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Thursday, April 01, 2010

John Hicklenton (1967-2010)

Johnny Hicklenton, best known for his work on "Nemesis the Warlock" in 2000AD, died on Friday, 19 March, aged 43.

John Stuart Hicklenton was born in Surrey on 8 May 1967, the son of John George H. Hicklenton and his wife Patricia J. (nee Sanderson). Raised in Kent, Hicklenton recalled in an interview that he was "quite good at art and not much good at any other subject." His inspirations included the comic strip "Flesh" in early issues of 2000AD, which led him to draw obsessively "every day for 8 hours a day. I lived for it."

Hannah Smith, a fellow student at college, spotted a doodle Hicklenton had drawn of Judge Dredd and told him "my dad draws that!" To capitalize on this potential contact, he deliberately painted her a Christmas card featuring Judge Dredd and it attracted the attention of her father, Ron Smith, who was Dredd's most prolific artist in 2000AD at the time. After seeing his portfolio, Smith introduced him to his agent and Hicklenton was employed drawing Future Shocks for 2000AD. But it was through contacting Pat Mills that Hicklenton really established himself in the weekly. Mills made full use of Hicklenton's talent for visceral horror in two stories featuring his long-running Nemesis the Warlock character: "The Two Torquemadas" (1987-88) and "Deathbringer" (1988-89). Also with Mills (mostly in collaboration with Alan Mitchell), Hicklenton contributed five episodes to "Third World War" in Crisis (1989-90) and "Fear Teachers" (by Mills & Tony Skinner) to Toxic (1991).

He then switched to Judge Dredd—mostly episodes of "Heavy Metal Judge Dredd"—in the Judge Dredd Megazine (1991-93). Between 1990 and 1995, he also contributed to Deadline, Rogue Trooper Annual and various stories ("Judge Edwina's Strange Cases", "Pandora", "Mean Machine") to Judge Dredd Megazine.

Hicklenton also contributed to the Punisher Summer Special (1992) and, as John Deadstock, drew the four issue ZombieWorld, written by Mills for Dark Horse (1999).

Hicklenton's work was unique, challenging, disturbing, uncompromising and split fans. Writing a tribute to Hicklenton for Judge Dredd Megazine (available online at the Forbidden Planet International blog), Pat Mills called him "the Jimi Hendrix of comic artists. Easy viewing comic 'muzak' he's not. His grotesque images bear comparison with Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman and are not for the squeamish. Yet his elegant thin line work has much in common with Aubrey Beardsley." In 2007, Hicklenton said, "When I was last on Dredd, I was reading the stuff that people were writing in about me. I think that any letters where people take an interest in your stuff is a compliment, although they were saying that I was perverting the youth. Maybe I did want to do that, or maybe I just wasn’t patronising the youth ... I know the readers are about half and half, and it was the same when I worked on Zombie World for Dark Horse. Half of them were saying 'how dare he waste the trees' and other people write in saying that they loved it."

Hicklenton suffered from aches and numbness for many years before he was diagnosed as suffering from Multiple Sclerosis in 2000. His battle with the disabling neurological condition was documented in the film Here's Johnny, produced by Brighton-based Animal Monday, which was broadcast on More 4 on 17 February 2009 and is available to buy on DVD.

Despite his increasing illness, Hicklenton continued to work. He drew record covers for Switzerland-based Red Light Records for many years and, in 2007, returned to the Judge Dredd Megazine to draw "Blood of Satanus III". More recently, he was involved with Renegade Arts Entertainment in a comics project Sand, which never progressed further than a series of concept sketches.

Instead, he spent his final year working on a graphic novel, One Hundred Months, described by his agent, Adrian Weston, as "a lyrical and unsettling narrative, redolent of an epic poem, or an ancient saga. The novel is set in Megiddo, the biblical land of the apocalypse. There the main character of the novel, Mara, fights an epic battle with the Longpig, an evil demiurge who has infected the planet with his children. Mara, incensed by the death of her son—a Messianic figure—sets out to exact a brutal revenge on the wasted world which has sacrificed him."

Hicklenton was married and lived in Brighton, East Sussex. Rather than wait until his MS left him permanently immobile, he travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland accompanied by family and friends. He completed the final pages of One Hundred Months shortly before leaving for Zurich.

Obituaries: Daily Telegraph (2 April).

(* Photograph: C. Browning, taken at an Austin Books signing in Texas, 2008, used here under cc license from Wikipedia; Nemesis the Warlock © Rebellion; Sand © Renegade Arts Entertainment, with more concept art available here; One Hundred Months © John Hicklenton Estate, with more samples available here)


bristle said...

A fine tribute :)

One small thing though - isn't his agent called Adrian Weston not Lester? I'm only going on what I've read elsewhere, that and the nagging feeling that AL is the name of an actor.

Steve said...

Oops. Yes it is. Now fixed.