Filmmaker Ashley Thorpe snags an exclusive interview with revered artist and author David Hitchcock.
(Hitchcocks Springheeled Jack) Progresses in dizzying leaps and bounds and breathes genuine fire. – Alan Moore
The comic world is a domain of constant reinvention. As hell is re-imagined for every generation so too are the fantastical heroes and villains that populate the world of sequential art; characters caught in an endless sequence of death and resurrection, malleable timelines spawning myriad reflections of the same faces as characters pass from one minds eye to the next.
Yet for every resurrected Robin there are characters that are lost to time. Neglected characters such as the proto-Batman Spring Heeled Jack and Highwaymen such as Dick Turpin were once prolific staples of the Victorian Penny Dreadfuls yet are now resigned to little more than historical esoterica.
My own work being inspired by these neglected tales I was therefore simultaneously thrilled and dismayed when I discovered the work of British artist and writer David Hitchcock. Here we were exploring these things in quite different ways simultaneously yet in complete isolation of each other. Labours of love such as Spirit of the Highwayman, Whitechapel Freak and the Eagle award winning Spring Heeled Jack lifted these characters from obscurity and reinvented them as vital contemporary characters with passion and a deftly wit.
Having kept in contact with David since the publication of Spirit of the Highwayman I thought it time to share and celebrate a fellow enthusiast of things obscure and dreadful.
SHOCK: What are the source of your enthusiasms – where did it all begin?
HITCHCOCK: I blame it all on Jack Kirby, the King of comics. Back in the early 70s my mum bought me the UK reprint of The Avengers, featuring Captain America, Thor, Iron Man etc, this comic leapt off the dull newsagent shelves into my eager hands. My dad bought me rolls of drawing paper from his workplace to satiate my drawing habit, I’ve been hooked on comics and drawing ever since, creating my own comics on and off since the mid 80s.
SHOCK: Many artists that Ive interviewed had quite a rough time at school or college because of their leanings towards fantastic art, was this your experience?
HITCHCOCK: School wasn’t really a problem, only when I’d get the full force of the blackboard rubber on my head, for ignoring the geography teacher whilst scribbling down ideas for my next homegrown opus. I applied for art college, but as my portfolio only featured fantasy art it didn’t do me any favors. Although, arguably the work in there was better than recent work in my opinion.
SHOCK: Youre of that rare breed that both pens and inks their work, controlling every aspect from script to final cover painting. What are the advantages and disadvantages of both scripting and creating the sequential art for your stories?
HITCHCOCK: I have worked from scripts over the years, but I found that creating both story and art can be very satisfying, and also I can edit as I feel suits that particular tale. Which is very useful when all of the work is done in my spare time. I have a day job, but that’s a horror story to be told another time (laughs).
SHOCK: Your subjects are quite unusual yet profoundly – dare I say – English Boogeymen. Was this a conscious decision to mine these neglected folkloric characters or was it purely a hunger to tell a different story?
HITCHCOCK: I’ve always been interested in the darker Gothic characters, and legends, and I knew I wanted to explore tales and genres that were not really featured, in UK comics, at least.
SHOCK: So how did Spirit of the Highwayman come about?
HITCHCOCK: When I came up with SoTH I wanted to add a little spice, he couldn’t be your everyday common garden brigand, a fantastical element was needed, and what more fantastical than the main character being Dick Turpin’s ghost? Originally it was a three issue series, initially I had a little help with the writing side with this story but a few years after that I went back to it and added 30 new pages which made it into a 100 page graphic novel. This was published only in a small run due to my finances, but I believe they are quite sought after now. Which is a nice feeling, considering it was hard going back in the day. After that I produced a one shot tabloid newspaper comic based on the Ripper murders, called Whitechapel Freak, which will hopefully be released digitally this year.
SHOCK: Your take on Spring Heeled Jack is – bar the Victorian setting – quite the imaginative departure from previous attempts to grapple with the legend, what can you tell me about its inspirations and creation?
HITCHCOCK: With Springheeled Jack, I was fascinated by a singular quote from an alleged ‘eye witness’…”It had eyes like glowing coals!” This set me on the path that my version of the penny dreadful regular would be alien in origin. I liked the juxtaposition of an insect-like creature set against the grimy smog-filled backdrop of old London Town. This would make for an unusual-look, a visually interesting amalgamation of horror and sci-fi. SHJ managed to garner a really nice testimonial from Brit comic genius Alan Moore as well as a much coveted Eagle Award.
SHOCK: Its also very cinematic, have you been approached by any studios to adapt the series to film?
HITCHCOCK: Indeed, one of the SHJ issues made it to a comic shop in Los Angeles and a well-known film producer contacted me with great interest in the concept, I quickly sent him a hardback copy with an original watercolor sketch inside (Laughs). As it happens nothing came of it, but luckily I did take it with a pinch of salt, I was well aware that things get suggested frequently, but end up getting shot down just as quickly.
SHOCK: Finally what can you tell me about your illustrations for Pat Mills adaptation of the grim World War 1 poem Dead Mans Dump?
HITCHCOCK: When I first read Isaac Rosenberg’s Dead Man’s Dump it painted an immediate grim image of the WW1 battlefields, truly horrific in every sense of the word. It was a real honor that I got the opportunity to work with Pat Mills and even though this adaptation is relatively short the story that Pat came up with is immensely impactful. I can see why he is the Godfather of British Comics. Above The Dreamless Dead (First:Second, Macmillan) is an anthology book featuring war poems graphically adapted into sequential art by various creators including the likes of Eddie Campbell and other great artists, released in September 2014.
SHOCK: Where can the curious view more of your work?
HITCHCOCK: Apart from my blog this year I gathered together a lot of my illustrations in an art book, rather cleverly called BLACK BOOK, it is limited to only 100 copies, each has an original custom painted sketch on the frontispiece. I wanted readers to have something a bit special and producing a one-off sketch in each copy seemed like the best thing to do.