Long, long ago in the early1990's, Dylan Horrocks began to work on Hicksville,his graphic novel tale of a New Zealand town utterly devoted to comics. To acertain kind of comics fan, the setting is paradise. In Hicksville, little oldladies collect mini-comics from Finland and Mongolia, and multiple copies ofall the issues of Action Comics areavailable at the lending library. Into this world steps an American journalist,Leonard Batts, who, having recently completed a biography of Jack Kirby, is nowturning his attention to Dick Burger, Hicksville's native son, and aworld-famous cartoonist.
Hicksvilleearnedwidespread adoration from fans, as well as both Harvey and Eisner Awards, when itwas released, and now Drawn+Quarterly has brought it back, with a newintroduction by Horrocks. He took some time to talk to PWCW about Hicksville,then and now.
PWCW: How did it feel to return to Hicksvilleafter ten years away?
DH: It is kind of funny comingback to it after a decade or so. That book was a big part of my life, but sincethen a lot has happened. When Chris Oliveros at Drawn+Quarterly first asked meto draw a new introduction for it, I hesitated for a long time-it felt likegoing back to the past.
PWCW: What made you hesitate?
DH: Well, Hicksville was a bigdeal for me in a number of ways. It took me six years to write and draw, it wasmy 'breakthrough' work, and it received a response from readers way beyondanything I'd imagined while working on it. But it was ten years ago-and sincethen comics have gone from a passion to a career for me, which has meant somegood things and some not so good.
PWCW: So what's happened in the intervening years?
DH: A year or so after Hicksvillecame out, I started getting work from DC Comics. First I wrote a series called Hunter: The Age of Magic for Vertigo fora couple of years, and then I wrote the monthly Batgirl title for a year and a half. It was fascinating beinginside the mainstream comics industry, and I worked with some really greatpeople. But it proved to be unhealthy for me as a writer and artist, and for along time I found it very hard to write or draw anything much at all. For a fewyears, I was pretty depressed-something I touch on in the introduction. When Ifinally climbed out of the pit, I was really focused on my rebirth, and on mynew work. The thought of going back to Hicksvilleand the past wasn't easy. So after a while, I told Chris I thought someone elseshould do the introduction, and we started throwing around ideas of who wecould ask.
PWCW: But you did end up writing it.
DH: Yes, one morning, lying in bed before anyoneelse was awake, I found myself thinking about why I'd been so reluctant, andsuddenly the whole introduction opened up in my mind. I think I used theintroduction to reconnect the cartoonist I am today with the lover of comicswho wrote Hicksville. It's one of themost frank and personal things I've ever drawn.
PWCW: What was your life like when you werewriting Hicksville?
DH: I moved to the UK in 1989 with dreams of breaking into theEuropean comics industry, and when I came back to New Zealand in 1992 it wasfor love. I was really torn between the two countries, though, so I went backand forwards a couple of times before finally making up my mind. Some of Hicksville was conceived during thatvery uncertain time.
PWCW: Those sound like difficult conditions for writing a book!
DH: Hicksville first beganforming in my mind during all that uncertainty, partly as an imaginary private utopiaI could visit in my head, and partly as a nostalgic dream of New Zealand-thebeach, the hills, the small-town quirkiness.
PWCW: What would you say the book'sreally about for you?
DH: Well, as my life settled down and I rebuilt my New Zealand roots, andas Hicksville also evolved, it becamea story about what Maori call 'turangawaewae'-which means 'a place to stand'-somethinglike a spiritual home, the place where your roots are buried deep in the earth.I was very aware that New Zealand is at the very margins of the world, just ascomics are at the margins of the literary and art worlds. But both New Zealandand comics are, for me, home. They're where I come from, and where I've alwayschosen to return. Hicksville isabout making the edge into the centre-and then seeing how the worldlooks.
PWCW: You've said that you wrote the book in a spontaneous and unplanned way.How did that work?
DH: Well, I suppose allowing myself to treat Hicksville as a venue in which I could relax and just play meantthat I let my guard down. The story that then emerged was much lessdeliberately or artificially constructed, but ended up exploring some verypersonal material. Instead of using the story to 'say something,' I was usingit to try and make sense of things for my own sake-relationships, my own senseof place, my feelings about comics and art and places and nationhood. In theend, I guess it meant I went on a journey myself, rather than just trying totake the characters on a journey.