A review of "Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts," a concise documentary that offers a rich, satisfying portrait of (and an extensive, highly quotable interview with) one of the most influential comic-book writers of the past 50 years.

Share story

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never read any of Warren Ellis’ innovative comics or graphic novels. The prolific writer’s first extensive interview forms the core of this bare-bones documentary, and Ellis (born in Essex, England) comes across as a guy you could happily spend hours with in a pub. If nicotine fuels his fervent imagination, it is, for him, a small price to pay. Booze and cigarettes will surely kill him, eventually, but his work makes him immortal.

Filmmaker Patrick Meaney has interviewed many of Ellis’ friends, collaborators and admirers (including Seattle scholar Steven Shaviro), resulting in a regrettable excess of hero worship, but the effusive praise is arguably justified: From the dystopian sprawl of “Transmetropolitan” (“a touchstone for futurists”) to the genre-busting superheroes of “Stormwatch,” Ellis has broken every rule and emerged triumphant, creating a dark, cynical vision of problematic futures made bearable by an undying glimmer of hope for humankind. “Bugger this,” reads the epitaph of one of his most beloved characters, “I want a better world.”

Ellis is happy with “Red,” the 2010 action film adapted from his graphic novel (its co-star Helen Mirren is briefly interviewed), and turns 44 next month at the top of his game. “Captured Ghosts” falls short as biography (for example, his only child’s mother is never identified), but as a portrait of a man bursting with ideas and mischievous humor, it’s a wild, anecdotal ride packed with quotable quotes.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net