Over the last few 'Beyonds', we've looked at New Zealand comics and creators. I'd say creators here have a hard time getting exposure on the domestic market, let alone the international one. I can only think of a few who have achieved international recognition, and one of those few includes Dylan Horrocks.
'Hicksville', a 250 page comic book by Dylan Horrocks, was first published in 1998 by Black Eye Books. On the most simple level, it is a tale about a comics journalist, Leonard Batts, travelling to Hicksville, a small remote settlement on the East Cape of New Zealand, which was the home town of a now successful and famous comic creator and publisher Dick Burger (a la Todd McFarlane). Batts is interested in finding some background on Burger, but what he finds in Hicksville is much more than that. I don't want to spoil anything, but trust me; if you love comics, than there is a premise in this book that you'll wish fervently 'if only it were true!'.
Horrocks is something of a comics journalist himself, and knows a great deal about the history of the medium, as well as its foibles. He explores the current industry with satire that is both heart-rending (especially now, given the recent death of pioneering giant Will Eisner and others), biting, (women in comics), and hilarious (references to the aforementioned Todd McFarlane...). The narrative journey to Hicksville is not straightforward, however. The comic has comics within comics, including parts of Dick Burger's "Captain Tomorrow: Rebirth" graphic novel, a complete mini comic, gag strips, and pages from a mysterious comic that appear at odd times. There are also plenty of flashbacks, filling in gaps and opening up new ones. There are some great quotes from comics creators at the beginning of each chapter; my favourite has to be this one by Martin Goodman, around 1939, "We can't keep putting out this crap for very long.".
'Hicksville' can be read on different levels too. Superhero, humour, magic realism, history, indie, international, Kiwi, you name it - a glorious mix of genres and influences. There are plenty of in-jokes for comics aficionados, and I'm not sure whether Horrocks is taking a dig at in-jokes in general, but if you know New Zealand art, you'll also find a few. This may make it sound as if 'Hicksville' is one of those books where everything is thrown in to make it seem clever. Well, it is clever, but in the best way; all elements have been carefully thought out and placed, and I think Horrocks manages to pull it all off with dexterity. The last page is brilliant - a great take on an old comics cliché.
As the book is mostly set in New Zealand, there are quite a number of references to New Zealand people, places, and culture. Horrocks has included a helpful glossary at the end of the book, but beware; this also covers the fictional elements. For those who are not up with comics history, the glossary helps out there too. I suppose the setting might perhaps make it exotic to the overseas reader, but I found it very familiar, and not a few of the characters were typical Kiwis. Only a couple of times did I feel that the characterization was over-done, verging on the stereotype, but as these were only minor characters, I could accept it. I particularly appreciated the way bits of New Zealand history were woven into the story, albeit altered.
Dylan Horrocks is now in the process of producing another visit to the world of Hicksville, a comic series titled 'Atlas', and published by Drawn and Quarterly. So far, issue #1 is available. Dylan also has his own website - www.hicksville.co.nz.