We caught up with comics legend and Preacher creator Garth Ennis to talk about the upcoming release of World of Tanks: Citadel, a new digital and printed comic book series based on the popular online multiplayer game.
The World of Tanks games are pretty light on storytelling. Was that blank canvas a limitation or an opportunity for you?
"Very much an opportunity. I can tell any tank combat story I like, which with the Second World War alone gives me a great many options. Beyond that there are really no major parameters regarding where I can go or what I can do - I want to make sure the story is as historically accurate as possible, but to me that isn’t a limitation, it’s actually part of the appeal."
This is your second run writing World of Tanks comics. What didn’t you explore with the previous Roll Out series that you feel drawn to explore in Citadel?
"Citadel is set during the Battle of Kursk, which is one of the biggest tank battles of the entire war- if not of all time. It was a very wide-ranging battle of constant movement over a great deal of open space- the enemy could be seen coming from miles away and cut up in large numbers, as opposed to all that sneaking around in hedgerows that you had in series one, with smaller units or even single tanks stalking each other around Normandy. There’s also that sense of total war and utter ruthlessness one finds in the fighting between Germany and Russia; the Germans and British treated each other with occasional humanity and the Geneva convention actually meant something, so that atrocity was by no means commonplace, but on the Russian front the two sides despised each other and atrocity was pretty much the order of the day."
Roll Out emphasized the humanity on both sides of the conflict. Why did you feel like that was an important decision to make?
"It adds an extra layer to the narrative, but beyond that, it gives you a close-up look at twice the number of tank types. I assumed that one of the things World of Tanks fans would want is to see the vehicles in some detail- I certainly do- rather than simply be targets in a particular protagonist’s gunsight. By looking at both sides we can see how the different tanks work, their good and bad points, how their crews learned to use them and how they felt about them."
Are there any returning characters or is it a whole new cast? Was there any temptation to do a more straightforward follow-up to Roll Out?
"German tankers Karl Kraft and Freddie Stadler return from series one, although Citadel is set a year earlier than the action we saw there, so although they’re already veterans they’re perhaps not quite as cynical. Their tank is a Panzer IV, far more reliable than the Panther they were saddled with in series one. The new characters are their opposition, Russian tankers Piotr Piotrowicz and his driver, Natalya Pukhova- known to all and sundry as “Ginger”, because of her red hair. They’re veterans too, but they’re going to need to be- they’ve been issued a Matilda, supplied by the British under lend-lease, which is not much fun when the rest of the Soviet forces are equipped with the vastly superior T-34.
"I do have an idea to revisit the characters from the first series at some point, but I’m letting that one simmer until it’s ready. "
You’re also working with a different artist on Citadel (PJ Holden). What did he bring to the project?
"PJ actually did three out of five episodes in the first series. He’s great- proper attention to detail, good with reference, excellent storytelling and characterization, draws tanks well."
I’ve read that you’re an avid student of WW2 history. How long have you had that interest? Has that interest ever leaked into other projects?
"Really since childhood- the comics I read as a kid (Battle, Commando and the various Picture Library series) led into an interest in military history that survives to this day. At this point I’ve written dozens of war stories- Battlefields for Dynamite, War Story and 303 for Avatar, Johnny Red for Titan, Battler Britton for DC, Dreaming Eagles for Aftershock etc. I’ve also managed to get a good deal of military fiction into my runs on Fury and The Punisher for Marvel."
What are the common pitfalls that these sorts of projects fall into when it comes to representing history?
"Specific to comics, introducing fantasy- as soon as superheroes, dragons, giant robots or whatever make their way into a war story it’s instantly killed stone dead, as far as I’m concerned. Other problems are common to all media when producing historical fiction- a writer failing to consider how people acted, spoke and thought at the time and instead imposing his or her own 21st century values and mannerisms on the characters; or lack of proper research; or a failure to consider characters in context, so that they know what we know with hindsight, rather than what they would have known at the time."
How do you think World of Tanks rates when it comes to its historical recreations?
"I can really only speak for Nick Moran’s World of Tanks research, which I think is superb. "
The first issue of World of Tanks: Citadel is available to purchase now via Dark Horse comics.