Review Fix chats with comic book writer Garth Ennis, who discusses his new Dead Reckoning graphic novel, “The Tankies,” as well as what it’s like to work with original characters.
About The Tankies:
From the bloody battle for Normandy to the Nazi heartland, from war’s end to the killing fields of Korea, the men of the British Army’s Royal Tank Regiment fight battle after battle against terrible odds. Whether outnumbered or outgunned, the Tankies soldier on–as their motto would have it, “From Mud, Through Blood, to the Green Fields Beyond.”
You can find more information about the book here: https://www.deadreckoning.org/book/the-tankies/
Review Fix: What inspired this comic?
Garth Ennis: One of the many war stories I’d always wanted to tell involved the British tank crews of WW2, and their trials and tribulations against their generally better led and equipped opponent- the German Panzer force. I was also keen to try depicting different aspects of a major battle as it developed, in this case the Normandy fighting after the D-Day invasion of 1944. Later on I wanted to handle a one-on-one duel, which we have in the second story in the collection, The Firefly And His Majesty. Lastly, I wanted to portray the Tankies in another war: Korea in 1951, when they finally have a tank that could have taken on the German monsters, but then find that they’re up against a different sort of enemy entirely.
Review Fix: What was it like to work with penciller Carlos (Ezquerra)? What do you think he adds to the book?
Ennis: I grew up reading Carlos’ work on Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog, so it was enormously gratifying to work with him on so many stories over the years, like Condors and Rifle Brigade. He was absolutely invaluable on The Tankies, not just for his expert storytelling and facility with military hardware, but for his wonderful sense of character. His take on Sergeant Stiles is perfect, and his ability to depict a tank crew at work- four or five white guys of similar age, all wearing the same uniform and equipment, all sitting in the gloomy interior of an armored vehicle- came in very handy indeed. Very few people could have pulled that off.
I still miss Carlos terribly, there were just no other artists like him.
Review Fix: What makes it different than the other series you’ve worked on over the years? Who do you think will enjoy this comic the most?
Ennis: This tends to be the kind of thing I never really think about, I just write the stories and hope for the best. So far it’s worked out okay.
Review Fix: Where do you think it stands in your comic book legacy?
Ennis: Quite comfortably alongside my other war fiction- the other Battlefields stories, the War Stories series, and individual titles like Sara, Out of the Blue and The Stringbags. It also makes a nice companion volume to Dead Reckoning’s Night Witches collection.
Review Fix: Mark Milar once told me that it’s so much more satisfying to work on your own characters than established ones. Do you agree?
Ennis: He’s quite correct. Although it can be highly enjoyable to work on your favourite established characters (in my case Fury, The Punisher and Johnny Red), being able to create your own material is really the way to go. Creatively and commercially it really is what makes the most sense. No one can tell you how a given character should behave, or try and shoehorn them into some dopey crossover- and, of course, owning the material you’ve created puts you in a far stronger position financially.
Review Fix: What makes these characters special to you?
Ennis: I’m terribly fond of Stiles- he’s something of a grotesque, but he’s got enough heart that his journey from angry bastard to melancholy survivor still resonates with me, particularly when he reaches a degree of understanding about his achievements. I also quite like what I did with the German Panzer commander- good humored, kind to his men, very human and somehow all the worse for it, given that he’s a diehard Nazi. Really I find that more believable than some sort of easily dismissed goose-stepping caricature. And I like the other Tankies who appear in the three stories- their life expectancy is sometimes limited, but I think I managed a decent depiction of the young conscripts who suffered and strove against the armies of the Third Reich for all those years.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Ennis: Another Punisher miniseries, a new time travel comedy called Marjorie Finnegan, Temporal Criminal (published by AWA/Upshot), a WW2 story about the British in Burma called The Lion & The Eagle, another series of Jimmy’s Bastards, a new story featuring the savagery of the Russian front from TKO, who published Sara- starring a rather different woman protagonist- and a couple of projects from UK publisher Rebellion that I think will surprise a few people.