Interview: Jacen Burrows on Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and ‘Crossed’
Artist Jacen Burrows has already had an impressive career in a relatively short amount of time. His talent, bold visual style and penchant for the darker, more sinister aspects of life have already earned him a place collaborating with some of the most popular and successful writers working in comics today.
Some of these writers include Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and Alan Moore on projects such as Dark Blue, Scars, The Courtyard and 303. More recently, he’s worked on Chronicles of Wormwood with Ennis.
And, just yesterday at Wizard World in LA, it was announced that he’s doing a brand-new project with Ennis called Crossed — described by Avatar Press’ William Christensen as "a story about the worst people can possibly be, as a group of good people attempt to survive in a world of pure evil."
ComicMix caught up with Burrows at Wizard World LA to get some more details on Crossed, his other work with writers like Warren Ellis, what artists he admires and much more.
COMICMIX: Jason, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Let’s get right into it with a little background. When did you first start drawing?
JACEN BURROWS: I’ve been drawing from the beginning. Three years old I was doing more drawing than anything else. And I think everyone does that. All kids draw but it was just the thing I happened to stick with because everyone would tell me I was good at it so I never stopped. When other kids were outside doing things I was inside working on my drawing. So, its kinda my curse.
CMix: Your parents encouraged you?
JB: Oh yeah, they were like "do what you want" and let me do my thing. Early on I had a tendency to draw the things that were fun to me, like war scenes with tanks and dead bodies.
Teachers would freak out and my mom would come in and tell them I was just being creative. Later, when I had art teachers, they would say it’s all perfectly normal.
CMix: You liked that kind of thing? Monsters, severed heads, etc?
JB: Yeah, I had a nice healthy obsession with drawing monsters, werewolves and things like that. It’s the fun stuff.
CMix: Were you influenced by comics or other artists growing up?
JB: Yeah it was a lot of stuff like that. Magazines like Creepy, Heavy Metal, stuff like that. Bernie Wrightson did some great art in Heavy Metal and I read that all the time and really loved his stuff.
I also love stuff from artists like John Romita, Jr. and Edwardo Rizzo. The storytellers. They tell a story so well you’re just sucked into it. Also high-contrast stuff like what Duncan Fegredo is doing with the new Hellboy.
CMix: When did you first realize you could make a living as an artist?
JB: Well, I’m still working on that. [Laughs] I think by the time i was 12 or 13 I knew I was going to be a professional artist. I wasn’t sure necessarily what direction I wanted to go in or if it would be advertising or something.
But I knew I loved comics. I liked the idea of telling stories and the subject matter. It’s a lot more interesting to draw stuff in comics.
Plus, my family has a long history of law enforcement and I knew for sure i didn’t want to be a cop.
CMix: How did you get involved with Avatar Press?
JB: I was working for Caliber right about the time they were going out of business and the writer I was working with there knew William and i went with him from Caliber to Avatar. Then, once i was at Avatar, William started to offer me company work on properties that Avatar owned.
So I did that. That’s also right about the time Warren decided to set up shop and out of all the artists Avatar had, he picked me to work on Dark Blue.
CMix: How did you feel when you heard Warren had picked you?
JB: Really overwhelmed. Intimidated. I knew I had to up my game a lot. Even though at that time Warren wasn’t quite the superstar he is now, he was still A-list for sure. It was a great step for me. Doing Dark Blue is where I really consider that my career started.
CMix: What’s the process when you work with someone like Warren Ellis or Garth Ennis? Do they give you a full script and tell you what to do or is there more give and take?
JB: With these guys the story is their baby. It’s their vision. These guys are so "there" and are able to describe what they see exactly. They have a clear vision and it’s my job to try to be in service to that vision.
CMix: They give you the layout of each panel, etc?
JB: Early on, certainly, Warren was more specific and gave me angles and stuff like that but after he saw Dark Blue he loosened up a lot.
Now he knows I have a good eye for the kind of storytelling he wants. On our next book, Scars, it was a lot less. He’s essentially developed trust for me over the years.
CMix: Now that you’ve worked with Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis for a while, are you able to make suggestions at all about story or anything like that?
JB: Sometimes. With Garth, he’s open to suggestions — like if I have an idea, I’ll email him and he’ll say, "Aye" or "Nay." As long as it doesn’t effect the pace of the story. Pace is very important to Garth.
I can also add things to the background elements to help build up the world. Garth is mostly concerned with the foreground and what happens there so I get to do things to enhance the frame, which is great, because I love that stuff.
CMix: Do you ever draw for fun?
JB: No time really to do that these days but what I do draw every day for work is fun. I get to draw zombies, Lovecraftian monsters and all kinds of other great stuff. I think I probably have more fun than people working at the "Big Two."
CMix: Speaking of that, any aspirations to work for Marvel or DC?
JB: Someday. I think superheroes are always going to be around. I would love to make that audience more aware of what we do here and let them see the kind of art that’s around and a bit separate from the mainstream.
CMix: What would be your dream project at one of those places?
JB: I would like to see me and Garth doing some sort of Punisher: Max or Wolverine: Max or even a Hulk kind of thing where I could show all the destruction and dead bodies.
CMix: How about writing? Any desire to do that?
JB: Not really. Sometimes I have ideas of stories I might want to tell. I love the idea of doing some kind of sci-fi space opera with a dark edge or some kind of WWIII action thing.
Things I would want to draw in certain genres. But really, with the kind of guys I work with and all the stories they have, I’ll eventually get around to doing pretty much everything.
CMix: You have something brand new coming up with Garth Ennis in August, what is it?
JB: It’s a book called Crossed. Im not sure how long it is right now. I think Garth might still be finalizing details.
It’s a straight horror series which I think is Garth’s first one like that. I know he’s always had horrific elements but this one is straight horror.
CMix: Have you started working on it yet?
JB: Yeah, i’ve been working on a zero issue which is 11 pages and gives an introduction to what’s happening. I finished that and then I’m starting the first issue when I get back home.
We’re also trying to figure out a really good way to promote it and get the word out. It’s going to be what Black Summer is for Warren. Crossed will be that for Garth.
I think its going to be the biggest thing i’ve ever worked on.
CMix: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Jacen.
JB: No problem. That was easy.
Crossed, written by Garth Ennis with art by Jacen Burrows, is scheduled for an August release by Avatar Press.