In an elevator of the Omni Hotel in San Diego this weekend, a young man wearing a Comic-Con badge spots a Morrow publicist holding a copy of Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. “Has he signed it yet?” the man asks. I jump in, “Are you an Ellis fan?” He replies, “Of course," then brags about getting Ellis's autograph during a booth signing.

A minute later, I am shaking hands with Ellis in the doorway of his hotel room. He is a big man, tall and stout. His wiry hair is sparse on top and long in the back, his beard not overly groomed. We sit at a desk. "Mind if I smoke?" Ellis asks. From the smell of the room, and the five packs of Silk Cut cigarettes stacked on the desk, I guess that if I did mind the interview would be pretty short.

This is the British writer's first trip to Comic-Con since 1997. I ask him why he stayed away so long. "Have you been out there?” he says, pointing toward the convention center, where swarms of fans are clogging the hall (attendance at the sold-out show, which ended Sunday, is estimated to have far exceeded last year's record of 120,000 people).

The author's presence here is a big deal, only in part because of his 10-year absence. The 39-year-old writer's long resume includes the successful comics series, Transmetropolitan, Planetary, Nextwave and the Authority, as well as many graphic novels. His mixes cultural and political satire with gross-out humor, inspiring a cult-like intensity among fans. But his sales make him mainstream. In other words, he's exactly the kind of writer you would expect to find at the nation's biggest fan show.

Was his last experience at Comic-Con so terrible? “It wasn’t terrible,” he says. “It was just so stultifyingly goddamn boring.” And this time? “Much the same, just busier.”

Busy is an understatement. Ellis is here to promote not only his first prose novel, Crooked Little Vein (Morrow, July), but a number of new comics works with Avatar Press, including the superheroes mini-series Black Summer, the sci-fi series Doktor Sleepless and the graphic novel Crecy. His publishers have him on a grueling schedule of signings and panels. “They come and get me and take me to the convention center,” he said. “I think they have knives."

I'd been warned that Ellis often, to put it nicely, displayed a lack of interest in social niceties. But on this afternoon, he is charming and very funny. His remarks are caustic, but not mean spirited. And if he’s in a rush to end the interview, he’s good about not showing it.

He insists he dashed off his first prose novel as a stunt because agent was nagging him to write one. “’I’m literally cackling when I write it. ‘This will shut her up,’” Ellis says. He must have liked the experience well enough; he’s signed with Morrow for a second novel. The plot of Crooked Little Vein revolves around a burned-out private detective hired to retrieve the "real," long-lost U.S. Constitution. But the plot is just a frame to showcase various forms of deviance (sexual and otherwise), corruption and general weirdness. Most of it true, says Ellis, who exploits the gallery of perversion displayed on the Internet.

Will the author’s many loyal comics fans follow him to prose? I put the question to some of those fans on the convention floor. “I read the first couple of pages (of Crooked Little Vein) and it’s funny as hell,” says Kevin Davies, 25, of Vancouver, who came to Comic-Con specifically to see Ellis. Roberto Rodarte, 21, who lives near San Diego, says he didn’t think Ellis’s fans would have any problem embracing him as a novelist. “His work is just so diverse. It’s not that far of a stretch,” Rodarte says.

Davies and Rodarte agreed that Ellis has a sensibility that transcends form. “The crazy old man kind of image is what’s so funny,” Davies said. “He’s kind of like a not-as-crazy Alan Moore.” Rodarte believes he sees Ellis reflected in his characters. "These guys don't give a fuck about anything."

Back in his hotel room, I ask Ellis, who lives in England, why he so often writes about America. “You people believe you gained your independence from us. That’s actually a joke. We invented America because we didn’t have television,” he says. What’s so amusing about America? “For one thing, it turns out you can fly the Space Shuttle drunk” And he’s off…“America is a million different experiments. For everything wonderful thing it’s done, there’s also a Paris Hilton.”

Ellis lights a second cigarette. Between puffs he takes swigs of Red Bull. The desk is cluttered with junk food—Snickers, M&Ms, Doritoes, Starburst. I ask him how many cigarettes he smokes a day. Normally, he says, only 12. He doesn’t smoke in his home because he doesn’t want his 11-year-old daughter exposed to it. But he's making the most of his smoking room at the Omni.

Happy or not, Ellis is one of the stars of this year's show. The blogs are buzzing about news that he has signed to write Marvel's Astonishing X-Men series. So will he consider returning to Comic-Con next year. “No,” he says. “Once a decade is enough.”