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C2E2 ’21: Garth Ennis talks his career, and the time Dan Didio asked him to take over Superman

Ennis took to the stage for a spotlight panel on the final day of C2E2 2021.

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By Cy Beltran

On the last day of C2E2 ’21, Garth Ennis (The Punisher, Preacher, The Boys) returned to Chicago for the first time since 2012 for a Sunday Spotlight panel, moderated by Milo Beasley

Beasley opened by talking about his introduction to Ennis’ work, citing the time a coworker showed him a copy of Ennis, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti‘s The Pro. Ennis explained that the super hero pastiche with a sex worker as the lead was meant to be a parody of the Justice League, as with most of his work. He recently found out Paul Levitz (former DC President) brought the heads of DC together at the time (circa 2002) and said “So we’ve all read The Pro, we’ve seen what they’ve done with our characters, and we’re all in agreement that Garth, Amanda, and Jimmy will never work for DC” (which thankfully didn’t turn out to happen).

(L to R) Garth Ennis, moderator Milo Beasley

Ennis moved on to talk about how he first found comics, noting that “because of the area of Northern Ireland that I grew up in, I didn’t really encounter superheroes until much later,” instead reading a lot of 2000AD and Battle comics. “British comics were heavily dependent on film and TV,” not other comics, which is why they focused more on action than superheroes and soap opera. He mentioned that the first American comic he actually read was The Dark Knight Returns, “a weird place to start.” 

He started writing comics after meeting an editor on Crisis at a book signing, offering to write them a story about The Troubles since he was not enjoying college. “On my 19th birthday, I called the office and they gave me a job,” since the editors had read the story and liked it, but had forgotten to talk to Ennis about it. A week later, he and John McCrea were on a plane to London to pitch their first story and the rest is history. 

After writing for a few years and having a successful run on Hellblazer with Steve Dillon, Vertigo editor Karen Berger offered the pair a slot at Vertigo creating whatever they wanted. Ennis went over some ideas and decided that the story should be “at heart a western, but it’ll be a contemporary story,” which is how Preacher came into being. It was “a peculiar sort of runaway success out there,” Ennis said. “People loved it or hated it, and those who loved it fell for it and defended it.”

Surprisingly, there wasn’t too much pushback against the book. “Vertigo backed us. Karen Berger understood the value of it and the editorial team was behind us 100%.” Once again, Paul Levitz was not the biggest fan of the story, but the book was allowed to run its course and finish the way it was meant to. 

Ennis explained that the TV show came out from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (after a number of failed attempts by people like Kevin Smith and Sam Mendes) because they were willing to take their time and put the show together the way the comic had been made. 

Ennis moved to the Punisher from here, talking about how unenthusiastic he was to write any regular superheroes for either Marvel or DC. Unfortunately, during The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, Marvel editorial “rewrote some of my dialogue and rewrote some of my sequences,” which Ennis said made him feel like he didn’t want to write for Marvel anymore. 

The only reason he came back was because Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada started Marvel Knights and gave Ennis the freedom to write whatever he wanted. “A big part of the secret of writing controversial stuff at the big two is having people who are on your side.” He clarified that the reason he liked writing the Punisher so much is that the character “is the closest thing in American comics to the stuff [he] grew up on.” 

When asked if The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe could be made today, Ennis responded with “No.. [Marvel] is so nervous about that character right now,” partly because of the incident on January 6th at the US Capitol building and because of the prevalence of school shooters in the US. However, he did mention that Jason Aaron had been tapped to write a new Punisher series for next year and that Ennis himself would be writing a new miniseries called Get Fury with Jacen Burrows set in Vietnam between the events of Fury and Born

The panel shifted to discuss The Boys here, and Ennis described his characters as “somewhere between politicians and rock stars.” He told the crowd that the book was initially canned by DC and Wildstorm because “you can have a go at the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, but Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? Not that holy trinity…” Thankfully, the book went on to Dynamite Entertainment and finished out its run there. 

Just like Preacher, the TV show had a few attempts at being made as well, and once again, Rogen and Goldberg stepped up to deliver the show Ennis had hoped it would be. He also brought up the cartoon coming out, with voices from Simon Pegg and Jason Isssacs

Questions from the audience started coming in, the first asking about if Ennis had planned the endings of Preacher and The Boys in advance, to which he explained he “didn’t know how Preacher was gonna end, but [he] figured it out after a year and a half.” “The structure of The Boys worked out a little bit better” because he knew right from the start where that was going to conclude. 

An audience member also asked about Hitman, which Ennis said gave him the opportunity to give his opinions on characters like Superman and Catwoman, who he didn’t actually have an interest in writing the solo stories. However, he added that former DC EiC Dan DiDio asked him to write Superman about five years ago because the “problem with everyone writing Superman is that they all revert to being five” and how they saw him when they were little. This wouldn’t have been a problem for Ennis, but he still passed. 

Ennis was asked about his experience with celebrities enjoying The Boys and while he said he hasn’t met anyone in particular who told him they liked it, he knew that it had made an impact on people. He also explained how, although he hasn’t ever ‘fanboyed’ over a celebrity in comics, “the guy [he admires] in this business more than anyone else is Alan Moore,” and they have a friendship that Ennis is very happy about. 

He’s also very happy that the availability of comics in the UK has expanded, “due to the groundwork laid by creators like Alan Moore,” and is glad that more women are making strides in the industry and that it is growing larger and more accepting as well. Ennis noted that he felt like the best writer entering the industry in the past 25 years was Brian K Vaughan

Ennis ended the panel by discussing his work on Hellblazer and the hugely important advice departing writer Jamie Delano had given him. DC had given Ennis a copy of Delano’s last script for the series, as it hadn’t yet been drawn. In it, Delano had a competent alternate universe John Constantine show up and save the day, something that main DC Constantine was never able to do. In a little note, Delano noted that he knew everyone wanted him to write the alternate Constantine for the entirety of his run, but wrote what felt right for him, not necessarily what would make the series a mainstream story. Ennis told the audience “You do what feels right for you,” and made it clear that he’s been following that advice in his work for his whole career.

The eighth and final issue of Ennis’ latest series, Marjorie Finnegan, Temporal Criminal comes out January 5th.

Miss any of our previous C2E2 ’21 coverage? Find it all here!

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