Jesse Blaze Snider, the writer behind Dynamite Entertainment's Evil Ernie explains how he's approaching the difficult task of making homicidal maniac Ernest Fairchild a character readers will root for in this reimagined story.
Evil Ernie and the Chaos Universe have always been fun, filled with characters that people can't help but love (especially Ernie and Smiley) and beautiful artwork that jumps off the page; but let's face it, a homicidal maniac who kills everyone indiscriminately every issue is a hard sell for your average comic book geek. It was a hard sell for me, despite knowing the creators and really genuinely loving the characters. I always wanted to root for Ernie, but it was nearly impossible to do that and not feel...well, sort of evil yourself. The main thing I set out to do with this series was find a way to keep Ernie & Smiley as the lovable homicidal maniacs that they are, but put their kill sprees into a context where people could actually root for them, but I didn't want to loose the darkness that made Chaos Comics...well, chaotic.
Here's what I came up with...
In the world of Evil Ernie there is an eternal conflict that has existed for all time, a war between good and evil, Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil. Moral souls rise to Heaven and join the ranks of God’s armies. Amoral souls sink below and join the fight from the other side. As everyone knows in the real world, the good die young, often as victims of evil men. This unfortunate unbalance on Earth keeps Heaven strong and Hell weak, but Hell has just made its first move towards tipping the scales back the other way.
Ernest Fairchild was destined to be Heaven’s greatest General in its eternal war against Hell. But when the dark forces found out about him, they set young Ernie on a rapid road to damnation. Through demonic possession and manipulation of his family, friends and neighbors, Ernie was deprived of the nurture which should have led him down a path of righteousness and eventually took him to Heaven. Instead, Evil Ernie was driven to sin and Hell had a deal waiting for him. With Heaven’s greatest weapon under their control, Hell finally has the power to free Lucifer from the 9th Circle of Hell and destroy the Kingdom of Heaven. But in order to do that, they need a million of the most EVIL sinners the world has to offer. They need megadeath.
Aided by his psychic ability to see into the minds of all people and judge them good or evil, Ernie is going to kill his way across the globe until he reaches megadeath and sets Lucifer free. Guided by his longtime imaginary friend Smiley, who is actually a demon from the deepest depths of Hell that has been manipulating Ernie since childhood, Ernie is led towards the greatest possible recruits for Hell’s Army and will judge everyone else along the way. The righteous live, the wicked die.
Though driven insane by his torturous upbringing, Ernie still has a natural inclination towards punishing the evil and helping the good. He's a good guy by nature. He couldn’t be happier that his homicidal activities are seemingly helping make the world a better place. In his mind, he is a hero and Smiley couldn’t be happier about feeding this delusion. Ernie won’t know what he is really doing until its too late.
Of course, Smiley knows exactly what they are doing. The color commentating possessed button will ensure the delivery of the 999,999 sinners (111,111 for each of the 9 Circles of Hell), including “the NINE,” Generals that will lead Hell’s armies (Pagan, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery) to victory! But Hell needs one more very special, very “evil” soul to reach a million and that soul belongs to ERNIE! Hell will pull out all the stops, doing everything they can to murder Ernie and free Lucifer so they can kill God and destroy Heaven once and for all!
Now, it’s the journey, not the destination, and along the way Evil Ernie will have to make his way through the police, the military, religious crusaders, the entity of Death, the physical embodiment of FATE, just under a million of the worst this world has to offer and everything Heaven can throw at him in order to achieve megadeath and get stabbed in the back by Hell for his troubles.
And what happens once we reach “Armageddon?”
Does Ernie switch sides and turn the tide back to Heaven’s favor? What if he can’t? What happens when God is dead and Heaven is destroyed? What will the world be like without the moral guiding light of the Hereafter? Who would step up to the task of enforcing a moral code in a Godless world? Or better yet, who would lead the fight to put things back the way they were and rebuild Heaven anew? Who but the kid who was originally destined to be Heaven’s greatest weapon, Heaven’s greatest General! Maybe this was all supposed to happen exactly the way it did. Maybe Evil Ernie was destined to be Heaven’s Homicidal Maniac after all.
MORAL AMBIGUITY. That's what Evil Ernie is really about. You wanna root for him and you can, but you really can't; what he is doing will ultimately mean the end of the world as we know it, though its hard to argue that he is making the world a better place. It's also about "Nature versus nurture." By nature Ernie is one of the best of us, but thanks to his nurture he is arguably one of the worst. It's also about making sense of religion in the modern world: why do the good die young? Why doesn't God play a bigger part in our daily lives? Has He abandoned us or does the system He has in place just work for him? I think it does. Our book will show why this system is in place and ultimately why it needs to be rethought.
At it's heart Evil Ernie is still a book about a homicidal maniac and his lovable, psychotic, talking, smiley-faced button, but now you actually can root for Ernie to win! On top of that, now Evil Ernie is a book that explores religion and philosophy in new and interesting ways. Questioning what we all think of as right and wrong and asking our readers to reevaluate what they know and what they think they know. I hope that the spectrum of gray that we display in the pages of Evil Ernie will open up peoples' minds to the reality of the world we live in. Nothing is black and white. It's all grays, and Ernie is the grayest character I have ever written.
My partner in crime on this book is Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash artist and SPIKE TV: SCREAM AWARD Nominee, Jason Craig. Jason is, no exaggeration, doing the best work of his career! And putting in so much into to every page that our editor keep having to tell him to STOP and worry about deadlines. But that's okay; that's what editors are supposed to do. But artists like Jason Craig who put this much of themselves into a comic book are one in a thousand and I am sooo happy to have him.
I took this job because I loved Evil Ernie. But I also took it because I knew that peoples' expectations for an Evil Ernie comics were pretty low, and if I could deliver something that was smart and fun and made a modicum of sense that I would be able to surprise people and make this a book that people would talk about and hopefully be something I could hang my hat on as a writer. With that in mind, I wrote EIGHT DRAFTS of Evil Ernie #1, SIX DRAFTS of #2 & #3. I'm working on #4 now. What I am saying is the creative team behind Evil Ernie is giving it everything we have. We're leaving it all in the book and we really hope you give this book a real chance to be the success that we all believe it can be.
Thanks for reading. See ya round the convention circuit! ;)
Jesse Blaze Snider, writer EVIL ERNIE