The Chair Leg of Truth: A Warren Ellis Primer

Words by Leo Graziani

Part 2 (of 2) of a series on Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis grew up voraciously reading 2000 AD, a weekly British comics anthology, which helped shape his ideas on how comics were to be written: always come up with new ideas, don’t rehash your older work, and hey, stories have endings. It’s a very different approach than what you find in a lot of American comics. Here’s a selected list of Ellis’s works to check out:

1. Planetary. They call themselves the “Archaeologists of the Impossible,” and the team’s purpose is to discover the secret history of the world. This series focuses on the superhero and pulp genres, reinventing and exploring famous characters from everywhere; it is nothing short of brilliant.

2. Transmetropolitan. Spider Jerusalem is a rotten bastard, and he doesn’t have a heart of gold but rather something resembling a heart with the occasional gold fleck. A gonzo journalist in the near future (a crazier Hunter S. Thompson with more drugs and more guns), Jerusalem is hell-bent on the truth and nothing but; but the newly elected president of the United States doesn’t agree. This series explores several wild sci-fi ideas—people made of fog and nanotech, for example—but then it becomes something of a political thriller. And it predicted Twitter!

3. Global Frequency. This is an anti-superhero story, one that instead has a team of normal (but talented) humans in place around the world, ready to save us from ourselves.

4. SVK. An innovative one-shot comic book that uses an ultraviolet light to read the thoughts of characters (hidden on the page). It’s a story about a detective who has to find a secret technology.

5. Fell. An experiment to make comics more affordable, Fell is told in 16 pages per issue, using a 9-panel grid per page, for $2. It contains disturbing detective tales, some based on real life; issue #2 is frightening.

6. Red. This is about a retired black-ops CIA agent who’s targeted for assassination by his own organization and forced back into action. It was made into a film in 2010 starring Bruce Willis, Dame Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich.

7. Freakangels. Imagine if the Midwitch Cuckoos had grown up and punched a hole in the world with their brains.

8. Doktor Sleepless. We didn’t get the future we were promised, and now someone is going to pay for it.

9. Crooked Little Vein. A down-on-his-luck detective is hired by the US Chief of Staff to find the other Constitution of the United States (a psychic document). This takes him on a journey through the seediest and freakiest of America’s underworlds, including things such as saline injections, ostriches, insane airline pilots, roulette parties, a conversation with a serial killer and the details of a Godzilla theatre that I can’t mention on this site. I once asked Ellis how much of the content of the novel came from instances in the real world. He replied: “Almost all of it.”

10. G.I. Joe: Resolute. Essentially, Ellis got the G.I. Joe franchise to grow up in one hour. This DVD also features the final showdown between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.

Lastly, he’s got a new novel coming out this fall called Gun Machine. Keep your eyes open for it.



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