A couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from Pat Mills, letting me know that British comics artist John Hicklenton – one of the brighter lights of the vast 2000AD creative roster – had sadly died. Given that Hicklenton was suffering from MS, his passing was not unexpected, but it was utterly tragic nonetheless, not least because he was just 42 years old.
I never met the man, but I was certainly aware of his work, especially his striking turn on Nemesis The Warlock (collaborating with Pat) where he well and truly captured the alienness of Nemesis (and made his arch-enemy Torquemada look like a thoroughly evil bastard – as he should be). He also worked on Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper and Future Shocks (amongst others) for 2000AD and also contributed material to influential Comics magazines Crisis and Deadline. Given the surreal style of his artwork, it’s unsurprising that Hicklenton had a strong following in Europe.
By all accounts, Hicklenton negotiated his MS with what can only be described as unwavering heroism. Pat said that John saw his anticipated death “as a triumph over his illness MS. Amongst his final words to me were: “MS – you have a week to live, you’ve met someone you shouldn’t have f***** with”. Such staunch, stubborn bravado can’t be easy to come by when facing such a fate. The excellent documentary he made about his struggles, “Here’s Johnny”, compellingly underlines this fact and is thoroughly inspirational to anyone who is similarly faced with such debilitating circumstances. Moreover, it amply showcases how his comics art endeavours provided him with a saving grace, a conduit to pour his considerable anger and frustration at his plight, transferring it in to truly vivid, powerful and often disturbing artwork.
Hicklenton’s death sadly deprives the British Comics landscape of a significant talent. However, readers have one final work of Hicklenton’s to enjoy, the fantasy 100 Months, which Pat fulsomely praised as a tremendous work. Apparently, it’s just been picked up by a British publisher, so we’ll hopefully see it soon.
Today, Pat sent me the text of a tribute that he’s written for his friend and collborator that will appear in the next issue of Judge Dredd The Megazine. Pat and Rebellion, 2000AD’s publishers, have kindly allowed it to be reprinted online.
Pat Mills looks back at the career of the extraordinarily talented John Hicklenton who sadly passed away on Friday 19th March 2010.
A year or so ago, I showed some of Johnny’s pages from Judge Dredd – The Tenth Circle to my co-creator on Requiem Vampire Knight, artist Olivier Ledroit. He looked at them in awe and exclaimed. “How does he sleep at night?!” If you’ve seen the Tenth Circle, you’ll know what Olivier means. Actually, I took it as a compliment as Requiem is also pretty dark .And Johnny slept very well. His art might be disturbing for some, but never for me , for reasons which I think 2000AD fan Jonathan Fisher has summed up best , “John’s work is subversive, sublime and perverse yet beautiful and intriguing.”
For me, Johnny is the Jimi Hendrix of comic artists. Easy-viewing comic “muzak” he’s not. His grotesque images bear comparison with Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman and are not for the squeamish. Yet his elegant thin line work has much in common with Aubrey Beardsley. Internationally rated by artists such as Moebius, let me take you now on a brief tour of some of his creations.
Johnny’s first work was a future shock written by Neil Gaiman. (Curiously, the only story of Neil’s that 2000AD ever published). Johnny sent it to me and on the basis of this and other grotesqueries, I asked him to draw Nemesis. He at once brought a scary organic sensibility to the Warlock and a psychotic look to Torquemada. This psycho-look he recreated later in the Inspector Ryan stories from Third World War. The racist deranged Ryan was conceived by my co-writer Alan Mitchell and Alan brilliantly directed Johnny on the story, choosing Angela Kincaid to colour it which she did beautifully without destroying the artist’s black line, a common problem with colourists. Many regard the Inspector Ryan series as his finest work and certainly they did in Europe. It was reprinted in graphic album form in German, French and Dutch editions in an elite masterwork series. But never in the UK, alas, although I hope reader might requests persuade Rebellion to follow suit one day.
Then there was our Zombie World Tree of Death saga for Dark Horse USA – about a Satanic cabbalistic map based on the London Underground map which brings demons into our world. It was reprinted recently in the collection “Winter’s Dregs”. (Johnny is credited as Johnny Deadstock after the band he was a part of.) We went to the catacombs in Kensal Green Cemetery to research the story and had an enjoyable Goth day out wandering underground amongst the Victorian caskets wondering, “What if…?” The black comedy results include exploding coffins with a zombie stuck to the ceiling. The demons featured are also brilliant – my favourite is a wolf with a huge distended belly elevated high above us on tripod-like legs.
The German publisher Extreme, backed by top German band Die Arzte, also loved Johnny’s work. They said they wanted extreme, so we produced the graphic novel Torturer for them set in Cathar France. This was a return to the demonic Inquisition world Johnny first captured in Nemesis. His range of demons seems inexhaustible. Many of them have appeared in his Judge Dredds and especially in The Tenth Circle when Dredd visits Dante’s Inferno. Reproduction problems may not have shown this story to best advantage but I think that’s being looked into now. And who else but Johnny could create man-mountain Hungry Jacko? X Face? Or Darcagis, the demon with stakes through his eyes? And the triple George Bush bleeding oil? I always regretted that Johnny never drew my recent Dredd story “Birthday Boy” about a villain with candles stuck in his face and body. If he had, it would have become as memorable as Pinhead.
Johnny started a biographical novel based on his multi- award winning documentary about his fight against MS. (www.heresjohnnyfilm.com ). It was great, but then he decided to write and draw a fantasy story instead as his final work: 100 months. He completed it just last week. More about 100 months, Pandora and two other Johnny classics – Bedlam and Fearteachers – another time, other than to say they are all fabulous and worth an article to themselves. Once again, it’s other countries that often seem to recognize his talent: 100 Months first sold to two countries in Europe, although I’ve just heard a UK publisher has also picked it up.
But 2000AD was always his first love. His wonderful partner Claire told me, “Please know that Johnny, my beautiful Johnny, was funny, wise and brave to the last – just as he was every other day of his war. The day before ‘D-day’ he wrote the afterword for Slaine and drew 2 wonderful sketches to sit alongside it.” Clint Langley and I intend to feature these sketches and words in a future Slaine volume dedicated to Johnny.
Sleep well, my dear friend.
Pat Mills March 23, 2010.