As a young man coming of age in Toronto, Canada, Ray Fawkes would visit a local newsstand to buy his weekly comics and would never miss grabbing Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” when the latest issue arrived. Then, one day in the summer of 1985, something magical happened. Quite literally. Moore and his artistic collaborators Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch brought a Sting-inspired hellblazer into the DC Universe and John Constantine was born, as was a lifelong fan of the character.
Flash forward 28 years (and 300 issues of Vertigo’s “Hellblazer”) later and Fawkes and his pal Jeff Lemire (“Animal Man,” “Green Arrow”) are set to give the leading man of their “Justice League Dark” team book his own solo series when “Constantine” #1 is released on March 13.
Fawkes, who was nominated for Eisner and Harvey awards for his critically claimed original graphic novel “One Soul,” shared his thoughts on his latest gig with CBR News, including how the core of the title character won’t change despite moving him Vertigo to the New 52, why Constantine isn’t a superhero and what he likes best about collaborating with artist Renato Guedes.
The co-creator of the 2005 Vertigo horror miniseries “Mnemovore” also discussed he and Lemire taking over writing duties on “Constantine” from previously announced writer Robert Venditti, filling-in for Gail Simone on two issues of “Batgirl” and his two upcoming indie projects, “The Spectral Engine” and a follow-up to “One Soul.”
CBR News: I know your partner in crime Jeff Lemire is a huge fan of John Constantine. But what about you, love DC’s original hellblazer?
Ray Fawkes: Massively so. This is totally going to date me, but I was buying “Swamp Thing” off the newsstands when Constantine first appeared. He actually first appeared in the story about the Monkey King, but he first really played a part in the “American Gothic” story and I totally, totally fell in love with the character right there.
He’s so mysterious and cool and dangerous and obviously, when they started up “Hellblazer,” I started reading that. I’ve been reading the different iterations of John Constantine ever since. So yeah, I guess you could say I’m a fan.
The Vertigo version of Constantine ends next month with the release of “Hellblazer” #300. Will Constantine’s permanent move from DC Comics’ mature imprint to the less graphic confines of the New 52 cause you to change the character to something unrecognizable to long-time fans or will there only be minor tweaks?
I think the core of John Constantine is what’s so thrilling about him. I love the material in those stories, but the new audience may not. They may be intimidated, or perhaps overwhelmed, by 300 issues of story, but the core of John, the idea of this smart, worldly conman who has a familiarity with magic — really, he’s quite capable of taking on things much more powerful than himself, and that’s very compelling. Whether he’s facing the devil or Brainiac — not that he will be facing supervillains that much — anything is possible now that he’s in the DC Universe.
I like the idea of taking a guy who, in his own book, has conned and played games on Heaven and Hell and now we put him in a world where Heaven and Hell are not the only supernatural problems and see how he’s going to do there.
I recently spoke to Charles Soule and asked him if “Swamp Thing” is a superhero book, and his answer was that it can be any type of book. Does the same hold true for “Constantine?”
“Constantine” is more like — well, how should I put this? Constantine isn’t a hero, so I think “Constantine” is more of a super-survivor book, or maybe a super-confidence-man book. He’s a guy that can face down superheroes and supervillains, but I think he would probably throw his drink in your face if you called him a superhero.
As are a long-time fan of Constantine, did you have any difficulty in finding his voice?
It did take a little bit of time, because while I’m definitely a fan of many of the amazing writers that worked with the character and I loved the voices they gave him, I want to be very aware that the voice that comes through is not artificial. It’s got to be my own version of him. It took a little pacing around the room and figuring out what John’s internal and external dialogue sounds like in my world. I think I got a handle on it quick enough, but it wasn’t a snap. It wasn’t like I already definitely had his voice in my head. Although to a certain degree, it came a little quicker than it normally would have because we [Fawkes and Lemire] had already been working with him in “Justice League Dark.”
I want to ask you about that, because the series was originally announced with Robert Venditti as the writer but now it’s you and Jeff. How did the creative change come about?
We were talking with Robert rather closely when he was first working on the book because Constantine has such a major role in “Justice League Dark.” We were just talking back and forth to make sure that what we both had happening with him made sense.
When Robert decided that his schedule didn’t allow for him to do “Constantine,” I think Jeff and I were a very logical choice to DC. They basically said, “You guys have been talking about Constantine so much, as it is, and the plans were in the works — would you be willing to take it on?” And obviously, the answer was “yes.”
Are we basically getting two issues of “Justice League Dark” every month, or will Constantine be off on his own adventures in his solo series?
It’s very much that John’s going to be doing his own thing in “Constantine.” From the perspective of John in “Justice League Dark,” he is with the team because the team is necessary for very specific challenges. But when John is in his own book, that’s very much him away from them.
How do I put this? In “Justice League Dark,” John behaves in the manner that effectively best makes them do what he wants them to do. When he is on his own adventures, in his own book, John is who he really is. He is more unfiltered. He perhaps is not as jovial or friendly as he needs to be with the Justice League Dark. Or, sometimes, maybe he’s in a better mood than he is when he’s around the Justice League Dark.
Essentially, “Justice League Dark” is a team book, and with John, ostensibly, the leader of the team, he behaves very differently than he does on his own.
Do the members of Justice League Dark play a role in “Constantine?” And what about the rest of the supporting cast?
There is definitely a supporting cast. They play as regular a role as anybody can play in John’s life. He’s a bit of a jetsetter. But yes, there is definitely a supporting cast and they are different than Justice League Dark.
That said, the members of Justice League Dark will definitely pop in here and there because he is dealing with them all of the time, but most of the characters that you’ll see in “Constantine” are ones that he has a more personal relationship with, so it’s long-time friends, long-time rivals, enemies and also lovers.
When “Constantine” #1 was originally solicited, it was teased that John would learn something that will shake the very foundations of the New 52. Is that still happening in your first issue?
There is definitely a big reveal. It’s not the same one that was originally going to happen, but it is a big one. So, with that said, I don’t think the solicitation is incorrect.
Are you telling long, multi-issue arcs, or will these be done-in-one, single issue stories?
Right now, the adventures are a bit shorter. The story starts off with a three-issue arc and then we have a couple of short adventures, just to give readers a bit of a wider view of just how it is that Constantine operates. There is a possibility for a longer arc later, but I really feel that at first I really want this to be a few fast-paced stories. Jeff and I have plotted out a few fast and loose tales that give you an idea of the different ways that Constantine operates and the different challenges that he faces.
When the announcement was made, Jeff teased the inclusion of the Cult of the Cold Flame and a “brand-new” Sargon the Sorcerer, as well as something or someone called the Witchbreaker. For a character you admire so much, it must be great to be expanding and reimagining his mythos.
It’s totally a thrill. I love the mystical corners of the DC Universe, and I love a lot of the characters that may seem weird, or even bizarrely hokey. Sharp-eyed readers noticed that we brought back Johnny Peril in “Justice League Dark” as Dr. John Peril, and people are going to see even more of their favorite mystic characters in the DC Universe.
And yes, we’re going to see reimaginings of Sargon the Sorcerer, Mister E, Dr. Occult — a lot of the old inhabitants of that corner. We’re also introducing some really crazy new ones, let me tell you. The world of magic, as we’re defining it in the DCU, is a pretty vicious one and it’s hard to survive. Only the kind of people that can stand up against a Sargon or a Zatara or a Constantine can actually get by in this world.
Does “Constantine” being a magic/mystic based book allow for a different type of readership or following as opposed to classic tights and capes?
I think so, yes. There are different ways to come by power in the DCU, and one of them is technology and another one is magic. Magic is this sort of catch-all for this chaotic kind of energy, which isn’t really well understood by the more scientific side of the DCU. What it means is that you can tell any kind of story.
So yes, magic does appeal to a wide array of fans because it can be anything if you give it the right tone, if you give it the right flavor. It can be really, really exciting and really, really fun. If you’re a superhero fan, then someone like Zatanna reads like a superhero, even though she’s a magical character. I don’t think it will alienate superhero fans and I certainly think that people that are into mystical stuff or supernatural stuff will definitely get what they want out of this book.
Constantine has traditionally been based in London, but you have him moving to Manhattan. Is that a plot point or was he just ready for a move?
There is a very specific reason in the book that John can’t be in London. That’s actually revealed in the first arc of the story. Manhattan is the best option if he’s not in London, because it’s such a worldly city and it is so populated. There is so much going on there. Within the DCU, there are certain cities where the magical characters seem to congregate, and New York is one of them. That’s probably just because of the population of the city, but John will discover that there is more to it than that. There are certain sort of nodes of power in the world and New York tends to be one of them.
And again, he’s only based there. In the first arc, he goes to Scandinavia, Asia — he’s all over the place. He’s going to go to a lot of these places of power.
You and Jeff are both writers, but you’re also also cartoonists and illustrators. Here, you’re working with Renato Guedes. Is it hard working with artists when you yourself are one, or is it a collaboration you relish?
Working with an artist is almost like speaking a different language. It’s thrilling to see another artist send in their stuff based on your script. Some stuff comes in, and it’s not how I would have drawn it, but it’s brilliant. It’s better than I would have drawn it. Far better. Different people have different strengths and Renato’s work is gorgeously detailed. I can’t believe some of the things that he manages to pack into a panel. I thought with some of the panel descriptions I was pushing a little too far, but the pages came back to me with everything that I spoke of.
To tell you the truth, if I was writing it for myself, I probably would have been more likely to take shortcuts on it because I would have been like, “Who is going to get mad at me? Not me, right?” But working with an artist, you can give them these cues for them to blow it out into this fantastic display that I didn’t even dare to hope for. Renato’s pages have gone far beyond my expectations. I think people’s minds are going to be totally blown when they see what he’s done.
I love that DC Comics is bringing awesome indie talent like you and Matt Kindt and Charles Soule and Joshua Fialkov into the fold, but hopefully not at the expense of your creator-owned work, like a follow-up to “One Soul.” Are you keeping one foot in that world?
Oh, yeah. Right now I am in the last stages of a book that’s due to come out in October called “The Spectral Engine.” And I’m contracted to write the follow-up book to “One Soul,” which is not a sequel by any means, you couldn’t write a sequel to that book, but it’s another experimental work that came to mind while I was doing “One Soul.”
That book is set to be done for sometime next year. The indie is not stopping. Basically, doing this stuff for DC now allows me to also do my indie work comfortably. I would never give up doing the indie books. I love them too much, and obviously, there are things that I can do in one place that I can’t do in the other and vice versa. I love both arenas.
Before I let you go, I have to ask you about “Batgirl.” There was obviously a big fuss made about Gail Simone being off and back on the book, but your announced two issues are still going ahead, correct?
Oh, yeah. Batgirl is fantastic. I think she’s a wildly underappreciated character, even with the worship she gets. It was totally a blast to spend a little time with her and her horrible, horrible family. It was great. I totally enjoyed it and hope the fans enjoy my spin on the character.
“Constantine” #1, by Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire and featuring art by Renato Guedes, is expected March 13.