Glow-In-The-Dark, Holofoil, Chromium and Die-Cut – Comics In The Nineties Weren’t All Bad – Warren Ellis, The Formative Years

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The nineties get a lot of flack nowadays from comic fans, and some of it is very well deserved. Many things happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, many things we would like to forget happened at all, and some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches. Each Tuesday I discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.

BlastThe comic birth of Warren Ellis.WarrenEllis

Warren Ellis is a name synonymous with high concept, humorous, and sometimes bizarre comics, but in 1990 he was just a struggling writer trying to start his career. Ellis began his career with the six page United We Fall story for the British magazine Deadline in 1990.

Then came his first long-form work, Lazarus Churchyard, for the short-lived Blast! magazine. Lazarus Churchyard is still one of my favorite older works of his, with many of the same thematic sci-fi elements that informed his later, highly regarded Transmetropolitan run.

These, along with single Judge Dredd and Doctor Who stories, were his first forays into the four-color world of funnybooks, but it wasn’t long until the American comic industry took notice, and soon Marvel Comics came calling.Hellstorm

1994 saw Ellis’ output increase, and travel across the pond to America. He took over Hellstorm: Prince of Lies from previous writer Rafael Nieves with issue #12, and continued the series until cancellation. He next dipped his feet in the waters of the year 2099, writing Doom 2099, 2099 Unlimited, and others, before moving on to Doom2099Excalibur for over 20 issues.

In those early days Ellis was given quite a bit of leeway by Marvel’s editorial to take bottom tier books, the near cancellation titles with extremely low sales numbers, and try to make them profitable.

This period saw Ellis taking many a risk that more established creators were not willing, nor able to take. 1994 through 1996 saw Ellis jump around the Marvel universe, moving from title to title, throwing wild ideas at the wall to see which ones would stick.

He was tasked with rebooting/reinventing much of the magic/horror side of Marvel Comics with short runs on Dr. Strange, Hellstorm, Ghost Rider, and Druid, while turning magic into super-science with Thor: Worldengine, both with some minor, if not long-lasting success.

His short stint on Wolverine with artist Leinil Francis Yu, only four issues, really put them both on the map, as far as fans were concerned. With Ruins, Marvel even let him have a counterpoint to the highly successful Marvels, and it wasn’t long until Ellis was branching out to DC, Caliber Comics, and finally Wildstorm, where he would create some of his most career defining stories. StormWatch37

transmetropolitan1997 through 1999 saw Ellis creating some of his most well known works, including Transmetropolitan for DC/Helix/later Vertigo; Stormwatch and its spin-off The Authority, Planetary, and DV8 for Wildstorm Productions; and even a memorable Vampirella run. He was firing on all cylinders, and wasn’t about to stop any time soon.

Ellis has always been a futurist, which brings with it a natural science fiction bent and lots of ideas about, yep, the future. Many of his early works were full of high-concepts, complex characters, political analysis, biting sarcasm and satire, and most were way ahead of their time. Hell, not much has changed since then, as Warren Ellis still makes comics, and now novels, that are constantly looking toward the future.

Though Warren Ellis’ comic output has slowed in recent years, when he does a new series, like the upcoming Moon Knight with Declan Shalvey and Geordie Bellaire, it is worth putting on your pull list. If you get the itch to read his older works, many are still in print, and available at your local comic shop.

If it weren’t for those early years where he cut his teeth on some really questionable titles,  we wouldn’t have the Warren we all know and love today. Looking back at the sheer amount of crazy ideas he was implementing is proof that even in those early days Ellis was on fire, and one of the reasons it was awesome being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week I’ll bring you another.

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