Why writers are public intellectuals.

Warren Ellis writes about Umberto Eco as public intellectual, and compares Italy under Berlusconi to what sounds like the America we’re in right now. Ellis writes: “Pure reportage [is] conscious people telling you where they think we are and what they think it looks like.”

Like Ta-Nehisi Coates, etc. Lots of great writers. Doing a highly structured piece of social fiction for 1,000 pages takes a lot out of a person. There may just be one of those in each writer. 

For me, I’ve been playing around with the idea of a mountain town—where lots of weird stuff happens. I call it Snowden, and it’s a location that I keep going back to, especially now that I’m far removed from the Adirondacks. The point of the name is not an allusion to Edward Snowden, but it came to me long before he was a thing–the name is a Doves song. Ever since this song, I’ve been finding using the name for a location to do all kinds of things. It’s kind of like John Hughes’s Shermer, Illinois, combined with a bit of Twin Peaks. What does six to eight months of winter do to people? All sorts of weird things to stay warm.

So when I look for something to read, I want it to be something from someone who’s aware of the world and is telling me something new about what’s in it and how they perceive it.

When I think about political comic books like Ex Machina and Letter 44 that’s what Vaughan and Soule were doing. When I read a Benjamin Percy book I think the same. They’re taking a look at the world and writing about what it looks like to them, by putting characters in extraordinary situations.

When I read AD: After Death by Snyder and Lemire, I think about the merging of prose and comics, which is something I’ve been doing and building on since I was thirteen. By converting comics into prose you can become a better, more confident writer. That’s why I was obsessed with The Worst Writer Ever, after it was declined to be my graduate thesis.

With Walden: The Graphic Novel it’s the adaptation of nonfiction into comic book. With Snowden, I have a lot to say about the Adirondacks and what it can do to people. Snowden is probably the playground that I’ll play in across mediums: from comics to the third novel I just finished the first draft on. That I’ll rewrite this fall. So ask yourself:

Right now, in your mind, where do you think you are as a society and what do you think it looks like?


  1. Do you remember where the Ellis quote was originally reported? I seem to remember it was CBR.com.
    I had a disagreement with Ellis about the way he was interpreting Eco’s words, but I have forgotten what we exactly said and for the life of me I cannot find the original piece anymore.


    1. davidmpress says:

      Thanks for asking this! I remember it being on his blog and later published in his book Shivering Sands.


      1. Thanks. I remember the disagreement was about intellectuals having public political views: Warren not being Italian obviously did not know that ALL intellectuals in Italy have a clear political affiliation (plus the Italian mentality is always difficult to explain to non Italian people), but I cannot remember how the exchange went. 😀


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