First-time comic book creator Jonathan Hickman entered comics last year with a small but startling splash when his Image miniseries,The Nightly News, hit the shelves. A dark indictment of the modern media,Nightly Newswas also a startling fusion of sequential art and graphic design that Hickman believes the evolving, cross-media world of comics is ready to embrace. With a trade paperback collection out this month, two new titles on the way, a potentialNightly Newsmovie making the rounds and more projects waiting in the wings, the ambitious South Carolina native who still lives there, is on his way finding just what kind of reception his edgy comics will receive from readers. .
PW Comics Week: Much has been said about the style and design methods you brought toThe Nightly News. What is your artistic background?
Jonathan Hickman: I have an architecture degree; that’s what my college degree is in. And that sucked. I started doing Web and CD-ROM development really early on, and then that grew into being an art director and doing advertising work.
PWCW: Were you a comic book fan as a kid, or did you come to it later in life?
JH: No, no, I grew up on all that stuff. When I first got out of college, which was 10, 11 years ago, I tried really heard to get in[to comics]. This was back when Image first started, so it was superstar artist time. I drew like Jim Lee, like everybody else, and yeah, failed miserably. I look back at my stuff, and it sucks so bad. I didn’t have any business having an actual job in comics.
But when I didn’t get in, I quit reading comics for a really long time. It was kinda heartbreaking. I stopped worrying about my job and started thinking about [not making it in comics] all the time, so I did that thing people do when they don’t want to feel any kind of pain, and instead of dealing with it they just put it in a box.
Then about three years ago, I was hating my job and the soul-sucking nature of advertising, and I decided, I can do this if I’m smart and if I execute a plan properly. Part of me feels like I wasted all that time, but I know that’s not true, because of the business acumen I’ve picked up. Back then, I would have loved to write boring superhero tripe, and now I’m more interested in telling better stories. I don’t think there’s any way I could have made the splash that I’ve made or had the critical response that I’ve had with my first project if I’d gotten in back then.
PWCW: Did your experience with TheNightly News change the way you’re approaching your current projects?
JH: Well, artwise, I’m kind of a chameleon. I don’t have an established style or anything like that. So, anything I do going forward is going to be a mashup of a bunch of different stuff. I would say thatThe Nightly Newswas kind of Jae Lee meets Mike Mignola meets the We Work for Them [design team] Mike Cina and Mike Young. But any project I do going forward will have a different group of influences.
PWCW: You’ve describedThe Nightly Newsas drawing on the design style popular in the information and entertainment industries today. Was that a nod to the subject matter of the book or to modern graphic design in general?
JH: Well, my overall artistic goal is to marry graphic design with comic books and traditional storytelling. My thinking behindThe Nightly Newswas to be sedate in both areas. [It had] a traditional, comic-book drawn style, a little realistic, but not overly rendered or done in a medium that isn’t the standard fare. [I used] pen and ink with a traditional process colored look. It’s not painted or charcoal or anything like that.
I wanted it to be easily consumable, if you’re used to looking at comics. That was my thinking on the art side; it also needed to be true on the design side. I couldn’t go out there and do a lot of cutting-edge graphic design, because it would have been too much for it be accepted. So I went with sedate, pretty standard-fare graphic-designing elements—stuff that was really cool and edgy, like, five years ago.
PWCW: Yet the style was perceived as edgy for a comic book.
JH: I think the marriage of the two and the way I was telling it are probably the things that would be considering cutting edge. The graphic design elements in and of themselves are stuff that’s permeated pop culture. You know, the circle stuff is straight out of the Target ads. It was calculated, but it was time. I think it’s time for something like that in the comics medium, especially as we’re leaning more toward the book market. [Creators] are going to be able to play around a whole lot more, I think.
PWCW: Where do you see things headed for the comic book industry?
JH: I think it’s good that we’re not embarrassed that we’re comic book creators anymore. It’s good that people are able to make a good living at doing it, and not doing the traditional sort of mainstream fare. And even people who do mainstream books, you’ve got to say that they’re written a whole lot better than they used to be. I think the argument could be made that they’re written better now than they ever have been.
But I think that if you look at how we’re getting into being either a willing or unwilling arm of L.A./Hollywood, we’re becoming part of that organism. And if you look at how well the trade [paperback collections of comics] are doing in bookstores, I think it’s going to lend itself to comic book creators being able to branch out and do some really good stuff.
PWCW: Do you see yourself branching out with any of your properties likeThe Nightly News?
JH: Well, I’m all for taking advantage of additional revenue streams. [laughs] That sounds very corporate, but [I’m] not naïve, either. I already have a management company, and the script for TheNightly Newshas already been written by a guy who has had some movies made, so that’s out there being shopped around.
But you can’t think about that. I try consciously, every day, not to worry about that kind of stuff, and worry about making new things. I’ve waited long enough to do this that I have enough things I want to do, so I’m not going to be married to any one story for very long. You’re not going to see me doing 70 issues of a book; it’s just not going to hold my interest with all of the other things I want to do. So I’m probably going to be more of the guy that’s developing a lot of concepts and... producing a lot of different books. I’m going to have plenty of properties, so I’m sure that I’ll have plenty of opportunities to be taken advantage of and swindled. [laughs]
PWCW: I’ve seen some images from your upcoming time-travel book,Pax Romana. When will that be coming out?
JH: In November. It’s kind of a historical science fiction, a retelling of the history of the world from a specific point. It’s about the long view of man, kind of a Frank Herbert god-emperor ofDune kind of thing, but with more action. And then I’ve got Red Mass from Marscoming out in December, and that’s my kind of take on a superhero book, but it’s a little bit more than just plot and dialogue and action.
PWCW: Are these both creator-owned books from Image, like TheNightly News?
JH: Yeah, everything I’m doing that isn’t for Marvel or [covers for] Virgin right now is all going to be through Image; it’s all going to be creator-owned. I’m writing and drawingPax Romana, but I’m [just] writing two other books. I’ve already got some stuff lined up there. Image has been very, very good to me, very generous.
PWCW: You have TheNightly Newstrade book coming out this month. What kind of extras will that have?
JH: It’s got a foreword by Andy Diggle, and it’s got a big thing on how I broke in and what my work methodology is. It’s got all my sourcing and notes from the series, and a little afterword I wrote. It’s 184 pages; it’s pretty big.
PWCW: What other comic books have you been reading?
JH: [Matt Fraction’s]Casanovacame out; I read that. You know, actually, I don’t buy a lot of monthly books because I don’t have a local store. Or they don’t carry anything outside of Marvel or DC books. It’s kinda tough.
PWCW: Do they carry your books?
JH : They carried that Marvel Legion of Monsters thing that I did, but they haven’t carried any of my Image stuff. But I don’t want to burden them with having to carry my stuff if they’re not going to sell it locally. I’m not expecting them to take a bath on it, or anything like that. I don’t know, maybe I should be outraged. [laughs]
I’m still playing catch up from the time when I didn’t read comics. Last year, I just finished reading all the [Dark Horse series]Hellboy. I actually just got finished reading [Marvel’s] The Ultimates, and I thought that was pretty good for mainstream stuff. I thought that’s just about as good as mainstream comics get.
PWCW: Despite doing the work of what would be five different people at some companies, how did you manage to keep the book mostly on time?
JH: Well, I was on top of it for four months. I was a little bit late by the time the fifth or sixth issue rolled around, but that was more stage fright than [not] being able to produce the book. People started saying that they really liked it, and then I felt like I actually had to do a good job. [laughs] The pressure to perform—I hadn’t been exposed to that. Normally, it’s just me, sitting in a room, saying, “You’ve got to do better work.” Having other people excited about it wasn’t something that I was prepared for.
But, yeah, it was me doing five people’s jobs: penciler, inker, colorist, letterer and writer. I think that’s a process thing. This is not an indictment of other creators at all, but there are people that have been doing this for a long time, and maybe they’re not as keen technologically. I’m not saying that my technical expertise gives me an extra 12 hours in the day or anything. I had to work really, really hard to keep that schedule, but there are shortcuts that you can take when you’re writing for yourself that you can’t take whenever you’re part of a process.
PWCW: What’s your next challenge ?
JH: Well, I’m probably going to write a movie script.... I already know what that’s going to be; I’ve already got the outline done. So I’ll be doing that in either January or February, just for fun, to see how that is and, structurally, what I can learn from that. But, you know, I’m fully committed to comics.
My next thing is, I’d like to do a decent run at one of the bigger publishers.... I’m actually interested in being part of the editorial process. I’d like to see how [working in] corporate comics is, since I’ve done corporate [work] in my private professional life before comics. I’d kinda like to explore that and see how I can maneuver in that arena.