est.  1998

 the beat of digital culture
home | archives | about us | feedback

Daily Relay

Tracking trends and developments in digital culture

Support Mindjack

search mindjack

mindjack release
join to receive news and announcements

Transmet Collected:

Back on the Street
The first three issues in trade paperback form.

Lust for Life
Vol. 2

Year of the Bastard
Vol. 3

The New Scum
Vol. 4

Lonely City

Vol. 5

Gouge Away
Vol. 6

Spider's Trash
Vol. 7

Buying stuff through these Amazon links helps support Mindjack.

By Melanie McBride

October 28, 2002 | There has never been a better time to read the work of comic book legend Warren Ellis. From the formulaic pornography of news coverage to the on-going ineptitude of our world "leaders", Ellis delivers an intelligent and savagely funny antidote to global idiocy. The creator of Transmetropolitan, Planetary and Global Frequency talks to Mindjack about his work, our times and the future.

A Lunatic's Job

Melanie McBride: Why do you write?

Warren Ellis: Why does anyone write? I want to talk about what I see. I'm compelled to. I understand that all writing, really, is about where the writer is today and what they're seeing in front of them, and I'm compelled to bring my perception to the table. It's a lunatic's job, basically. If I wasn't doing this I'd be walking the streets with a placard on a stick and wetting myself in public. The only real difference between me and the signboard guy in San Francisco who rants about the Clintons betraying 16 galaxies and a zegnalogical rocket society is that I get paid for my perception of the world. And I own better suits.

So much of what's going on in the world today is right out of Transmetropolitan. Like the speculative fiction of novelist JG Ballard, your writing is as much about the future as it is about the present. How would you characterize your approach to storytelling in terms of the ultimate goals of your work?

I strongly believe in science fiction in its Wellsean frame as a social fiction, using the future as a tool with which to examine the present. - Warren Ellis

My ultimate goal is to find a new, interesting and hopefully revelatory perspective on the contemporary world. I strongly believe in science fiction in its Wellsean frame as a social fiction, using the future as a tool with which to examine the present.

Comics as Media

So why aren't you reading comics these days?

Really, it doesn't seem to me that there are many comics being written for me. 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. The Western medium has cycles, and it's currently in a creative downturn. That doesn't mean there isn't excellent work being done. That simply means there's not much of it. And, on a personal level, little of it is talking to me. 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.

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.
- Warren Ellis

According to media theorist Marshall McLuhan, every new media creates new sensory orientations. Do you think these new orientations have affected the way we experience or understand comics?

I don't think so, simply because so much of comics happens "behind" the senses. A comics page requires actual cognitive action to draw narrative sense from its many elements -- what Scott McCloud calls "closure" -- where (say) film requires little more than the experiential processing demanded by everyday life. I think audiovisual innovation like the modern music video has had an effect on how comics are created. When I was devising a new series of stories, GLOBAL FREQUENCY, I was combining the music video with modern action-film cutting and early American comics scene transitioning, looking to create a sense of urgency and informational rush.


Before Spider Jerusalem receives his call to adventure we find him hiding out in a revised Walden. Yet, despite the dystopian world of Transmetropolitan, Spider manages to avoid the lazy stance of the nihilist and rages on. How would you describe the relationship between utopia and dystopia in your work?

I think -- I hope -- that both concepts are dismissed as adolescent thinking. There are moments of pure, heart stopping beauty in the most tragic and broken environments. And the loveliest community on earth will not be able to eliminate the dog turd. I have attempted to reflect this in TRANSMET: the understanding that the world can be neither perfect nor doomed. But that it can be better. And the people who get to decide if it's going to be better or not are the people who show up and raise their voices.

Life after Transmetropolitan: where would you like to go after that journey has ended?

To bed, mostly. [With Transmetropolitan] I've completed a 1300-page political science fiction graphic novel over a five-year serialisation, and that club is pretty small, mostly because you have to have some kind of brain damage to even attempt something of that scale (and, crucially, finality) in the Western comics medium.

I'm writing shorter works for the next year or so. Playing with some other genres, recharging, deciding where to go next.

When I first saw Transmetropolitan I thought it was a comic about Michel Foucault! I realize Spider is not Foucault but it seems like the writing has a really post-modern quality to it. What role, if any, has critical theory played in your work or thought?

Hard to say, really. My approach is really to take in as much information as I can, from as many different sources as I can, and let it all kind of distill and fester in the back of my brain. That said, I've gone through a couple of phases of reading cultural theory, from Foucault through to the little brainbombs you can find at and the like. It's all part of being as aware of the world, and of the tracks of the future, as I can.

There's something to be said for questioning the discourse: my problems with avowedly postmodern fiction is that that is usually reduced to an excuse for an ironic gag.

Wired Ellis

In what ways has technology affected the way you create or your sense of direction and themes as an artist?

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 19 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.

What is your favorite technological diversion?

I have a Handspring Visor. It has a module that turns it into a mobile phone and modem. It has a full-size keyboard that folds up into something pocket-sized. It has a module that turns it into a camera (I did a book with it, of short stores and photography). The phone/modem works all over the planet. It's a piece of science fiction in my pocket, and I love it.

The Future

What do you think we need to learn in order to survive this world we have created?

There is such a thing as truth. Non-relative, unassailable, valuable truth. Do not let people relativise the concept of truth into vapour.

Melanie McBride is a Toronto-based writer, editor and educator who specialises in interactive educational new media. She can be contacted via her website.

advertise here
email for info