Warren Ellis is a [Shivering] Genius

Shivering Sands

Warren Ellis is my goddamn hero.

In case you don’t have a clue, Warren Ellis is pretty much the comic industry’s best mad scientist. Not only is Ellis responsible for some of the best creator-owned properties of all time (Transmetropolitan & Doktor Sleepless come to mind), but he also pushes well-established properties into more compelling storylines. I’ve spent the last few years fawning over Ellis’ writing, going as far as to write a twenty-four page research paper exploring the implications of hyperreality in Doktor Sleepless.

But more than just the scribe behind some great funnybooks, Warren Ellis always has something interesting to say. Through his website, weekly columns and forum, the mad Englishman (aren’t they all?) offers a brand of insight that can only be understated as unique. Without reservation, Ellis tackles what he believes to be the trends/technologies/perspectives of the future while examining the precedents to which we so desperately cling.

For your pleasure, one of my favorite excerpts from Ellis’ 2001 collection of short essays/posts, Come in Alone:

Fuck superheroes, frankly. The notion that these things dominate an entire genre is absurd. It’s like every bookstore on the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels. Imagine that. You want a new novel, but have to wade through three hundred new books about romances in the wards before you can get at any other genre. A medium where the relationship of fiction about nurses outweighs mainstream literary fiction by a ratio of one hundred to one. Superhero comics are like bloody creeping fungus, and they smother everything else. (p. 78)

Clearly, Warren Ellis is a creator devoted to the medium of comic books rather than the industry. And that’s a sentiment to which all artists should aspire.

Last week it was brought to my attention that pre-orders were being taken for Shivering Sands, Ellis’ new collection of essays, rants, reviews and other musings. At first glance, I figured that I would just snag the paperback at a bookstore; but then I realized that Shivering Sands is only available online. The author is experimenting with print-on-demand (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like) and therefore offering his newest compilation through Lulu. More than willing to give my (barely) hard-earned cash to Ellis, I ordered immediately and began anticipating the delivery.

My copy of Shivering Sands arrived last night. Despite being inundated with work, I have already blasted through the first sixty-some-odd pages. Seriously, I wish that I hadn’t already finished the media-component of my English degree because I would walk into the classroom wielding this book like Mjöllnir and smashing shit up with a ferocity that would make Thor piss his God-sized underoos. The examinations of technology and media are fucking mindblowing, delving into the notion (also found throughout Doktor Sleepless) that we are actually living in “the future,” but are incapable of recognizing it as such.

Another early highlight is found in Microcast, a January 2004 theorizing of why 2003 was an absolute dud in terms of mainstream entertainment/art. Ellis posits that niche broadcasting and narrowcasting in the digital era allows for the user to reverse the once unilateral transmission of information; in other words, users are now looking for what they want to find rather than accepting what they are given.

Ellis muses,

The mass audience is breaking down into smaller sets; and beyond that, into what Dr. Joshua Ellis (no relation) terms ‘taste tribes’ — people whose group status is defined by their particular cultural apprehension. Where one says, I know and interact with this person on the initial basis that we share tastes. Not that we all trade notes on Star Trek — not a fan thing — but that we share a cultural sphere. This creates and defines a loose community of its own, stitched together by cultural communication. And with the net in place, taste tribes are borderless. (p. 40)

I’m not even finished with Shivering Sands but I’m going to suggest that you purchase it. If you’re at all interested in comic books, media theory, chemically-induced diatribes, supporting great artists or just finding something with which to pass some time, check this book out.