These days many comic readers know Jonathan Hickman for his critically-acclaimed work on Marvel Comics titles including “Fantastic Four” (which recently became “FF”) or the espionage epic “Secret Warriors.” However, these gigs came about as a result of Hickman’s highly praised creator-owned work for Image Comics on books such as the Eisner-nominated “Nightly News” and “Pax Romana,” which he both wrote and drew, as well as “Transhuman,” which featured art by J.M. Ringuet, and “A Red Mass For Mars” drawn by Ryan Bodenheim.
Hickman’s Marvel work has kept him busy the past several years, but the creator has not forgotten his roots. This July he returns to Image Comics for “The Red Wing,” a four-issue creator-owned series written by Hickman and featuring art by Nick Pitarra. CBR News spoke with Hickman about the series, which chronicles the struggles of several brave “temporal fighter pilots.”
CBR News: Jonathan, “The Red Wing” is your first creator-owned book in four years, and as I understand you’re planning to do more after it’s complete. How important is creator-owned work to you, now that you’re getting steady work from Marvel?
Jonathan Hickman: Well, working at Marvel certainly makes for a stable life. And far beyond that, they have treated me fantastically — from getting to work with top-tier talent, to promoting our collaborative work on their books, to straight up branding me as a creator to watch. By every way to measure these things, I’ve benefited immensely from the relationship — I really enjoy working at Marvel.
But, it is also certainly the right time for me to start doing creator-owned books again. Part of this is it’s simply time to scratch a different itch, part is it’s time for me to draw a little bit again, part is I want to do some genre work that we don’t do at Marvel — and finally, I’m working under no illusions about the fact that I won’t be retiring at Marvel and I own nothing that I do over there.
So, as awesome as it is, it’s very important that I continue to do creator-owned books.
“The Red Wing” involves fighter pilots in the future. What is it about fighter pilots that made you want to take a look at them in a miniseries?
Actually, it’s about fighter pilots battling through time. The story actually began with me falling in love with the visuals of the concept, which is not something I normally do: Think about how a book will look before knowing what it’s about.
It’s probably a sketchy way to construct a story, but I was fortunate enough to find a theme (something like, the importance of winning and losing across the spectrum of time) that worked with the type of characters I wanted to use. Better to be lucky than good or whatever.
What can you tell us about the world “The Red Wing” takes place in? How similar and how different is it from our own?
“The Red Wing” takes place in our future where the past has been lost to an invading force from a different space and time (uhhhh, a somewhat divergent reality).
But, I guess I’d describe it as like some ordinary future setting.
Does “The Red Wing” feature one protagonist or several? What can you tell us about the title’s main characters?
It features several. The main protagonists are actually the second generation of temporal pilots that exist in the future, with their parents being the ones who failed to prevent the loss of their past. So, they’re dealing with not only the responsibility of saving the world, but also with the burden of knowing that they come from a failed generation. Not surprisingly, they all deal with this in different ways.
After “Pax Romana,” this marks the second time you’ve done a creator-owned series involving the concept of time travel. What makes time travel stories compelling to you as a writer? Do you find it a tricky subject to write about?
Well, I honestly don’t find it difficult or anything as it actually kind of suits the wonky structure I like to use. I also find it entertaining for a lot of reasons — I like that it reverses the natural structure of cause-and-effect, I like that it allows us to interject character moments into the story that exist outside of the main narrative, and, as always, I’m constantly mindful of the fact that we have very smart readers nowadays, so playing with structure helps keep them on their toes.
The press release for “The Red Wing” mentions “the greatest battle in the history of the three worlds.” A battle also suggests enemies. What can you tell us about the enemy forces in “The Red Wing?” Who are they? What does their agenda appear to be? And why are they in conflict with your protagonists?
They will remain nameless and faceless until deep into the second issue for reasons I’m going to leave unanswered for now. The reason they’re in conflict is because certain places in time (pretend that they’re like pieces of land), are the same in both of their histories, so it becomes territorial.
How important an element is setting in “The Red Wing?” Since the series involves elements like futuristic fighter planes and time travel it seems like it’s a story that could go everywhere and anywhere.
Sure, that’s one of the reasons why I was so visually interested in this. Skipping millennia in between panels is fascinating — hopefully we can pull it off. Nick’s on top of it.
Speaking of Nick Pitarra, in the recent “S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity” issue you and Nick told a fun and exciting story of giant robots clashing in Ancient Greece. What can people expect from Nick’s art in “The Red Wing” where he’ll be tackling more futuristic machines?
Nick is a phenomenal talent and he has a long career in front of him. I am certainly honored to be working with him and I’m very excited for everyone to get see his work in something other than an eight-page backup setting. He’s the real deal.
Also, Rachelle Rosenberg colored Nick on that “S.H.I.E.L.D.” story — the first person to color Nick well, we thought — so she’s going to be joining us as well.
We actually were going to do that “Ghost in the Shell”/Manga-thing where the first eight pages of an issue were going to be colored and the remainder of the book would be zip-a-toned, but we were so happy with how Rachelle’s colors were coming out that we changed gears. Maybe we’ll try that next time.
We understand that “The Red Wing” is just the first creator-owned project from you and Nick and that future projects will be part of PLUS! Conceptually what exactly is PLUS! ? Is it a series of projects? Your own imprint? Something else?
Imprint is fair, I guess. “The Red Wing” will be sub-labeled a PLUS! Production, while main titled PLUS! books (like “Feel Better Now”) will be written and drawn by me.
Hope that makes sense — it’ll become clearer once the books start hitting the shelves.
Any final thoughts you would like to share about “The Red Wing?”
Just that it’s a project we are all very proud of, and I just hope that people will give us a chance and check it out. Final orders are due at the beginning of June, so please pre-order if you like rock-and-roll.