March 24th, 2010
Sad news reaches Mindless HQ – a truly superb, and extremely underrated artist is no longer with us. John Hicklenton passed away recently, and the world is short one more unique, incandescent talent.
Primarily known for his utterly original work for 2000ad in the late 80′s and 90′s, he recently came into prominence for his brave and wonderful documentary chronicling his battle with Multiple Sclerosis, ‘Here’s Johnny’ shown to much acclaim on Channel 4 last year, and available for purchase here.
I first encountered his bizarre and disturbing artwork in Nemesis Book 9, a personal high watermark in 2000AD’s illustrious carer, alongside Zenith Phase III and Bad Company II (keep up true believers). Working with Pat Mills, Hicklenton created some of the most bestial and depraved artwork ever to grace the pages of a British boys weekly. His depiction of a parallel Thatcherite Britain that becomes the latest battle ground in the never ending brutal grudge match between Nemesis the Warlock and Torquemada, was truly awesome. It was gritty, grotesque, funny and shocking in equal measure. Nemesis had never looked more menacing and alien, truly earning the subtitle of the series: Deathbringer. The final duel between the two demented protagonists climaxed in a London Underground station, with Nemesis wielding an electric guitar against Torquemada’s hedge trimmers, and took the battle to brutal, bloody new heights.
It scared the living shit out of me to be quite honest. I’d never seen anything like it. Refining his style from his début in Book 7, Hicklenton produced a proper horror show that perfectly captured the anger and despair of Mills tirade against the misery of Thatcher’s Britain in 1988. He was the perfect linear successor to that other great British master of the bizarre, Kevin O’Neill, and produced a Nemesis that was nearly as definitive as his. Mills himself described Hicklenton’s artwork as “like wild electronic music – an acquired taste and a mind-bending experience”.
As well as some sterling work on Judge Dredd, he produced a number of strips with Mills for the short-lived, but influential political comic Crisis, and the gonzo weekly experiment that was Toxic. He also produced some work for the Big Two, most notably one of the weirdest depictions of the Punisher you’ve ever seen, but to be honest I bet his art was too much for most of the spandex set to stomach. The last thing I saw for a while was another collaboration with Mills for the informal Dark Horse comic ‘Zombie World’.
When he next turned up on my radar it was on the aforementioned documentary dealing with his MS. I was shocked, and more than a little upset, but his unflinching honesty, anger and black humour shone through, presenting someone who refused to give in to this harsh and debilitating disease. It was rightfully acclaimed and received Grierson awards for Best Newcomer and Best Arts Documentary.
So, it’s with a heavy heart that the Mindless bid him farewell. The world needs more genuine fucking originals, and John Hicklenton was most definitely one.