and making a lot of money, all of the stuff due to him. But really, I would have to say, don’t hold your breath at all.
THE BEAT: But it is something you would still like to do?
ENNIS: Oh, we are going to do it. If there’s one thing I know about that story, we both have the confidence in it. When we do get around to it, it will be a story very much worth telling. We just made the mistake of allowing ourselves to be rushed into announcing it. Round about that time there was a lot of stuff happening that we couldn’t have foreseen and it really did throw everything a curve.
THE BEAT: And now another obligatory, must-ask question: the Preacher TV show! [Director Mark Steven Johnson is working on a Preacher show for HBO.]
ENNIS: Oh right. Yes.
THE BEAT: What’s going on with that?
ENNIS: Well, I know people are going crazy over this, but frankly we’ve taken barely a step down that road. It’s far, far too early to say. I believe that Mark Steven Johnson is working on an adaptation, obviously, a first episode. And I’m going to see him next week and we’re going to talk about what he’s come up and where we think it should go, and all that kind of stuff.
THE BEAT: So he’s keeping you in the loop?
ENNIS: Very much so.
THE BEAT: And you have a good working relationship with him?
ENNIS: So far I have no complaints.