Johnny Red returns in an all-new adventure from Titan Comics on November 4th. We had a chance to talk to writer Garth Ennis about the new comic ahead of its release.
Johnny Red is a favorite character of yours who first appeared in the pages of Battle Picture Weekly. Did you ever think you’d be writing Johnny Red stories yourself?
As a kid, no, it would have been beyond my wildest dreams. Even now, writing Johnny Red probably means more to me than anything else I’ve done in a long time.
Did reading Battle Picture Weekly influence your career and your interest in war stories early on?
Very much so. Once I understood that the comics were based in reality — allowing for the hyperbole of boys’ comics in the late ’70s — I began to develop an interest in military history that survives to this day. That, of course, then led back to comics — once I was writing them myself I was very keen to do my own take on the real-life events that inspired the stories I read as a kid.
Have you always had ideas for a Johnny Red story, or did you invent one only once you’d make the decision to write this series?
I had a few vague notions, but I probably didn’t start thinking seriously about the story until Titan contacted me about writing the intros for their Johnny Red hardcover collections. Once I knew they had the license and that a series was a genuine possibility, I started figuring out an actual plot.
How does your version of Johnny Red differ from the original? Did you strive to follow in the footsteps of Tom Tully, or to create something brand new?
I’ve said this before, but I’ll never be able to write dialogue like Tom Tully — that slightly breathless effect wherein every sentence ends in an exclamation mark. But apart from that I’ve done my best to write something that could sit comfortably in the original run, and that any reader of same could recognise. The language is a little saltier and the action a bit harsher — though not by much — and Johnny’s relationship with Captain Nina Petrova is somewhat less vague. Otherwise I reckon Mr. Tully would have no trouble recognising the new Johnny Red.
You’ve written lots of dark supernatural comics, like Preacher and Hellblazer, as well as fantastic crime stories like Punisher. Can we expect the same level of dark storytelling from Johnny Red, or is it a lighter book?
I’d say that a story set on the Russian Front, where something like thirty million people died in conditions of unimaginable horror, is a lot darker than any fantasy. As for the supernatural, there was a very occasional pseudo-mystical thread that ran through the original strip (Johnny getting warnings in dreams, etc) that I’ve touched on in this story too. It’s one of those “maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t” things.
How do you think the book will resonate with modern readers far removed from World War II and its influences? Have you tried to write a book that is historically accurate, or one that speaks more to the mythology and legend of WWII?
The technical details of the story are as accurate as Keith and I can make them. Some of the basic tenets of the strip are less realistic than other war stories I’ve written — the performance Johnny manages to wring out of his obsolete Hurricane, the Falcons’ remarkably good fortune against the Luftwaffe fighter pilots, and the notion of a British pilot leading a foreign squadron in a police state — but we do at least make reference to them. The actual plot of this particular story is pure fiction — it’s not physically impossible, but it absolutely did not happen.
Johnny Red #1 will be in stores on November 4th, 2015. Johnny Red is written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Keith Burns. It is published through Titan Comics.
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