In Comic Relief, Paste chats with its favorite writers and artists about the art that inspired them as well as their own landmark projects.
After writing multifaceted epics in Fantastic Four, Secret Warriors, and S.H.I.E.L.D. under Marvel, it became more than apparent that Jonathan Hickman knew a thing or two about design. And that skill doesn’t only apply to the dense narration and foreshadowing that’s defined his prolific output. Every element of Hickman’s books receives an obsessive amount of polish, whether it be the color palate, characterization, fonts, or years-in-development plotting.These traits have been staples of the author’s work since he first published challenging books liked The Nightly News and Pax Romana. These introductory works dissected politics and culture with a rare intelligence and venom for the medium, framed in Hickman’s elegant infographic aesthetic that lives on in the logos and backup material found in much of his current work.
Though he currently oversees Marvel’s flagship Avengers and New Avengers titles, Hickman’s also been firing out independent gold at Image with titles like The Red Wing and Manhattan Projects with artist Nick Pitarra. His latest book with the publisher, East of West with artist Nick Dragotta, offers a personal reflection on the dysfunction and hate in the world and how two unlikely beings discover love in the Apocalypse. In the following interview, Hickman discusses his personal comics history before chatting about a wide range of subjects, including his new comic, the grand “alpha and omega” conflict looming for his Avengers teams, why bipartisanism is terrible for America, and deceiving gullible writers with tales of fictional twin brothers. Often hilarious and always candid, Hickman proves to be just as engaging with a phone as a pen.
Hickman: The firs thing that I ever wrote was The Nightly News, and it was actually the first full script that I’d ever written, even though it was just parts of a script that I would turn in now because I was both writing and drawing the book. The first thing I ever really wrote was published, and I’m unbelievably grateful for that.
Hickman: The first comic book I ever read was an issue of Legion of Super-Heroes where the earth was surrounded by all of these chains. I remember the cover; I got it at a birthday party.
Paste: The earth was surrounded by chains?
Hickman: (Laughs) Yes, chains. I can’t remember what the issue was about or what the total premise was, but yeah, the earth and a bunch of chains around it. This is old-school Legion. I don’t think even think Keith Giffen was drawing the book yet. It may have had a George Perez cover. (Editor’s Note: Issue #278 of The Legion of Super-Heroes by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and Jim Janes indeed has a cover illustrated by George Perez).
Legion of Super-Heroes #278
Paste: Do you remember anything from it?
Hickman: Oh, I don’t remember a lot. All of that Legion stuff runs together, but I really got into it after that. I went and I found a comic book shop that actually had a run going back to the early Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes book. So I bought everything, caught up, and read it all and loved it. I’ve been into comics ever since.
100 Bullets is probably my favorite thing, ever. It’s pretty close with early Hellboy stuff.
Hickman: Well, I’m a big Grant Morrison fan. But I really liked Archaia’s Jim Henson book, Tale of Sand. That’s probably the best thing I’ve seen in the last couple of years. I felt that (artist) Ramon Perez did a fantastic job on it, and the coloring was exquisite. It was just a great, great package.
Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand
Paste: Are you a big Jim Henson fan?
Hickman: Sure, sure. I don’t know anyone my age who shouldn’t be. Actually, have you read the script to The Muppet Man screenplay about him?
Paste: No, I haven’t.
Hickman: It is so wonderful and heartbreaking and joyful. It’s been a while since I’ve been into any of that stuff, obviously. The world of kids stuff that adults can enjoy as well has kind of moved into a different place. But reading that screenplay brought all that back. I really hope they make that movie. That script was phenomenal.
Paste: You still hear the tales of his epic funeral and it brings tears to your eyes. He was just an incredibly beloved man.
Hickman: I’m not a big cryer, but I was a little weepy when I was reading the screenplay. It was that good.
Hickman: I’ve been very fortunate. Beyond the artists who are untouchable, I’ve gotten to work with all of the really good guys at Marvel. I haven’t gotten to work with Steve McNiven yet, and I’m looking really forward to that. That’ll happen at some point. I really like J.H. Williams’ art, as anyone with eyes should. I would love to work with him at some point. I would really, really like to work with Chris Bachalo at some point. I’m a huge fan of his work, and that one has totally eluded me at Marvel. I curse at my bosses all the time for not making that happen, but you’ve got to have some struggles.
Hickman: I guess The Dark Knight would have to be it. I have a feeling that I’m really, really going to like this Superman movie, because I know a little bit about what’s going to be in it. I liked the first Iron Man movie a lot as well.
Hickman: I haven’t had a lot of that! You know, beyond people sending me pictures of their private parts, I haven’t had a lot of bizarre fan interaction. Everyone’s been very, very nice. Especially at shows, one to one, everybody’s been very appreciative of the work and very kind. The thing that probably trips me up the most are people getting tattoos of stuff that I’ve designed in my books. That always spins me out in a weird way. It seems like such a permanent commitment to something I’ve done. I don’t know that I could do that for anyone else.
The Nightly News
Paste: So what’s the best tattoo you’ve ever seen on a fan?
Hickman: A guy shaved his head and had his head tattooed with a big Nightly News logo.
Click over to Page 2 to read about Jonathan Hickman’s take on enamored Horse-people of the Apocalypse, an Avengers/New Avengers collision, and the politics behind the writer.