Like 2001 nominee Judd Winick, Dylan Horrocks is a funny sort of nominee for the 2002 Eisner Award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition: He's a creator whom plenty of comic readers already know. Not that he's ungrateful for the nomination, though.
"Oh, it's always nice to be nominated for something like this," Horrocks told CBR News on Tuesday. "It's the same warm feeling I get when I open up my e-mail and there's a letter from a total stranger thousands of miles away saying they were deeply moved by 'Hicksville.' I still occasionally get mail like that and every time I do, it makes my day. I mean - I'd keep on doing my comics even if no-one was reading them. But it sure is nice to know I'm actually reaching people on a meaningful level.
"As for the Eisner - well, I was kind of pleased and kind of amused. Amused because 'Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition' does sound a little ironic - like a prize for not being recognized ...! I mean, just how unrecognized do you have to be to be eligible?
"But seriously, I do really appreciate the nomination - I was really cheerful for a whole week after hearing about it! It came as a total surprise."
Horrocks was nominated for his work on two (mostly separate) creations, "Hicksville" and "Atlas."
"'Hicksville' is a graphic novel - a kind of love letter to the history and potential of comics. The hero, Leonard Batts, is a comics journalist who arrives in a small town in New Zealand, researching a biography on one of the town's most successful exports: world-famous superhero cartoonist Dick Burger. Batts soon realizes, however, that this curious little town contains a secret which will change his picture of Dick Burger - and of comics themselves - forever ...
"'Atlas' is my new ongoing series from Drawn & Quarterly. The title story is planned as a very long (at least 1000 pages) epic, exploring the life of Emil Kopen - a Cornucopian cartoonist who appeared briefly in 'Hicksville,' and whose life story spans most of the twentieth century. As well as the title story, 'Atlas' also features other serials and short stories by me - and a guest cartoonist each issue, who contributes a story connected in some way to the world of 'Hicksville.' Issue one's guest cartoonist is James Kochalka."
Horrocks is the writer for a DC/Vertigo monthly series -- "Hunter: The Age of Magic" -- and while Vertigo in the 21st century has strayed from the supernatural superhero books that gave it birth, he wouldn't mind doing some more of the Spandex-clad work DC is best known for.
"I enjoy doing a certain amount of mainstream work (quite aside from the fact that it pays the bills). Actually, I'd be very happy to do some even more mainstream work - in the sense that I'd enjoy doing some superhero DCU type stuff. This may be on the cards, too. If I had to choose between doing the mainstream stuff and my own stuff ('Atlas,' etc), then it'd be no contest. My own stuff comes first. But y'know, I've been writing and drawing superhero stuff on the side for my own entertainment for some time (I have a superhero serial called 'Aroha' in a New Zealand comics-zine called Officer Pup). It's fun!"
While Horrocks has been cashing checks from DC Comics for a while now, his worldview in most of his work is still inarguably an indie mindset, something that one might well think would be at odds with the editorial vision when working for one of the big two superhero comic book companies.
"There have been times when I've struggled to find a suitable writing voice for my DC Comics - not due to any pressure on their part, though," Horrocks said. "It's just been my own internal struggle. I think I'm now entirely comfortable with the writing voice in 'Hunter,' though. Personally, I think 'mainstream' comics could do with more of an 'alternative' sensibility - and to some extent that's happening at the moment."
Over the course of this series, looking at the nominees for the 2002 award, Horrocks' name has come up repeatedly as the choice of the other nominees to win the award. Does Horrocks feel any pressure concerning this Friday's ceremony?
"Good grief! I'm surprised to hear that! NOW I feel the pressure ...
"I don't ever expect to win awards. So far I've been nominated for a couple of Harvey Awards, a number of Ignatzes and (perhaps most exciting of all) two Alph'Art nominations in France (when 'Hicksville' was released there last year). But I've never actually won any of them. So I'm getting used to being one of those 'frequently nominated, never won' people. I don't mind. Anyway, some good friends of mine are among the other nominees and I'd be thrilled for them to win, too.
"Thing is, some of my favorite cartoonists ever are people who would never be nominated for any awards, let alone win them. Their work is only seen by a handful of friends and correspondents who get their stuff in the mail. Down here in New Zealand there's a very active and talented comics scene, full of people who make work of great beauty and depth, but which is almost never seen outside of the tiny local scene. I think that's true all over the world and it's people like that who make me love comics so much. I guess that's at the heart of 'Hicksville,' in a way - it's about the hidden history and landscape of comics that you won't find in the hall of fame ..."
Putting the shoe on the other foot, who would Horrocks give the award to, if he were an Eisner judge?
"They're all good ... I think I'd end up opting for Dean Haspiel (with Nick Bertozzi hard on his heels), just because I think Dean's time has come. He's been doing really fun comics for many years and - well - he deserves wider recognition (OK - so maybe it ain't such a silly name for an award!). In an ideal world, Dean would be writing the X-Men and it would be incredibly fun."