Interview: Garth Ennis Talks About Crossed
I first remember meeting Garth Ennis in a pub during a 2000AD party. I was sat chatting with Glenn Fabry about the architecture of Spanish churches, enjoying a few beers. Garth presumed I was pumping his inebriated friend for comics gossip and decided to make his feelings about this situation known to me physically…
I'd forgotten about that until because II was talking to Garth about Crossed, as the series draws to its conclusion. Now, naturally Garth didn't rip me throat to rectum before inserting a severed whale penis into the wound. But Crossed despicts a series of absolute atriocities committed by zombie-like infected hordes with the sickest sense of humour imaginable. So where was this all coming from?
Bleeding Cool: The Crossed seem to be humanity without any sense of shame, morality or empathy. Have you seen people commit the kind of acts you attribute to The Crossed at all? Would it really take an infection to reduce us to that level?
Garth Ennis: I don't think I've ever seen anything worse than a couple of bad kickings outside pubs, which hardly qualify- there's an element of frenzy, sure, of loss of control, but that rarely lasts for any length of time. It would certainly take an infection or some other unusual phenomenon to reduce everyone to a Crossed-type state at once, and to keep them there. That's the invention that the story requires to work.
The kinds of acts you see in the story, however, are not invented at all. A quick glance through the history books will reveal all manner of depraved activity; thousands upon thousands of dreadful things that we've been doing to each other since time began. Look at what went on in the torture chambers of the inquisition, or what the settlers and natives did to each other out on the great plains of North America, or what was going on in Eastern Europe in the mid-nineties. Hell, look at what people do to each other in prison, or what many women have to fear on their way home from work in urban areas. The list is endless.
I'm not even talking about concepts like genocide or religious or ethnic cleansing, nor do I want to play the numbers game with various bodycounts. I'm simply talking about what people do to one another when circumstances give them a free hand. More on this in the last
Bleeding Cool: There's a scene in Crossed which has haunted me where, and I think I have the details right, a man and wife are being sodomised by the infected, while being disembowelled and their daughter is ripped apart. The woman curses at the man for getting them in this situation while the man apologises. Is that how you see the nuclear family or am I reading too much into it?
Garth Ennis: I had two reasons for including that scene. One was to show exactly how dreadful the Crossed are and how utterly doomed anyone taken by them will be: to say, okay, here's why people are so terrified, why they'll fight so hard not to be caught, why they'll kill themselves rather than let it happen. Here's how bad it can get, much worse than the kind of frenzied killing we saw in the initial outbreak in #0, when the Crossed didn't have quite the numerical advantage and weren't stopping to indulge themselves so much. I figured it was worth showing things at their worst once, and then never going quite that far again (which is not to say that even more dreadful things don't happen later; I happen to think that the most awful acts in the story are committed by people against people, not the Crossed. But this is the worst thing you'll actually have to look at).
The second reason involved playing up the psychological element, going for something beyond the horror of the physical imagery. The guy's death involves a gruesome violation, no question of that, beyond his own suffering there's what he's seen happen to his girlfriend and daughter. But the last thing he'll remember, before he leaves the world and succumbs to the dark, is the woman he loves screaming into his face that this nightmare is entirely his fault- a point he'd have to concede, were he in any shape to. Without that he'd at least be able to think- this is bad, but it'll be over soon. Instead, his girlfriend's fury and his own utter failure will dominate his last awful seconds on earth.
I think you're onto something with the nuclear family; the corruption of that very comforting notion was what I was going for, and what makes such a wretched situation even more unpleasant to think about.
Bleeding Cool: As the book continues, we've seen the uninfected harden, taking harsh, even inhumane tactics to survive, becoming sullen and detached. Where the Crossed seem to have developed more human, or at least more complex, characteristics. Are we meant to see a gradual closing of the gap between the two groups?
Garth Ennis: That's one way of looking at it. I don't think they're getting closer to each other so much as progressing along different paths, paths that take them away from what they naturally are. One particular band of Crossed are learning to reason, to restrain themselves, to wait- so that the evil they wreak will be more effective. Stan and co., conversely, are doing things that erode their humanity, leaving them as pretty empty human beings- but that doesn't mean they'll ever grow to enjoy it, and become insane berserkers as a result, any more than the Crossed will develop human morality just because they're learning human cunning. And, ultimately, human beings always have the option of consciously changing their behaviour and even seeking redemption. The Crossed don't, nor would they wish to.
Bleeding Cool: Can you tell me about the decision, and your confidence behind it, to hand volume two of the book to David Lapham? It feels like an all but unheard of move in writer-driven creator-owned comics.
Garth Ennis: To be honest, there was never really going to be a volume two- William [Christensen, editor-in-chief/publisher of Avatar] would ask me regularly about the possibility, but apart from one or two vague scenes I pretty soon realised I had no more Crossed stories in me. I didn't want to force the issue, either, because I'm very pleased with Crossed and don't want to dilute it with a sequel that I hadn't the ideas to sustain.
That said, it's pretty obvious that what you have with Crossed is a ready-made fictional world with a good deal of potential for further development, and the Crossed themselves seem to be strong enough villains to maintain an audience. So when William suggested other people doing more I said I wasn't averse to it, so long as a) I thought the creative teams were up to scratch, and b) my own story and characters would be left alone. Which means no sequel, no more Stan, Cindy, Thomas or Kitrick (or Horsecock, Face or Stump, come to that)- just fresh stories set in the same world.
As for David, who better? I think you'll see right from his first episode that he knows exactly what he's doing with the Crossed.
Bleeding Cool: The Crossed seem to develop a very sick sense of humour. What's the sickest joke you know, and would they find it funny?
Garth Ennis: The sickest joke I know is simply unrepeatable in public. Jimmy Palmiotti told me it about ten years ago, and I think a part of me is still reeling. The trouble with the Crossed is it'd be impossible to tell them jokes; unless you could talk around the gun barrel you'd wisely shoved in your mouth.
Bleeding Cool: I was told by a German book publisher that Crossed would be illegal to publish in Germany due to extreme scenes. Do you have a message for any Crossed-deprived Germans?
Garth Ennis: William, do you ship to Germany? And do you take Euros?
Bleeding Cool: William takes anything, I hear. Even lengthways….
The concluding issue, Crossed #9 ships in two weeks. The Crossed hardcover ships in May.
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