Multiversity Comics | Multiversity Comics | August 4, 2011
Multiversity Comics reviews HICKSVILLE by DYLAN HORROCKS
While Artist August takes up the majority of our space here on the site for the coming month, we still want you to be able to enjoy your regular features. With that in mind, this week's Off The Cape is a special pick with Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks. It's a comic that should be considerably more famous than it already is, and one that certainly deserves to be in every comic lover's collection.
For some thoughts on the book, check behind the cut.
Hicksville tells the story of a successful journalist Leonard Batts, who is attempting to write a book based around successful comic book writer Dick Burger. Travelling to the tiny barely-on-the-map town of Hicksville, New Zealand, Batts sets out to get the untold story of Burger's success. Burger is most famous for having fully reinvented a classic hero for a modern day and age and riding that success into the mainstream media. But as much as he may be a big shot in the states, he is rather loathed in his home town - and now it's up to Batts to discover why, and what exactly that means for the comic book beloved by audiences around the globe.
What Hicksville is, more than anything else, is a thought piece on the very nature of comics. It's not exactly the biggest secret in the world that comics as we know and love them today were made on the blood, sweat and tears of talented men. These were men working in a time where it was the simplest line in a contract which allowed them to be taken advantage of, and while they are the most revered creators today and honored by just about every comic creator under the sun, there's no changing the quiet and dirty history of our valued medium. It's not a pleasant one, but it's the only one we've got.
The book opens with the perfect quote from Jack Kirby that sums up the whole idea behind it: "Comics will break your heart." It's all right there in the introduction. While our book centers around Batts and his search for the story of Dick Burger, we are also given somewhat a retelling of the sad truth behind comics. Obviously it's a competitive industry today, but the book's greatest question for the reader is "what exactly did Dick do to make an enemy of an entire town?" We as readers follow Batts and his exploration of the medium and the town, told both through Batts interaction with the towns people and his uncovered research that intertwines with the main story. The book lives and breathes comic as it's very essence; this is a town full of people who worship the medium, all with a story to tell and all of whom are experts. This isn't just a comic about comics; it's a comic about people who love comics, and in the most untraditional way.
Horrock's storytelling throughout the book is simply beautiful. He not only manages to weave in this heartbreaking tale of vanity of men, but as he both illustrates and writes the book Horrocks creates a book that's very human. The entire book feels real, as if Horrock was writing his memoirs and simply changing names and faces to avoid being sued. The book even manages to weave it's own "comic in a comic" story that thematically illuminates the story in a similar fashion to Moore and Gibbon's Black Freighter tale, although it has a strikingly different ending. The book is Horrock, though. From the new introduction from the 2010 edition of the book, it becomes much more clear how much of his own life Horrock puts into the story, as well as his own thoughts and opinions on mainstream comics and creator-owned work. Horrock isn't being shy or coy for anyone willing to look past the surface, and his rather blatant stabs at Marvel, DC, and even the 90s comic book stylized by Image are apparent from the get-go in this 239 page advocation for creating your own comics.
Horrock also wears his artistic influence on his sleeve. He's quite obviously influenced by Herge, writer/artist of the massively popular Tintin series, and Horrock isn't shy about showing this - even to the point that Captain Haddock gets a "cameo" of sorts. One could even go so far as to say that Horrock's work is quite similar to popular writer/artist Jeff Lemire, in his ability to offer up stylistic characters that also breathe and revile in the tragedy of the human condition at all times. While Horrock's main style is his own version of Herge, Horrock also shows that he is a rather capable artist, both in his abilities to offer up chameleon interpretations of style (the book was originally written in 1998 and, as I mentioned, takes quite a few stabs at the popular 90s-style of superheroes) as well as illustrating the plot through emotionally rendered imagery. While the book is fairly dense in its dialogue and story, Horrock takes the time to fully breathe life into the world visually, giving lush landscapes and powerful scenery that bring the tiny town of Hicksville to life while it rests out in the middle of nowhere. Quite simply put, this is a beautiful and often times heartbreaking book.
Suffice it to say, Hicksville is just one of those comics that everyone should have read by now. I'm honestly disappointed with myself in how long it took me to read it (considering I had bought it for at least half a year before finally picking it up). Hicksville is a book that echoes a lot of sentiments that older comic readers feel and have felt, and that newer comic readers will quickly grow into it. This is not to offer up a complete damning of modern comics, but obviously there still are good comics being published every week by publishers big and small. However, it never fails to meditate on the ideas present in Hicksville - both what they mean to us personally as fans and what they mean to us as theoretical historians of comic books.
As a complete side note, humorously enough Hicksville in the modern context is almost like a biography of Mark Millar - at least, according to some rumors/stories/perceptions. But that's a happy accident to discuss on another day.