Interview: Part One
A comic book legend with over thirty years of publishing experience, John Higgins’ career has swept across nearly every major movement in the breakneck world of modern sequential art. The artist’s resume includes work on such seminal titles as Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke and Judge Dredd, as well as extensive collaborations with such icons as Alan Moore, Garth Ennis and Mark Millar.
Yet before the recently released collection of Razorjack– for which Higgins provided the script, pencils, ink and color– the artist had never been presented with an opportunity to take full creative control on a project from start to finish. Given full rein from publisher Com.x, Higgins certainly didn’t hold back any punches. The resulting story is a large-scale, furiously paced horror project, twisty enough to surprise even the most seasoned of readers.
The following is part one of an in-depth interview with Higgins, in which the artist discusses the joy of finally being able tell a story that is wholly and completely his own. Stay tuned later this week for the second installment where John speaks on his involvement with Watchmen– including his thoughts on Zack Snyder’s recent film.
Interview by Daniel Crown
To start with, what brought about this collected volume of Razorjack? You first published the book yourself back in 2001 correct?
I’ve been in the business for 20 some odd years, working on Watchmen and other big titles from some of the biggest comics publishers in the world. I’m a comics fan first and foremost- so it’s always been nice to be able to do something I love for a living. But as much as I enjoy interpreting someone else’s script, whether it’s on Batman or Spiderman or whatever else I’ve done in the past, it’s never been completely my idea.
To be able to do something, completely and utterly for myself, probably in a megalomaniacal way I suppose, I wanted to create a world, a story and characters that were something different than what I’ve done before.
I’ve been blessed by some of the creators I’ve worked with. I can honestly boast that I’ve worked with some of the best comic writers in the world. That’s a fact. No one can debate that. But I still wanted something that was personally mine. I wanted to create something with my skew, from the slightly off-kilter worldview that I might have.
As you just mentioned, you’ve worked with some of the greatest characters and writers the medium has ever seen. Yet you can tell when you’re reading Razorjack that there is definitely an extra sense of joy apparent in the production of the book, even in such a macabre horror story.
I appreciate that comment, as I actually felt this with Razorjack, certainly when Com.x took over some of the non-creator aspects like advertisement and promotion, which was the problem I had when I first started doing it for myself. These sorts of things become weary after a while. For Com.x to take over that particular hassle was a complete joy and it gave me the freedom to enjoy the characters and really put myself into it.
Some of the people who really influenced me when I first came into the business, when I was just purely a fan… people like Richard Corben and Bernie Wrightson were in my opinion some of the greatest comics artists in the world. And they created worlds that were completely unexpected and different from anything I’d ever experienced before. If I could even give a hint towards some of that enjoyment I’d be happy, and it appears that I’ve done that with at least one reader as it seems like you’ve read that same sort of excitement and joy that I had in doing it…so thank you.
I tried to make it very personal in relationship to how the story ends. I tried to have a little extra sting in the tail. [Razorjack] might start out with this cute, naked female running through an alien forest and you might think that she is a victim, but as you read the book it turns out that she isn’t necessarily a victim, or she is but in a very different way.
That actually leads into my next question. Razorjack is filled with a number of substantial twists…
Every single turn is a flip of the coin and it can go one way or the other. Someone who starts out as a villain might end up as something completely different as the story gets told, so whatever you see in Razorjack is not what you might expect. I hope that the story surprises people constantly.
There are only two constants within the Razorjack universe, and that is the main Razorjack character-she is pure evil, there is no debate about that. There’s no saving grace for her whatsoever. But everyone else around her has shades of good and shades of bad. So even the heroes, Frame and Ross are really earthbound characters and have shades of good and bad within them, like fully rounded characters should have.
Another interesting aspect to the book is how you throw your audience immediately into the fire. You start the Doomsday clock almost immediately, and from there on the book is basically chaos. Was this a conscious decision? Did you want the story to move this quickly or did it just sort of evolve this way naturally?
My favorite sorts of stories head down the type of slippery slope that I can’t stop. That was the sense I wanted to create with the story, at a sort of breakneck speed from the moment you enter this world of different dimensions and Razorjack. The Doomsday clock creates a certain beat–a strong story beat–that there is something bad getting closer. So yeah, I did want to capture that countdown sense of drama.
I wanted to use the story strands to imply and cross each other so that in one chapter you’re in one dimension and the next you are in a completely different dimension, which you may recognize as a typical American city-then you’re taken somewhere else. And all of these story strands end at one particular place, which is the Nexus, when all these different characters are drawn to one place.
Have you enjoyed working for Com.x thus far?
The nice thing about working for something like Com.x is the real personal approach both from me and the company themselves. [Razorjack] is only the second book that they’ve published since their recent re-launch.
The nice thing about being involved with such a small company is the personal care and attention we get from working with one another. It is a really nice group of people to work and crossover with. I’m actually working with Rob Williams, the author of Classwar, at the moment on a Rebellion title. These are people I’ve know for a very long time, so it’s such a personal company. We’re friends first and foremost as well as business partners and creative collaborators.
The other thing that is nice about working for Com.x is that they are involved in different sorts of fields. We are represented in Hollywood by a couple of large agencies and they are busy presenting various film companies with Razorjack and Classwar.
Obviously, the first book works as an origin of sorts for Frame and Razorjack. If you do continue with Razorjack is it going to be similar to the first or will it shift courses a bit?
In some ways, the story will stay basically the same, with multiple story strands. So as we move forward with the overall story arc, there are lots of opportunities with the characters of Frame and Ross being terrestrial detectives. I also like the fact that we have a dead hit-man sort of traversing between these different dimensions. There is certainly a lot of unfinished business there.
One of the things that I’ve learned from writers I’ve worked with in the past is how to frame a story with flashbacks. Garth Ennis is one of the greatest writers I’ve ever worked with, telling almost a complete story with flashbacks. Everyone uses them, but Garth is one of the few writers who can use them to tell a complete story. Just look at Preacher. He told a three or so episode story going back into the swamp where Jesse was brought up, abused and destroyed.
That’s the sort of thing that I would like to do with Razorjack, whether it were to come out as another collected edition or as multiple, individual issues. It’s something that is definitely in the cards. And now that the universe has been created, if Com.x were to do some anthologies or something I can certainly create specials using the Razorjack characters.
The story in Razorjack is definitely something I’d like to explore further. Anyone who has read it will know that there are so many more options for the story. It has been resolved for some characters, but in some ways this is just a step into the next multiple story strand.
And in the meantime, you’re just happy that you finally got the initial story finished and out there?
The nice thing about getting this book done is that it was sort of like cauterizing a boil or something. It was something that was building inside of me that I needed to express and I almost feel relieved to get it out and get it out in such a beautiful collected edition. I’ve managed to achieve something that I’ve dreamt about doing since 2001.
So the great thing is that I’m finally relaxed enough now in a way that maybe I wasn’t before the collected edition came out. Now I can get excited about working with various collaborators again.