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Jonathan Hickman: Year One

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Jonathan Hickman broke onto the comics scene almost a year ago with his graphic design art style and media-saturated comic book, The Nightly News. Since then, his success has been met with praise and more books for the next year. Broken Frontier sat down with Hickman this week to discuss the ride the last year has been for him and what’s coming up in 2008. He talks about reaction to the first issue of his time-travel miniseries Pax Romana and his upcoming books: Transhuman and Red Mass for Mars, as well as the possibility of a The Nightly News movie.

BROKEN FRONTIER: I’ve heard a rumor that there may be a The Nightly News movie. How true is that? Who’s involved?

JONATHAN HICKMAN: The screenplay was written by Matt Venne, he’s done some pretty good stuff around California. He’s really, really good at structure and other technical aspects to the writing of a screenplay.

He did stuff that I certainly couldn’t have done the first time out of the gate, he reworked the whole first part of the The Nightly News and made it… well, to be honest, I was pretty pissed because I felt even though I kicked his ass in the third act and he just schooled me in the first. It was like going to class.

BF: How so?

JH: How he introduced the characters, how he laid everything out, he moved the timeline around to make it… clear, isn’t the right word, just more dynamic. He changed so much stuff, and they were things like, "I can’t believe I missed that." He basically rewrote it from the ground up and what he did was really, really good. I was pretty happy with what I got out of it.

BF: I’ve heard through the grapevine that Red Mass for Mars was delayed until May. What was the reason behind this, and when can we expect it?

JH: The end of May, or the first week of June. You know how the comic book solicitation dance is: you put it in three months beforehand, store owners buy how many they’re going to buy, and the numbers came back in and they were pretty soft. They were actually pretty weak. We’ll put it out there and make it up on the trade, because we know we’re going to make it up on the trade, we’re going to be able to visually pull it off.

We’re actually way ahead of the game on the book. When I sent the first issue in to Image, Eric Stephenson, the creative director there said, "It’s too good to have the numbers that it does, we’ll re-solicit it and have it come out right after Pax Romana."

BF: Good call. Speaking of Pax Romana, how were the numbers on the first issue?

JH: They were okay. We over-printed it and pretty much sold all of that. So, they’re decent, really. I feel pretty good about Pax Romana. It’s a little bit different… every single bit of money we make on the book comes to me. It’s a little bit different when you have to consider the artist who you have to split the money with. You’d like to throw a little bit of money their way to ease the pain, right?

BF: You’re writing and coloring Red Mass for Mars. How different is that?

JH: Ryan’s a better artist than I am [laughs]. I thought it would be hard to give up control. I can be difficult about those kinds of things, because I have a real acute design sense. I certainly have strong opinions on how a book should look, and how things should be presented. Part of me coloring the book was Ryan wanting me to color it and the other part was me wanting to maintain a little bit more control of how the book looked, but it’s been really easy. It’s much easier than producing the whole thing yourself. I haven’t had any trouble with it. I’ve found it to be very enjoyable.

BF: Speaking of changing your process, can you describe it? Do you do an outline first, followed by laying down the art and then adding the dialogue? How has that changed with Transhuman, Legion of Monsters and your other projects?

JH: I’m a heavy plotter. I have the story straight in my head before I ever start writing dialogue. I pretty much know the beats for every issue, because I’ve learned with mini-series right now, it’s not that much work to have that all worked out. With Red Mass what we’ve been doing is I’m writing place-holder dialogue, detailed panel descriptions with all the beats and that kind of stuff, and then I go back in and I rewrite the whole book after it’s done.

I guess its old-timey Marvel style. It’s working out really well. Ryan was kind of freaking out about it, because he thought for a second that I’d forget how to write or color. I think it came out really, really well, I’m pretty happy with it. Transhuman is the same way. Transhuman is a little bit tighter, it’s more a mockumentary. You kind of have to have that stuff down. I like throwing it out there and seeing what the artist comes back with. If that makes any sense?

BF: Sure, yeah, giving an outline and seeing what the artist reinterprets and going back over it. Tell me a little bit about Transhuman. I don’t know that much about it.

JH: It’s out in March. It’s a mockumentary, like Best in Show, For Your Consideration, and all those Christopher Guest movies… Spinal Tap, stuff like that. It’s in the future, after we’ve had these genetic breakthroughs trying to create these post-human, these sort of nextgen enhancements to individuals. It’s about the companies that make the breakthroughs, and how they spin off and they’re at war with each other over market shares, and going through the IPO funding phase, and "business as war!" It takes you from the beginning of that to the end, while making fun of the whole thing.

BF: So, it’s kind of like Christopher Guest directing The Island of Dr. Moreau?

JH: If that makes you feel good, yes.

BF: Cool, I wanted to get into the range of emotions you felt when The Nightly News was accepted by Image and the success you received afterwards. Describe for me how things went from the very beginning when you decided you were going to be a comic book creator, doing that with the The Nightly News and then moving on to the other stuff.

JH: It’s tough to be anything other than really gracious about it. I haven’t had any potholes or roadblocks – anything like that, or any obstacles to prevent me from doing what I want to do. The day that I decided I wanted to do comics, it was really just a question of committing to it. As soon as I flipped that switch on in my head and I totally committed to it, everything just kind of fell into place.

I sent my submission into Image, five days later they said, "Let’s do it, let’s make this comic." Two days after [the first issue] came out I had a rep in Hollywood. A week after that, I started getting ridiculously good reviews. After the fourth issue came out I already had my next three projects lined up and I started getting some mainstream work. It’s been amazing.

One of the things that has been really nice is… I like critical praise, I appreciate that, but what’s been really amazing is how my peers [laughs] …it’s still kind of a funny thing to say, it still feels awkward to say that, all the professionals getting behind the book and really pushing the book. Andy Diggle was first on the list. It got crazy after that with Bendis and Meltzer, Immonen… A really nice person sent me an email the other day where J.H. Williams III, blogged about the book and just had really nice things to say about it. It’s too cool really.

I don’t know, maybe its been too easy [laughs]. There’s part of me that’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ve just been overwhelmed with how nice it’s been. I wish I had something negative to say to balance it out, and maybe not be so happy, but it’s just the truth.

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