Garth Ennis is having a very big year. In addition to his diverse work in comics at more publishers than you can count on a single hand, his best know work Preacher is officially being adapted for television. Dynamite Entertainment arranged the exclusive first interview with Ennis after the release of the very first Preacher trailer to discuss his new romance comic A Train Called Love, his response to the trailer, attending New Jersey Comic Expo later this month, and what he’s looking forward to next.
The first thing I want to talk about is the focus on making a romance comic. Many of your best-known works, like Preacher and The Boys, have featured romance as a primary element, but here in A Train Called Love it is the defining genre. What made you want to switch from using romance as a spice to the entree?
Garth Ennis: Seemed like the time. The basic idea occurred to me a while ago, and I'd been adding scenes and lines and characters ever since. When it felt like it was ready to go, I started.
A Train Called Love isn’t beating around the bush when it comes to sex; the first issue definitely contains a sex romp vibe. When writing romance, is it more appealing to cut right to the fun stuff?
Ennis: As in all things creative, I proceed largely on instinct- I write each story and issue the way that feels appropriate.
That sex romp feeling and multiple other elements of the first issue play to some fetishized subject matter. Are you wanting to dig into kink and why different types of sex and romance appeal to different people here?
Ennis: That's largely a matter of where each of us draws the line, when it comes to any particular term and its definition. As for different takes on romance, yes, there'll be a few of those. We meet Call-Me-Dave towards the end of issue two- Dave's going to go on a bit of a journey that will answer the question of who he truly loves, who he's in love with.
Many of your most famous romances have focused on very passionate couples. Both Jesse and Tulip in Preacher and Wee Hughie and Annie in The Boys had an instant connection, and once they were intimate it was a focal point of their relationships. That’s something Myles and Valerie share within a few moments of meeting. Is that overt romanticizing of relationships based in reality?
Ennis: Not in the case of Myles and Valerie, in that they're both somewhat larger than life and rather mental in their own special ways. But I've written a number of scenes wherein lovers walk around naked, for instance, and seen them described in some quarters as disgusting or puerile. To me, all we're talking about are people who've quickly reached that stage of a relationship where they're completely physically at ease with one another, which I would say is a very pleasant and natural thing.
One other connection I’m curious about with those other two famous comics romances is where the internal drama is going to come from. All of these couples faced obvious external threats, but the greatest antagonists in their relationships always seemed internal. With Jesse and Tulip it was a matter of commitment and trust. With Hughie and Annie it was about intimacy. What are Myles and Valerie going to have to confront on this adventure?
Ennis: Lots and lots of bullets. Artillery. Proper firearms handling. Derision from Marv. A ghastly accident on an escalator. A large man with a small hammer. A big mess that requires a major clean-up effort.
Another aspect that caught my interest in A Train Called Love is how it addresses race in America. What made you want to tackle racism in “polite” Northeastern society here?
Ennis: The Klan scene in #1's been brewing ever since I discovered that Connecticut is- or was- the KKK capitol of the Northeast, which at first glance I found rather odd- what with all those charming clapboard houses and neatly manicured lawns. I know that one has no actual bearing on the other and that most of Connecticut is not really like that, but I found the notion incongruous enough to inspire the scene. It would be rather like finding out that Wisconsin was the neo-nazi capitol of the US; my first thought would be, well, how do they find time for cheese?
There’s a distinct difference between how Mike is treated by the Klan who are aggressive in their racist action and his friends who engage in passive racism. The former is cartoonish, but the latter seems a lot more sinister. Is that a topic you’re hoping to dig into more in A Train Called Love?
Ennis: As I recall they were rather more embarrassed than aggressive, particularly when he didn't want any chardonnay. As for Marv and co, Mike's response reveals a lot more about him than anything else. You might say that Mike is given a choice between honesty and living up to a myth, and like most of the characters in ATCL, honesty holds less appeal than it perhaps should.
There’s also a lot of excuses being thrown out for racist behavior that mirror language found in politics right now, especially with the Presidential race underway. Is this something that has piqued your interest recently or have these thoughts been boiling for a while?
Ennis: Coincidence, I finished ATCL over a year ago. But I do find the current level of debate fairly depressing, whether it be using the rejection of what's called political correctness as an excuse for all manner of horrors, or people collecting things they claim to find offensive for no other reason than to score points.
Marc Dos Santos provides a very exaggerated style for A Train Called Love. How did you two come to work together on this project and what make Marc the right fit?
Ennis: I wrote all ten scripts with no idea who the artist would be, which is something that happens sometimes. Then I saw some of Mark's work at Baltimore last year and realised instantly- that's it, that's what this book should look like. It's a style of art I've always enjoyed, but never had an appropriate story for up 'til now.
What has the experience working with Marc been like?
Ennis: Excellent. He's very professional, works hard to nail the details in the script. I think when he started he was quite surprised how cartoonish I wanted the book to be- he's extremely talented and can work quite comfortably in a number of styles- but I said that's the one, that first piece of yours I saw is the way to go.
You’re at a point in your career where you’re granted a lot of freedom with the sorts of projects you publish and the concepts you present. What attracted you to telling this story now and at Dynamite?
Ennis: It was their turn. I've been very comfortable at both Avatar and Dynamite for a few years now, with good deals and competent people looking after the books. After The Boys ended I figured it was Avatar's turn, so they got Caliban, War Story and Rover Red Charlie, although I did do Red Team for Dynamite. Then I figured Avatar were doing quite nicely, especially with the success of Crossed, so it felt like time for Dynamite again. I'm dipping a toe in other waters now, most notably Aftershock and Image, but I'm sure I'll always be doing stuff for the first two.
Many of your comics take a shotgun approach where they combine a wide range of tones and genres. A Train Called Love captures that with commentary on race, stereotyped nationalist humor, sexiness, and a whole lot more packed into 20 pages. Is that ability to pack so much story into a single page or issue part of the attraction to working in comics?
Ennis: I don't think it's anything peculiar to comics; you could do the same in a novel, a movie or a TV show. But comics are what I do, and where I find it easiest to get stuff started. Imagine trying to raise money for a ATCL movie or show, and how long it would take. Imagine doing a novel and missing out on all that tasty artwork.
Looking back at the past few decades of success, what do you find most compelling about continuing to work in comics? What sort of goals do you set for what comes next?
Ennis: Probably the above, the sheer ease with which I can start projects. I also feel a responsibility to keep doing comics in as many genres as possible, to show what can be done with the medium- that was the prevailing feeling when I started out, at least at the British end of things, and it's something I've never given up on. As for goals, I want to continue my War Story series at Avatar. I have an idea for a second series of Johnny Red. Eventually I want to have a go at a novel. And I have an idea for a series about the Battle of Britain, which will be the most important thing I ever do.
I should say that in terms of what comes next, there's a lot of stuff already written that you'll see appear over the next year or two- more Crossed and a couple of new horror books from Avatar, a second series of Red Team, more work for Marvel and DC, Dreaming Eagles for Aftershock, a war series for another publisher, etc.
You're attending New Jersey Expo in a few weeks. This is a very rare American appearance for you. What attracted you to the show?
Ennis: For the past few years I've been doing a couple of cons a year, give or take, one each for Dynamite and Avatar- I leave it up to them where they want to send me, so long as it isn't to anywhere godawful. This one was Dynamite's choice. Works for me, it's no distance from New York.
What has you excited about the weekend? Is it typically a good time getting to spend time with fellow creators, editors, and other pros?
Ennis: Same as usual, really. Looking forward to meeting a few old pals I haven't seen in a while.
And now for the elephant in the room, Preacher being adapted to television. The first trailer hit last Sunday. Have you been paying much attention to the fan response over the past couple of days?
Ennis: I never really look at that sort of stuff because it's not my department, but I'm told lots of people are talking about the trailer- so great news for the guys pushing the show. I did hear that Amazon sold out of book one, which is great (so long as they had more than half a dozen copies in stock).
What are your feelings on the first trailer? What newly revealed elements of the show are you most excited to have in the open?
Ennis: I'm delighted with it. I like Jesse's grim dialogue taking you through it, and his explosion into violence. And Cassidy's little moment at the end is the icing on the cake.
There's obviously still a lot missing in that trailer with only small glimpses of Tulip, Cassidy, and no Arseface. How representative of the overall show do you think it is?
Ennis: As much as it needs to be. I've seen the pilot, which I think is excellent - the trailer hits just the right note.
And what has you most excited as the show continues to approach?
Ennis: The thought of watching each episode as it's completed, seeing what they've done with the story. They've added a good deal to the basic plot of Preacher, and I've been pleasantly surprised by the results.
Chase Magnett is a freelance journalist, critic, and editor working with comics, film, and television. He has been hooked on comics since he picked an issue of Suicide Squad out of a back issue bin fifteen years ago. When Chase is not working with comics in some way he spends his time rooting for the San Francisco 49ers and grilling. He currently contributes to ComicBook.com and other outlets.