A Very Personal Vision: John Higgins on 'Razorjack'
Higgins has worked as an artist and colorist in the comic book business for over twenty years, and his work is on it's biggest stage yet. In addition to the buzz surrounding Watchmen, Higgins has broke ground with a more mature style as seen in the pages of Thunderbolt Jaxon, Jonah Hex and The Boys But this development started in the pages of his own creator-owned book Razorjack.
Fickle fans might remember this title from several years back – Higgins originally self-published it several years ago and then Com.X assumed publication of it. With Com.X back in the business after a lengthy hiatus, so is Razorjack -- in the form a complete collection of all of the Razorjack issues to date.
Razorjack is a cosmic horror story of sorts, mixing one part Hellblazer with a dose of 2000AD perhaps – but enough with recipes. Let's get to talking to John… about Razorjack and more.
Newsarama: John, it's great to finally talk to you. Let's talk Razorjack.
Although this is a collection of previously published work, it will be the first time a lot of people are seeing it. For those that are new to the book – how would you describe it?
John Higgins: I have always enjoyed as a reader of comic books to be shocked, delighted or amazed. To be taken to a place I have never been to before. This is how I tried to make the world of Razorjack. I wanted to take the readers into my world were nothing is as you perceive it to be. To unsettle the readers preconceptions from page one.
Who will your first sympathetic identification be with? You are wrong if you picked the child. You are right if you pick the barbarians. But then again if you did picked the child, you could be right! Those first five pages set in an alternative dimension create the tone for the rest of the story. Even when we enter our world, nothing is as it seems, whom can you trust? Well for one the male/female team of Frame and Ross, ordinary honest cops doing the best they can. Trying to stem a tide of murder and corruption that seems to flow unstoppable around them. The every day horror of working within a “serial killer” investigation is bad enough. How do they deal with the sense of their own mortality and sanity when faced with a creature of world destroying power and pure evil!
NRAMA: Let's talk about Razorjack and those twisted handmaidens of hers. Where'd the idea for her come from, John?
JH: Razorjack was designed before I had written the complete story. I needed to visualize for my self a creature that was the essence of evil. I thought long and hard about her, redesigned her a thousand times. I did not want to go for an obvious depiction, all claws and dripping bile. My next thought was a beautiful evil, a Vampire or Succubus type. But it was one of those “eureka” moments in the end. Combine the two!
I felt I now knew her and I could write about her. This first completed imagining of her, became the cover of my first book and also depicts the pivotal scene in the story.
This cover and story all appear in the collected edition.
What we have in the picture is the dichotomy of the surface appearance of a vulnerable and beautiful naked female form topped by a horror mask of a face. Drifting amongst an armored and gun heavy swat team as they sweep unseeingly through her ethereal but corrupting presence, going to a scene of pain and death that she has created.
NRAMA: I see a lot of time, patience and creativity in these pages, John. This is the only creator-owned work I've seen from you but I can see how much your poured yourself into it. Can you tell us about creating this on your own and how it's different to you than work-for-hire?
JH: I love working on iconic characters for the big companies, they are what I grew up with as a fan, and believe me to work on something you read as a child has a resonance that makes being a comic artist the best occupation in the world! But if you work within the frame-work of the big companies you have constraints and guide lines. If you self publish, you don’t!
Initially the freedom of self-publishing is liberating, but then the mechanics of production, advertising, promotion and other demands outside of telling the story take over and seem to go on and on and on. This takes you away from what you had started to self publish for! So thanks to Eddie Deighton and Com.x for being there to co publish the rest of the story of Razorjack. To do all that necessary background work to produce a quality comic.
NRAMA: This collection – is it just the original three issues, or is there some new material as well?
JH: I have written a new story and created new art for this book. I always enjoy those collected edition’s that give you something extra. Such as the initial story ideas, and characters sketches, I like to see how it all started. But I always ask my self at the end of a well told tale “what happens next” I want to know more! The new story in this book is a bonus “a what happens after the last full stop” story.
NRAMA: Have you thought about doing new Razorjack issues?
JH: When I started Razorjack all those years ago, I decided the initial story line would have all the elements within it to create an on going comic book series. (I was so confident in those days). That is why I packed it with so much detail and background depth even for such minor characters as the Twist Bitches, or the Dead Assassins.
I do intend to tell more tales about them and their twisted world, not only in comics but in any other media that might suit them. I feel they have a lot more to say.
John, you've been all over the place in your career, doing a variety of work in America, and the UK, as artist, colorist and writer. It's hard to really pin you down into one illustrative style – why would you say that is?
JH: I started my career as a Medical Artist working in a hospital studio on illustrations for medical journals and papers, depicting new medical techniques and developments in health care. I attended autopsies and operations and saw anatomy close up and bloody. This was educational illustration at its best. I learn many new disciplines in that setting. Never mind the social aspect of being a twenty year old male, working in a predominately female environment! But the art had little room for personal imagination and had very strict medical and anatomical guide lines which you had to adhere too. I felt creatively stifled.
My favorite form of art was always within the Science fiction and Fantasy genres. To see other artists depictions of impossible realities inspired me to do the same. I started to look for freelance commissions in that field. SF book covers and Magazine covers, editorial illustrations for Computer Games magazines started to come my way. When I left the security of a full time occupation, I needed to take on any work I could find. As long as it required an imagination and ability to depict images with a certain amount of finish, that suited me perfectly. It was another major learning curve and I did polish a great many styles and techniques that have helped me subsequently within comics. But knowing too much can be seen as being “a jack of all trades and master of none” or a “smart arse” and can certainly be a double edged sword as commissioning editors do prefer to see one particular field of excellence. After I had coloured the Watchmen it took a couple of years before US editors saw me as anything other than a colourist. But if I didn’t have such grounding, I could not have done Razorjack.
NRAMA: Following your work up until now, I noticed a discernable shift with your work on Thunderbolt Jaxon. Am I just seeing things, or did you break some new ground here?
JH: That is very perceptive of you to see it as starting in Thunderbolt Jaxon. This was a pivotal job in my development as a comic artist.
I had just come out of a period where I had committed all my time and energy to finishing Razorjack and felt slightly burnt out.
I had tried a number of styles leading up to Razorjack ranging from cartoon to realistic and didn’t feel completely comfortable with any of them. At this time I had just moved to live in the USA and was reintroducing my self to the big companies. It was almost as if I was starting my career again.
So a number of things had come together at that time, which had dictated my style change, also my enthusiasm for comics had been rekindled. All this helped with how I approached the art for Thunderbolt Jaxon. Also to work with Dave Gibbons as the writer, who is a giant amongst comic artists and a storyteller par excellent. This gave me additional incentive to push beyond my comfort zone.
I felt at last (after only twenty years) that I had found the basis for a more personal style, and I have built on that for all my subsequent work.
NRAMA: Besides Thunderbolt Jaxon, you've recently done work on The Boys, Jonah Hex and work for 2000AD. What else have you got up your sleeve in the coming months?
JH: I have finally, after too long a period, started illustrating a series for the Megazine, called Meet Darren Dead, written by Rob Williams, regular writer for 2000AD and also the writer of that stylish and thought provoking, Cla$$war for Com.x.
Rob and I had talked about creating a new recurring character for 2000ad while I was still living in the USA. I had loved, for as long as I had been reading it, all those weird and wonderful creations that 2000ad seem to specialize in. In Meet Darren Dead, thanks to Rob’s writing, I feel we have brought to life a personality that can stand proudly within the Parthenon of those incredibly imaginative 2000ad characters with his decaying and slightly decomposing head held high!
I also want to make more people aware of my personal project Razorjack this year. So I am going to make a concerted effort and spend time reaching out to as many people as I can, and show that an independent publisher can produce something that has the quality of the larger publishing houses and a story that is more personal and off the wall than you might find elsewhere. So I will be going to conventions, signings and creating exhibitions. If people check my website regularly for more details on these and if any shop owner or Con organizer needs a John Higgins at their venue and it is within my travel plans, they can contact me through the website. www.turmoilcolour.com