Interview: Garth Ennis on ‘Crossed’
No stranger to pushing the boundaries of storytelling in the comics world, Garth Ennis has routinely shocked and awed readers of such titles as Preacher, The Boys, Punisher and recently, The Chronicles of Wormwood. In early August, Ennis looks to repeat that success with Crossed, a story that promises to be a "horrifically visceral exploration of the pure evil that humans are truly capable of indulging." The series will be published by Avatar Press — also no stranger to testing the limits of mature-themed projects — with art provided by Ennis’ former collaborator on Wormwood, Jacen Burrows.
According to the solicit text for the series:
Imagine, for a moment, the worst crimes against humanity. Picture the cruelest affronts to decency. Conjure your darkest nightmares… and then realize it could all be so much worse. When civilization crumbles in one terrifying moment; when people are gleefully breaking into unthinkable acts of violence all around you; when everyone you love has died screaming in agony: What do you do? There is no help. There is no hope. There is no escape. There are only the Crossed. Certain to be the most depraved and corrupt book of the year, this one is not for the faint of heart!
With the prologue issue of Crossed (#0) hitting shelves immediately after this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International, I posed a few questions to Ennis about the origins of the series, his thoughts on pushing the boundaries in today’s comics scene and what really shocks him these days.
COMICMIX: What sparked the idea for Crossed, Garth?
GARTH ENNIS: I had a dream that I thought was going to be about zombies attacking a house full of victims, but it turned out they weren’t zombies at all. They were simply people, grinning with psychotic glee at the thought of what they were going to do to the occupants of the house — which wasn’t going to be anything nice. Then I woke up.
Thanks again, subconscious self.
CMIX: Avatar has been teasing this project as something that pushes the limits of anything they’ve published before. So what do we have to look forward to — or possibly close our eyes and avoid?
GE: There’s quite a nasty bit at the end of part three. Not spectacularly violent, not bloody at all. But a bad moment.
The trouble with talking about pushing limits and extreme material is that it’s completely subjective; what freaks one person out will barely get a shrug from another. But this is as far as I’ve ever gone.
CMIX: What are you enjoying the most about scripting this story?
GE: I’ve enjoyed the pacing of it. Issue #0 is a wild, balls-to-the- wall adrenaline rush where everything crazy happens at once. Issue one takes you ahead to about a year after the initial "Crossed" outbreak, when things are quieter — because there aren’t really that many people left for bad things to happen to. So there’s a lot more character stuff and dialogue scenes, which I like writing, combined with an occasional moment of sudden horror to hopefully bring you up short.
Each issue also has a flashback sequence, wherein we discover how our heroes got from the events of the zero issue to their current situation.
CMIX: As you already mentioned, the story in Crossed is similar to a classic zombie tale. The affliction spreads from person to person, and as it spreads, so does the horrific violence. Besides the obvious ("They’re not the undead"), what makes this different from the zombie stories readers are already familiar with?
GE: The nature of the "Crossed" themselves, their inventiveness, their cruelty, the fact that they’re people gone wrong. The way they’ve pulled all this horror from deep down inside themselves.
CMIX: Harkening back to Night of the Living Dead, stories like this — in which an affliction spreads and civilization breaks down — usually have strong messages about various elements of popular culture. What do you hope Crossed tells readers about the world they live in?
GE: I don’t like to interpret a story for people, I’d rather they draw their own conclusions. But there’s some reference to the reality of survival as opposed to the cliches of disaster stories, and the various comforting standards this genre often falls back on: get a gun and you’ll be okay, here’s a guy with special forces training to help out, here come the military to save the day, etc.
I’m also interested in the notion that when things go wrong, your government won’t be there for you. There might not be any relief effort, and if there is, it might well be a total fuck-up.
… Like that little kerfuffle in New Orleans a few years back. Except that in Crossed, there’s no government or media left to blame the citizens for not getting saved.
CMIX: You’re teaming up with artist Jacen Burrows again on this project, so tell me why he’s the right person to handle Crossed…
GE: Jacen can handle anything, from the carnage to the all-important character work. He has a quality Steve Dillon and comparatively few others share; he does a lot of storytelling in the faces. That’s very important to me, I rely on it a hell of a lot. If you can’t draw good expressions, if you can’t keep faces constant, I look elsewhere.
CMIX: With each new project, is it important to you to push the boundaries of industry standards and readers’ tastes?
GE: I don’t really set out to do that, I just write each story in the manner that feels appropriate. A lot of what I do seems extreme in comparison with other comics — which, given that the industry staple is still superheroes, are mostly going to seem that bit more restrained. But compare my work to some of the current stuff in TV or movies, and all of a sudden I’m not quite that far out there.
CMIX: Have you ever written anything that you’ve ended up removing because it simply went too far?
GE: Nope. Whenever that particular thought occurs to me, I always just say, "Ah, fuck it, let’s see what happens."
CMIX: Darick Robertson and I have spoken a few times and we always end up recommending movies to each other. He recommended Dead Man’s Shoes to me after you told him it was "the movie The Punisher should have been." Is there a movie you’ve seen that creates the same feeling you want to establish with Crossed?
GE: Not a movie, no. The novel The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is probably closest in tone.
I’m not all that blown away by movies at the moment. The only truly brilliant one I’ve seen this year is WALL-E. But yes, Dead Man’s Shoes is excellent, and I should also recommend director Shane Meadows’ next film, This Is England. None of these have anything to do with Crossed, of course, they’re just damn fine films.
CMIX: With everything that you write into a story, one has to think you’d be desensitized after a while. What shocks you in the real world, Garth?
GE: It shouldn’t — I should be used to it by now — but the current administration’s assault on so many of the decent things about this country still gets to me. The thought that they’re going to get away with it. That sense of "Let’s rape America, no one will say anything."
Crossed #0, featuring a story by Garth Ennis and art by Jacen Burrows, is scheduled for release in early August. Crossed #1 is scheduled for release in October.