What's He Building In There?

Orbital Operations for 23 July 2023

Hello from out here on the Thames Delta. I am building things in my head.

That’s the main theme for our audio drama podcast DEPARTMENT OF MIDNIGHT, which arrived Friday alongside the first build of episode 101.

This week, among other things: I was asked by a publisher I haven’t worked with before to write an eight-page comics piece specifically for an artist I have worked with before, and I think it turned out okay.

But, of course, everyone in comics is in San Diego this week, so I won’t find out until next week.

Anyway. Got something for you. It’s OPPENHEIMER weekend too, right? Well, forty-odd years ago, the BBC did a series about Oppenheimer. I remember catching a little bit of it as a kid, probably the first time I saw the brilliant Sam Waterston. Written by Peter Prince, directed by Barry Davis, in a herculean production by Peter Goodchild and Ruth Caleb. I can’t promise you how long it will be there, but damn if it isn’t all on YouTube. So if you can’t make it out to see the new one, or you just want to see how the BBC used to make shit happen just because the purely creative urge to do so was there, clear some time and have a watch:

This image by Leo and Diane Dillon came across my feeds the other day. I first saw it sometime in the late 70s, I think? Maybe early 80s. This and a scene from Druillet’s LONE SLOANE directly inspired a sequence in SUPREME BLUE ROSE, the serialised graphic novel I did with the marvellous Tula Lotay that nobody ever read. Well, nobody except, I was once told, Alan Moore, who evidently read and enjoyed it. Which I will certainly take as my one reader.

I still think of that book as a success. Same with SHIPWRECK, which Philip Hester elevated beyond imagination. I don’t think more than a dozen people on Earth read them both. But, god, they were joyful to discover and write, and I think I was better for having done them.


My name is Warren Ellis, and I’m a writer from England. These newsletters are about the work I do and the creative life I try to lead. I send them every Sunday to subscribers. Feel free to send your friends to orbitaloperations.beehiiv.com , where they can read the most recent letters and subscribe for their own.

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I’m not finding much new that I particularly want to read right now, so I’m starting the annual re-read and catch-up early. The Schrader is particularly valuable for its new foreword, a very long piece about slow cinema and everything that happened in the period after he wrote the original book (late 60s, I think), with especial focus on Tarkovsky and Tarr. I have the Tarkovsky in print (as well as the immense TARKOVSKY: FILMS, STILLS, POLAROIDS AND WRITINGS), but Orbital Operations reader John Vaccaro gave me a MOBI version that I used Calibre to convert into an EPUB file that I could stuff into the Kindle. Thanks, John!

Similarly, my viewing is all set up for me:

I’ve owned the Criterion blu-ray Ingmar Bergman collection for a few years - I found it at some freak discount and leapt on it before the sellers noticed - but I’ve only yet watched a handful of the films. Not least because just one of them, the “minor” documentary FARO DOCUMENT, inspired me so profoundly that I sat thinking about it for a month and then spent a week writing a very full (if scrappy and chaotic) outline for a graphic novella. Which I then realised was probably unpublishable, and had been developed without an artist in mind or in collaboration with, so I put it in a digital drawer, where it’s lain for four years.

I have always preferred to develop comics material for and with specific artists. I want to play into their strengths, and go where they want to go. And, obviously, if professional comics artists who want to work with me make themselves known to me, I will continue to do that.

But also: I’m having the feeling that I want to go where I want to go, and find someone who wants to go along once I’ve beaten the path.

When I can’t find anything new that I want to read, it generally means I need to write it.

Lots of complaining in the last little while about “algorithmic” monoculture -I saw a stat at the weekend that four of the top ten albums in the US are by the same person, and seven of the top fifteen books in the US are by the same person, and that’s laid squarely at the feet of Spotify and TikTok. Everything feels flat and samey and people feel as if they’re only allowed to like, see or even know about the same five things. All the stories look or read or sound the same.

The answer is to make something else.




EDITED TO ADD: Grant Morrison is releasing new short comics through their paid newsletter. I feel like digital comics creation is something I myself don’t have access to, and my head is definitely more in physical objects these days, but there’s Grant, making it happen, because they’ve always known the answer is to make something new.



WARRENELLIS.LTD is my personal notebook, in which I make new entries several times a day. Think of it as all the things I can't fit into this newsletter, from links and bookmarks to reviews, random thoughts and life notes. If you use a RSS reader, it generates a feed at https://warrenellis.ltd/feed/ .

Also, if you’re missing the music element, I got another care package from Zoharum Records.

The below is NOT an ad - it’s me testing a built-in newsletter recommendation system. I like Wall Texts, it’s a fun dose of art in the inbox.

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I’m out. Be good to yourself. Breathe through the stress and look at the light. It helps. See you next week.