By Sean T. Collins
Combining visionary science fiction ideas, edgy writing and an art style that owes as much to propaganda and advertising as it does to comics themselves, Jonathan Hickman's work on acclaimed series such as The Nightly News made a splash in the indie-comics world—a splash so big that his fellow indie refugee Brian Michael Bendis hand-picked Hickman to help shepherd his "babies," Nick Fury's SECRET WARRIORS, in their own series. Hickman's also heading up Marvel's premier science-fiction franchise and first family in FANTASTIC FOUR. But before all that went down, Hickman was tapped for a very different kind of series: STRANGE TALES. In issue #2, the acclaimed writer-artist heads for the far reaches of the Marvel Universe for a dark take on the Heralds of Galactus—and the giant purple planet-eater himself. Marvel.com got Hickman to give us the scoop.
Marvel.com: What is it about Galactus and his Heralds that appeals to you?
Jonathan Hickman: I was reading an article about how eating different kinds of food psychologically affects you, and I thought it was pretty interesting. About at the [same] time, Aubrey [Sitterson, former STRANGE TALES editor] gave me a call and asked me what I wanted to do. My mind just kinda wandered left and right, and I ended up doing a big piece on the different moralities you have to have to be a herald of Galactus—you know, how you are what you eat. It was one of those weird things where it just kinda took on a life of its own.
A page from Jonathan Hickman's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
Marvel.com: It sounds like you're approaching it from an idea-based perspective, rather than just doing a rollicking adventure in outer space. Is that a fair characterization?
Jonathan Hickman: Well, a lot of that is because of the age that I am. And I don't mean that in some really shallow way, like because I am an older creator I try to do smarter work—that's not what I mean at all. What I mean is that I wanna do comics my whole life; I'm 36, and I really never had an opportunity until around last year, so every story I tell is precious to me regardless of the size or the scope of it. I don't really find myself messing around too much with stories that don't have a point or don't have a theme or at least don't have some nice characterizations. I'm always trying to add a little bit something extra. Why do average or just good work, when you can try to do something really really good?
Marvel.com: That's probably a healthy attitude to have if you're going to make art for a living.
Jonathan Hickman: I hope so, I hope so. I am pretty passionate about it, man. I've been successful in other career fields, but I hated my job, you know? There's no joy in doing what I was doing. There's a childlike enthusiasm that you are easily able to maintain whenever you're creating stuff. That's really good, that's healthy. The unhealthy part is I'm 36 and I'm working like a 24-year-old. [Laughs]
Marvel.com: Are you a Marvel fan going back, or did you come into your Marvel work fresh?
Jonathan Hickman: No, no, no, ****, I'm a big Marvel fan! They did super hero comics as good as or better than anybody else in the world. I grew up on that stuff and I've always been a fan, so it's not like all this is new to me or I didn't have an idea of who the characters were. I mean, I don't know who a bunch of the obscure characters are—like when I did the Living Mummy story for [editor] John Barber for the LEGION OF MONSTERS thing, I had no idea who that was. [Laughs] I don't really know everyone, so I guess I'm not like a superfan, but my favorite book growing up was UNCANNY X-MEN.
Marvel.com: I get that a lot, actually, from the people I've been interviewing about STRANGE TALES.
Jonathan Hickman: Yeah. That book was way ahead of its time, and people who were working on it were arguably doing the best work of their lives. That's a book that resonates. I would guess that everybody my age and probably 5 or 6 years earlier—maybe a little bit younger and maybe a little bit older-read those books. At the time, that was the really good stuff, and Claremont was really, really cranking out some incredible stuff. It was one of those precious, social-change books, back when thinking everything was different was really radical: "different equals special." There's a reason why that probably comes up a lot.
Marvel.com: Since submitting your STRANGE TALES piece, you've become a big part of the mainstream Marvel Universe. I'm curious as to how different your process was for in-continuity titles like SECRET WARRIORS or DARK REIGN: FANTASTIC FOUR versus the more indie/alternative feel of STRANGE TALES.
Jonathan Hickman: [Laughs] Not different at all actually. I just try and do something that I'm interested in and then wait for an editor to say no. Or the more commonly heard "Jonathan, I don't think anyone but you finds this funny—maybe you should think about changing it?"
Marvel.com: Do you feel your work here prepared you for the Marvel Universe "big leagues"?
Jonathan Hickman: No, and I don't really think there's much of a difference anyways. The one thing that is interesting about my STRANGE TALES thing is that the pages are clearly referencing Shepard Fairey's work. At the time these were completed it was kind of a somewhat obscure homage—I mean, he was a pretty well-known artist in some circles, but in the time it took for these to come out we had a presidential election and he got pretty damn famous for his Obama poster. So, you know, now it's a lot less cool of a choice. [Laughs]
A page from Jonathan Hickman's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
Marvel.com: What else is out there of yours that you think Marvel fans who like your work in STRANGE TALES might be interested in? Besides your other Marvel titles, of course.
Jonathan Hickman: Well, the Nightly News trade is doing well. That's probably where most people know me from. I also have Pax Romana, Red Mass for Mars and Transhuman. All that stuff is out there, so check it out and put my kid through college. Buy 'em all. They're decent.
Marvel.com: What do you have coming up?
Jonathan Hickman: FANTASTIC FOUR and SECRET WARRIORS, mostly. Coming up: More cool stuff from the House of Ideas...something that's probably my most favorite project ever.
Marvel.com: So you're keeping yourself pretty busy?
Jonathan Hickman: Yeah, I think "busy" is a polite way of saying "drowning right now," but I'm pretty happy with that. [Laughs]
Check out Jonathan Hickman's Galactus story in STRANGE TALES #2, on sale October 7!
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