In December, Rian Hughes will revisit the future of his past.
The acclaimed designer and comic book illustrator is bringing some of his most celebrated stories of all time together in two convenient locations with the releases of “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” and “On the Line,” courtesy of Image Comics. A defining artist who counts “2000 AD,” “Revolver Magazine,” Grant Morrison and Chris Reynolds as some of the more notable publishers and creators he’s worked with, Hughes has devoted much of his time and energy to graphic design work through his company Device in recent years, but “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” and “On the Line” celebrate the sequential artwork of his past.
“‘Yesterday’s Tomorrows’ is a collection of my comic strips from back when I last drew comic strips,” the artist told CBR News in an exclusive interview. “The title refers to the retro-nostalgia of characters like Dan Dare, the future of a simpler age, one of the themes that’s explored in that story. But it also refers to the fact that these are my personal yesterdays as well.”
According to Hughes, the 264-page full-color “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” includes collaborations with Grant Morrison, Tom DeHaven and other creators, as well as “assorted illustrations, sketches, trading cards, posters and advertisements done around the same period that relate to the strips stylistically.” Two of the most anticipated stories to be represented in “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” are Hughes’ collaborations with Morrison, including a strip featuring science fiction pulp icon Dan Dare.
“Dan is very well known in the UK, probably one of the best known characters, even by people who don’t read comics,” said Hughes. “He engenders an enormous amount of warmth and nostalgia for a certain generation. Dan originally appeared in the ‘Eagle,’ a weekly title that ran through the ’50s and ’60s. He was briefly revived in ‘2000AD,’ but that version bore very little resemblance to the original.
“Grant plays on this nostalgia for a simpler, less politically complicated age,” Hughes said of the story he and Morrison strove to tell with Dare, “while mirroring the fate of his original creator, Frank Hampson, who lost control of the copyright and made very little money from the merchandising success of the property, living in reduced circumstances in later life. A sad story.”
Hughes’ other collaboration with Morrison, “Really and Truly,” is a decidedly less grim affair. “This is Grant riffing on my fascination with Josie and the Pussycats-style cartoon pop,” said Hughes. “It’s a polar opposite to Dare in that respect – that it’s light, it’s fun, it’s bubblegum pop culture.”
Asked about his experiences in working with Morrison, Hughes said he enjoyed collaborating with the acclaimed “Batman” and “The Invisibles” writer due to Morrison’s proficiency as a visual thinker. “Grant, I think, knows how to work to an artist’s strengths and interests,” said the artist. “He’s a very visual writer – he can also do a mean doodle – which means he understands how visually a comic story needs to work. It always felt like a collaboration, like a good band, one where the sum was more than the parts.”
Morrison isn’t the only great writer whose work is showcased in “Yesterday’s Tomorrows,” of course, as the collection also includes Hughes and writer Tom DeHaven’s adaptation of legendary crime novelist Raymond Chandler’s “Goldfish,” a story that features pulp hero and private eye Philip Marlowe dealing with the temptations of wealth, double crosses and all of the brutes and babes one expects from a hard-boiled crime story.
“[The opportunity to adapt] Chandler came from an invitation by Dean Motter, the great designer behind one of the iconic comic characters of last century, Mr. X,” said Hughes of his “Goldfish” work. “It was originally done for the publisher ibooks, and sat on a shelf unpublished for almost a decade before it came out. Here, I used a limited color palette – the inked art was copied onto three different colored sheets of paper, which were then cut away in angular shapes that evoke light through windows or noir shadows in grubby urban streets.”
“Yesterday’s Tomorrows” digs even deeper into Hughes’ past by recollecting “The Science Service,” a story that the illustrator describes as “the first book proper that I drew.” He added: “It was originally published in a small board-backed volume with a red cloth spine, like an early Tintin album. I revisited this period when I was asked to contribute to the show held recently in the Atomium, that retro-futuristic icon of the Brussells ’58 World’s Fair. If Dan Dare had been Belgian, Space Fleet would have been based in that building!”
Fans of Hughes’ work can further explore the illustrator’s career in “On the Line,” a separate collection that reprints the entire run of Hughes and writer Rick Wright’s strips that ran in The Guardian in the mid-1990s, “before Google and decent web search engines had made the web the indispensable tool that it is today,” he recalled. “Its primary aim was to advertise Compuserve’s e-mail and web service, then in its infancy,” Hughes said of “On the Line.” “I had just bought my first Mac, a 2CI, and it seemed appropriate to draw the strip in Adobe Illustrator, which back then was a slow and cumbersome program in which you couldn’t even draw in color – you had to work in what is now the outline mode, then preview your results. This strip is the early beginnings of the style that developed into what people called my ‘lifestyle style,’ the clean vector shapes and flat colors that you can see around, copied by other illustrators.”
Indeed, Hughes’ style has undoubtedly influenced countless other artists, so much so that Hughes himself recently received a strange inquiry from a prospective employer. “I had a call recently from someone who said, ‘We need someone who can draw like Rian Hughes, can you draw like Rian Hughes?’ When I said that I was Rian Hughes, there was a pause, and then they hung up,” he said. “When hiring the copyists is somehow more desirable than hiring me, I suppose I’ve become a generic product.”
But for his fans, Hughes is anything but generic, and the opportunity to own so many of the illustrator’s stories in “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” is truly rare for American comic book collectors. “This is the first U.S. paperback edition, with a new cover and several new pages of illustrations,” Hughes said of “Yesterday’s Tomorrows,” which was previously published in the United Kingdom by Knockabout Comics.
Beyond “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” and “On the Line,” Hughes has other projects in the works including “Cult-ure,” a “graphic graphic novel” described as a “thought-provoking guide to surviving the new media revolution.” He’s also edited books on illustration and lettering of the ’50s and ’60s. But re-reading his old comics in “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” could very well inspire Hughes to discover tomorrow’s tomorrows with future comic book stories.
“Yes, I want to do comics again,” he said. “I just have to clone myself!”
“Yesterday’s Tomorrows” and “On the Line,” featuring the works of acclaimed designer and illustrator Rian Hughes, arrive in comic book stores on December 22, 2010, courtesy of Image Comics.