is the first long comic book
by Dylan Horrocks
. It might look like a graphic novel and read like a strange dream, but it says "a comic book" right on the cover so that's what I believe. It's published by Drawn and Quarterly
. Hicksville is also the name of the tiny town on the New Zealand
coast in which much of the book takes place.
Leonard Batts is a reporter for Comics World magazine, and the author of a book on legendary artist Jack Kirby. When he interviews latter-day comics phenom Dick Burger and asks about his early life in Hicksville, he's told to bring up something else, or the interview's over. Nervous and puzzled, but still considering a book on Burger and his creation Captain Tomorrow, Leonard travels to New Zealand, only to find that buses don't quite get you to Hicksville and maps don't quite point the way. He hitches a ride with a dark-haired woman in a convertible who's headed there. She doesn't much like Americans, though. And when Leonard mentions Burger's name, she hits the brakes and tells him to get out. In the middle of nowhere.
A farmer finds him asleep and lightly frosted the next morning. When Leonard comes to in the guest room of Mrs. Hicks, proprietor of Hicksville's bookshop and lending library, his lift, Grace Pekapeka, has already said a cold hello to the boyfriend she ran from and paid a visit to the secluded house and garden she left behind. Meanwhile, Leonard discovers that Mrs. Hicks' lending library is full of comics - including every issue of Action Comics since number one.
Everyone in Hicksville reads comics. From the postman to the fishermen, to the guy who runs the Rarebit Fiend tea room. Some will tell you they prefer the expressive line of Sergio Aragones to the wooden work of Edgar Jacobs, and others will tell you they only really love the English school of minicomics. Every year there's a Hogan's Alley party on the shore, where everyone dresses as a beloved comic character. Leonard is boggled. How can this town exist? Does Mrs. Hicks know what all this stuff is worth? Why does everyone here hate Dick Burger so much? What did he do besides get famous?
Horrocks uses his own supple, flexible yet distinctive style to tell the multi-layered, allusive story. He jumps back and forth from casual pen lines, to brushwork that ranges comfortably from comical to grave. He can take on the Kirby-esques demanded by the excerpts from the fictional Captain Tomorrow and its offshoots, and even draws gloriously inane stick figures for the reproduction of fictional young cartoonist Sam's minicomic about his time working for Burger in Hollywood. This section has its own character, rhythms, its own more skittery pen style - its own style of panel borders and gutters, even - but the sense of its having its own life as a minicomic in its own right from a real cartoonist is attributable only to the storytelling gifts of the real artist.
As far as the rest of the story, what Grace has to do with it (besides grounding the story further with her hopeful, painful humanity), and whether a comic artist can make a comic book about comics without getting formalist on your ass - and as far as the mysterious pages Leonard keeps finding from a comic about drifting islands and Maori spirits - here's something deliberately cryptic to chew on, from a talk Grace has with the old cartoonist Emil Kópen, in his fictional homeland of Cornucopia:
"Maps are of two kinds. Some seek to represent the location of things in space. That is the first kind - the geography of space. But others represent the location of things in time - or perhaps their progression through time.These maps tell stories, which is to say they are the geography of time."
"And you make the second kind?"
"In a sense, yes. But these days I have begun to feel that stories, too, are basically concerned with spatial relationships. The proximity of bodies. Time is simply what interferes with that, yes?
[...] "The things we crave are either near us or far. Whereas time is about process. I have lived many years and I have learned not to trust process. Creation, destruction, these are not the real story."
is about comics and life. For those more intimate with the latter than the former, its glossary
gives you facts on the comics greats mentioned in the book, along with fictional facts
about fictional comics greats, and a similar mix of fact and fiction
(as appropriate) on real and made-up bits of the NZ landscape and Maori language. It should be read by everyone who loves comics, especially if you hate superhero
comics, or if you hate the condescenscion you get from alt-comics geeks
for loving superhero comics. Or if you used to read comics and you maybe saw how much love went into these ignored things, how you were so angry for so long, and then drifted away.