Saturday, 3 April 2010

Dylan Horrocks


I first heard about Dylan Horrocks three or four years ago after I finished reading the long-running Vertigo Comics series The Books of Magic. Created by Neil Gaiman, and later written by others, the series featured boy-magician Tim Hunter, a protagonist with strikingly similar characteristics to Harry Potter, yet published a full six years before Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. After The Books of Magic was done, it was logical to read the next instalment, The Names of Magic, written by one Dylan Horrocks. Books was a long, surreal twisted ride, and I remember noting that Names was far more grounded (nice art by Richard Case, also), which is by no means a bad thing. I enjoyed Names immensely, and got a hold of the follow-up, Hunter: The Age of Magic as soon as I could (thanks the internet!). I really liked his work, and wanted to find out more about him, and I was surprised to find out he was a New Zealand writer-cartoonist who I had never heard of before. Hicksville dropped out of print, and I’d been trying to get a hold of it for years, so now that it has recently been re-released through Victoria University Press, I thought it would be a good time to write about the guy. I got to meet him this evening at the Wellington book launch of Hicksville and I put this blog post together with help from interviews and articles from other magazines and websites, including Horrocks’ own site at http://www.hicksville.co.nz/.

Dylan Horrocks was born in Auckland and 1966 and was a fan of comics (especially Tin Tin) from an early age. He came onto the comic scene in New Zealand in the mid-eighties, co-founding the magazine Razor with Cornelius Stone (Awesome name). In the early nineties he produced his comic Pickle, later published through Tragedy Strikes Press within which his most famous work, Hicksville was serialised. Other comics followed, including political comics and awareness-raising strips for the New Zealand Ministry of Youth Affairs.

Hicksville was collected and published in North America, drawing a lot of attention within the comics industry, and resulting in Horrocks being approached to write for DC Comics. After his stint at Vertigo, he wrote for Batgirl and Legends of the Dark Knight for DC proper, and although he won an Eisner award for talent deserving of wider recognition, he apparently had a really bad time making American comics. After becoming jaded with editorial-restrictions, cheap shock-tactics and the increasingly violent direction of superhero comics, Horrocks left the American mainstream to pursue his own work once again. Since then he has written about comics, taught courses about comics and been involved as an editor in a number of other projects. In other interviews and on his website he has mentioned that he suffered a phobia of comics, but I forgot to ask him about that.

Horrocks recognised the internet as a powerful method of distribution, and has frequently spoken against the large corporate persecution and intimidation of file-sharing sites and programs. He has commented that he receives wider recognition through these than he ever could have through the increasingly stagnant distribution methods of the print comics market. I don’t know if it’s because he’s a New Zealander and creators from here have much less of a chance for international distribution, but Horrocks is the only comics creator I can think of that is openly supportive of file-sharing and who passes his work around for free. I’m conflicted about file-sharing of comics, because, comics do not sell nearly as much as film and music properties, and have a tendency to get cancelled if sales figures drop below a certain level. When this happens, the creators are off the book and have to look for another meal ticket. In Horrocks’ case, DC has allowed Hunter: The Age of Magic to go out of print, with nothing he, nor artist Richard Case can do about it. If they’re not going to collect an amazing series like that in trade paperback, as they fail to do all the time with other great series (Paul Jenkins’ Hellblazer story, Critical Mass comes to mind), who can blame you for turning to the file-sharing sites when the alternative is spending months or years trying to hunt down now over-priced copies off internet stores, or looking for them out the back of comic shops?

Horrocks has said before that he didn’t have such a great time at DC, and I asked him if that involved his Hunter stuff. He said he was happy I liked it, and that they were difficult stories to write due to the editorial pressure involved. One interesting thing he told me about the Hunter comics is that they came pretty close to being illustrated by a then unknown Pia Guera, who would later go on to draw Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man.

He signed my copy of Hicksville and I asked him if it was cool to write about what we’d been talking about. He told me to write whatever I wanted. He was a bloody nice guy and I encourage you all to grab yourselves a copy of Hicksville.

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