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On the Razor's Edge - Part 2

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Presenting the second part of our two-part interview with stalwart of the British comics industry John Higgins ...  Broken Frontier talks to John about the breadth of his work focusing on the collection of his creator-owned project Razorjack, recently released by Com.x in a trade paperback edition. John also chats with us about recoloring Watchmen, what he thought about *that* movie and his upcoming "World Tour"... Click here for Part 1

BROKEN FRONTIER: Would it be fair to say that Razorjack is a labor of love – a project that evolved first and foremost for the creative rewards of seeing the tale you wanted to tell complete on the printed page rather than as an overt commercial exercise?

JOHN HIGGINS: I think it is as much the commercial possibilities for your own copyrighted creations as the creative freedom and opportunity to explore story avenues that are more personal. So a labor of love definitely but also to retain the copyright of your own creations was an imperative. We just need to look historically at all the creators who have lost the rights to their characters and seen publishers exploit them with very little reward to the original artists and writers.

BF: Razorjack is absolutely crammed full of concepts, characters and expandable plotlines. Just how extensive was your series "bible"?

JH: The initial concepts and story ideas were drawn on the back of a beer mat, once I had the basic plot and characters formed, it was just a case of them taking over their own world and speaking for themselves. But I knew right at the start I wanted to create a depth of story… of multiple crossing storylines, which is the plot form that I enjoyed reading the most in books and novels. So to create the basis for such a mythology for Razorjack’s world was relatively simple but led to its final complexity as the story unfolded. Now its story bible is massive.

BF: There’s a short backup tale at the back of the Com.x collection that hints at where the storyline could go next. What chance is there in the near future that you could make a welcome return to the world of Razorjack and pick up on some of those plot threads?

JH: I appreciate your "welcome return" comment. I would like to do so much more with the characters and, now that I have the detailed world sorted out, it would be nice to forget about the complexity and concentrate on action and adventure set with in the fully rounded world of Razorjack. In the same way we now look at all the familiar heroes of the big publishers that have been around so long. We understand the history without having to be told about it every time the Joker reappears. It just gives more depth to what we are reading at the time.

BF: In the intro to the collection you’re very self-deprecating about the book describing it as something that will "never win the Nobel Prize for literature". However, I have to say I found it one of the most absorbing, page-turning reads I’ve had this year. The subject matter may be very dark but it never slips into that grim n’gritty posturing that we’re all so tired of now. Despite the ups and downs of self-publishing, and physically getting Razorjack out there over the years, was it as much fun to work on as the energy on each page would suggest?

JH: The creation of my fully developed world and drawing of each page and every panel, the expressions of the life and death of all my creations, was the most enjoyable and the hardest work I have ever done in my working life as a comic artist. So to hear people say it worked for them, that gives me a great sense of pride and feeling of achievement with my book. That’s what makes it so worthwhile. Thank you for yours Andy.

BF: You recently had the opportunity to revisit your coloring on Watchmen and, with the aid of current technology, give the pages the finish that was lacking in previous collections. How frustrating have the reproduction issues been over the years for you as a creator and just how satisfying was it to finally give a definitive look to the work after all this time?

JH: For me it has always been a towering creative presence that has been there on the periphery of my career for twenty-odd years, due to the genius of Alan and Dave. But until I had the opportunity to digitalize the color for the Absolute Watchmen collection I had no real interest seeing it or talking about it.

All I could see were the limitations imposed by the primitive color printing process in 1986 when it was first printed and I hated what I saw on those collected editions for over twenty years. But thankfully in 2005 I got the second bite of that creative cherry, and was gratified my Watchmen color concept had stood the test of time and was still relevant for the storytelling, even with the new technology. Which did allow me to give a more rounded and tonal sense to the world of Watchmen. But to also clarify the color scene setting that due to the initial release of monthly issues had inconsistencies we had no opportunity to sort out until 2005. If you have an old original printing of the Watchmen and the new digital printing check out the newsagents corner in particular to see how scene color consistency has finally been achieved.

BF: And on the subject of Watchmen can I pose the inevitable question and ask you, as one of the book’s creative team, what you thought of the movie?

JH: It had been a long road but, when Watchmen finally hit the silver screen, two and three quarter hours did not seem long enough. It really is the most sophisticated action adventure movie I have ever seen. I was blown away how appropriate it looked and sounded on the big screen. I really can’t wait for the director’s cut or the DVD to come out as I have been told a lot more is going in it such as Hollis Mason’s murder, …oops, I hope I haven’t given anything away! :)

And Tales of the Black Freighter will be intercut within the storyline, so the DVD will be a superb addition to the canon of the Watchmen. I think it is definitely a high quality companion piece to the graphic novel that brings in Zack Snyder’s personal view of the Watchmen. The opening sequence of the movie, which is the flash back history of the Minute Men, is a stylistic tour de force.

BF: This summer you’re off on an international signing/personal appearances jaunt I believe. Where can fans of your work catch up with you in the upcoming months?

JH: First stop is San Diego Comic Con, July 24th to 28th. I will be at the Splash Page Comic Art booth, row 4400.

On Saturday August 1st, I will be signing at Heroes For Sale, 277 Karangahape Rd, Auckland, New Zealand, from 10:00am.

Then on to Australia the following week, with a signing at Ace Comics & Games, Level 2, 121 Queen Street, Brisbane, on Sunday 9th August starting at 12.00 midday.

I will also be giving a talk at Queensland University, in Brisbane on the Monday to talk about the perils of self-publishing but that will be for students only. I am really pleased about this tour because I will be able to raise the profile of Razorjack a bit wider. I still find people are saying to me they cannot find it in their local book store.

BF: Finally, what next for John Higgins? What upcoming projects are there in the pipeline that we can look forward to seeing in the near future?

JH: The last couple of years have been very interesting with the variety of work I have been doing, going back to 2000AD, and some concept work for an independent movie, Dementamania. I particularly enjoyed working with Dave G on Watchmen again, even if it was on the movie-related Watchmen and not the classic Watchmen of the graphic novel. So I hope for more of that variety in the future.

Razorjack has been a real fun thing to work on, particularly as ninety percent of it had been completed a number of years ago. So most of the hard work had already been done for the collected edition. But I am still working on new interesting Razorjack related projects, but they are at a very early stage just yet. But I am very excited about them and if they do come off I will let you know as soon as they are finalized, but keep checking my website: http://www.turmoilcolour.com/ I am not always first with the news according to Michael Carroll, my webmaster and a damned fine writer of ‘The New Heroes’ series of books, but he usually finds out for me in the end!

At the moment I am working on a miniseries for Rebellion, a character called Darren Dead [pictured above right], created by myself and writer Rob Williams. This I am just loving totally as it is a laugh out loud funny (thanks to Rob’s script) "Black humour, SF farce" Yay! Another new genre name invention from the un-boxed mind of John Higgins! [Editorial note: Meet Darren Dead begins in Judge Dredd Megazine #287 out this very week in the U.K.]

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the thing I love most Andy. Me! No, no, it is comics really.

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. More preview pages from Razorjack below...

                

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