Rian Hughes is a notable name in comics: some people know him as a designer used frequently by DC on things like The Invisibles, but British fans know him better as a full-on cartoonist with a series of strips and books in the European market. Recently Image has been collecting his 90s comic work for audiences outside the UK to see for the first time, starting with his newspaper strip series On The Line followed by a collection titled Yesterday’s Tomorrow. And now the third piece in the puzzle: a collection of his 2000AD strips done with Mark Millar, Alan McKenzie and John Smith titled Tales From Beyond Science.
Set for release in February, Image’s Tales From Beyond Science hardcover collects eight strips originally published inside several issues of 2000AD in the early 1990s. Described by Hughes as “surreal post-modern mystery stories with a pop-culture British sensibility,” it is a series of s tongue-firmly-in-cheek tandalone shorts covering everything from spontaneous human combustion to the Bermuda Triangle. For this long-awaited collected edition, Hughes created several new spoof covers as well as fake ads lampooning vintage comics advertisements from years ago. Newsarama spoke with Hughes about the book as well as the possibility of him doing new comics in the very near future.
Newsarama: Rian, can you tell us about the central character in the stories, Hilary Tremayne?
Rian Hughes: Hilary is the stories' narrator, a quintessentially dapper and unruffleable British gent with an extensive library of arcane tomes and the answers to all the most perplexing puzzles of our age.
Nrama: Back in the early 90s when this was done, you were at the top of your game when it came to comics - why'd you commit to this unusual series of strips with 2000AD?
Hughes: Because it looked like fun, Mark Millar and Alan McKenzie asked nicely, and it looked like it'd be great fun to draw.
Nrama: These stories have become a rarity, never collected before. What prompted you to bring them back now?
Hughes: They were considered for the Yesterday's Tomorrow's collection, but were tied up in some legal stuff that we've now resolved. This has actually been to our benefit, as in this standalone volume I've now got the space to add all the new material - the comic covers, the spoof ads, two special introductions, all wrapped up in a new cover with a beautiful cloth spine.
Nrama: I've read that you had some trouble tracking down some of these stories. Can you tell us about finding the artwork to do this collection?
Hughes: I had some of the original art, but was missing the black and white strips. In fact, there was one strip - the last in the collection - I had no recollection of at all. It was listed on the 2000AD index on their website, but as it appeared in a Sci-Fi Special or an annual, I couldn't lay my hands on a copy. Fortunately a collector obliged with some high resolution scans. These were tidied up, and the color was then added to bring it in line with the other stories.
Nrama: You say ‘tidied up’; what level did you tinker with the art for this collection?
Hughes: 2000AD was generally printed with heavy inks on rough newsprint that yellows with age. The color pages in this collection have been reshot from the original art, so the colors are clean and bright - as they were always intended to be. It's also been re-lettered in a consistent style with a custom font that suits the art better - the original lettering was quite large, and covered up sizeable areas of the art. Now you get to see far more of the actual drawing.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier that doing this as a standalone collection gave you the chance to add new material. Can you tell us about that?
Hughes: Firstly, the spoof covers . I've come up with 14 fictitious titles, called things like "Preposterous Stories" or "Tales of the Improbable", the idea being that these are the comics that the strips originally appeared in. These are peppered with pages of fake ads that will bring back memories for anyone who remembers vintage British and U.S. comics of a certain vintage...
Nrama: This is the third big collection of older work coming out in the past year. Has it given you the itch to perhaps do some new comics of your own?
Hughes: Yes indeed. In fact, I drew five pages for the recent Nelson collaboration which saw 57 British comics writers and artists come together.
Woodrow Phoenix, a friend from Escape magazine days, hauled my ass out of comics retirement for this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Just like the plot from a clichéd Hollywood actioner. New comics projects are often on the cards... though I've been saying this for a while, and they have a habit of falling through for various reasons unconnected with my enthusiasm. Next up is a book of new Burlesque-themed drawings and illustrations. It's not really comics - there's no narrative, for instance - but it's close. But - yes - comics are something I've not forgotten about. I've just been concentrating on illustration and design work, and writing - check out Cult-ure: Ideas Can Be Dangerous, which was published earlier in the year, and which was around 10 years in the making. This is where my interests lie at the moment, so a return to comics would probably feed on these ideas in some form or other. I'm just not sure how at the moment... but I'll figure out something interesting!
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