Jonathan Hickman Delivers "The Nightly News"

Fri, September 15th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

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"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!   I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!'   Things have got to change.   But first, you've gotta get mad!   You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'   Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis.   But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:   I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Actor Peter Finch (playing TV news anchor Howard Beale) uttered the dialogue above in the 1976 film, "Network."   At the time, the film was considered revolutionary.   And now?   The film is looked at as prescient.

As a society, we are deluged with news.   It comes at us over the radio, TV, our computers, and even our phones nowadays.   And as much as we'd like to believe the news is impartial and accurate, it's not.   News is reported by humans, and humans make mistakes.

When the news "screws up," there are two questions we need to look at:   1) Why was this mistake made?   Was it the pursuit of ratings, corporate pressure, or simple human error?   And 2) what do they do to correct the mistake?

It's this second question that leads to problems for the subjects of the news error, and it's this situation that writer-artist Jonathan Hickman explores in his upcoming comic book, "The Nightly News."   Published by Image Comics, the book has a lot to say about our media-driven society and how it affects us as individuals.

Hickman was a former participant in CBR's Comic Book Idol art competition and it should be noted that this six issue miniseries is his first published work since entering the contest.   CBR News spoke with the writer-artist to discuss the book and chat about his adventures in the comic book biz .

Jonathan, there seems to be a lot of anger seeping through the pages of this book.   Where did you get the inspiration for this story and what made you want to tell it?

Well, that's all character.   Me?   I'm a pretty happy guy.

"The Nightly News" is the story of John Guyton, who is definitely a very angry man and has every right to be.   I will add that he certainly doesn't stay that way and the tone of the series changes as he does.

The inspiration for "The Nightly News" were the stories of innocent people like Richard Jewell (the Olympic Bomber) whose lives are basically ripped apart by billion dollar companies so they can entertain us/boost ratings/charge higher advertising rates/make more money.   There are a lot of stories similar to his out there.   Researching this stuff was a little scary.

"The Nightly News" simply asks the question:   what happens when the media companies do that to the wrong guy?

How long did it take you to write and draw the first issue?   You did the coloring and lettering too, correct?

Yes, I did everything.   The first issue is 28 pages long.   I actually completed and then had to throw away the last 10 pages because of changes I felt were necessary.   So, I did almost 40 pages of art.   That took two months.   Which was pretty much "a book a month" pace, and it's what I'm on now.

You talk a lot about all the media conglomerates.   What kind of research did you do?   Or are you having a bit of "fun" with the facts?

In issue #1 there are two charts/diagrams/whatever.   One is on globalization and the other is on media consolidation.   And like in number one, every subsequent issue of "The Nightly News" will have some information design that goes along with the theme of that month.

As far as it being factual, at first I was going to start off with accurate information and then as the series went on add in bits of false material until at the end of the series the little pods of info were completely fabricated (which would have been fun), but what I found out as I did the research was that the real stuff was too good not to use.   It was way too juicy.   So, they're all correct and they're all true.

A lot happens in the first issue, but what is the miniseries ultimately about?   Thematically and plot-wise?

Plot-wise, at its heart, "The Nightly News" is a somebody-done-somebody-wrong revenge story.   Thematically, there are a couple of different things going on, but the primary theme is how there is very little difference when comparing the relationships between the media and its viewers to cult leaders and their followers.   Other things that naturally get touched on are education, advertising, communication systems, etc.

Talk to us about the main characters in "The Nightly News" and whose point of view is the book going to unfold through?

The book is primarily about two characters:   John and Alexander.   It is a story that is told in two directions with John moving forward – where he is our main protagonist and narrator – and the reader looking back on the things Alex has done up to where "The Nightly News" begins in issue #1.

The first issue talks a lot about "The Voice."   What else can you tell me about it?

The Voice is the architect of everything that happens in the book.   The group that Alex and John belong to is called the Brotherhood of the Voice, which the media refers to as the Cult of the Voice.   The Voice is the Wizard of Oz – the man behind the curtain.   He's the guy you never see, which is why you are always hearing things about him or hearing about things he's said.

Could you tell me a bit about your art process?   Is it photo-referenced?   Do you begin with pictures, or is it mostly done in the computer?

I wanted the people in "The Nightly News" to feel real, so I went with a "kind of" photo reference look.   I started off with taking a bunch of pictures of my friends and family – creating scenes and stuff like that.   On future projects, I probably won't do that again because working in that way the setup is ridiculously labor intensive.   It would have been much easier to just draw the book.

I draw with both a brush and nib.   After that, I scan everything in and this ends up being about thirty percent of the work.   The remaining seventy percent of the issue is done on computer.

Your layout design and color scheme is very interesting, too.   Things feel modern and "shiny," but at the same time, there's a rough quality.   How did you decide on a layout and colors like these and what tone are you trying to evoke?

Like I said above, I'm certainly trying to make the book look as real life as possible in relation to the characters.   Beyond that, I'm attempting to produce something that reflects the kind of mash-up design culture that's pretty prevalent in most of the information/communication/entertainment industries today.   Hence the combination of realistic, rough artistic ink work and the slick over-designed, overused graphic elements that you see in a lot of commercial work.

With the layouts, that's really about there being three different layers of content.   There are the two that you traditionally see in comics, which are, speaking in very basic terms, the words and the pictures.   And then I'm adding a third, which is kind of a visual subtext – bits of information that are tangential to the direct narrative but really add texture to the story.

As far as font and color choices, there's something really nice about only using one font and four basic colors throughout a book.   There's a real craft in limiting your choices artistically.   Hopefully, I'll be able to successfully pull that off.

Also in regards to the layout, you appear to be having fun with statistics, "blurbs," and other bits of info.   Were you going for a VH1 "Pop-Up" feel?   Or is this closer to the fake ads in the "Robocop" movie?

I've talked about this a little bit already, but I would like to add that the supplemental information I put into the books are not random factoids or any other appropriate irrelevant term.   The information doesn't exist independently of the story, and it almost always will either come back up or tie back into the main narrative.

How did the book end up at Image?   Did you have to "shop it around" much?

Image was always my first choice because 1) it's Image, and 2) retaining ownership of my stuff is very important to me.   I FedEx'ed my submission to them on a Monday, and by Saturday, they had contacted me with very complimentary things to say and offered to publish my book.   My birthday had been on Thursday.   It was a pretty good week.

You were a former contestant in CBR's Comic Book Idol contest.   Could you tell me briefly what being in the contest was like and if it helped you get to where you are now?   In addition, what kinds of things have you been doing since Comic Book Idol?   Do you stay in touch with any of the other contestants?

I do talk to some of the guys from the contest from time to time.   They're all really good people, which is one of the reasons Comic Book Idol was great.

I had tried to get into comics when I got out of college and when it didn't happen I pretty much quit buying and reading comics for a while (I know, silly).   Eight years later, I decided to try again.   A friend of mine told me about the contest so I whipped up a portfolio, entered and came in second.   It was nice that I did well because there were easily four or five more talented guys in the contest – I was just much faster.  

Awhile after it was over, I wrote and drew about 60 pages of a graphic novel that was predictable, generic and formulaic garbage.   So, I threw it away and spent two weeks on my "Nightly News" pitch and sent that in.   It was a nice lesson in "Do the things you want to do, not what you think people will like."

You have a fun little contest at the back of the book, where people can win the opportunity to be written into the book to "die."   Can you tell me more about this and how people can enter?

Ideally, I'm looking for one Democrat and one Republican.   Both of these fine individuals will be written into the series where they will tragically meet their end.   In the hopes of not hurting any feelings, I will allow them to choose their manner of demise from a pre-approved list.

The winners get two complete signed sets of the series, a signed limited edition promotional poster, and an original drawing by me of them in character.   The submission rules and instructions are in the back of the first issue out in November.   So…have at it.

Do you have any plans yet for when this series is complete?

Yes, I already know what my next project will be.   Hopefully, if Image is willing, it will be published through them and would probably start coming out in May/June of next year.   Other than that, my focus is squarely on "The Nightly News."

 
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