Sunday, January 30, 2005

Did You Know William Faulkner Wrote Submarine Patrol? - Hicksville

Sometimes, what one wants to do in life has to be balanced with the area in which one can make a living.

And so begins my first "You Decide - 2005" book chosen by a fellow blogmate (Joe).

Faulkner's novels and short stories were not making him a living, so he moved to Hollywood, and wrote classic films like The Big Sleep, Drums Along the Mohawk and Mildrid Pierce. However, he also wrote shlocky films such as Submarine Patrol.

I am reminded of Faulkner when I think of Dylan Horrocks, the writer of the excellent comic book (specifically not a graphic novel, according to the author), Hicksville (which is basically a reworking of his comic series, Pickle, just expanded).

The reminder is for two reasons...

1. At the very heart of Hicksville is this idea of the great works that people just were not willing to see, much like Faulker's non-film writing at the time.

2. Horrocks, like Faulkner, took a stab at the "mainstream money" when he recently became the ongoing writer on Batgirl for a year or so.

Now don't get me wrong, I do not mean to insinuate that there is anything wrong with Horrocks writing Batgirl. There is nothing wrong with it. He has never come out against superheroes specifically, even though the disdain for the genre is voiced by most of the inhabitants of Hicksville. But that is not a big deal, as next to the disdain and the "superhero comics are out to screw the creator" mentality, there is also a clear defined love for superheroes mixed in there, just not the current form said superhero comics are taking. In either event, I still think it is worth noting that Horrocks ended up writing Batgirl at one point, working on stories not nearly as good as his creator-owned material, giving in to the same editorial pressure and mismanagement that his character, Sam, triumphantly avoids.

As to the creator-owned material, the story of Hicksville is fairly simple. An (supposed) American comic book critic comes to New Zealand to get background information on his new book about Dick Burger, the current biggest superhero creator in comics. He figured he would be best off going to the man's hometown. Once there, he encounters a town where comics are treated like high art. Everyone in town likes comics. Old men will argue over comics. The town library is stacked with comics. He also meets Sam, who tried to make it big as a comic book creator, but has come back to Hicksville. So has Grace, who has travelled the world since she left Hicksville.

As Leonard (the comic critic) finds the townspeople so unwilling to talk about Dick Burger, we learn Sam's story. Sam's story is told to us via a comic (his auto-biographical comic) within the overall comic. Sam's story is, in my opinion, by far the strongest point of the book. It was really well told comics, detailing a cartoonist getting close to 30, dealing with the fact that the only way he can make money is to subjegate his artistic desires - and how does one deal with the fact that one cannot make a living at their art? It is really interesting stuff.

The rest of the book, with the "secret" of Dick Burger, and all the Maori stuff....well, I have to say...this is something I have seen a lot in other writings, where a local person seems to think that their local culture is a LOT more interesting than everyone else does. I'm interested in Maori culture, but not as interested as I would have to be to get into the parts of the book that is big on that area.

In any event, there is a lighthouse, and the secret of Hicksville is what is kept in the lighthouse. The reveal is clever (even if the reveal of Dick Burger's secret was, well, pretty anti-climatic).

Finally, in a move that I do not know if I admire, or am irked by...Horrocks makes references to things the characters have done off panel that, all I can guess, is probably mentioned more in the Pickle comics themselves. It is a bold move, not keeping the audience totally informed into everyone's character arcs...but I am not so sure if it pays off.

Seth does the introduction for the collection, which makes sense, as Horrocks' art looks a lot like Seth's work.

All in all, I thought it was a very good comic...did anyone else read it? What did you think?


Blogger Joe Rice said...

Hicksville is one of my all-time favorites. Wow, I really love that comic. The characters feel so real, even though the setting delves into fantastical elements. The ideas are vibrant, the art is crisp and nice, and it's is absolutely infused with a love of comics.

I read a GREAT interview with Horrocks in the Comics Journal a few years back. The man just LOVES comics. Superhero, indie, old stilted romance stuff . . .the depth and width of his love was impressive. We need more men like Horrocks in comics.

Unfortunately, his Batgirl wasn't everything it could be, due in part to some awful art. But I'm glad a talented artist made some good money. Now, back to Pickle!

2/01/2005 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

Yeah, I really liked it, too.

Certainly the best, most knowledgeable, and most affectionate fictional work about the history of comics I've ever read.

(That said, I completely forget how the plot went. I remember all the characters, but not the plot. Not at all. Nuh-uh.)

Anyway, yeah, Horrocks writing Batgirl pissed me off. *Especially* since he never finished Atlas, the first issue of which was really good.

I'm not really mad at Horrocks, but, like Hicksville pointed out, it's really sad that so many great comics artists have had to sublimate the projects they really want to do to poop out work for hire bullshit.

And Batgirl wasn't even particularly *good* work-for-hire bullshit, t'least the first couple issues that I read.

So I don't begrudge the man the money, which can't be *that* great for a 20-30K a month (or so) selling comic. I just wish there was more room for original, compelling material, and less room for stupid cookie-cutter superhero books.

2/01/2005 04:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Kashtan said...

Hicksville is an incredibly brilliant work, maybe the all-time best comic about the experience of reading comics. It's a lot like Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler (which is a great novel about the experience of reading novels).

I read a review once which said that you can only get the full impact of Hicksville if you've spent your whole life reading comics. This is probably true, but maybe it's also deliberate.

9/06/2005 05:31:00 PM  

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