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Garth Ennis discusses the swords and hijinks in 'Babs'

Comic Books

Garth Ennis discusses the swords and hijinks in ‘Babs’

The new AHOY Comics series due out this summer!

When we spoke to Garth Ennis at the end of 2023, he was about to launch his run on James Bond. Now, the acclaim writer has a different kind of hero in work for his latest project. Reuniting with artist Jacen Burrows (following 2010’s zombie-centric Crossed), Ennis is leaping into the world of fantasy with Babs.

Published by the kind-natured weirdos at AHOY Comics, Babs follows a “skilled barbarian thief with an itchy metal wardrobe and the world’s worst enchanted sword (named Barry).” The pair’s plans to strike it rich amid a “fabulous fantasy universe” are suddenly complicated when they uncover a “foul plot” from the dastardly Tiberius Toledo to “exploit the baser instincts of the local townsfolk.” With Ennis’ trademark with and intensity, Babs is already looking like a series with the gumption to really go for it (and by it, I mean a darker, sillier, and more relevant fantasy series than we’ve seen in some time).

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Issue #1 of Babs is due out July 17. In the lead-up, Ennis was kind enough to answer a few questions, including his interest in the fantasy genre, his ongoing collaboration with Burrows, the pillars of sword and sorcery stories, and some interesting connections to other recent projects. Based on these answers, Ennis clearly rolled a nat 20 for charisma!

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for Babs?

Garth Ennis: An extremely capable barbarian woman with the shittiest luck imaginable and a particularly pissy magic sword. A fantasy world of high adventure populated by fabulous creatures beyond your imagination — most of them complete arseholes. Sex, violence, laughs, horror, romance and a really good bit with a bear.

AIPT: I saw that you said that “writing Babs was an absolute hoot,” and you loved this character type. When you’re making a character, how do you balance things you like about a person versus making them grounded/slightly shitty?

GE: Those are things I like about people.

AIPT: What about sword and sorcery is appealing to you, especially as someone who has written across a veritable cornucopia of genres?

GE: It actually didn’t appeal at all until quite recently; I generally find it a bit pompous and very lazy. But I really enjoyed writing Hawk the Slayer for Rebellion, and there was a good deal of the genre I liked as a kid — Stormbringer, Hawk, Slaine in 2000 AD, The Hobbit (the latter being one I still regard as Storytelling 101). And once I started idly wondering about a sword and sorcery story, it was only a matter of time before Babs came along.

Babs

Babs #1 variant cover by Chris Burnham. Courtesy of AHOY Comics.

AIPT: Building on that last question, what are the 3-4 pillars of a truly good fantasy story?

GE: Swordplay, sarcasm, horns of ale. My three pillars are probably not the same as most people’s three pillars.

AIPT: What was it like working with Jacen Burrows again? How did he do given that this was reportedly his first fantasy story/title?

GE: Jacen’s one of those artists who can handle anything, it’s one of the things I like about him—his strong points are storytelling, action, character and humour. So it’s not really a question of genre so much as the trust we enjoy as frequent collaborators; we pretty much hit the ground running in that regard, with 303 [happening] about 20 years ago.

AIPT: Do you subscribe to the idea of fantasy and sci-fi being on the same spectrum? And if so, does that influence the way you might approach a story like this?

GE: I have a slight preference for sci-fi, but I agree that they’re both essentially fantasy genres. I probably take sci-fi more seriously just because it can often be that bit closer to our own world—one step less removed, you might say—and therefore a little more useful for commentary upon it. Sword and sorcery has never hit the heights of things like Alien, The Terminator, The Thing, Blade Runner, etc.

AIPT: When you’re building the world of Babs, do you lean on specific fantasy tropes and inspirations, or are you trying to do something specifically new/novel?

GE: It’s very much a question of finding the humour in traditional sword & sorcery settings and characters, much of it dark. I like finding new ways to look at the genre through mockery and derision.

Babs

Babs #1 variant cover by Amanda Conner. Courtesy of AHOY Comics.

AIPT: Is there any connection (tonely, emotionally, etc.) between this and, say, Marjorie Finnegan? How would you describe what you’re doing in this “period” of your career?

GE: I’d say that although the genres are distinct—Babs is sword and sorcery, Marj is pretty much sci-fi — the real difference lies in the characters. Babs is a down at heel barbarian who frequently has to shelve her hopes & dreams and focus on survival instead, whilst Marj is a fucking lunatic determined to have fun. If Marj has an imperative it’s the struggle not to take life seriously; Babs is frequently forced to, whether she likes it or not.

Right now for me it’s a mixture of having fun with stories like Marj and Babs, and writing more serious fare like The Ribbon Queen and another upcoming horror book. I’m really enjoying working on characters from my comics-reading adolescence with 2000 AD and Battle Action. And whenever I can, I’ll return to my favourite genre of war fiction.

AIPT: Speaking of Marjorie Finnegan, this is another book released at AHOY. What’s it like working with this publisher — is it a dream place for Ennis stories?

GE:  Marjorie was at AWA. But Stuart and Tom at AHOY are old friends from the early days of Vertigo, it was only a matter of time before we did something together.

AIPT: Finally, to borrow a question from a dear AIPT colleague: if Babs were a song, what would it be and why?

GE: Hopefully the kind that earns its writer a buck or two every time it’s played. And that is played many, many times.

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