Hanging with the Boys: Ten Questions for Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson - Mania.com



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Hanging with the Boys: Ten Questions for Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson

By Kurt Amacker     August 23, 2006


The Boys #1 Cover
© DC/Wildstorm
Since concluding both PREACHER and HITMAN in 2001, Garth Ennis hasn't written his own ongoing series outside of the gleefully violent PUNISHER for Marvel. That changes with this month's double-shipped THE BOYS for DC/Wildstorm Ennis and his pencil-partner-in-crime, Darick Robertson, have introduced comic readers to Billy Butcher the tough-as-nails leader of a disbanded black ops CIA team formed to police the increasing superhero population. As of the first issue, we learn that Butcher intends to reform THE BOYS, beginning with Wee Hughie. Hughie's girlfriend died after A-Train ran her over chasing a super-villain at around mach two.

I recently convinced both Ennis and Robertson to take a break from hero-smashing to answer a few of my questions about the title that will supposedly "out-PREACHER PREACHER"

Kurt Amacker: Garth enjoys taking the piss out of superheroes. Besides serving as an excuse to graphically execute Marvel and DC look-alikes, does THE BOYS serve as a commentary on the comic industry's emphasis on heroes?

Darick Robertson: I think it's more about that in some ways than it is to take the piss out of Marvel and DC. They are our bread and butter, and I wouldn't do to the heroes I love what we do to the so-called heroes in THE BOYS. What I see in Garth's scripts is more of an allegory about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Like a lot of things, it's easy to only see the surface.

Garth Ennis: That's there, but it takes a back seat to what the book is really about: the effect superheroes would have on society and history, if they really existed. And, of course, the effect that politics and corporate backing would have on them.

KA: There seems to be a bit of mad glee in the first issue, both in terms of the art and the take-no-bullshit writing. Would either of you say that the creative freedom allowed here affects your enthusiasm for the title?

DR: For me, definitely. Garth made it clear from the beginning that any publisher taking this title on is going to have to be prepared to repel whiners. I love drawing stuff that challenges me, and I don't see why a comic has to pull punches that a show like THE SOPRANOS wouldn't.



The only future comics has to carve out for itself is to be creatively one step ahead in ideas, because we're losing our grasp on the "fantastic" genre. Games, movies, and DVDs these all out-WOW an audience in that regard. Somehow it's been put upon comics as being a genre that isn't allowed to do what movies or games are doing far more graphically. There's nothing I can draw that can't be done on screen more amazingly. So it has to be about story, and this is a great story!



There's something like rock and roll about comics, something that's raw and exciting when it's not too over produced and electronic and comes from individuals. It's why I like being in this field.



GE: It's how I'm used to writing; not having to censor myself will obviously mean I do better work.

KA: Given the Garth already writes THE PUNISHER and Darick is now exclusive to DC, can we expect fewer miniseries and less independent work from both of you? Darick: how do you feel about being locked down to an ongoing versus working on miniseries?

DR: I prefer it. I have a lot of creator control over my stuff here on THE BOYS. What I hope is to get far enough ahead that I can do miniseries and spin-offs while maintaining the monthly title. With number one on the stands, I am now penciling issue seven and inking five, so I already have a solid lead. Garth has written ahead through issue eight as I write this.

GE: Probably be about the same for me.

KA: Much of your work both together and separately has emphasized graphic violence and extreme situations everything from war to weird sex to inventive, disturbing visions of religion and technology. How do you feel that such extremities serve your storytelling?

GE: It's not something I think about much; I write each story the way I feel it should be written. Remember that it's only the ass-backwards nature of comics, where 95% of mainstream books are still aimed at 12-year-olds, that makes books like THE BOYS and THE PUNISHER stick out. If you compare them to some of the stuff on TV, or movies, or novels, or even plays, then all of a sudden they don't seem quite so extreme.

I suppose you could say, "Ah, but this is a comic, it's not TV or a movie or a play." But back in the 80s, guys like Alan Moore and Frank
Miller were working very hard to bring comics to the same level as
those other media, so that we could all write about whatever we wanted in whatever manner we deemed appropriate. I'm one of the people (one of a minority, I sometimes think) who refuse to forget that.

DR: Like I said, it seems to only come under more scrutiny in our medium. People didn't freak out over Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL in that same knee-jerk way. They knew that they were in for something extreme because of the director. You don't buy an album by Nick Cave and expect Britney Spears's love songs. You don't go to a kung-fu movie and expect the characters to sit and have a nice lunch and talk out their differences.



We put that it's for mature readers on the cover and made it clear this book would be extreme, and beyond that, I don't think we owe any apologies. It's fiction. In order for our industry to grow, we need to embrace that not every title is going to be suitable for every audience and be comfortable that our audience will find us.



Many people I meet that are curious about my career and say they don't know a lot about comics will apologize to me, and I ask them why. Why apologize? Do you apologize to the clerk about your level of film knowledge when going to rent a movie? No, you seek out what you like in the aisle that has your genre.



I want the day to come when anyone, no matter what age or sex they are, can walk into a comic book store and find something to read the way one walks into Borders or a Blockbuster and seeks out their favorite style and genre rather than the barking heads that demanded back in the fifties that all comics must be suitable for everyone. In the end, they were suitable to none. It's why comics sell in thousands while movies make millions. People don't stand in line and ride roller coasters for the view or the comfy seat. Every time the mainstream gets timid and predictable, the sales go down and the audience leaves.

Extremes in our story are necessary because in THE BOYS, we're dealing with characters that are extremely powerful.



If the violence disgusts you, good! I think violence is disgusting and don't like to hide that fact. I wish that all violence existed only in fantasy. I see things on the evening news that are far worse than anything in comics, simply because comics are usually fictional.



Some might want to blame art, but I believe that art imitates life, not the other way around. But only by working on a comic book that I would want to read will I keep my creative energy going. Just as I did as a child, I draw the things that frighten me, and make me angry. Things that I feel and worry about and the things that make me laugh.

Garth has said that THE BOYS will "out-PREACHER PREACHER." While I'm sure that the former will lay on the violence and dark humor thicker than the latter did, do you, Garth, feel like you need to outdo your earlier achievement? Your work between the two series has been quite good, but do you feel like you're getting back in the saddle with an ongoing of your own creation (or co-creation)? Do you prefer concentrating on one or two ongoing series over a few minis?

GE: "Out-PREACHER PREACHER" is one of those lines like "In Space No One Can Hear You Scream" or "Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water": the most direct translation is "Look at this, look at this! See? See? Buy it!" Beyond that, the line is almost completely meaningless. PREACHER was an epic western of massive scope, THE BOYS is a much tighter, more claustrophobic urban drama, almost a crime story. Where the two are similar is in sheer outrageousness, where you're picking it up and wondering, "What the hell have they done this issue? What am I going to see this time?" And, I suppose, both books feature strong characters whose development is just as important as the ongoing plot.


I don't really have much of a career strategy. I write what I like
whenever I get the go-ahead, and it comes out when it gets drawn.
There's stuff I wrote two years ago that's still awaiting publication.

DR: I always want to be progressing. Creatively, I'm like a shark and I need to keep feeding. I stagnate when I am drawing the same thing over and over. I think Garth wanted it clear that he is intending to go onward and upward and neither of us are old enough to rest on our laurels for the next decade.



I have more creative control over THE BOYS art than I did with TRANSMETROPOLITAN, and I hope that artistically, my growth will show. In that regard I'm happy focusing on one title for a while. There's something satisfying imagining this 60 issues complete with one team.

KA: Darick, without badmouthing any previous employers, do you feel like the creative freedom this title affords you serves your art better? Not that you can't draw well without blood, but does it feel better not to have someone looking over your shoulder quite so much?

DR: It's punk rock and heavy metal versus top 40 music. It's not about the amount of ink-as-blood that I spatter on a page. It's about realism for me. It's about serving the story and the characters. The punch needs to be felt or the reader doesn't get the impact of the story. Sometimes the point is that what you're seeing is disgusting and vile, and rather than turn away and make assumptions, you might stop and consider the point. What kind of person is that character to do such things and how do you feel about it?



With comics, unlike film, you can read at your own pace, and linger on a page longer than others. Movies show you images at the pace of the director's choice, whereas comics leave it to the reader to absorb at their own pace.



Constant compromise tends to deplete the soul. I work to serve the script. I don't enjoy being told that I can't do something that the writer wants delivered, knowing that in any other medium, it would sell the product.



I felt I was hampered when others were getting away with worse. I'd rather my own rules and lines be established and my artistic abilities be the limit of what I can deliver, and that be marketed to those that enjoy it. I was comfortable not taking mainstream Marvel too far, and would treat DC characters that are intended for a younger audience with the same respect, but the rules were too arbitrary while there is an audience for mature readers titles. I don't see why that audience should not be entertained as well. I don't want to play top 40 all the time. Sometimes I want to thrash around to punk rock.


KA: Could you two describe your collaborative process? How much detail does Garth provide in his scripts? How much of Darick's vision affects the overall look of the comic? Do you all collaborate pretty effortlessly, or is working together involve a lot of back-and-forth before the final product's completed?

DR: We get along well as friends, and I take everything to Garth for his approval, because like I said, it's his story and I want THE BOYS to be the comic he envisions. In that spirit, I can see how Garth writes to my strengths and we have a lot of fun creating the book. I believe if we're having fun, the reader has fun with us.

KA: Can you give us a tantalizing overview of THE BOYS, in terms of what we can expect over the next few years? Feel free to drop vague, question-dodging teasers.

DR: I'll leave that to Garth.

GE: Year one has Wee Hughie joining THE BOYS and getting a close-up look at what they do and why they do it. After that we start to look at the history of the characters and their effect on various superheroes and teams over the years. Butcher's personal agenda will slowly take center-stage; not everyone in the group necessarily agrees with him 100%.

KA: What do you hate about each other? There must be something.

DR: My gut burning envy. I hate that. I want to be able to write as well as Garth and I never will.

GE: His endless insistence on cheese. There's more to life than cheddar, surely?

KA: Anything else either of you would like to say to the COMICSCAPE readership?

GE: Check out the book. This is tempting fate a little, but we're both pretty professional and we try not to let people down. It'll be there every month for the next 60, and after that there'll be, what, about 8-10 trade paperbacks collecting it for posterity. We're both with this one for the long haul.

DR: Thanks for taking comics seriously enough to read an article about a comic.

The Spinner Rack
By Al Brown and Kurt Amacker

Al: So I totally got married last weekend. Kirsten screwed it up the minister had just gotten through "Do you take this man as your lawfully wedded husband" and she blurted out "I DO!" and started giggling. I was like dude, there's like four more sentences to go. We didn't even get to the part about sickness and health yet, which is way important because I got a cold right now. So there's the update: I married a screw-up. Which, honestly, you gotta kinda expect that. We're talking about me, after all. Anyway, on to the important stuff: comics!
Kurt: Where was Doctor Dastardly during the ceremony?

DARK HORSE COMICS

Serenity Ornament $19.99
Al: Like a Christmas tree ornament? Wow. Lame. Does anyone else get the impression that Dark Horse sells more collectible crap than actual comics?
Kurt: Does anyone know anyone that buys this kind of stuff? Seriously, I see statues and lithographs and stuff all over my comic shop, but a lot of it's been there since I started shopping there back in 2000. People come in week after week to buy comics, but rarely have I heard, "It's that Spectre bust I've been wanting! I finally found it!"

Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures Vol 6 TP $6.95

Weta Collectibles Kong Fine Art Litho And Prop $600.00
Al: Ooh, and a prop too? Well, I wasn't gonna blow $600 on this, but if it comes with a prop...
Kurt: Case in point: I'm really curious how many of these things actually sell. And then, I want to find the guys that bought them and let them know that I'm always around if they want to blow money. I mean, I need to get my car detailed, the heating unit in my condo needs fixing, and we need to get Al a vasectomy so he can't reproduce. And what does Mr. Smarty Pants Rich Fan Boy do? He buys a $600 litho with an unspecified prop. Where's the sense, people?

DC COMICS

52 Week #16 $2.50

Absolute Dark Knight HC $99.99
Al: Yeah...this includes both of the Dark Knight series, which - as you know - makes one of the best series ever written, and one of the most forgettable. I can't say this tempts me.
Kurt: But, it's...absolute! There's no two ways about this book! Yeah, I might get this. I bought my copy of The Dark Knight Returns in sixth grade. I could upgrade.

Batman #656 $2.99
Al: The solicitation for this includes the phrase "fifty Ninja Man-Bats," which makes me significantly more optimistic about Grant Morrison's run than I had been. You really can't go wrong with fifty Ninja Man-Bats.
Kurt: You can't go wrong with Al's mom, either. The woman won't say no to anything.

Batman And The Mad Monk #1 (of 6) $3.50
Al: Hey, knock knock?


Kurt: Who is it?
Al: Ommmmmm.


Kurt: Ommmmm who?
Al: Ommmmm so mad at you right now!
Kurt: Why? Because I tagged your mom last night? You should be used to that by now, junior.

Batman And The Monster Men TP $14.99

Birds Of Prey #97 $2.99

Blue Beetle #6 $2.99

Cartoon Network Block Party #24 $2.25

Claw The Unconquered #3 $2.99
Al: When you think about it, "Unconquered" is sort of faint praise. It's a passive adjective. He's not, like, The Conqueror or anything like that - he's just personally unconquered. I'm unconquered too, but it's mostly just because no one cares enough to try it. I mean, I don't even own a large knife.
Kurt: They're all afraid that you'll pull out Little Al and chase them with your two-inch red stinger.

DMZ #10 (MR) $2.99

Flash The Fastest Man Alive #3 $2.99
Kurt:Dude, if I flash the fastest man alive, he's going to haul ass to a phone to call the cops before I can put it back in my pants. Any other brilliant suggestions?

Gals Vol 7 $9.99
Al: Girls, Boys and now Gals? When the comic called Dudes comes out, I'm not gonna buy it.
Kurt: But you were all over that Guys and Dolls miniseries! You talked about it for weeks!

Hawkgirl #55 $2.99

Hellblazer Stations Of The Cross TP (MR) $14.99

Jack Of Fables #2 (MR) $2.99

JSA Classified #16 $2.99

Justice League Of America Cover A #1 $3.99
Kurt: The zero issue of this gave us a loving overview of the JLA. Now, we find out if the man that brought us Identity Crisis can write the team for the long haul. For some, that's great news. For others, it's just the opposite. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Justice League Of America Cover B #1 $3.99

Justice League Of America Var Edition #1 $3.99
Kurt: But, this is just dumb.

Promethea Book Five TP $14.99

Supergirl #9 $2.99
Al: This issue is about who Supergirl was making out with all last year. Seriously, that's the plot. My money's on Dr. Psycho.
Kurt: Dude, who didn't she make out with last year? She was like Cartman's mom at the drunken barn dance. I told you to show up to that party, but you were like, "No dude, I've gotta watch Farscape and go on the forum right after to smack this guy down. Then, I'm going to play Magic: The Gathering and clean my braces.

Supergirl And The Legion Of Super Heroes #21 $2.99
Kurt: That's a lot of making out.

Swamp Thing #29 (MR) $2.99

Teen Titans Go Vol 5 On The Move TP $6.99

Warlord #7 $2.99

Wonder Woman #2 $2.99
Al: Hey, I was into the first issue of this relaunch. Good stuff.

Young Magician Vol 5 (MR) $9.99

IMAGE COMICS

Ant Ltd ED Statue $135.00

Darkness Wolverine $2.99

Elephantmen #2 $2.99
Al: You're the monster! You, you're the freak!

Fear Agent #7 $2.99

Last Christmas #3 (of 5) (MR) $2.99

Portent #4 (of 4) $2.99

Powers Vol 1 Who Killed Retro Girl TP New Ptg (PP #725) $21.99

Powers Vol 3 Little Deaths TP New Ptg (PP #725) $19.99

Powers Vol 4 Supergroup TP New Ptg (PP #725) $19.99
Al: Thinking about checking out Powers? Start with this trade, which is the high point of the series (so far).
Kurt: Can't I just start at the beginning so I know what's going on?

Shadowhawk One Shot #1 $1.99

Spawn #159 $2.95

MARVEL COMICS

Astonishing X-Men #16 $2.99
Al: They've taken their best shot. Now it's my turn! Sorry, I'll stop talking about Kurt's mom now.
Kurt: You know, between the two of us, I'm surprised we're not each other's father.

Civil War Front Line 2nd Ptg #1 (of 11) (PP #726) $2.99

Daredevil #88 $2.99

Decimation Sentinel Squad One TP $13.99

Eternals #3 (of 6) $3.99
Al: Am I only dreaming? Or is this burning an Eternals flame?
Kurt: Hello, Neo.

Eternals Romita Jr Var #3 Of (6) $3.99

Exiles #85 $2.99
Al: Okay, it's about a replacement team of Exiles made up entirely of alternate-universe versions of Wolverine. That's kind of a good idea.
Kurt: You know what wasn't a good idea? Fried Twinkies. Someone must've said, "You know, these Twinkies are pretty bad for me, but how can I take it to the next level?"

Fantastic Four Resurrection Of Nicholas Scratch TP $14.99

Heroes For Hire #1 Cw $2.99
Al: Two words: Shang Chi. One more word: boobs. Four last words: I am so there.
Kurt: Al Brown: Master of Boob Fu.

Marvel Masterworks Invincible Iron Man Vol 3 HC Var ED 65

$54.99

Marvel Masterworks Invincible Iron Man Vol 3 New ED HC $49.99

Marvel Milestones Claremont Jim Lee X-Men & Starjammers Pt 1 $3.99
Al: This was indeed a milestone. One of the best arcs. For me to poop on.
Kurt: Territory marking thing?

New Avengers #23 Cw $2.99
Al: Oh hey, they still make this book? That's cute.
Kurt: Isn't it darling? It's just the littlest-book-that-everyone-likes-but-shouldn't.

New Avengers Coipel Sketch Var Limit 5 #23 (PP #726) $2.99

Sentry Reborn TP $21.99

Spider-Man Kravens Last Hunt Premiere HC $19.99
Al: Oh my God, can we have a little fan boy freak-out moment here? I love Kraven's Last Hunt so much I want to move to Utah and marry it. This happened when I was like 12 or so, just getting into comics, and I hadn't read stuff like Dark Knight or Watchmen yet; this was the first time I realized how dark comics could be. It was epic, it was tragic, it had real consequences for everyone and it completely blew my mind. I still have the original comics, of course, carefully mylared away at my mom's house, but I'm totally buying this too.
Kurt: Your mom gave me your originals as payment. Yeah, I'm that good.

Spider-Man Kravens Last Hunt Premiere HC Var ED $19.99
Kurt: At least it costs the same.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #9 $2.99

Thing Idol Of Millions TP $20.99

Ultimate Marvel Flip Magazine #16 $4.99

Ultimate Spider-Man #99 $2.99

Ultimates Annual #2 $3.99

Wolverine #45 Cw $2.99
Al: Wolverine vs. Namor. In real life, Namor would spank the heck out of him.
Kurt: Spank him? And then, what, make him wear a ball gag and drip hot wax on him? Freak.

Wolverine 2nd Ptg #43 Cw (PP #726) $2.99

Women Of Marvel Poster Book $4.99

X-Factor 2nd Ptg #8 Cw (PP #726) $2.99
Kurt: "CW" should stand for "Cash Wanted." I'm outta here.

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at

comicscape@cinescape.com.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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1 
redleg 8/23/2006 12:22:49 PM
When in the hell will Marvel start thinning out its' line of comics. There are way too many that they are producing right now and they can't ALL be doing well.
1 

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