Famed comic book writer Garth Ennis speaks with Screen Rant about his series The Boys and the upcoming adaptation hitting Amazon Prime Video very soon. Ennis is the creative force behind such memorable and subversive works as Preacher, Hitman, and Punisher: Born, as well as a terrific run on the Punisher: Max series. With the release of The Boys, Ennis will have two series based on his original comic work airing on television, both of which are co-produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. And while Preacher is set to begin its fourth and final season on AMC his August, things are just getting started for the writer's irreverent take on corrupt superheroes and the ragtag team trying to take them down.
The new series comes to Amazon Prime in all its bloody, foul-mouthed glory, thanks to Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, and it boasts and impressive cast that includes Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Elisabeth Shue, Dominique McElligott, Karen Fukuhara, Jessie T. Usher, and Chace Crawford. It's set to be one of the biggest (and potentially most contentious) series to hit Amazon this summer.
Ennis spoke with Screen Rant ahead of the series premiere to discuss how and why he originally conceived of the idea, working with Rogen, Goldberg, and Kripke, and what he has coming in comic book form later this year. Read Screen Rant's interview with Garth Ennis below:
The series excels at satirizing superheroes, subverting superhero tropes, and also telling a superhero itself. When you were writing the comics, what was the challenge in making all of that work and balancing it out in a way that didn't skew too much in one direction?
Well, I regard costume superheroes really with a good deal of suspicion and disdain. So I tended to follow my instincts in that regard. One thing I would say is that in a way that the mainstream world of entertainment has caught up with comic books, people have now been educated to the notions of shared universes, of worlds of superheroes, of walking out your door one morning and seeing Spider-Man swing past, and walking to work and seeing Iron Man battling somebody.
That's been very helpful, and it means that the time for The Boys is right. It's very possible had a show or a movie like this being attempted, say 10 years ago when the comic was coming out that it would have fallen flat because the mainstream audience wasn't ready yet. Superhero movies were still few and far between.
And going with that idea, and how shared universes are kind of commonplace and superheroes are sort of saturating the media landscape right now, there's this idea in the show of massive corporate culture and branding around superheroes. It feels even more relevant now than ever.
In what way does the prevalence of superheroes and film and television kind of affect what you are trying to say with the story to begin with?
Well it was, goodness me, very nearly 15 years ago when I began work on The Boys and in fact at that point I was already thinking about it. And so the notion of one corporation getting hold of something like superheroes to the detriment of all the other corporations, and their reactions via the government, seem to me to be really the way to go.
If you look back to that time, you can see a kind of bold faced move by the corporations into government. It's the beginning of the second Bush administration, '05 through '08, and they're really making no secret of the fact that they have several large companies propping them up, and profiting by their auctions abroad. And that was really what drove that aspect of The Boys more than anything else.
In the story there's several specific parallels between the superheroes that are part of The Seven, and Superman, Batman, Aquaman and the like. How do you approach that sort of thing? Is it lampooning? Is it a critique? Is it just kind of like a fun House Mirror? How do you see it?
Well, in practical terms, I had up at that point been working for DC comics for about 15 years, and I was on what they call the comps list and so they sent me copies of everything they did. So even though I have no interest in them, I couldn't help but know how their teams were put together and which characters tended to feature.
I even wrote a little bit in the DC Universe, I had a series of my own that took place on kind of the fringe of that world, so I was familiar with the characters. Beyond that, I would just fall back on the notion of suspicion and disdain. What would these people really be like?
I said earlier, that to my mind, superheroes in the real world, which is an old question really, would be a mixture of politicians and rock stars. Meaning they'd have glitz and glamor and fame and adulation, but they'd also have a genuine effect on our world. And so that would be the point at which corporations would get involved, that would be the moment where they become a brand, where they'd be bought and turned into a brand.
Whether it's Preacher or The Boys, you're watching someone else adapt and interpret your story in a different medium. What's your mindset like going into something like that? Do you try to keep a healthy distance from it? Are you open to a wide variety of interpretations? How does that work for you, seeing your work reinterpreted through someone else's eyes, so to speak?
Well, I think what Preacher taught me was to treat the two as separate. To understand that the book and the adaptation are very, very different. That there'll be moments where they overlap but they are essentially two different creatures born of two different processes.
I think that if you compare the two, The Boys is a considerably easier task to take on because you can really boil the essence of it down to one line, which is something along the lines of "Super heroes are bastards. They need a slap. And these are The Boys who are going to do it."
You can't really do that with Preacher. A lot of people have told me that. That's really a product of the two different processes that I employed when I was doing the two different stories. They were created a by 10 years apart and so I was a different writer when I did The Boys from when I did Preacher.
What sort of interactions did you have with with Eric Kripke, and Seth and Evan throughout the production of the series? Was it fairly hands on for you? Were you kind of just letting them go and see where it went?
Largely I was doing the latter. They were very good about keeping me informed as the thing developed, but again I'd learned from Preacher to step back, not to worry too much.
When you're writing a story like this and you see it coming to TV, do you have any thoughts about the casting? I thought that Karl urban and Jack Quaid are both great, and seem to fit the story quite well in terms of Hughie and Butcher. What are your thoughts on the casting there?
Yeah, I think I would agree with you actually. Butcher is spot on, Karl Urban is terrific. Hughie is obviously a slightly different character in the show in that he's not Scottish. But he is that same essentially decent young man who very quickly realizes that he's out of his depth, and pretty much stays there no matter how he tries to change that.
I think Jack realized that straight away, and I think he's done a tremendous job. It's also nice to see characters who are such precise translations that it's as it if they simply stepped off a page like Homelander and Annie January.
Do you think because Preacher and The Boys are stories with actual endings, they're closed-ended, that gives them an advantage and being adapted to television?
I haven't really thought of it from that point. I think having extra landings gives them the strength as comic book stories. Exactly how far The Boys will go, I suppose will depend in its commercial success. If you look at some of the more successful shows of the last few years, it certainly seems as if the creators have been able to stop when they wanted to. So I would say that would certainly be an advantage, but that's more a function of the success of the show, rather than anything implicit in the story.
Is there any idea of how long you think The Boys might be able to go? Do you feel like it could sustain three, four, maybe five seasons?
I do not know. I tend not to speculate that way. That way lies madness.
With Preacher about to air its final season this summer and The Boys just getting started. Is there another title of yours that you think would be well suited to a television, or even a film adaptation?
Of course there's a number of things that I've done over the last few years that yeah, I think have legs beyond the comic. I did a sci-fi-horror book called Caliban. I did a peculiar post-apocalyptic story about three dogs trying to survive in a world without humans called Rover Red Charlie.
I did a cop drama called Red Team, and I've written an awful lot of war stories, which are really my pride and joy to be honest with you. I have one out at the moment called Sara, which is about a Russian woman sniper in the siege of Leningrad, which I think is very cinematic.
So yes, I have all kinds of things that I think would, would work well on the screen, large or small.
How do you go about researching that and then creating a compelling fictionalized story?
Well, for me the research is really just the fine tuning because the fact is I've been reading stories like that all my life. When everyone else was reading superhero comics when they were kids, I was reading war comics, largely British ones. And I then followed the interest from war comics into military history, which is an interest I've kept up ever since.
And so almost every time I read a new book I'll see a story I want to tell. I'll see some element I want to incorporate into a fictional story. The actual research I was in there would be, as I say, just fine tuning. Making sure I've got the details right. So for me when it comes to war stories, the materials all already in my head, just waiting for a canvas to be poured out on. That's the kind of thing I think I'll always be writing.
What else do you have on the horizon coming out? Any new projects you can speak about?
Sure. I've got a graphic novel coming out next year called The String Bog, which is about the Royal Navy's torpedo bomber operations in World War II. So lots of daring-do on the high seas, Sink the Bismark, all that sort of thing. I've got another Punisher book out soon set in Vietnam, where Nick Fury is caught by the North Vietnamese and Frank Castle is sent in after him.
And longer term, there'll be more war series. I actually have one out at the minute. The first book of two is currently out, it's called Out of the Blue, and it's about a British Royal Air Force fighter bomber pilot on an extremely dangerous low level strike during the end of World War II. So lots of dog fights and ground attacks and that sort of thing. Second part of that I think will be out in July.
The Boys will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video beginning Friday, July 26.