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And Now the News - Part 1

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October saw the debut of new comic creator Jonathan Hickman’s book The Nightly News.  He stopped by to discuss that series, how he has been learning the industry's ins and outs, and to let people know once and for all that he isn’t an angry guy.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Jon, I guess to start off the interview, since you don’t really have a big name in the industry…

JONATHAN HICKMAN: Honestly, “no name” would probably be more accurate. [Laughs]

BF: Well, I didn’t want to put it in any way that could be deemed offensive.  But since you are an unknown in the industry, we should probably start off with a bit of an introduction from you.

JH: I am a graduate of Clemson University with an architecture degree and a minor in fine arts.  I tried to break into comics initially when I graduated college and failed miserably, the factor there was just that I wasn’t good enough. [laughs]  So I went into graphic and web design, then went into advertising.

I’ve been doing that for just about a decade now.  But there’s a real soul sucking nature to doing what you really want to do and I’ve always wanted to do comics.  So I put together a proposal, sent it to Image, and now I’ve got a book coming out.

BF: So since you’ve been trying to get into the industry for a while, is this book something that has been gestating for a while just waiting for the right time or is it something that popped into your head more recently where you said “That’s the one I want to do.”

JH: It was actually more of the second one.  I’ve got stuff that I’ve been working on since I was a teenager and other ideas that have been percolating for a while.  But I had actually starting working on putting together a graphic novel again about 2 years ago and worked on it for pretty close to a year.  The only problem is that it was terrible.  It was really this odd culmination of everything cool that I had wanted to do in a book and it was nice and safe story.  Basically something I thought would have a lot of mainstream appeal.

Then I read through the first 40 or 50 pages of it and basically got sick because it was so bad. [Laughs]  So I threw it away and took 2 weeks to put together a pitch for Image.  I did 5 pages of artwork, sent it in on a Monday, and heard back from Image on that Friday telling me they wanted to do it.

BF: Very nice.  So then this was just a story that you just kind of came up with on the spot?

JH: Yeah.  I’ve always been a big believer that you get your ideas from one of two ways.  Either they’re the ones where it is stuff you work on for a long time and slowly develop the plot, characters, and themes or there are the other stories where you have one key idea and then the rest all falls into place within a few days.

This was definitely the latter.

BF: Ok then… moving onto the story itself.  You’ve got some interesting ideas here.  The Brotherhood of the Voice seems to be the main group with the main character getting involved with them almost immediately in issue #1.  Now, I’m trying to think of a way to describe them without bringing up that nasty word “terrorist”, but it has been pretty hard to come up with another description.  Was that an attempt on your part to make a statement about the world today and how we see people?

JH: Well, I would certainly agree that they are an extremist group and that they employ terrorist techniques.  But they’re not targeting random civilians; they’re targeting specific people that they want to hurt.  So it isn’t just random violence, but I wouldn’t make the argument that they’re “good guys.”  They were the first people introduced in the book and readers will follow the main character through the story.

And this isn’t one of those nice feel good stories like Hoosiers.  I really wanted to ask the question “Is revenge acceptable?”  If revenge is your sole goal, what are you willing to do to get that?  What is the cost of all the terrible things that come along with that?  This is a question that can be answered in 2 ways and during the course of the 6 issue mini series we’ll be addressing both of them and readers will hopefully be challenged enough to make up their own mind.

BF: The major target for this group is the major media networks.  Before I go into asking about anything thematically from that, how much research did you do on those particular companies?

JH: All of that was very thoroughly researched.  IN the end of this thing we’re going to end up with approximately 140-150 pages of comic and I’d say I read through 3000 pages of research to get to that point.  But all of that was expounded on original ideas.  I knew exactly what I was looking for: which companies owned which television stations and news outlets, how everything was interconnected, what are the similarities between people who are in cults and people who watch TV.  I was specifically going after certain information.

BF: You spoke a little bit about the theme of revenge.  At first the main character is brought into the group for what seems like personal revenge against one individual, but in the end it seems like it turns into revenge against society as a whole.  What sparked this idea in you and made this theme something you wanted to look at?

JH: Well, the main character is recruited to join an organization.  And the goal of the organization is a fundamental shift in how people are programmed daily and how they receive their news.  That is the goal of the organization.  The irony is that they are employing the exact same techniques as the people they don’t like.  That’s the impetus of the writer I guess. [Laughs]

But the big thing here is that I’m not trying to make an indictment on society.  The big thing is the way people learn the things that they learn isn’t random.  MTV knows what their demographic is, as does ABC, NBC, CBS, and all the others.  They know what messages they need to push; the same way The New York Times knows what message they need to push because they know who their readers are.  The messages are extremely calculated.  And the characters in the books who are working in opposition to that, they end up behaving in the exact same way.

BF: Shifting over to the artwork here, you’ve got some very interesting things going on with your page design and layout.  Do you feel that your background in web and graphic design helped you out with “designing” this book?

JH: Yes.  The artistic goal of the book (minus the story) was to marry comic design, graphic design, and information design.  I don’t know whether or not I would classify it as a success, that’s largely up to anyone who reads the book.

I’m sure I’m going to get comments like “I couldn’t read it, there was too much small type,” or “I couldn’t follow the flow of the page.”  And that may be true.  I’m certainly not shying away from the fact that I’m trying different stuff, but my hope is that enough people will get enough out of it and enjoy it enough.  My goal is to push what you can do in a comic, artistically.

In addition to that, tying into the story I’m also layering information in the same way we get huge bits of information shoved down our throats everyday.  Take a new movie coming out – you’re going to see 15 television commercials, trailers with other movies, ads in the newspaper, ads on the radio, and certainly internet stuff.  So that’s what I’m trying to do with the book as well: to slam as much information about a specific topic per book into the comic.  So that’s why you get the information graphic stuff and all the little ancillary information that seems a little bit overwhelming.

I don’t know that the book is really meant to read in one pass.

BF: That makes sense.  I’ll be honest and tell you that when I started reading it I had a hard time picking up a proper flow to the book.  It did happen after the first few pages, but I was wondering if that was more so due to the fact that I was reading it as a pdf file and not holding the book in my hand.

JH: The fold in the book really helps.  Instead of your eye wanting to go all the way across the flat piece of paper our eye and brain recognize that when the page is folded they are actually 2 separate pieces of paper.  So that does help a lot. 

I actually got my comp copies in and it definitely reads different than it does on a computer screen or on these 11 x 17 pages that I’ve been using to proof it.

It is definitely an experimental style.

BF: Well, I will say that I did really enjoy the design and layout of the book, even if reading it on a computer made it tougher to find a flow.  What I thought was really interesting – and once you mentioned a graphic design background I immediately could see where some of the influences came from – is that some pages almost seemed like a poster.  Not to mention the coloring… did you do all of the artwork yourself?

JH: Yeah, I did everything.  And I’m certainly paying the price for that now.  I just finished wrapping up issue #2 (Author’s note – this interview was conducted on 31Oct06) and sent it off to Image.  It’s a lot of work but I’m on schedule.  If I wasn’t working on the computer so much there is no way it would be humanly possible to get it done, but because I am it helps a whole lot.  It may be a bit much for me to handle, but the problem there is that I don’t know anyone who would help me.  I don’t know any letterers. [Laughs]  I have a total disconnect with the comic community right now.  I’ve been on the message boards but for the most part I don’t know anyone or anything about the business! 

So, the whole thing has been a huge learning experience.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion to our interview with Jonathan Hickman.

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