Start Reading Comics Part #1: Warren Ellis, Professional Cynic

Start Reading Comics Right Now!

Hello Friends! Today we are going to discuss one of my favorite comic book writers, Warren Ellis. Here at Technostraddle, we want to get you all educated-like on comics for a number of reasons:

#1: We want you to appreciate the medium of the comic book! What other art forms are in such an energized and nascent stage? I don’t know, but comics are!

#2: We will look less like nerds and more like hip underground culture prophets if you start liking comics too!

#3: Reading good comics isn’t just in the best interest of your sensitive artsy side.

While we already learned that girls inside comics can be super-sexy, know this: girls who work at comic book stores tend to be super cute, too — nay, adorable! They’ll be impressed with your taste in comics from the get-go when you saunter in and request the comics mentioned in this article, which you’ll no doubt print later and paste onto tiny note cards. But maybe you should memorize the lists from our subsequent “Start Reading Comics!” segments, so as to not attract attention. Or at the very least, buy smaller note cards.

Meet Genius Comic Writer and Professional Cynic/Asshole Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis is an excellent point-of-entry for those of you who aspire to one day spend heaps of money on comic books, but don’t know where to start. He’s like a gateway drug. Well, probably more like a “fix” or a “monster bong hit” because he’s so DARK.

Warren Ellis is basically a sci-fi satirist who employs dark humor, violence, and a f*ck-ton of profanity to get his point across. Think Hunter S. Thompson times Kurt Vonnegut divided by Ray Bradbury. Ellis is one of a few comic book writers who’s equally skilled at creating story concepts and writing dialogue for those conflicts.

His original storylines (like Transmetropolitan and Planetary) are basically thinly-veiled critiques of most any societal institution you can think of: politics, industrial society – you name it! Beyond his original material, Ellis can impress even seasoned comic book readers by exploring whole new dimensions of some of the comic industry’s most well-known and loved characters (and when it comes to the X-Men, it takes a a lot of talent to bring something new to the storytelling table these days).

Other than me and your neighborhood’s comics store hotties, a lot of other folks will attest to Warren Ellis’ greatness: like bigshots Alan Moore, Joss Whedon and Garth Ennis. But don’t take their word for it, take mine:

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1. The Astonishing X-Men (Writer Ellis with artist Simone Bianchi) 2008-Present:

Ellis and Bianchi picked up The Astonishing X-Men where Joss Whedon and John Cassaday left the series. And while those were pretty epic shoes to fill, they’ve made the transition out of the Whedon-era remarkably easy. The Whedonites will be pleased by the dry humor and clever banter between characters, and while I LOVE John Cassaday, Simone Bianchi is nothing short of genius. Every panel is a work of art that perfectly compliments Ellis’ moody writing.

Beyond style and looks, Ellis gives us a lot to love in the story. His Astonishing X-Men makes for some very busy and very fast-paced story arcs. Basically the X-Men (Cyclops, Emma Frost, Armor, Beast and Wolverine this time around) are protecting San Francisco (where the gays are! Hooray for X-Men’s never-ending LGBT rights/mutant rights parallel!). After investigating a gruesome murder, they figure out that some asshole is trying to manufacture mutants. Storm comes back to help (she is fabulous/ the Queen of Wakanda now btw), Beast and S.W.O.R.D. agent Abigail Brand get it on, and Forge goes totally bat-shit crazy. But seriously, Hank McCoy (Beast) really, really needed to get some.

Ellis’ Astonishing X-Men carries Whedon’s torch beautifully, and it’s a must-read, for old and new X-Men fans alike!

Choice Ellisism:

Emma Frost to Hisako (Armor) after she complains about needing a new X-Name:

“Yes indeed. And you also need a new uniform with some personal expression to it. Some art, some elan. Always remember, the presence you create is quite as important as being able to chop wood with your teeth or whatever it is Logan [Wolverine] teaches you.”

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2. Transmetropolitan (artist: Darrick Robertson; 1997-2002):

So Astonishing X-Men whet your appetite and you’re interested to see what Ellis can do with characters that are all his own. Or maybe you’re not feelin’ the superhero thing and would like a starting point for Ellis that doesn’t involve people with claws and fur and whatnot. Transmetropolitan is a great Ellis jumping in point, if you don’t mind some hardcore dystopia. Not like XXX hardcore. Hardcore like ‘this is intensely dystopian thing.’ You get it.

Set in an undefined future year, Transmetropolitan tells the story of a gonzo-style journalist named Spider Jerusalem on his adventures navigating madness, the world of print journalism (so edgy! who knew?!) and you know, general badassery. Robertson’s art is solid and the art enhances the writing rather than distracts the reader from it, which I find happens to me a lot when I read Astonishing X-Men.

Transmetropolitan is an excellent tool for transitioning from the world of Real People Books to the world of Comic Books as it’s very cerebral and heavy on internal dialogue, so you can still talk about it to friends and pretend that it doesn’t have pictures. If you’re one of those types, that is.  As a warning, Transmetropolitan is super-duper vulgar with profanity-on-top. So be ready for that, you lovely and also delicate flowers. The series also tackles a number of unsettling themes, but this is a dystopia after all, so I’m not sure you were expecting fairy princesses and the like. No princesses here- Keep movin’!

Choice Ellisism:

“There was a time when I liked a good riot. Put on some heavy old clothes that could stand a bit of sidewalk-scraping, infect myself with something good and contagious, then go out and stamp on some cops. It was great, being nine years old.” -Spider Jerusalem

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3. Planetary (artist: John Cassaday; 1999-2009):

Remember how much I love artist John Cassaday?! Look, he and my homeboy Warren did a comic together! But just like with Robertson & Transmetropolitan, Cassaday’s art underscores the writing without eclipsing it. Planetary started its run in 1999 but then went on vacation between 2001 and 2003, so the book wrapped up just before Christmas 2009.

In Planetary, Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner (who is a fox, btw) and The Drummer make up a team supernatural archaeologists. Your first thought might be something along the lines of “WTFBBQBRB” but stick around, you crazed abbreviators. Supernatural archeologists mainly get to unearth crazy/awesome shit, like tgiant ant monsters and mutant dinosaurs and stuff! They also deal with people from other dimensions and conspiracy theories. Supernatural archeologists are so well-rounded! It’s like an X-Files throwback, but with Ellis’ brains and Cassaday’s artistic brawn! I’m really all about Planetary right now. You probably should be too- then we could have a book club!

Choice Ellisism:

Jakita to The Drummer and Elijah as The Drummer jumps up and down on a just-dug-up giant mysterious artifact:

Drummer: Why isn’t the damn thing working?

Elijah: I don’t know, Drummer. Maybe it doesn’t need you because it already has a pet living fart.

Jakita: Drums, for God’s sake… get off the find. Why do I even have to say this? Why do I have to say ‘get off the unique and probably alien living plinth that zaps the unwary’?

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4. His Twitter Can Beat Up Your Twitter

I have here captured several of my numero uno personal favourite Warren Ellis tweets, for your pleasure and edification! Ellis’ tweets contain as much dry humor as his writing and they never fail to brighten my day. His good morning and goodnight tweets are oh so very Ellis. That is to say they are amazing and perhaps not for everyone.

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5. Who doesn’t like a good V-Neck tee?

Don’t have enough Ellis to get ya started yet? Here’s one more thing- perhaps even the Last Thing in this crash course! Each week Ellis puts something crazy, hilarious, and/or completely random on a T-Shirt and sells it in his CafePress store. And I’ve always found it indisputably true that the way to a girl’s heart is through a V-Neck with an obscure graphic on it.  And yes, factually you would locate the organ of her heart beneath said V-Neck, but also there’s the organ of love to consider here!

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Kim is a student doing a double major in English and Gender Equality & Social Justice at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario. She works part time at a small brewery, and thus mostly smells like wine/ beer / a homeless person at the end of the day. In between enabling many an alcoholic and getting schooled in the ways of close reading and thinking critically, she plays a lot of video games, reads a lot of comics, spends a lot of time in the library, occasionally blogs, has feelings about the aforementioned things and then she snuggles with her cat / writes about them. The feelings, not her cat.

Kimbit has written 5 articles for us.

39 Comments

  1. YAY COMICS ON AUTOSTRADDLE MY LIFE IS COMPLETE. (I don’t think I’ve ever actually read any Warren Ellis since a) DC all the way and b) I um I pretty much only read superhero comics but YAY ANYWAY). You should do Greg Rucka next! Because lesbians! (And AWESOMENESS. Gotham Central! Batwoman! RENEE MOTHERFUCKING MONTOYA.)

  2. Transmetropolitan was one of the first comics I ever read. I got it from the free box at a second hand shop. I’ve never read any other Ellis though so I will have to check out your recommendations.
    Autostraddle should have a comic book club.

    • Do they count as a gateway if you don’t move past them, though? I mean, I’ve read the Serenity and The Guild comics (and quite a lot of Buffy Season 8) but like you, I was already in those fandoms, and I really think of my experience reading them as completely different from my experiences of reading superhero comics or even, IDK, the Books of Magic or Scott Pilgrim. I suppose it might get people into their LCS and understanding issues vs TPBs and that kind of thing, but given that for most people, because of the increasing popularity of graphic novels as Serious Works, people don’t need to *learn* how to read comics – IDK, are they a gateway drug? (Well… I suppose you could go from Buffy to whichever Marvel books Joss is/was writing. But do people? IDK.)

      I’m not trying to criticise your experience/comment or anything, I’m just trying to think about … I imagine that the reason mainstream comics companies work with these people in these very short runs is exactly as you say, that they imagine that it will bring people to other comics, that someone picking up the Guild might also pick up an issue of something longer-running and get stuck into that. I don’t think (although I don’t really know how a comics company works) that the, what, three issues of The Guild Felicia Day penned are going to pull in enough cash for it to be worth the time investment from everyone involved … although I really just don’t know. Anyone?

  3. Thank you for this! I loooooove Warren Ellis. He’s so much fun. Transmetropolitan devoured my life for, like, an entire month when I was in grad school. I had a comic book store about a block and a half from my apartment (which is how I ended up spending about $300 a month there. But whatever, I was in grad school. It’s not like I had time to actually go anywhere or do anything with that money anyway). That was the very first book they recommended to me and it was indeed a monster bong hit.

    I’d also recommend The Authority. Jenny Sparks is awesome beyon words and also: Apollo and Midnighter, gay superheroes!

    Ellis and artist Paul Duffield also have an ongoing comic online (i.e. FREE!) that they update every Friday. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard good things about it. It’s called Freak Angels:
    http://www.freakangels.com/

    • I have heard grad school is the place/time for excessive comic book consumption. Glad to have this confirmed.
      Thank you for the recs! So excited about Freak Angels also! I don’t know how I missed that!

    • I’ve been reading Freakangels since it started and it is quite good. Paul Duffield’s art is lovely and there is a very vibrant online community (Whitechappel) discussing each installment. Ellis signed my Transmetropolitan a few years back at Windy City Con. I was in nerd biss hearing him speak and meeting one of my favorites.

      Yeah, Freakangels is totally worth checking out, imo.

  4. I enjoy Warren Ellis, but I have to be fangirly and recommend Gail Simone just for a second. Starting with Villains United, and continuing in The Secret Six, she’s had ongoing lesbian characters (I love Scandal Savage).

    http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=154269
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gail_Simone

    Also, I love how these characters aren’t black and white good or evil, they’re just mercs, working for whoever pays them, but they’re people with snarled up emotions trying to live their lives. Simone writes that beautifully. The story is at times dark, though not Warren Ellis dark, and edgy enough to make it risky for the characters.

  5. A Preacher film would be epic if done right. I also love the boys. Was never one for super heroes but The Boys is a world with super heroes that makes sense to me.

    I’m still concerned about how the Walking Dead TV Series will turn out. I’m liking it so far but there is some brutal stuff in that comic that I’m not sure they will be able to put on TV.

  6. I would be alllll about an Autostraddle comic book club!

    You mention girl characters in comics, you mention girls working in comic book stores, but what about girls who work MAKING comics?! (like me! Come see me at a convention! It’ll be cool and I have a lot of v-necks!)

    Not the hugest fan of Ellis with Astonishng. I’m still reading it but especially at first, he made the characters a little bit tooooo wordy.

    Planetary was the snizz.

    Fans of Warren Ellis should probably check out Grant Morrison, too.

    • LOVE Grant Morrison! Arkham Asylum is the first graphic novel I read, I think. It’s what started this whole comic-nerd-ball rolling for me!
      It’s entirely possible that I don’t notice the wordiness of Ellis’ X-Men due to being used to reading Whedon’s X-Men, which is pretty really wordy, which I love.
      More girl comic book writers! I am a fan of a few, but not nearly enough. Julie Doucet? Sara Varon? It’s sad that I can’t remember more names than that off the top of my head!

      • Fuck, me neither on the female front, which is horrible.

        I’m going to say Ellis is a liiiiittle bit more wordy than Whedon was, or maybe it’s the tone. I’m mostly over it, now, just in the beginning of the run. I also sort of agree with you that Simone’s art initially destracted, but again, I got used to it.

        It was actually on Astonishing’s predecessor of just X-Men that got me into Morrison. I’m a tad disappointed in how that run ended, but the meat of his work there I thought was mostly tits. He made me really like Emma Frost, now she’s a fave.

        And, uh, what about Y:the Last Man?
        I mean, that was a lesbian/bi themed book by default.

    • yes!! fellow gals making comics!! care to share any of your work? I have a webcomic if anyone wants to give a read, at http://rachaelandpenny.com it’s about a rockstar and her manager, and the manager maaaay have a bit of a crush.

      also, i second the motion of a comic book club, or maybe even meeting at a con! or perhaps even an autostraddle table one day. that’d be aces.

  7. I love Warren Ellis!
    I’ve only read Astonishing X-Men, Transmet, and Next Wave by him.
    To be honest, I do prefer Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing before Warren took over. But I’m a sucker for Kitty Pryde and Whedon blew me away with how funny he can make the X-Men. (Wolverine as a coward, LOVVVEEE).

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