Monday, March 14, 2011

warren ellis came to speak at my college last week, you know that?

It’s always real strange experience to see an established and popular writer right in front of you. I don’t suffer much from being star-struck, but I’m also aware of the difficulty involved with becoming an established writer and meeting a person who has climbed that ladder successfully. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of getting to sit in on a Q & A with Warren Ellis.

Now. Before people start throwing bricks at me for being a philistine, I only follow him on Twitter. I really love Twitter, I mean I know a lot of people don’t and that’s grand but I find it really interesting. My engagement with him is that he posts interesting quips, and I am quite fully aware of his massive celebrity as a comic book writer and novelist. His novel, in fact, Crooked Little Vein, is sitting next to me waiting to be read.

I started following him because I literally, Stumbled across a photograph once upon around two years ago, that had a quote written over it of his, that simply said something to the effect of:

Journalism is like a loaded gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim it right, you could blow the kneecap off the world.

Sold. The man’s clearly a genius.

So yeah I’m a philistine and just went along to see what he had to say for himself, out of curiosity, not too much of a crime. Sure I knew I’d be surrounded by die hard comic books nerds but sure when has that ever deterred me from anything?

It was sort of hard getting through the jargon of a lot of the questions that were asked of him, real specific stuff that I wasn’t sure I understood. He’s infamous for his cruel sense of humour so if anyone tried to get too nerdy at him he generally shot them down with a one word or single-line answer. It’s clear to tell he’s kind of sick of certain questions. It was, however, really interesting to hear first-hand about the politics between Marvel and DC, both interior and exterior. How it feels to write about a character for years that you didn’t even invent – that was an interesting debate. The point for me was clear – that a lot of the dudes in charge of the comic-book world aren’t comic book nerds in love with the characters in the books: it’s a job, get on with it.

From what I can gather of his work a great deal of it deals with dystopia (Transmetropolitan, his most well known graphic novel series, which he didn’t seem too arsed talking about during the session, probably because he wrote it ten years ago and is sick to death of it following him around) and that’s something that really interests me. Especially in conjunction with the internet. The internet’s a weird place, I’m not so in love with it at the moment. When the time came for me to ask Warren a question, I simply asked how he felt about the death of print, what that was going to do to comic books. He quipped back that image files are pretty big, so piracy would be pretty hard in the field he works in so he doesn’t feel threatened.

He made an excellent point in conjunction with the Twitter thing aswell, about how condensed the internet has become. Forums to blogs to Facebooks to status updates to Tweets. Smaller and smaller.

The other point he made about the internet was about the death of the vaudeville and the arcade: where to kids go to dick around? Where do they go to learn things that they wouldn’t learn in school or at home? The internet is the new vaudeville, the new arcade. That’s something that utterly fascinates me.

I think my favourite snap-back of his of the evening was on the subject of writing in general. My pal Nick asked him what he did when he got writer’s block. Warren Ellis simply replied, “If I got writer’s block, I wouldn’t be a writer. Punch the keyboard until something works.” I completely agreed with him also when he said that if you’re working on several projects at once, chances are you’re going to be interested in one of them any given day. And if you’re not interested in that one, you’ll be interested in one of the other four.

His final piece of advice to writers, when asked directly for that, was that he can’t tell anyone anything about getting into the industry because things have changed so much and continue to change so much since he started. He did say, however, to get your work into print. No matter how. Then, sit down a day later, and hate every bit of it, you know nothing until you see it where everyone else can see it.

That chilled my fucking blood, I tell you that much.

            So there’s my Warren Ellis buzz, it was lovely, went back to the hotel for the free drink I earned with my question and ended up at a lock-in. Mr. Ellis wasn’t there, he was knackered. However, he did sign my notebook and give me a drag of his cigarette. My day to day notebooks have been signed by a lot of artists I've met: cabaret geniuses Camille O'Sullivan and Amanda Palmer, and one of my favourite short-story writers of all time (he writes a mean children's book and graphic novel too, even if his regular novels aren't my thing) Neil Gaiman. It's just nice to have a little piece of experience, and the pen mark of someone you look up to's hand in a notebook you use every day, that's what I think anyway.

            So now here I am, back in the west after a weekend of supposed resting, with a relapse of that horrible tonsillitis knocking at my door. I have decided to spend the night curled up eating M&S ready meals and Jaffa Cakes and everything else can piss off. Not sure what to watch though. I’m thinking some good old fashioned House re-runs. Because I’m a deeply exciting person. 

party on


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