On the Razor's Edge - Part 1

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John Higgins may be best known to many readers as the colorist of Watchmen but his body of work in the comics field over the last 30-plus years tells the story of a creator with an incredibly diverse resume. From the sci-fi-oriented pages of  2000AD to the adult fantasy of World Without End through to the Old West of Jonah Hex, John has proved his genre-crossing abilities time and time again.

In the first part of a two-part interview with this stalwart of the British comics industry Broken Frontier talks to John about the breadth of his work and focuses on the collection of his creator-owned project Razorjack, recently released by Com.x in a trade paperback edition.  

BROKEN FRONTIER: John, what really strikes me about your body of work is your incredible versatility over the years. You’ve tackled everything from fantasy to sci-fi, war stories to the supernatural right through to the world of super-heroes. Is there any one genre John Higgins feels most comfortable in or do you relish the opportunities and challenges such a diversity of subject matter provides?

JOHN HIGGINS: I am rather proud of all the different types of work I have done Andy. A lot of times it had been necessary just to keep working to pay the bills. But it can also be a drawback. It seemed after Watchmen, people only considered me as a colorist. Even though I had worked for 2000AD at that time on many black and white strips. My book cover clients had no interest, and usually contempt, for comic books so were not interested in that side of my portfolio and after I had painted World Without End for DC I was not initially considered for regular monthly books, being told "there was no fully painted work at the moment".

But I love trying something new, not only is it a challenge but it also keeps you fresh. I did call my short-lived, publishing company ‘Jack Publishing’ as in ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ which I have heard used as a self-deprecating comment or a criticism depending who uses it. Years ago, I use to tell students I lectured to specialize, as that was a faster way of honing your craft and getting more immediate success and recognition. But now, I suppose I could say after over twenty years working non-stop in comics, being a "Jack" is not necessarily the wrong way to go.

BF: You’ve collaborated with a plethora of talented individuals during your career. I’m always loathe to talk to creators in terms of "favorite work" but which parts of your CV stand out to you as highlights and why?

JH: Thank you for re-wording "favorite work" Andy, you should be a politician! I can give you a short list of some highs. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and Watchmen; the most classic and seminal of Graphic Novels! John Wagner for sheer professionalism and the down right magic of the Judge Dredd scripts I have had the pleasure of working on. Jamie Delano for World Without End; to be able to paint 174 pages of full color comics, my dream of a first job for DC after Watchmen.


Some examples of the aforementioned diversity of John's work

Garth Ennis. For being a breath of fresh air when he appeared on the scene. Eddie Deighton of Com.x for being such a supportive co-publisher and creative collaborator across the board. I must admit if I start to write any more names I would have to thank exactly 275 collaborators, from models, Sally, Jenna and Una to editors Steve McManus for taking 2000AD from strength to strength in the early years and also for giving me my first Dredd. I have been fortunate to work with some of the best, in all fields of comic publishing in my career.

BF: For our audience at Broken Frontier who may not be familiar with Razorjack could you tell us a little bit about the basic premise of the story, the characters involved and their world?

JH: Ssssh! Hear that! That sound that has woken you from deep sleep, you lift your head up from your sweat stained pillow. Straining to hear that noise that was almost inaudible. Was it outside the door to your darkened bedroom, in the wardrobe? Hold your breath, listening in mind numbing fear, dreading to hear the sound again, hoping it was all a bad dream. Until…. you hear it again! That is what Razorjack is about, you and me, the realization that bad things do happen to nice people. The serial killer who looks into your eyes as you lie strapped to a table because you invited them in.

I remember reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, and loving the fact that John Carter, ordinary Joe from the mid-west, had all these incredible adventures. I wanted it to be me. I wanted to travel to other worlds and to be a hero. This was also the appeal of the first superhero comics I read as a kid, I looked for that damn radioactive spider. I never found it but I wanted to be that hero. It has changed over the years but the basic premise for Razorjack is that wish.

In Razorjack we have three college kids that get caught up in a vortex of violence and action spanning across multiple dimensions, stemming from when they inadvertently open up a gateway to a dimension ruled by evil incarnate, Razorjack. Into this plot pot we throw - dead assassins, secret societies, a serial killer and Frame, a hard bitten cop and his young assistant Ross who start out solving crimes and go on to save worlds.

BF: I actually say this very much as a compliment, thinking of the largely super-hero saturated mainstream market, but Razorjack is a very difficult book to pigeonhole in terms of genre. How would you classify it?

JH: That has probably been my biggest problem when talking about Razorjack so far. It needs a specification; it does help in marketing it. But it seems like a reflection of my career - so many things going on in it. I was trying to put all the elements that I had an interest in. The only genre I didn’t manage to put in was a western one. But then it has Frame as the hero who is, "a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!" man. And I think the story, by crossing all those different dimensions, gives me even that option if I thought it would work. It does have elements of superhero. Definitely science fictional in places. I love my horror genre so that got in. I like cop shows with the chain of command, and then stick in a dollop of corruption and I am there. A fan at one of my signings described it as "CSI meets Hellraiser" which I thought was cool. The short answer is my self-coined phrase ‘Hard Boiled, SF Noir’.

BF: Razorjack has a long publishing history. Tell us a little about its conception and inspirations, your adventures in self-publishing and how Com.x came into the picture...

JH: Its conception started with my frustration at not getting many "Hard boiled SF Noir" story lines : ) Fantasy and science fiction has always been my first love, and there was not a lot coming my way at that time, so I thought if I did it all myself, it would be a good portfolio piece and might even make me some money : (

Getting Com.x involved was due to my long-standing friendship and my creative collaboration with Eddie Deighton. I knew Eddie from when I gave a talk at his art college. We subsequently worked on a number of jobs when he became a successful designer and ran his own London design studio. His long-standing love of comics gave him the incentive to expand his creative role into comic publishing in conjunction with his "day job" as Director of his design company, which he still does today with his ‘an.x agency’.

I was on board initially as a sort of informal adviser and drinking buddy. I also illustrated a couple of early Com.x stories for them. At this stage I had decided I could not afford to continue to self publish Razorjack. I had bills to pay and a daughter to put through college. But at their suggestion for me to co-publish the next two comics with them seemed like a good move. The idea of Razorjack as an unfinished story would have haunted me for the rest of my career, so to finish the first story arc was a very important to me and a personal promise to all the fans of my first book.

Now with the collected edition, not only have the books I did with Com.x been collected, but also the first story from Jack Publishing has been integrated seamlessly within the body of Com.x issues of Razorjack, making it complete. My computer wizard studio assistant Sally broke a couple of pages apart and made four new pages to connect the Jack Published story with the Com.x books. I can’t see the join. And with the new tail end story I did especially for this edition, I feel that people not only get a damn fine action adventure story but value for money.

Join us tomorrow for the second part of this interview where John talks more Razorjack, Watchmen and his upcoming "World Tour"... Below are some more preview pages from the Razorjack collection.


The Razorjack trade paperback is out now from Com.x priced $12.99 and is available on both Amazon US and Amazon UK.  A special deluxe collector's edition is also available from Foruli.

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