Jonathan Hickman might be best known as the guy who rejuvenated Marvel Comics' "Fantastic Four" to the point where the franchise could support an equally well-regarded spinoff called "FF" and the current writer of both "Avengers" and "New Avengers," but he's also published a number of creator-owned comics through Image Comics. In fact, Hickman's first miniseries "The Nightly News" released through Image and he's returned to the publisher recently with titles like "The Manhattan Projects," "Red Wing" and "Secret."
March 27 sees the release of "East of West," an all new ongoing series with Hickman's "FF" collaborator Nick Dragotta. The book is a combination of alternate history, action, sci-fi and western featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Unlike many re-imaginings of the Horsemen, Hickman's version of the deadly quartet has gone through some conflicts leaving the group fractured. Still, they've got the end of the world on their mind and part of the plan includes killing the President of the United States of America.
CBR News spoke with Hickman about launching a new, multi-hyphenate series at Image Comics, a bit of the history behind the Four Horsemen and the benefits of collaborating with Dragotta once again.
CBR News: Jonathan, "East of West" is a series described as a combination of science fiction and westerns. How have you applied those two genres with a dystopian version of the United States?
Jonathan Hickman: The book takes place in the future of a fractured, alt-history United States, and the western bits are a general aesthetic that Nick and I are going for. In some ways it's the language, but mostly I'm talking about the visuals.
We're fortunate to have Frank Martin coloring, and we realized pretty quickly that the painted sky/concept drawing look we were getting from the combo of Nick and Frank was further accentuating what we were going for. Leaning into that was a no-brainer.
Honestly, I felt pretty strongly about the book when I turned in my first draft to Nick, but the art dwarfs the writing.
I better step it up.
So far, we know the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are vital to the plot of the series. How vital are they and what's their background? Can you tease any of the other supporting characters in the book?
In theory, those guys are a unit. Describing one out of context with the others is kind of missing the point, but in the case of "East of West," it's the whole point.
The four are now three, and their job, the Apocalypse, is no longer assured.
I would describe Death as someone who feels betrayed, and I would describe the others (War, Famine and Conquest) as feeling abandoned.
And they are some of the major characters in the book.
What can you tease about Death's split from the other Horsemen? How did his departure affect what was likely an incredibly effective team?
Death is extremely confident, he's got a perfect record. He likes order, and this has resulted in him setting the agenda for the Horsemen for quite a long while. Then, something happened. They all disagreed and tried to kill each other.
Years later, none of them have moved past it.
[The Horsemen] are looking to do their job -- end the world. If that means they need a fourth rider, then it's a reasonable guess that they would go get one.
Or, there might, perhaps, be something akin to rules in place if a horseman fails to do their job. There could be penalties, or some kind of punishment. Who's to say that's not what started the fall out to begin with.
While it's not out of place for the Four Horsemen to wreak havoc on the world, it seems unusual that they would be gunning specifically for the President of the United States. What's the reasoning for the Horsemen to go after the leader of the free world?
Actions have consequences. Whatever the President gets, the President deserves.
Considering the traditionally massive power of the Four Horsemen, what's to stop them from simply taking what they want? Is there an endgame for them where they can actually, logically, lose?
I think the way to define winning and losing in this kind of scenario isn't to say who lives and who dies.
I think it's defined by "did the world end," or did it not.
You said at NYCC 2012 that "Manhattan Projects" was the first book you started writing without knowing exactly where it was going. Have you decided to take a similar approach with "East of West" or is it more of a limited and heavily structured series like "The Nightly News" or "Transhuman?"
I have no idea what the issue count will be, but we'll be doing this for a while. I know the overall shape of where I'm going, but I know that there will be detours.
I do know the last scene and the last lines of dialogue.
Having worked previously with Nick Dragotta on "FF," do you feel like "East of West" is a natural progression of that collaboration? How has your creative process evolved compared to your time working together at Marvel?
I guess. It's probably more like we get the direction that the other guy is headed in, and it's a place we wouldn't mind going. I also have crazy respect for Nick's talent, and it's a talent that deserves much wider recognition.
To start with, Nick's a hell of a cartoonist. The characters he draws are acting, working with the dialogue to sell what the character is not only saying, but feeling. This is all pretty obvious stuff, and it pales when compared to the more subtle, more important storytelling choices he makes. That's where Nick leaves a lot of other artists behind.
And Nick and I co-created this, so we're working together.
It's certainly more organic. It's certainly more collaborative. But I know I come into these things with a fairly comprehensive, wide-angle view, so you'd have to ask him if it's collaborative 'enough.' I think we're all right though.
Big picture-wise, the real difference between Image books and Company books is we do what we want, live with the consequences, and reap whatever rewards we can.
Which is a kind of wild west we're both fine with.
"East of West" #1 by writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Nick Dragotta debuts on March 27 from Image Comics.