|"The Nightly News" on sale now|
"When killing activists, never shoot for the head, always aim for the heart" says The Voice, before Brother John does exactly what he's been programmed for two years to do: pull the trigger. A protestor falls, just to get everybody's attention. By the end of the day, 35 journalists are dead.
And that's just Chapter 1.
"The Nightly News" is the auspicious debut graphic novel by writer-artist Jonathan Hickman. Originally published in six-issue installments and now available in a collected edition from Image Comics, Hickman's book has earned deservingly hyperbolic praise across the comics blogosphere and from creators including Brian Michael Bendis, Brad Meltzer and Stuart Immonen. Additionally, "The Nightly News" will be listed among the best comics of 2007 as determined by the CBR News staff -- quite a feat for a comic that draws damning parallels between the media and its viewers and cult leaders and their followers.
Two years ago, John Guyton was living on the street, a financial manager in disrepute, the victim of a zealous, lying reporter. Now Brother John is The Hand, a central figure in the cult of The Voice, an unseen force dedicated to the destruction of The Press as we know it. Brother John was recruited by Brother Alex, the previous Hand, and the only cult member to have ever seen The Voice. Brother John became The Hand when Brother Alex was arrested for assassinating Walter Cronkite (or a fictional version of him, anyway).
|"The Nightly News" is told entirely in two-page spreads with numerous graphic design elements and info-graphix, all of which pertain to the main story|
In short, "The Nightly News" is "'Network' meets 'Fight Club,'" said writer Andy Diggle ("The Losers," "Adam Strange: Planet Heist") in his introduction to the collected edition.
|Symbol of The First Church of the Brotherhood of The Voice|
Like those classic films, Hickman's graphic novel is an important narrative work about the American media and its uncomfortable relationship with the Truth (not to mention the government). "The Nightly News" confronts its audience with tough questions and ideas, most of which will leave readers either furiously angry, passionately inspired or profoundly depressed. In any scenario, "The Nightly News" readers have been and will continue to be thorougly engaged, entertained, and treated to the most classic ending in recent comics memory.
With 2008 on the horizon and Jonathan Hickman's new project "Pax Romana" debuting this week from Image, CBR News re-connected with the former Comic Book Idol finalist for an in-depth conversation about "The Nightly News."
SPOILER WARNINGS IN FULL EFFECT!
Where were you and what were you doing when you came up with "The Nightly News?"
I had made a decision, professionally, that I was going to be a comic book writer/artist/whatever. I was going to quit being an advertising guy. Comics are what I've always wanted to do. I was 33 years old and I decided I wanted to have my first book out by the time I was 35.
|"The Nightly News" page 1|
I read through the whole thing and it was terrible. It was really terrible. I don't know if you've ever heard this story about how Tarantino was working at the little stupid Movie Hut place and he was renting a camera on the weekend and making this masterpiece (he thought), and when he looked at the film it was terrible. But it kind of got all the junk out of the way [so he could go on to make "Reservoir Dogs"].
|"The Nightly News" pages 2-3|
I realized that if I was really going to make a career out of it and if I was really going to do work I was going to be proud of, I didn't need to follow a lot of normal conventions or normal story types. What's the point of telling a superhero story at Image unless you're really going to tell it in a really original way - and even that's becoming more and more difficult because you've got guys like [Robert] Kirkman that are already knocking stuff like ["Invincible"] out of the park.
I sat down and decided I was going to do a book as good as possible. I was taking a shower one morning and I thought of the ending of "The Nightly News." I was thinking about what kind of story I wanted to tell and what I wanted it to look like. I knew I wanted it to a graphic design kind of thing. This was 2004, so this was a politically interesting time. There was a whole bunch of garbage going on. I was pondering how ridiculous most activism is, so I thought maybe I'd do something with that. So I was taking a shower and the rest of it just came to me. That's kind of how I get ideas. I get the whole arc immediately.
|"The Nightly News" pages 4-5|
I sent him the first five pages. I sent everything up to "When killing activists, never aim for the head, aim for the heart." That was the little thing that kind of got him interested in it.
"The Nightly News" is a story largely told in the medium of graphic design, as opposed to the form of traditional comics. What's your artistic background?
My background is graphic design. I tried to get into the comics industry right out of college. When I didn't, I hooked up with a guy that was really interested in starting a company. That was back when interactive CD-ROMS were a big deal; right on the cusp of the Web. This was around 1995. That turned into Web design and that turned into motion graphics and that turned into advertising.
|Members of The First Church of the Brotherhood of The Voice|
Do you have any specific graphic design influences?
Joshua Davis, he's the guy who worked at Kioken. He's a big Flash designer and he's pretty amazing. His website is joshuadavis.com Mike Cina and Mike Young of weworkforthem. I've always liked their stuff. I'm not as keen on their stuff now as I was on their early work, but they were pretty influential. Anybody that was really, really big in Web design early on I was pretty big fan of.
It's exceptionally clear right away that you as the author of "The Nightly News" are very concerned about the motives and opinions your readers might ascribe to you. Each of the six chapters begins with a tiny infographic disclaimers reminding readers, "I'm telling a story." What is it about "The Nightly News" that makes you address this over and over again? Did you receive the kind of reactions these disclaimers appear to anticipate?
|Brother Alex's trial and "rehabilitation" is a favorite storyline among fans of "The Nightly News"|
Along those lines, "The Nightly News" is very sophisticated; you go through a lot of trouble in this book not to make the story fall into a black or white, right or wrong kind of place. Did you find any readers just not getting it?
|Brother Alex's enforced therapy is futile|
Obviously, "The Nightly News" is heavily informed by contemporary journalism and books about journalism, as well as books about politics, statistics, cults and other subjects. Were you reading these books to help you write the comic book or are you just a news junkie?
"The Nightly News" is the first thing I've ever had published that I've written; it's the only thing that I've ever written, comics-wise, from start to finish. I'd never even come close to finishing anything like this. Same thing's true for drawing a comic. I'd never started and finished a complete comic. It's one of those things, when I sent it to Image and they said "yes" I was kind of like, "I'm in it now, right? I better perform or I'm screwed." But that's okay, I don't mind being in that position. I got the approval from Eric Stephenson and Erik Larsen, sat back and did just a ton of research on it. I'd already started doing some, but I've read three or four thousand pages worth of stuff. It fleshed out the world of "The Nightly News."
|The Church uses very sophisticated methods of tracking errors reported in the media and identifying those reporters, outlets and corporations most "guilty"|
He obviously has a preexisting relationship with Alex, and not only that, Alex is a fully informed co-conspirator; Alex never bought the message, he was always acting out. And David had the same appetite; kind of a reckless, homicidal, sociopathic kind of thing. I think Rector cared for John, but in the end, his agenda was more important than anything else. He used John. It doesn't matter how much a cult leader actually cares about his flock, it's always an abusive relationship.
So it is a real cult, it's not just sort of a mechanism by which Rector has his revenge?
|Following his assassination of a Walter Cronkite-esque journalist, the Media tries to make Brother Alex into a kind of curious celebrity; quirky and weird and mostly harmless|
Is there any temptation to return to the surviving characters, particularly Alex and David? Despite their being so wrong, they're the most charismatic characters in "The Nightly News." The scenes with Alex and his psychiatrist and his trial are particularly entertaining.
Alex was definitely a lot of fun to write. David was definitely a lot of fun to write. They're easily two of the most entertaining people in "The Nightly News" and I can see why someone would want to see what happened to them, but the answer is no. I don't think I'm going to be revisiting it, and the story would be nothing good anyway. I mean, what are we going to do? The sequel would have to be killing lawyers, right? I don't know how you do that and not enjoy it. But it would be one of those things where it would be the same kind of story over again.
|The Voice communicates with his flock via analog cassettes|
Primarily, to look cool. Of course, that is the #1 rule. I just wanted to go with a really iconic looking stuff that you would be able to easily recognize in the book when you saw the symbol; you would know it was cult time. And then if you look all the symbols for all the guys in the book, they all have that symbol as part of their other symbol. All of it was a kind of messaging system. There was no semiotic meaning to it. There wasn't a logic in the iconography beyond an identifying mark.
You mention the rules of design. What other rules did you make for yourself in designing "The Nightly News?"
|Circles were one of only two graphic elements Hickman allowed himself to use in "The Nightly News." For more on the art of the series, click here|
A lot of comic book artists and writers go with this convention that you have to read left to right, that you have to read top to bottom. These are the sets of rules that you can't break. And it's my contention [laughs] that if you maintain one of the rules you can break the other ones. But obviously, "The Nightly News" was an experiment in breaking just a ton of those rules anyway.
|The Media conspires with the US government|
Well, part of that is art school bullshit, anyway. [laughs] I don't mean that I'm too good for art school or anything like that, but a lot of remedial stuff like early design classes and stuff like the Grid and The Sanctity of the Grid and all that stuff; a lot of that stuff is just boring. When you're talking about comics readers, you're not talking about people that have only ever read one comic, you're talking about people that have been exposed to the grid system for years and years. They know how to read a comic inherently, so when breaking the rules, making them slightly uncomfortable; they still understand the underpinnings enough that you can get away with that stuff.
|Brother John finally gets some Truth out of The Media|
Andy thinks I'm lying! [laughs] Andy thinks I'm lying about my detached nature from the work itself.
It is sort of curious that you can be so detached. I think the reader probably gets angry, especially when they read the statistics you provide and apply them to the story.
I think that's probably true. My perspective on that is I don't know why in the world you would believe the statistics -- even if they're sourced. It's like believing polling data, you know? It doesn't matter how well sourced it is. We live in such a fragmented society, culturally, right now, that everything is up for being questioned. If a Democrat says it, it must be a lie. If a Republican says it, it must be a lie. I'm so much in a place right now where truth is completely subjective. I think that's why it made it so easy for me to write angry on both sides. I think that's where that comes from. Andy's a true believer in something. I'm not, I guess.
|Brother David does his thing -- because it's what he'd be doing anyway|
Did you like the ending?
I did, I liked it a lot. I guessed it would be the senator. I don't mean that in a dismissive sort of, "Oh I figured it out, you were so obvious" kind of way. It made sense. He was the one we knew the most about. He was the one connected to the Rupert Murdoch types. I kept wondering why he did it, which you eventually explain in the back of the book. I liked that a lot. Really, I was very satisfied with the whole experience.
I think that's what surprised me the most. I don't want it to sound like I'm tooting my own horn. I don't know any other way to stay it, but I'm really, really pleased with how good of a job I did for being the first thing I've ever done.
|Original miniseries covers by Jonathan Hickman|
Your remarks in the back of the book about commitment would seem to relate to that. It took you a long time to get to this place.
I was telling my wife the other day, "God, it just pisses me off sometimes that I'm the age that I am and I could have had ten years in the business, ten years doing really great work." But it's just not true. I would have tried to draw like Todd McFarlane or Jim Lee. I would have tried to write like Claremont or something like that. I had to get completely separated from any of my influences before I could do my own thing.
EXCLUSIVE: "PAX ROMANA" #1 PREVIEW
BEHIND "THE NIGHTLY NEWS"
HICKMAN SAVES THE FUTURE, DESTROYS THE PAST IN "PAX ROMANA"
JONATHAN HICKMAN HOLDS "A RED MASS FOR MARS"
JONATHAN HICKMAN DELIVERS "THE NIGHTLY NEWS"
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