While Jonathan Hickman might be a new name in the comics industry, he's certainly been earning fans in a short amount of time. Hickman was a finalist in the first edition of Comic Book Idol, CBR's amateur art contest, and during which he impressed many as he made his way through the competition. As strong as he was during Comic Book Idol, it was Hickman's Image Comics series, The Nightly News," that really began turning heads. The story of what happens when a news organization makes a major mistake and the violent fallout was enthralling, but it was the design sense Hickman brought to the page that proved this former amateur artist had arrived as a professional.
Hickman isn't one to rest for long. With "The Nightly News" wrapped and a trade paperback on sale this week, it's time for the writer-artist-designer to get back to work. First off, this November sees release of the previously announced "Pax Romana." This December, Hickman steps away from the drafting table to handle the writing and coloring of a new four-issue limited series called "A Red Mass For Mars," illustrated by emerging talent Ryan Bodenheim.
To learn more about "A Red Mass for Mars," we caught up with Hickman while he was vacationing at the beach with his in-laws back East.
First off , Jonathan, thanks for taking the time to talk with us while on your vacation.
Not a problem. My pleasure.
I don't want to keep you from your relaxation any more than is necessary, so let's get right into it. Introduce "A Red Mass for Mars."
Well, the story takes place in one of those post-apocalyptic, "Blade Runner" kind of futures that we all as comic book fans are familiar with. Things are bad and now they're going to get even worse. I set up all of that so that I can play against type and what normal expectations of a story like this usually are. My other new book, "Pax Romana," and "Red Mass for Mars" are both books about society. One is a historical science fiction story and the other one is a super hero kind of story, but they're both about society; one taking a look at it macroscopically and the other microscopically and "Red Mass" is the latter. Ultimately, it's about if one man could actually affect the future of society, what would that mean and what if he chose not to do it? What if he had demands? What if he just wasn't in the mood? It kind of spirals out of control from there.
The main character in "Red Mass" is a larger than life hero called Mars. Tell us about him.
I'm really trying to play against type, here. He's kind of a Supermanish/post-human kind of guy. He's more powerful than everyone else, but the difference is that he was raised and humanized, for lack of a better word, in a different time period than the one he actually lives in. So, he's actually hundreds of years old and that affects his mindset. You know how when people get to be a certain age, in their 60s and 70s, you get to a point where you're set in your ways and you don't change the way you think, act or talk anymore? He's definitely like that. He ends up being an anachronistic super hero. He's a guy with a medieval philosophy and a humanity that's based in the dark ages. That doesn't really work in a modern society, so there's not really a place for him. It's not just about how he can save everybody, but it's also about whether or not he thinks they're worth saving.
Based on what you just said, it doesn't sound like Mars is really much of a friend to humanity.
That's exactly it and it's about his journey. Is he human or is he more than human is one of the common questions behind Superman, but you can clip that and ask is he not good enough for humanity or is humanity not ready for someone like thus guy?
What other characters populate "Red Mass?"
There's a whole superhero community and we do the whole alien race thing and scientific community thing. Like how "The Nightly News" was, it's not like I'm writing very quick, cursory glance books. It's pretty dense and we're packing a lot into this. The world is very well fleshed out and we're going to do the whole thing of Mars interacting with other super heroes and questioning whether earth is worth saving and defending. We'll do the whole thing where earth doesn't want him around, but then later they need him again. There's a lot going on for four issues and we're covering a pretty big stretch of time, but we'll get it done.
What are the basic themes and story points you're looking to explore in "Red Mass?"
There's a little of a redemption theme working in here with our primary character arc, but there's also an exploration of how, throughout history, man's idea of utopia has changed. Our basic idea of utopia today is some type of some sort of socialist, fraternal, egalitarian, brotherhood, all men are equal, freedom, etc., a free society where you respect every other man we work to the betterment of each and every man. That's our idea today, but back at the dawn of the first, second or third century, the idea of utopia was eternity. Life was so bad and so hard that an idea of a perfect society was to die and go to be with your gods. That's when life got better and what the perfection of life was. So, you have a character born in those times and that's his idea of a perfect society, which interacts with more modern interpretations of what utopia is, so you end up with battling ideas of utopia over time as well. Perfect society is probably a better way to put it that utopia.
Where does this story come from? What's the inspiration for it?
I was afraid you were going to ask that. [laughs] I really don't know! It's one of those things that comes to you when you're taking a shower and by the time you're done shaving, it's there. Then you go and play with it over a couple of weeks, you realize there's something there, you run it by the guys at Image and they say they'll publish it! [laughs] That's really the story
Other than finding Ryan and crystallizing how the book should look in my head when I'm writing, it was just kind of a random thought that ran into another one.
Tell us a bit about the art and working with Ryan Bodenheim .
Ryan is just fantastic and will likely be snatched up by Marvel or DC once they see his work. He's doing a wide-screen kind of thing where it feels like "The Authority" or something like that. That's the kind of wide, sweeping, panoramic stuff we're doing visually. It felt like one of those types of books when I began working on this, so when I found Ryan that was just perfect.
How did you guys get hooked up?
When I was finishing up "The Nightly News," actually in between issues #4 and 5, I realized, "Shit, what am I going to do after this!" I obviously wanted to do more comics - that's what I do now - and I had a bunch of different ideas. I knew I was going to do "Pax Romana," but I was concerned with how long it would take me to get that off the ground and what I was trying to do artwise and I didn't know how much lead time I'd need for it, so I started to think. I'm kind of a planner, so I wanted to plan out my next eight, nine months of the year, so I did four pitches for Image and I solicited artists for two of them. "Red Mass" is one of them. Then Image said they'd do all four books. So, I made the decision to write and draw two and write and color another and write and do covers on another. The other is "Transhuman," which comes out in March, then after that is my next project which has morphed into something else and I need to talk with Erik and Eric about that before I talk about it further.
So, back to how I found Ryan, I did the typical thing where I posted on Deviant Art and on Digital Webbing and some other places and I just got buried with submissions, fifty or sixty guys. I got some really good stuff from a couple of guys in Italy, but it just wasn't right for the book. I got JM Ringuet for "Transhuman" and Ryan for this, which he's just perfect for.
Alright, so we've got "Red Mass" coming in December, right?
"Pax Romana" is November 28 and I'm almost positive that on December 12 "Red Mass" ships.
You don't see that many professional writer/artists taking on multiple projects quite like this. Especially new artists like yourself. When people do see that happen, fans and retailers can grow concerned about a creator hitting their deadlines. How far ahead are you on this and do you think you'll be able to hit those deadlines?
Well, I've thus far only done seven professional comics, so, yeah, I'm a little concerned, but I've completed a ton of work and am pretty ahead of the game. The hard part for me is still writing. Plotting is easy and knowing what's going to be on the page is easy, but me not being a natural writer means I labor over that a little bit.
Sure, I'm concerned, but I'm on top of it and we look good for meeting our deadlines. Ryan's been drawing "Red Mass" stuff for a while now and I've got the first bunch of pages in and they look great. "Pax Romana" is only four issues, but it's planned out for 16 issues because I'm modeling it like "Hellboy" with a couple of different minis to come.
I think I'm going to be able to hit my deadlines just fine. If I was an idiot and 25 I'd be worried about it, but I'm an adult and I have a responsibility gene that's matured.
While "The Nightly News" was a six-issue series, your next three books are all four-issue series. Why the four-issue format?
It just kind of worked out like that. For Image stuff, it kind of works best for where I'm at in so far as how many different things I want to do. A lot of it is based entirely on the fact I get bored pretty easy. I've waited so long to make comics that I just have a bunch of stuff I want to do and visually I have a lot I want to explore. Four issues seems like the right length where I can tell a real story as opposed to, well, you know, just crap! I really want to tell a full, complete and dense story. It's also short enough that I don't burn myself out art wise.
Also, I wanted to do something different from "The Nightly News." Part of this whole first full year of my working in comics is to learn as much as I can, so if I did the same thing each time I wouldn't learn anything other than that model. So this way I get to write some books for other people, get to color for other artists and get to play with my own art. That sounds like I'm experimenting and that's a bit true, I confess, but I'm also committed to doing good work. I've waited too long to do bad stuff.
What's your approach going to be on coloring "Red Mass?"
It's going to be a lot more painterly and concept art-ish. It won't be that flat gradient, kind of vectorish looking stuff I was doing in "The Nightly News." I would say the palettes are going to be a lot broader and moodier.
As you started your career, you've done all creator-owned projects and it looks like that'll be your direction for the next year.
Right. I did do that "Legion of Monsters" thing for Marvel and they liked that and I'm doing covers for Virgin. I'm trying to do the work for hire stuff as well as, again, it's something I need to learn and working with an editor is something completely different from my own set of checks and balances. What I think is cool and what they think is cool is not the same thing all the time! [laughs] I can't help that everyone doesn't have phenomenal taste like me, but you know! [laughs]
Are you interested in playing in the corporate comics arena, or are you content in the creator-owned area? Not that one choice is better than the other, I should add.
No, it isn't and the reality is they're completely different economic models. If you do good work, owning all your stuff in the long term is better. If you do mediocre work, well, I guess it doesn't really matter either way because then it's just a badge of pride and that's pointless because we're professionals and not children. "Oh, it's so cool I did my own thing" isn't an economical reason to do something. Obviously Marvel and DC and all the other companies that pay page rates, they're the reason why the American comic market is successful and there's a reason why they're successful companies. I've found in my work with Marvel that they're really smart people and, obviously, very talented. I've enjoyed that immensely, but it's just different. I don't think I'll ever stop to do one or the other. It suits my personality to do both, but then again I've only ever done two little things outside of my own work, so who knows.
I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the future holds for you.