The Montreal Mirror interviews DYLAN HORROCKS

“Marginal benefits: New Zealand comic artist Dylan Horrocks revisits his strange little town, Hicksville” / Montreal Mirror / Rupert Bottenberg / October 21, 2010

Originally serialized in the late ’90s by Montreal’s Black Eye Books, New Zealand comic artist Dylan Horrocks’s excellent Hicksville—part small-town mystery, part fragmented history of comics, part philosophical reflection—is being reissued in collected form by Drawn & Quarterly. The Mirror reached Horrocks by e-mail in anticipation of the book’s launch this week.

Mirror: A core emotional facet of Hicksville is that of returning to a place rife with memories, good and bad. Was revisiting it for the reissue comparable?

Dylan Horrocks: Yes, it was. For me, the bad memories were to do with what came after Hicksville. When the first edition came out, it was much more successful than I’d expected, and I found myself getting offers of work in the mainstream comics industry. I then spent several years writing for DC Comics—superhero comics like Batgirl and Legends of the Dark Knight. It was fascinating, but very bad for me as a writer and cartoonist, and by the end of it I’d pretty much lost the ability to write or draw at all.

The weird thing is how much of my own later experience was foreshadowed in Hicksville. There’s a character in Hicksville, a cartoonist called Sam Zabel, who wrestles with the conflicting desires to sell out and to preserve his integrity. I won’t say what happens to Sam, but you’d think the person who wrote that story would be a bit wiser in how he approached that same industry in real life. So when it came to revisiting Hicksville, I felt all kinds of trepidation. But in fact, it was really healthy. It was like going back home.


M: I’m struck again, re-reading Hicksville, by the correlation you have a character draw between comics and cartography. I get the feeling that principle, maps and the act of mapping, informed the creation of Hicksville to a degree.

DH: I’ve always loved maps, but above all, imaginary maps. I grew up obsessed with fantasy novels and loved to study the maps. Then I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy role-playing games. To run an RPG, you need to create a whole world.

In the 1990s, when I was writing Hicksville, I was reading a lot of philosophy and theory, and thinking about the structure not only of comics but of narrative. And I was reading plenty of history and geography too. I was interested in the notion that history mapped time, and geography mapped space—when it seemed clear that it’s more complicated than that, of course. Stories are usual ly seen as a temporal form, compared with visual art, which is supposedly spatial. But then there were books like Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual and some of Juan Goytisolo’s novels.

Comics, of course, are both visual art and stories. I guess that’s why I was so obsessed with teasing out the complexities and weaknesses in distinctions like that. At some point, maps came to seem like one of the most satisfying ways to explore all that.

M: Hicksville is also a meditation on the history of comics, or rather creating comics, which is often a very sad one—great talents overlooked and short-changed, great ideas left unful filled and garbage celebrated. In making art, across the spectrum, despair often outweighs elation. Do you think the comics medium is a particularly blighted one in that respect?

DH: The more I see of the fine art and literary worlds, the more I realize there’s plenty of tragedy and bathos there too. And lord knows the film industry is a particularly dangerous place to try to pursue a personal vision. Having said that, one thing about the history of comics that I was interested in is how marginal it is. That’s especially interesting for me, because I come from New Zealand, a tiny country at the bottom of the world. So being a New Zealand cartoonist is kind of like being at the margins of the margins. With Hicksville, I was keen to find what connections and echoes I could between those two ways of being marginal, and tease out what’s beautiful and powerful about it.


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