Pat Mills looks back at the career of the extraordinarily talented John Hicklenton, who sadly passed away on Friday 19th March 2010.
Best known for his brutal, visceral work on flagship 2000AD characters like Judge Dredd (in particular “Heavy Metal Dredd”) and Nemesis the Warlock during the 1980s and 90s, John suffered from multiple sclerosis and recorded an award-winning documentary, Here’s Johnny, about living with the condition.
He chose to end his life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.
John was working right up to the day before he died, completing work on a new book, 100 Months, which will be published later this year.
A year or so ago, I showed some of Johnny’s pages from “Judge Dredd – The Tenth Circle” to my co-creator on Requiem Vampire Knight, artist Olivier Ledroit. He looked at them in awe and exclaimed. “How does he sleep at night?!” If you’ve seen the Tenth Circle, you’ll know what Olivier means.
Actually, I took it as a compliment as Requiem is also pretty dark. And Johnny slept very well. His art might be disturbing for some, but never for me, for reasons which I think 2000AD fan Jonathan Fisher has summed up best: “John’s work is subversive, sublime and perverse yet beautiful and intriguing.”
For me, Johnny is the Jimi Hendrix of comic artists. Easy viewing comic “muzak” he’s not. His grotesque images bear comparison with Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman and are not for the squeamish. Yet his elegant thin line work has much in common with Aubrey Beardsley. Internationally rated by artists such as Moebius, let me take you now on a brief tour of some of his creations.
Johnny’s first work was “You’re Never Alone With a Phone”, a Future Shock written by Neil Gaiman. (Curiously, the only story of Neil’s that 2000AD ever published). Johnny sent it to me and on the basis of this and other grotesqueries, I asked him to draw “Nemesis”. He at once brought a scary organic sensibility to the Warlock and a psychotic look to Torquemada, a psycho-look he recreated later in the “Inspector Ryan“ stories from “Third World War”.
The racist, deranged Ryan was conceived by my co-writer Alan Mitchell and Alan brilliantly directed Johnny on the story, choosing Angela Kincaid to colour it which she did beautifully, without destroying the artist’s black line, a common problem with colourists.
Many regard the “Inspector Ryan” series as his finest work and certainly they did in Europe. It was reprinted in graphic album form in German, French and Dutch editions in an elite masterwork series. But never in the UK, alas, although I hope reader requests might persuade a British publisher to follow suit one day.
Then there was our Zombie World Tree of Death saga for US publisher Dark Horse, about a Satanic cabalistic map based on the London Underground map which brings demons into our world. It was reprinted recently in the collection Winter’s Dregs. (Johnny is credited as Johnny Deadstock after the band he was a part of).
We went to the catacombs in Kensal Green Cemetery to research the story and had an enjoyable Goth day out wandering underground amongst the Victorian caskets wondering, “What if…?”. The black comedy results include exploding coffins with a zombie stuck to the ceiling. The demons featured are also brilliant: my favourite is a wolf with a huge distended belly elevated high above us on tripod-like legs.
The German publisher Extreme, backed by top German band Die Arzte, also loved Johnny’s work. They said they wanted extreme, so we produced the graphic novel Torturer for them, set in Cathar France. This was a return to the demonic Inquisition world Johnny first captured in “Nemesis”. His range of demons seems inexhaustible. Many of them have appeared in his Judge Dredds and especially in The Tenth Circle when Dredd visits Dante’s Inferno. Reproduction problems may not have shown this story to best advantage but I think that’s being looked into now.
And who else but Johnny could create man-mountain Hungry Jacko? X Face? Or Darcagis, the demon with stakes through his eyes? And the triple George Bush bleeding oil?
I always regretted that Johnny never drew my recent Dredd story “Birthday Boy” about a villain with candles stuck in his face and body. If he had, it would have become as memorable as Pinhead.
Johnny started a biographical novel based on his multi- award winning documentary about his fight against MS (www.heresjohnnyfilm.com). It was great, but then he decided to write and draw a fantasy story instead as his final work: 100 months. He completed it just last week.
More about 100 months, Pandora and two other Johnny classics — Bedlam and Fearteachers — another time, other than to say they are all fabulous and worth an article to themselves. Once again, though, it’s other countries that often seem to recognize his talent: 100 Months first sold to two countries in Europe, although I’ve just heard a UK publisher has also picked it up.
But 2000AD was always his first love. His wonderful partner, Claire, told me: “Please know that Johnny, my beautiful Johnny, was funny, wise and brave to the last — just as he was every other day of his war. The day before ‘D-day’ he wrote the afterword for Slaine and drew two wonderful sketches to sit alongside it.”
Clint Langley and I intend to feature these sketches and words in a future Slaine volume dedicated to Johnny.
Sleep well, my dear friend.
Pat Mills, 23rd March 2010
John Hicklenton: 8 May 1967 – 19 March 2010
This article was also published in Judge Dredd: The Megazine and elsewhere and is reprinted here with the full permission of Pat and Rebellion
John Hicklenton: Career Highlights
• Tharg’s Future Shocks: You’re Never Alone With a Phone by Neil Gaiman (Issue 488, 1986)
• Tharg’s Future Shocks: The Invisible Etchings of S Dali by Grant Morrison (Issue 515, 1987)
• Nemesis the Warlock: The Two Torquemadas (Book VII) by Pat Mills (Issues 546-557, 1987-1988)
• Nemesis the Warlock: Deathbringer (Book IX) by Pat Mills (Issues 586-593 and 605-608, 1988-1989)
• Third World War: Here be dragons by Pat Mills (Issue 16, 1989)
• Third World War: The word according to Ryan by Pat Mills and Alan Mitchell (Issue 25, 1989)
• Third World War: The Dark Other (Issue 29, 1989)
• Third World War: The rhythm of resistance (Issue 30, 1989)
• Third World War: Black Man’s Burden (Issue 35, 1990)
Rogue Trooper Annual 1991
• Rogue Trooper (Friday): Circus Daze by Michael Fleisher
• The Fear Teachers by Pat Mills/Tony Skinner (Issues 28-31, October 1991)
Judge Dredd: The Megazine
• Black Widow by John Wagner (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 1 – Issues 7-9, April-June 1991
• Strange Cases: Skin Games by John Smith (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 1 Issue 17, February 1992)
• Resyk Man by Alan Grant (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 20, January 1993
• Fat Bottom Boys by Robbie Morrison (Judge Dredd Mega Special 1995, July 1995)
• Blood of Satanus III: The Tenth Circle by Pat Mills (Judge Dredd Megazine Issue 257-265, May-December 2007)
• Heavy Metal Dredd: The Fan by John Wagner/Alan Grant (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 -Issue 19, January 1993)
• Heavy Metal Dredd: Too Much Monkey Business by John Wagner/Alan Grant (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 21, February 1993)
• Heavy Metal Dredd: The Most Dangerous Guitar in the World by John Wagner/Alan Grant (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 22, February 1993)
• Heavy Metal Dredd: Mort Rifkind Rises Again by John Smith (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 23, March 1993)
• Heavy Metal Dredd: The Big Hit by John Smith (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 24, March 1993)
• Heavy Metal Dredd: Graceland by David Bishop (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 25, April 1993)
• Heavy Metal Dredd: Monkey Beat by John Smith (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 34-35, August 1993)
• Heavy Metal Dredd: Kiss of Death by Jim Alexander (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 36, September 1993)
• Pandora by Jim Alexander (Judge Dredd Mega Special 1994, June 1994)
• Pandora: Mural Scream by Jim Alexander (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issues 77-81, April-June 1995)
Mean Machine: Visiting Time by John Wagner (Judge Dredd Megazine Volume 2 – Issue 82, 1995)
Project for Renegade Arts Entertainment
Trespass by Gordon Rennie (Inferno! #8, 1998)
ZombieWorld: Tree of Death
by Pat Mills (Dark Horse, 4-issue mini-series, 1999, collected in ZombieWorld: Winter’s Dregs, 2005 ISBN 1-59307-384-4)
All images © respective creators or publishers