DEAD PIG COLLECTOR introduces Mr. Sun, who specializes in killing people and disposing of their bodies in the most efficient manner possible. He is expert in the specific tools, techniques, and timing to make this all happen. Did you have to do any especially grisly and entertaining research to make him and his specialty convincing? Or did you simply know all this stuff already? Essentially I’m asking you, just how autobiographical is Mr. Sun? Or, where did he come from and what inspired you to write about him?
He actually came from a news story —I think on Foreign Policy—about certain current conditions in rural China. After GUN MACHINE, I’d been thinking a lot about crime fiction still, and ways to continue to make it interesting for myself. There’s probably a point, I think, where if you push the crime-fiction form hard enough it becomes literary fiction, or at least falls into that weird swirling genre-eating electric fog that modern literary fiction is turning into.
So I was scrolling through this story—I read a lot of news—and I tripped over this one phrase: “Dead pig collector.” And I had one of those heartbreakingly rare moments when an entire story dropped into my head, top to bottom. There was something so fantastically grim about that phrase, on so many levels, and also fantastically contemporary. There was so much packed into that phrase that I could respond to, and I wrote the damn thing in four days.
When Mr. Sun settles in for a quiet whiskey at the end of a hard day’s work, does he reach for the same bottle you do? And, ideally, what’s it a bottle of?
No, I suspect Mister Sun appreciates the peaty qualities of a Highland Park more than I do. He would go for the astringent Scotch whiskies that taste like medicine to me. I’m happier with the richer, more rounded whiskies, like Springbank Campbeltown.
You’ve written comic books and graphic novels, straight-up text novels, essays and columns, movies and TV shows, you’re working very hard and diligently on a nonfiction book right now, and I’m sure there are many things I’m not thinking of or am not aware of… Why so many different forms? When you have an idea initially, do you know what form it will take? Is prose distinctly different for you, creatively, from these other, seemingly more collaborative mediums? And what was the specific appeal of the form of DEAD PIG COLLECTOR?
Yes. Diligently. (Turns off phone.)
It is, perhaps, a modal thing. In comics, you gain the broad range of tools and effects that such a hydrid medium provides, but you lose the fine motor control and interior life of prose. Sometimes that doesn’t matter, and you really need that visual toolbox to do a story properly. It’s an instinct. DEAD PIG COLLECTOR needed the fine motor control: the ability to pick and choose what was visually and emotionally revealed, to give a sense of the people by how they saw, rather than what they saw. If that makes sense.
Your first novel, CROOKED LITTLE VEIN, was set in “America’s dankest, darkest underbelly.” Your most recent, GUN MACHINE, was set in New York City. DEAD PIG COLLECTOR is set in Los Angeles. And yet you yourself live in a stoutly protected castle in the remote wilds of Merry Olde England. Why the seeming disconnect? What is it about America and her delightful cities? And how do you prepare yourself to know enough about these places before you write about them?
Ah, the American experiment. Endlessly fascinating to me. Martin Amis once called America the place where the future is road-tested, which may be the one thing he’s ever said that might be close to true. Four hundred million people in the world’s biggest, hottest, scariest pressure-cooker. You can’t not want to write about that.
Although, I’ve got to tell you, after GUN MACHINE and DEAD PIG, I’m really wanting to write something wyrd and windswept set in haunted English fields. Sometimes you can get a bit too far away from where your bones come from.
Honestly, it may be simpler than you think to immerse yourself in general American culture and places. Over here in Airstrip One we’ve been pretty well irradiated by it for fifty years. I’ve spent a lot of time in LA, New York, and San Francisco, and have visited several other cities and states for briefer periods, which has been useful—if for no other reason than to gain an understanding that there is not in fact a single American culture. And that there are parts of Canada that look more like America than America does. Hell, if you’re shooting a pilot in Vancouver, then you’re standing in a reasonable facsimile of at least six American cities and a dozen American towns at any one time.
As a sort of follow-up, as mentioned you’ve recently spent a fair amount of time involved in the Hollywood dream machine, as RED and RED 2 have made their way to the silver screen and a variety of your other projects wind their way closer and closer to screens near us. How has your Hollywood experience been? And how has it influenced/colored Mr. Sun’s appreciation of the City of Angels?
I will confess that my last visit to LA did colour Mister Sun’s perception of the town quite a bit. I don’t like LA at the best of times, but I was at least looking forward to being warm during my last visit. And it rained all damn week. So LA deserves it.
My Hollywood experience has been… well, it’s a weird business and a weird town. I’ve made some good friends out there, and I’ve met some real eccentrics, and some screaming lunatics, and seen some interesting places.
Do you think we’re going to see more of Mr. Sun in the future?
I think that’s possible, one way or the other.
What should folks look for next from you?
The next thing up is probably the AVENGERS graphic novel I wrote for Marvel Comics, ENDLESS WARTIME , which is released in October. And then it’s SPIRIT TRACKS, a non-fiction book about the future of the city and the “science fiction condition,” from FSG, next year.
Warren Ellis is an author, graphic novelist, columnist, and speaker. His novels include Gun Machine and Crooked Little Vein, which Joss Whedon described as “Funny, inventive, and blithely appalling . . . Dante on paint fumes,” and his graphic novels—among them The Authority, Red, Transmetropolitan—have been made into successful films, won multiple awards, and landed on bestseller lists. FSG Originals will publish his first nonfiction book, Spirit Tracks, in 2014. He lives mostly in Britain.