Sunday, March 21, 2010

Back in the lighthouse

After reading Hicksville once a year every year since 2002, it was about time I bought my own copy. It had been so easily available in libraries in every town I’ve lived in, so I never needed my own.

And then Dylan Horrocks puts out a new (and affordable) edition with a brand new 14-page introduction that touches on his love affair with comics and how important all the stupid little things can be. And he shows off a bit of the art in public and it would have been rude not to buy the comic after all this time.

I can’t abide rudeness.

* * *

I was looking at that original art yesterday morning, in a small art gallery just off K Road in central Auckland. I never really got to see much original art until a couple of years ago and it still amazes me how good it looks in the flesh. The best printing technology in the world can’t capture the life that still pours off the page where it was first drawn. There is something vibrant and deep about good original art, especially in black and white. Even the little imperfections, where the artist got a bit carried away with the white-out. It all helps.

Horrocks was only showing the art for a day and a half, so I was glad to get in there. Last year I missed some Brendan McCarthy art on a wall in London by two days, and I’m still a bit pissed about that. But I did have the extraordinarily good fortune of stumbling across the Cartoon Museum in that city back in 2007 and finding a display of Bryan Talbot’s brand new Alice in Sunderland pages. That was well worth the five quid it cost to get in.

(Huh. It seems to be all about the Tintin. Both Talbot and Horrock’s pages both featured Tintin homages. Maybe I’m just all about the little Belgian dork.)

After seeing those Talbot pages, it was only right that I bought the actual book from the place. They had been good enough to show off some of the original art, it seemed right to give them a bit more cash. I was always going to buy the book, because Talbot’s stuff is always, always worth a look, why not give it to the good bastards at the cartoon museum?

So after looking at Horrock’s stuff today, I had to finally gat that book. They were still cleaning up after the launch party from Friday night and were good enough to let me in quarter of an hour before they actually opened and let me have a quick look at the art – it was only good and proper to buy a copy.

Horrocks did a signing at the launch party and I would have gone, only there was a dire need for margaritas, and I’ve never been too bothered about getting stuff signed. The book’s the thing, not the signature.

* * *

And it’s a beautiful book. If you haven’t read Hicksville, you’re everything that’s wrong with the world and when the revolution comes, it will all have been your fault. A backcover blurb from the Village Voice says it’s “extraordinarily moving”, but that barely covers it. It’s a smart, whimsical, slightly sad and extremely funny comic, the crudeness of the rendering only upping the emotional sting.

In his new introduction, Horrocks talks about dreaming of lost and unknown comics, of his own personal joy and memories of producing the original comic and the dread of accidentally killing your love for the medium. It’s a brilliant little few pages and will resonate with anybody who ever dreamed of finding something so good it couldn’t possibly exist.

Me, I dream of 2000ads. I still often have that same bloody dream, finding an elusize haul that turns out to be nothing but a dream. And I still feel unaccountably depressed about it when I wake up.

I have also dreamed of going to that lighthouse and reading Tough Guy Comics by Jacob Kurtzberg and Harvey Kurtzman’s History of War. I asked a psychology student what all these dreams were all about and he said they just meant I spent too much time thinking about comics. He was probably right.

* * *

But that lighthouse and the Hicksville lending library do exist, somewhere inside all our heads. We still haven’t read the Best Comics Ever Produced, but we know they’re out there. We just have to find them.

And the search for that perfection is a worthy journey. It can take you from Hicksville to Hellboy to Rasl to the Uncanny X-Men to Zero Zero. While there is nothing that might be as good as the comics that came be found in that bloody lighthouse, there is a lot of thought and fun to be found in the best comics.

We all want the best in comics and we’ll gladly take what we can get. But if I could get to that lighthouse….

My favourite panel in all of Hicksville is the first one on page 211. It’s just a guy sitting in a dark room, reading. His face is blank, but everything he thought he knew was wrong.

It’s a terrific moment and the best thing about it is that I am so fucking jealous of Leonard Batts, sitting reading the best comics ever, and seeing his entire view of history shift. Those are the moments that make life worth living and Horrocks fucking nailed that scene.

The second best bit in the whole thing is that very last page, where Mort sees his own lighthouse.

* * *

Despite his despair at once losing his mojo for comics, Horrocks still produced new stuff more or less regularly at his website here. On current form, I won’t be buying that stuff until about 2025. I’ll try to do better than that this time.

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