November 27th marks the release of DC Comics’s JOHN CONSTANTINE – HELLBLAZER #1, helmed by writer Si Spurrier and artist Aaron Campbell, for the publisher’s Sandman Universe line of titles. Spurrier already blew our minds with the one-shot The Sandman Universe Presents Hellblazer #1 that was released in October. Now I can honestly say I haven’t been this excited for a first issue in a dog’s age. As a horror comics nut that suave but rough around the edges rogue and scourge of the supernaturally evil John Constantine has always been one of my top tier horror characters, so this should come as no surprise to anybody. Imagine my glee then, when I managed to snag an interview with the creative team responsible for the return of John to the pages of the comics. And no, this isn’t the Constantine we’ve almost gotten used to (but not quite) who traipsed around the DC Superhero Universe for a bit, righting wrongs, joining high profile hero teams and the like. Nah! What we’re talking about here is a return to form. Yep, that’s right. This is the no-holds-barred Vertigo-level John Constantine. But turned up to 11.
Before we get to the interview, though, let’s meet the players, shall we?
If you are an avid reader of modern comics it is almost impossible NOT to have heard of British writer Si Spurrier. Si is renowned for scripting titles as diverse as Lobster Random, Harry Kipling, and The Simping Detective for 2000AD, numerous Marvel titles including X-Force and Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, and most recently writing The Dreaming, Suicide Squad, and Motherlands for DC Comics. And if you have any taste in the really visceral kind of comic book horror that LoD advocates, get out there and hunt down his 2007 series Guttsville with artist Frazer Irving. It’s my personal favorite.
Aaron is an artist who must have done a deal with the Devil to acquire his mad artistic skills. I first became aware of him while reading Dynamite Publishing’s The Shadow and their Green Hornet title, both of which he penciled. After that I tracked down his series with Andy Diggle Uncanny and was equally blown away. Most recently he had a hit with the truly unsettling comic Infidel for Image Comics, one of the best sequential tales of horror I have ever had the pleasure to read. With credentials like these, putting him on Hellblazer was a given.
Alright, now that all the pieces have been slotted together, let’s get to the interview…
Si: I think Hellblazer was one of the first trade collections I ever picked up. I was probably 16 or thereabouts. I’d just discovered 2000AD, and had that strange epiphany that so many of us had at some point: holy shit, comics are made by actual people! And, the follow-up: This is a job you can choose to do!
Which, naturally, led me down the path of checking out the other work of all the writers and artists whose talent had made me notice the authorship behind the story in the first place. Wasn’t long before the road led to Constantine.
There was a time – when I was getting my first few gigs, in fact – that it seemed any writer of sufficient talent, bastardliness and Britishness would eventually get their time at the Hellblazerhelm. When it folded at issue #300 I was heartbroken. Felt like I’d missed my shot.
Needless to say — having been unexpectedly proved wrong about that — I will not be wasting the opportunity.
As for best runs? Delano, Ennis, Carey. The rest is merely excellent.
Aaron: I discovered Hellblazer early in College and it was a revelation on multiple levels. As an art student Dave McKean’sand Kent William’s covers reframed my entire outlook on comics and illustration. But then there was Constantine, this deeply flawed and unstable character who still managed to persevere and figure things out. All of the chaotic emotion and conflicting feelings that were dominating 19 year old me were reflected there in the pages of Hellblazer.
Jamie Delano, of course, is at the top of the heap but Garth is certainly close behind. And Neil Gaiman’s one-shot with Dave Mckean, “Hold Me” is perhaps my favorite single issue of the series. As for artists, Richard Piers Rayner, Steve Dillon, Sean Murphy, and the covers of Mckean and Kent Williams are foundational for me.
Si: The beauty of the term “horror” is that it covers a multitude of sins. Stories of deep aching stillness and tension, punctuated by sickening lurches of fear. Stories of black comedy, which dance into unnerving territory with a worrying smirk. Stories of literary strangeness and folkloric fantasy.
John walks through them all, smoking and sneering. And so do we.
As for boundaries? None.
Aaron: Oh it’s gonna be heavy, heavy as Hell.
Si: In a sense that’s the biggest change we’re inflicting upon JC from the classic Hellblazer run. Where previously he’s always been able to rely on a seemingly endless rolodex of friends, lovers and acquaintances to help him out of a bad spot — people who tend to get thrown under the bus in the course of his doomed attempts to do the right thing — now he finds himself functionally alone. As we’ll see in #1, his first instinct — like any lost soul who craves company, to distract himself from the horrors in his head — is to try and collect people.
The way he does it is singularly dumb.
Si: That would be one K-Mag, or King Magpie if you’re being formal. He’s either the protector and educator of a group of young delinquents and outcasts, who are shunned and hated by an increasingly racist, biased and loveless world… orrr he’s the leader of a gang of teenage crack dealers, who frequently sends his young wards out on fatal bloodletting missions to expand his turf, and who practices a particularly vile form of magical scrying involving copious amounts of gore.
Depends on your perspective. Also he has cool tattoos.
He’s basically an awful guy who’s convinced himself he’s a hero, and when something supernatural appears on his turf — something even worse than him — he calls in John to help.
John, suffice to say, is reluctant.
Si: That’s down to the endlessly good taste of our editor Chris Conroy, whose willpower is also directly responsible for the Hellblazer relaunch.
In connivance with the great Mr. Gaiman, Chris and Black Label boss Mark Doyle asked me if I’d be up for the gig (I nearly bit their hands off, naturally) and Aaron was Chris’s first name on the wishlist of artists. Like me he’s a lifelong fan of the character; unlike me he can pour such seething hauntologicalbeauty onto a page that it’s almost a supernatural act in its own right.
Basically: he gets it, and those three words are the best thing any writer can ever hope for from a collaborator.
Aaron: Ah, thanks Si. Those are very kind words about my dark abilities and alchemical delvings. I would add on the flip side that Si gets it as well. I’ve never known what it’s like to be a street level fan of the books I’ve worked on until know. I can’t wait to get the new scripts to see where the story goes next. It’s like being a kid again, picking up the newest issue at the comic shop. But then I realize I get to fucking draw this!
And yeah, I owe a lot to Chris Conroy. When he offered me the book I was dumbfounded. I had never talked to him about my love of Hellblazer. Constantine was a word that had never been traded between the two of us. So it all felt a bit mystically coincidental which I guess is pretty damn appropriate.
LoD: The Longbox of Darkness has graciously been supplied with some teaser images from ISSUE #1 of John Constantine – Hellblazer. Feast your eyes on them below. Lastly, thanks to Simon, Aaron, and Stephanie for putting this interview together. You guys rock!
Cricket bats are worse than baseball bats, John. Being a brit, you probably know that.
K-Mag’s already messing with my mind. A brilliantly disturbing page.
“– they’re already dead.” Yeesh.
And that’s it for this week’s post, horrorlings. Hope you enjoyed the interview. Pick up JOHN CONSTANTINE – HELLBLAZER #1, read it, and let’s discuss.
*Disclaimer: All images and art are copyrighted by DC Comics and are used here only for promotional purposes. No copyright infringement is intended.