Entertaining Violence. Distancing the Audience from the Violent Content in Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s "Preacher Book One"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

19 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Establishing a distancing framework

3. The convention of strong first impression in Preacher

4. Black humor in Preacher

5. Exaggeration of violence in Preacher

6. Conclusion


Works Cited

1. Introduction

Violence and the media have been sharing a long history together. This is primarily because people have always been interested in the question whether violence in the media increases the aggressive potential of real human beings. Although this question, according to Kunczik and Zipfel, cannot be answered satisfactorily, great parts of the world’s population blame violence in the media for being responsible for the sway in our nowadays society (399). Nonetheless, violence rapidly gains more and more importance in the pop culture which also affects the productions of media corporations (Ahrens 125). Action and horror movies often cause rushes to the cinemas and theaters worldwide. Bookstores sell thousands of thrillers every year and the names of authors such as Steven King or John Sinclair are famous throughout the globe. However, also smaller markets like the comics market are crowded with whole series containing a huge amount of violence and are, therefore, recommended for mature readers only. One graphic novel which “filled itself to the brim with violence, cursing and things most would never dream of publishing” (Batson, “Vertigo – The Birth of an Imprint”), is Vertigo’s Preacher (see fig. 1) by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. The protagonist, priest Jesse Custer, accidentally merges with a mysterious creature called Genesis. From that point on, he possesses the power of God. Together with his ex-girlfriend Tulip and the Irish vampire Cassidy, he starts a horrible and dark journey across the USA in order to find God, who has abdicated heaven’s throne. As already mentioned, Preacher contains a lot of violence which makes it according to Korsun “the most intense adult comic in ages” (44). Hence, the “intensity of violence is located to a large extend in the degree to which it is presented as immediate an impactful on the viewer” (King, “’Killingly funny’” 129). Nevertheless, King also argues that a huge amount of immediate violence can distract the audience (“’Killingly funny’” 129).

To keep their comic entertaining, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon had to establish certain narrative techniques which helped them to distance their readership from Preacher’s violent content. This leads to the circumstance that Ennis’ and Dillon’s work does not only contain hostile violence, but also a more humorous, almost kind violence. To prove this statement, the following paper will take a closer look how the authors succeeded in distancing the readership from such intense fictional violence. The paper is structured as follows: chapter two provides a brief overview of the essential narrative techniques which are necessary to create a distancing effect in terms of making the rather disturbing violence more enjoyable. In chapter three, we will analyze several scenes adhering to the previously defined narrative techniques. The conclusion of the paper presents a summary of the main results.

2. Establishing a distancing framework

According to King “Screen violence is never presented in a ‘pure’ and ‘immediate’ form” (“’Killingly funny’” 129). With that said, violence in the media always needs some kind of justification such as a particular contextual background in order to circumvent the rules of censorship or the like elegantly. Additionally, it seems as if too much violence causes negative reactions among the audience (King, “’Killingly funny’” 129). Therefore, directors of horror movies or authors of comic books such as Preacher, had to establish a framework of techniques to make their works enjoyable for the consumer on the one hand, and acceptable for the censorship bodies on the other hand (King, “’Killingly funny’” 129). One of these narrative techniques is, for instance, the use of different “genre or subgenre conventions” (King, “’Killingly funny’” 129). Concerning the utilization of such conventions, King comes up with the example of the typical “serial-killer format” (“’Killingly funny’” 129), which is applied in many well-known horror movies such as in Halloween or Friday the 13th.

Whenever somebody sees one of these movies, he or she will always know at least a little bit about what has to be expected in similar works dealing with a serial-killer. Therefore, horror movies following the serial-killer format lose their tension and become somewhat predictable. To be more precise, genre conventions help the recipients to distance themselves from the fictional violence presented on screen. Another narrative technique, mentioned by King, is the use of comical elements in combination with a violent content (“’Killingly funny’” 129). In this context, different kinds of comedy are used. On the one hand, we have the so-called grotesque or gross-out comedy (King, Film Comedy 75). A common strategy used in this context is to be “politically incorrect” (King, Film Comedy 75). Physical disability, mental limitation, illness or incapacity, for instance, are major sources to realize the grotesque and the absurd (King, Film Comedy 75). On the other hand, we have the so-called ‘black humor’, which is defined as a “humorous way of looking at or treating something that is serious or sad” (Cambridge Dictionaries Online). Such a humor is often constructed through incongruity, which means the mismatches, for example, between the trivial conversations of the characters and the explicit violent content of a specific scene (King, Film Comedy 186). Last but not least, King argues that exaggeration of violence is also a device to distance the audience from the fictional violence presented on screen (“’Killingly funny’” 129). According to Kinder, this exaggeration is created, for instance, through the excessive representation of fictional violence (68).

Since it is now clear which narrative techniques can cause distancing, comic or entertaining effects in movies with extreme physical violence, it is important to mention that such techniques do not always work in the manner mentioned above. Many people watching horror movies for the first time are often not able to recognize any conventions of this genre at all. Hence, they do not perceive fictional violence as entertaining but as disgusting (Winter 194).

Correspondingly, narrative techniques such as exaggeration, black humor, or specific conventions, are only recognized by people who are familiar with genres like action or horror genres containing much violence. Although King just writes about these narrative techniques concerning new Hollywood movies, they can also be transferred to other kinds of media, such as graphic novels. Therefore, one can analyze them in the same manner as movies, which will be illustrated in the following chapters.

3. The convention of strong first impression in Preacher

As it is portrayed in the above, conventions of specific genres can be used to create a distancing effect from fictional violence in different sorts of media. This is also true for the comic Preacher, since Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon apply the convention for strong first impression, which is, according to Ecke part of the “mode of practice’s extrinsic norm[s]” (232) and, therefore, evokes some kind of familiar atmosphere in the readers’ minds. To verify this statement, the next section presents the analysis of two scenes which show how two additional characters are introduced to the plot.

The first scene to be analyzed takes place on page 29 (see fig. 2). One of the Adephi, angels who sit on the left side of heaven’s throne, is assigned to go to Boot Hill and wake the Saint of Killers. Afterwards, this Saint of Killers is obligated to find and kill Jesse Custer to bring Genesis back to heaven, who has, in order to get a physical shape, merged with the priest. At the beginning of this sequence, the Adephi comes down the stairs of the tomb of Boot Hill and sees a coffin which is located on top of uncountable human skulls. After removing an observing rattlesnake from the top of the coffin, he opens it and just says the word “Awake” (Ennis and Dillon 29).


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Entertaining Violence. Distancing the Audience from the Violent Content in Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s "Preacher Book One"
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
British Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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10409 KB
Preacher, garth ennis, steve dillon, violence, entertaining violence
Quote paper
Kim Frintrop (Author), 2014, Entertaining Violence. Distancing the Audience from the Violent Content in Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s "Preacher Book One", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/296202


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