And now for something completely different… at least, different from the usual reread review material that I’ve been doing for a while. Spoilers, of course.
I got Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks as a birthday present at the end of January 2007 from a buddy of mine. I recall staying up really late reading it all in one sitting. I did that again this time, except on Thursday afternoon instead of well past midnight. I enjoy elements of Hicksville a lot, I like its message, but I find that I had to read it with the context of when it was done in the back of my head, because it feels somewhat out of touch to me — in a way that I’m overestimating I’ll admit, but also in a good way. In many ways, I hope that Hicksville is seen as irrelevant and completely antiquated as soon possible in its ideas about comics, the industry, and the way that people view both. I mean, how could you not?
Before rereading this book, I remembered the library in the lighthouse and how that concept never really sat right with me. A secret library holding one of a kind works by legendary artists… while it’s meant to be Horrocks’s conceptualisation of the great comics ‘what might have been…’ it’s always stuck me as this community showing that no matter how enlightened their views on comics, they can’t help but subscribe to the collector mentality, that desire to possess what others do not. They get the secret comics that many would kill to read based on some idea of sacredness. Bullshit, man. It’s the collector mentality at its most insidious, because it’s based entirely on content not superficial elements like variant covers. I don’t care about the variant cover collectors. Fuck ’em, they’re morons. Paying more for a cover? A cover you can find online easily to view? For free. Without breaking copyright. Morons. And I don’t care about their habits… hell, all of you tradewaiters know that you get the variant covers included 99% of the time… morons, as I say. Wow, I’m losing the point…
The secret library, yes. It’s partly justified by the idea that no publishers would want the works found within. They wouldn’t be viable. Except that wasn’t true when Horrocks did Hicksville and it’s less true now. This is what I’m talking about when I say that I find the work difficult to contextualise now, because it’s rooted in an older idea about comics that still exists but in a less meaningful way. A less prevelant way. I found myself wondering if the library could come off as ‘cool’ now when we know that the works found within would find publishers and audiences with ease. Hicksville doesn’t exist, but if it did… would we think that the library is great or would we wonder why the hell this small town isn’t doing everything it can to spread these works worldwide? How can this town claim to celebrate comics and yet hold so many in secret?
I actually hate the town of Hicksville. I do. An entire town where everyone loves comics? Sounds great, but where are the other books? The films, the music, the television, the theatre? It’s the definition of a nice place to visit but fucking kill me if I have to live there. But, it’s not meant to be a realistic place, it’s meant to be a fantastic “wouldn’t it be great if people loved comics the way we do?” kind of place… but in an overkill, depressing way. It’s a tourist destination, not a place to live. It’s a hick town… gee, think that’s where the name came from? The people who live there are snobs of the worst kind — we demand that people not put other media above comics and here’s a town that does just that except with the medium we all love… is that okay?
I’m purposefully going around the work and missing the point (although not really), because these are the ideas that jumped out at me, the comics reader of 2009 who has shelves where Absolute Planetary rests next to Alice in Sunderland which rests next to the first Gødland harcover… that has Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter and Eddie Campbell and Warren Ellis and Chester Brown and Jamie Delano and Gil Kane and Grant Morrison and Scott Pilgrim and Tekonkinkreet… and I’m a pretty steady ‘buy comics on Wednesday’ kind of guy. Comics aren’t a monoculture anymore (not that they ever were, honestly, but less so now than they were for a long time).
But, it’s hard to ignore that things haven’t improved as much as they should. Dick Burger ripped off Mort Molson to build his career… is that something that doesn’t go on now? Really? While not as direct or literal, what is Marvel’s Ultimate line — at least in spirit? We throw around words like ‘remake,’ ‘tribute,’ ‘homage’… but are we just fooling ourselves? Is it just covering so we can rip off some old men a little bit more and not feel guilt over it?
Progress has been made over the past years no doubt, but there are court cases going on still over the mistreatment of creators decades ago, creators that built this industry… hell, today, we learned of the Kirby Estate filing a lawsuit. How much progress has been made? How out of date is Hicksville? I know, I raised the idea that it is out of date in some ways… I’m complicated and contradictory sometimes. So is this work. There’s a tension in Hicksville as it tries to celebrate the medium but criticise the industry with people who are so extreme in loving the craft and creative sides of things that they aren’t necessarily that far removed from those that only care about the business side of things.
I’ve been struggling with Hicksville for the past few days, trying to find my position on it. It is a product of its time that is outdate because progress has been made… but not enough. When the Superboy lawsuit made big news a while back, what were the reactions from the fanboys? “Fuck these people for trying to ruin my comics” basically. It’s hard to say the industry or fans have come a long way when that attitude is still so forceful and common.
The actual plot and characters of Hicksville don’t really concern me right now, nor does the art itself. I like them all, I will say. Horrocks is quite talented and produces some gorgeous pages using a very minimalist style. His characters are unique and feel real. The plot is a variation on the old ‘small town secret’ concept where a stranger comes to town and brings back a lot of bad memories. The path Horrocks takes to the end is winding and goes off on a lot of tangents. I was never bored, I never wanted to just skip ahead… it’s a good read.
But, it’s the ideas that I keep coming back to, the issues Horrocks raises…
One idea that’s suggested is that Image Comics fails in this world. That’s an interesting choice on Horrocks’s part as Todd McFarlane is referenced throughout as a struggling artist doing work-for-hire art for Dick Burger and Eternal Comics, which bought out Image when it tanked. This is a world where the lack of creator control is strengthened and heightened to emphasise Horrocks’s points… except that Burger is a creator who rises to a position of power… by stealing the work of another creator. Do you get it? It’s not meant to be realistic, it’s a morality play in many ways… a parable about the history of the comics industry as those willing to put money first will lie, cheat, and kill creativity and art in order to get more money. And have things changed all that much? In the past month, Disney has purchased Marvel and Warner Bros. has changed DC Comics to DC Entertainment… we don’t know if this will make things better or worse from a creative standpoint, honestly, but those moves certainly are timely, aren’t they?
I’m afraid I don’t have any answers or strong assertions regarding Hicksville. The more I think about it, the more questions I come up with, the more uncertain I am… I hope there’s a day when this book is a quaint history lesson on how things used to be, but we’re not there yet, I don’t think. If you haven’t, find yourself a copy.