Thursday, April 08, 2010

John Hicklenton (8 May 1967 – 19 March 2010)

I have foresworn twitter, and only found out today via a comment on Facebook by the great Liam Sharp of the sad passing of one my favorite 2000ad artists, John Hicklenton. In my mind, it's the kind of news that should have been on ITN, BBC, and Sky all at once instead of something about Lindsay Lohan going on a holiday to find out that bad things happen in the world:

From the 2000 ad forums

"We have just been informed by Pat Mills that John Hicklenton has sadly passed away.

Here are a few words from Pat:

John Hicklenton passed away peacefully last week. His ending was an expected one and he saw it 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". A great artist and a true hero.

Pat Mills"

There was always a weirdness creeping around the edges of 2000ad, and once you got used to its standard of amazing art and writing, even more weirdness crept in. Like when you got used to Ron Smith and Carlos Ezquerra every week, and then out of nowhere BAM! there was a couple of Brian Bollands. I think every 2000ad reader has their 'golden age', a period of unrivaled quality and unbroken consumption of the comic. For me it was around 1988 to the early 1990s, not surprisingly coinciding with a rural Irish lonely adolescent geekdom. (compared with a lonely geek adulthood). I got to do Media Studies at the University of Ulster at Coleraine and wrote a thesis on Dredd in 1996(! shite that's ages ago), with a Hicklenton depiction of Dredd on the front cover, called:

"Fascism, Fetishism and Fandom: Political and Psychoanalytical aspects of Judge Dredd".

with a description of his depiction of Dredd,

Figure II: Dredd as Phallus - John Hicklenton, from ‘Heavy Metal Dredd’, in Judge Dredd the Megazine, 23/1/93 - 5/2/93. Hickleton appears to be an artist very much aware of Dredd’s fetishist like appearance and plays it up more than other more conventional artists.

"It was a time of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns", I suppose, would be a pop culture shorthand "when comics grew up" to use another cliche. There was an attempt to try something new when the likes of Brendan McCarthy, Brett Ewins, Shaky Kane, and Rian Hughes expanded from 2000ad to'adult' titles in the anthology boom : Crisis, Revolver, Deadline and many others (Heartbreak Hotel, Overkill, Expresso, Strip, Meltdown.) Not to mention Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, whose intelligent subversion you may no doubt be aware of.

For someone reading comics in Monaghan in the late 1980s and early 1990s this world, this was my equivalent of being invited into a trendy punk rock scene. One could imagine the above hanging out at some cool SoHo haunt with Jonathon Ross, Neil Gaiman, and Lenny Henry, and Paul Gambaccini, and Tank Girl, Transvision Vamp, and Fuzzbox (believe it or not this would have been a cool scene) and Zenith probably or something, but who was that dark shadow in the background....

John Hicklenton was always a mysterious figure to place among this first wave of "comics are for adults and cool now" blah blah chatter. A Hicklenton story in 2000ad was a jolt of darkness and eroticism that was very other from the more popular strips. My teenage mind always wondered why they were so rare, and so odd and beautiful and unforgettable when they did appear. Why was he not in the comic more? did they have to go to a different dimension to get the artwork?

His bio pic, and it's 'sisters of mercy' makeover version appearing on the back of the Nemesis Titan editions, such as Book 9, (you'd only need to go up to a 2000ad fan at the time and go 'Nemesis Book 9?!?' to get a knowing response), didn't help to dispell the myth. And yet his work was both intrinsically comic book and realistic Nemesis the Warlock is within the ranks of those comic characters that just work perfectly in comics yet seem ridiculous in 'real life' (how does he speak? what does he sound like?in what way does he float?) as a few Nemesis photo stories attested.
Hicklenton brought and unsettling and beautiful realism to Nemesis you could imagine this thing existing, especially transposed onto the V for Vendetta-like fascistic background of the reapers and oi oi boys. It was only later that Hicklenton's battle with MS was more widely known, through the great documentary Here's Johnny . There has seldom been such a heartbreaking yet grimly humorous depiction of the battle between the creation of art and the body that produces it. I'm reminded of Rorscharch's line 'None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!' with any disease that would attack Hicklenton. The quotes from him on the transcendent nature of art are inspiring:

"Drawing is my walking now, I run with it, I fly with it. It's keeping me alive. I have a thing with it. I can't wait to get a piece of paper with a pen because it's what I can control.

"I haven't got MS when I'm looking at my pictures and I haven't got it when I'm drawing them either. It gives me an ability to express that fear."

I'm sure many teenagers of the period annoyed many an art teacher, mine included, with endless 2000ad and sci-fi inspired opuses, many of which would probably get us sent to school psychologists in these current times, but we didn't have those then so we got to draw. I distinctly remember one project where there was some quote about a circus and something behind a curtain and I more or less drew the below, from a Megazine story called the Black Widow, with an almost unrecognizable curtain as a border around it.

click to zoom

one last bit, for what it's worth, it might sound like wank, but just a way of saying how an artists work can affect a comic fan:

When I'm wandering around with my ipod (or walkman as it was back then, still a lot of the same tunes, mostly Frank Black's Teenager of the Year) I am usually thinking of really great potential 2000ad movies, like if they'd ever make a kick ass Judge Anderson movie or Judgement on Gotham. Anyway I always imagined a Necropolis film would be amazing if combined with Judgement Day's Magnificent Seven aspect of having all the judges from around the world (in my mind I was just trying to jam Judge Joyce in there) involved. Before they are dropped into a screaming mad cesspit of zombie violence though there would be a Q type character (cameo by Hicklenton)

"Sorry lads, you can't go down there unless you're wearing "Hickle-Suits"

And on saying this pressing a button with insane Mech-versions of his characteristic designs specific to each international Judge. For me Hicklenton's Dredd designs would have been the hardest to replicate in any film version, the scaled down versions in the Stallone film (both in terms of costumes and the so-called perps/ random people in eye make-up) attest to how difficult bringing the true madness of Mega City One to the screen is.

I am genuinely shaken and sad at Hicklenton's death and my thoughts go out to those who knew him beyond his amazing body of work, which truly affected the history of British comics. It even inspired some goon to stick flower pots on his head to get the requisite 'highness' to attempt to replicate a Hicklenton-style Dredd luck

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