Ellis, Warren

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Warren Ellis

Born February 16, 1968 (England)
British comic book writer

Warren Ellis is among the most prolific comic book writers of his generation, producing graphic novels, contributing to existing comic book series, and publishing essays, prose fiction, blogs, and other online material at a remarkable rate. He began his writing career in 1990 with the story "United We Fall" (published in Deadline magazine) and spent the following few years writing stories for series such as Judge Dredd and Doctor Who. By the mid-1990s he was a regular contributor to Marvel and DC comic books, but he is well known for his dislike of traditional comic book superheroes. Ellis began to break free of the genre in the late 1990s, following the success of The Authority.

Re-invents the superhero

It is no secret that Ellis doesn't care for the clean-cut, strong-jawed superheroes that long defined comic book publishing, and in 1995 he was given the opportunity to express his views in the Marvel comic book series Doom 2099. Based on the evil character Dr. Victor von Doom from the earlier Fantastic Four comics, this series was taken over by Ellis with issue number 26. Ellis made an immediate impact on the story, introducing Captain Marvel as a drug-addicted U.S. president who is a puppet of big business. Ellis told Melanie McBride in an interview on the Mindjack Web site: "I want something with a little more muscle and bite than standard-issue power fantasies, whimsical romance, the autobiographies of people who never do anything and things with elves.… Not many comics reflect the fact that I live in a multicultural society fitted with a global communications net, nor do they reflect the fact that I don't own a pair of Superman underpants."

"Here [in Transmetropolitan] is the finest, blackest humor, and the purest hate, and a sense of justice hissed through gritted teeth."


But while Doom 2099 and his work on the X-Men book X-Calibre go some way to revising the comic book superhero, it was in his own creation The Authority that Ellis most strongly influenced the genre. Taking the Jenny Sparks character from an earlier series called Stormwatch, Ellis created a team of superheroes whose aim was not just to save humanity from villains, but to take over completely, even going so far as to challenge a God-like figure known as "The Creator" in the final episode. Like some of his other work, The Authority has an element of optimism and idealism that sits a little uneasily with the violence and cynicism of many of the storylines. Traditionally in comics, the superhero, just like the oldstyle Western hero, defeats a villain then moves on; whereas Jenny and her team attempt to fix the deeper causes of the problem. In this case Jenny and her team aim to bring global peace, harmony, and cooperation, a radical departure from traditional superhero plots. Ellis and graphic artist Bryan Hitch worked together on the first twelve issues of the series before it was passed on to others.

Best-Known Works

Graphic Novels

Lazarus Churchyard (illustrated by D'Israeli). Vols. 1–6 (1992).

Transmetropolitan (illustrated by Darick Robertson and others). 11 vols. (1997–2002).

The Authority (illustrated by Bryan Hitch and others). 12 vols. (1999–2000).

Planetary (illustrated by John Cassaday and others). 3 vols. (1999–2004).

Global Frequency (illustrated by various artists). 2 vols. (2002–04).

Apparat Comic Books

Warren Ellis' Angel Stomp Future #1 (illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp). (2004).

Warren Ellis' Frank Ironwine #1 (illustrated by Laurenn McCubbin). (2004).

Warren Ellis' Quit City #1 (illustrated by Laurenn McCubbin). (2004).

Warren Ellis' Simon Spector #1 (illustrated by Jacen Burrows). (2004).


Available Light (short stories and photography). (2002).

Mindbridge (PC game).

White Wolf's Adventure (role-playing game).

Ellis has also created several of his own comic book series and contributed to numerous existing series.

Ellis was born on February 16, 1968. Little is known of his childhood, save for the fact that his parents divorced when he was fourteen. He lives with his wife and daughter in Southendon-Sea, a resort town to the east of London, England, but a great deal of his work is set in the United States. He is best known as the author of Transmetropolitan (or "Transmet," as its many fans call it), which first appeared in 1997; upon its completion in November 2002, the series had run to sixty episodes. Illustrated by Darick Robertson, Transmet features Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo journalist, who comes out of retirement and returns to the City in a near-future world of corrupt politics, violence, sex, drugs, and rampant consumerism. First published under DC Comics' Helix imprint and later DC's Vertigo label (which publishes comics for mature audiences), Transmetropolitan set a benchmark for Ellis's political edge.

A political cartoonist

Spider Jerusalem is a hard-drinking, drug-taking, unstable character, and his violent methods of investigation could not be further from Superman's clean-cut heroics, but nevertheless his primary motivation is the struggle for truth and justice. Working for The World newspaper in an unnamed city that resembles New York, Jerusalem uncovers corruption and criminality at the heart of two presidencies and lives in a society where almost everyone is driven by greed, selfishness, and aggressive sexuality. Describing Spider Jerusalem on the Artbomb Web site, Matt Fraction explains: "Spider Jerusalem, outlaw hero of the new scum, finds himself with just enough arrogance and just enough hubris [exaggerated pride] to think that Truth matters in the world of politics."

Many of the political figures featured in the series resemble real political leaders, such as British prime minister Tony Blair (1953–) and U.S. president George W. Bush (1946–). Ellis's favorite targets are threats to civil liberties, the failure of journalism, and exploitation. But while Ellis's voice is often direct and politically tough, his work is also full of dark, adult humor. For example, one storyline in Transmetropolitan concerns Jerusalem's attempt to rescue the last living prostitute who serviced the president.

Ellis's next major project was a series called Global Frequency, which first appeared in 2002 and can be seen as a response to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington, D.C. Unlike Transmetropolitan, which developed a single storyline over five years, Global Frequency consists of a series of stand-alone episodes. The idea behind the stories is that an international intelligence organization exists to investigate and prevent various threats to world peace. These range from illegal weapons systems to paranormal events and terrorist cells. The organization consists of 1,001 anonymous members connected by video cell phones and is broadly approved by the world's leading nations, though it operates independently of them. Though often violent, gory, and based on the idea that traditional values and beliefs are useless, Ellis's work is also quite optimistic; in this case, a terrorist-style network of unknown agents works for international good.

Ellis's hard-hitting style gained him a large following among science fiction and horror fans, but he is also capable of more speculative work. The series Planetary, for example, centers on a group of researchers who call themselves the "archaeologists of the impossible." Planetary is an organization whose aim is to uncover secret histories and make new discoveries for the good of everyone. What this involves is a rewriting of comic book and popular culture history. The Planetary team finds out the truth or in some cases multiple truths about superheroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman, the Incredible Hulk, and other characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan. Planetary, which is illustrated by John Cassaday, first previewed in 1998, but became a series for DC's Wildstorm imprint in 1999 with a potential run of twenty-seven volumes.

In early 2004, Ellis began a project in association with Avatar Press to launch his own line of books using a variety of artists. Called "Apparat," the series tries to imagine what comic books might have been like without the superhero comics of the early twentieth century; the four books in the series thus focus on crime, science fiction, and detective themes. In 2005, Ellis produced the first episode in a new long-term series called Desolation Jones, based on a futuristic character of the same name who is an ex-British secret service agent relocated to Los Angeles, which is an open prison for ex-intelligence community members. Jones becomes involved in the search for German leader Adolf Hitler's homemade pornography, kept hidden by military intelligence, but now stolen.

Beyond comic books

Perhaps what marks Ellis as one of the most distinctive and challenging voices of his generation is the range of media in which he works. He told the Slashdot Web site: "I want to try all media. I've done journalism, I once did a little ghostwriting for radio, I've done short fiction, I've done a book of photography … I want to give everything a crack. I want to make a music video. I want to write feature films. I want to write a novel … I want to do more in animation." In this respect Ellis's approach mirrors the content of his works. He describes worlds flooded with information and overloaded with technology, in which humanity follows political and corporate leaders uncritically and without regard for the future or the past. Most importantly though, Ellis is fascinated by the absurdity of such excess.

Looking Through the Electric Window

Ellis has often commented that he uses science fiction to discuss contemporary politics and society and to suggest directions in which it might be moving. But he is also interested in the way technology transforms the way people interact and conduct their lives. He told an interviewer on the popular science and technology news Web site Slashdot: "So what I wanted to do is use science fiction as a tool with which to look at our own society. And if you take as your basis the assumption that human society will do the most absurd thing possible with any technology … then you see how I approached the 'extrapolation' of [Transmetropolitan]. I really just sat down and made [stuff] up, knowing full well that truth is always stranger than fiction."

Ellis's involvement with online publishing, including his own Web site, and the frequent celebration of technology in stories such as Global Frequency place him at the forefront of artists engaging with aspects of life that barely existed before the 1990s. A self-confessed information addict, Ellis told Melanie McBride: "The internet changed everything for me. All the things I wanted to know about but couldn't obtain through traditional media or communications are right there. I would have killed for this when I was nineteen with no money and dying to fill my brain with new things from all over the planet. With this electric window, I can literally see across the world."

Since 1990, Ellis has created some of the grittiest and most political works in the industry and has worked with some of the most accomplished and skilled graphic artists. He has written more than thirty graphic novels, contributed to many long-running comic book series, and written shorter comic strips. He has also been involved with several online projects. He is a co-founder and consultant to Artbomb, a Web site dedicated to making sophisticated and diverse graphic novels available to a wider audience, has several online journals, and has created an official website, www.warrenellis.com. He has developed computer games, is developing television adaptations of his work, and runs The Engine, an online forum for professional comic book creators to discuss comic book work outside of the superhero genre.

Ellis has won many awards, including the Don Thompson Award for Best Writer, 1998. He was featured as one of Entertainment Weekly's 100 Most Creative People in Entertainment in 1999, and in Rolling Stone's "Hot List 2000" of creative professionals. In 1999, he was awarded the International Horror Guild award for graphic narrative, and Salt Lake City Weekly named him Best Comic Book Writer of 2004.

For More Information


Jensen, Jeff. Review of Planetary. Entertainment Weekly (March 24, 2000): p. 96.

"Q & A … with Warren Ellis." Entertainment Weekly (February 21, 2003): p. 157.

Raiteri, Steve. Review of Global Frequency: Planet Ablaze. Library Journal (July 2004): p. 61.

Raiteri, Steve. Review of Orbiter. Library Journal (September 1, 2003): p. 140.

Yayanos, Meredith. "Transmetropolitan's Warren Ellis." Publishers Weekly (December 18, 2000): p. 36.

Web Sites

Artbomb. http://www.artbomb.net (accessed May 3, 2006).

Butler, William Patrick. "The Desolation Hasn't Happened Yet." Jackson Free Press. http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/comments.php?id=5214_0_8_0_C (accessed May 3, 2006).

McBride, Melanie. "The Transmetropolitan Condition: An Interview with Warren Ellis." Mindjack. http://www.mindjack.com/interviews/ellis.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Slashdot: Warren Ellis Answers. http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/05/09/1727245 (accessed on May 3, 2006).

"Straight to Hell: Interview with Warren Ellis." InsaneRantings. http://www.insanerantings.com/hell/interviews/hwarren.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Warren Ellis Bibliography. http://www.fourteenseconds.com/warrenbib.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).

WarrenEllis.com. http://www.warrenellis.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).

"World's Finest: A Look at the Best in Comic Books from 2004." Salt Lake City Weekly Editorial. http://www.slweekly.com/editorial/2005/arts_3_2005-01-06.cfm# (accessed on May 3, 2006).