Last time we caught up with the Hitsville boys, they were young and reckless, caught up in that pop life and looking forward to the end of their story. That end finally came with the publication of Hitsville UK #7 last year. Dan Cox and John Riordan are broken men now, no longer a pair of jolly cartoon heroes

…but a couple of real live humans, with families and feelings:

As such, it didn’t seem right to feed them the same recycled Smash Hits interview questions we’ve used a few times over now. This time round we would do it right, with glib, insultingly stupid questions of our own.

As far as a general overview of what Hitsville is and why you should read it, I can’t much improve on what I wrote last time around:

More than any other comic about bands or music, Hitsville UK mimics the thrill and excitement of its subject.  Somewhat perversely, this comes from its overwhelming commitment to the comic book form.  Where other comics about music feel like extrapolations of zine culture or traditional adventure stories themed around pop stars, Hitsville UK actually feels like music.  By reveling in the joys of putting weird looking characters into even weirder situations, trusting that they can keep a rush of daft words and pictures coming and that they can keep it relevant, Riordan and Cox capture something of the hyped up love buzz of being into music.  A mix of wanting to keep up with the story and wanting to feel part of the moment as it happens around you.

What I will say is that the issues of Hitsville that have been published since then have had an increased sense of urgency to them. The boys may not have set out to create a fantasy of communal resilience in an age that seems increasingly under threat by undead attitudes, shambling zombie racism, and the endless monetization of your every passing daydream, but fuck me if they didn’t do it anyway!

Hitsville UK is great, kaleidoscopic fun. You should probably buy it.

But don’t just listen to me. Listen to handsome hunk Dan Cox and bedazzled urchin John Riordan, who were generous enough to give me their time while they were in the middle of preparing their lush summer survival bunker, rumoured to be located in the abandoned underwater garden of a shady octopus…

1. When the first issue of Hitsville UK was published back in 2011, David Cameron was out in the wild hugging unsuspecting hoodies and Malcolm Tucker impersonations were still just about socially acceptable.

Are you the same people you were back then? Have you switched faces? Traded names? Sold parts of your souls in return for those sweet comics dollars?

Dan Cox: Switched faces, traded names, switched back, rinsed and repeated. I’m pretty sure we’re back to being the other. It is depressing looking at our cameos as I go from this svelte long-haired snake-hipped lovely to a portly beardy man. Interestingly John hasn’t seemed to change much, I’m sure this is nothing to do with him being the artist and everything to do with healthier lifestyle choices and superior grooming regime.

John Riordan: Working on Hitsville has been like a nine-year version of Face/Off (NB. I have never seen Face/Off). My favourite review of the comic credited it to Dan Riordan and John Cox. I don’t think I bothered drawing us into the last two issues of Hitsville. Prior to the final issue coming out we both became dads and we now both resemble post-war criminal Tony Blair. I drew my baby daughter into a crowd scene in issue 7 instead. I’m fully embracing vicarious living through the next generation now.

DC: We were the DJ act opening for Gwillum!

JR: Oh yes, good point! See, my brain is crumbling as well as my looks.

DC: This question has forced me to think back a bit. I’m really happy at the moment, with my personal life rather than state of the world and that happiness has blotted out just how dark and miserable things were over a lot of those years. And I’m kind of proud I still managed to contribute to making something over that time.

2. How much of the story of Hitsville did you have worked out at that point?

JR: Hmmm, casting my mind back into the distant past… I don’t think we had much of the ongoing plot worked out when we did issue 1, that was more about setting up the characters and figuring out how to tell the story. After issue 1 we came up with a lot of the stuff that would fill the next six issues. In fact we did that a few times because we kept on fleshing it out in the pub and then couldn’t necessarily remember what we’d decided. Each time we were plotting a new issue I’d be saying to Dan “I’m sure we made sense of this or that aspect but how…?!” There were things which were throwaway jokes at first, like Stan’s radio broadcasting noises from hell, or the Invisibles spoof where Marlon summons Ringo instead of Lennon, which went on to be big plot points as the series mutated. It was meant to be six issues but we kept on thinking of more stuff and issues 4, 5, and 6 ended up being shorter because of LIFE getting in the way, so it ended up with lucky number seven.

DC: Yeah, we had loads of ideas and characters, we actually culled characters which may amaze anyone who has counted up our insane cast list. For some people we had an idea of arcs, Haunted by Robots for example I had his finale in my head from the word go. Other characters we didn’t have a clue – the mystery of The Sisters was an ever present problem. One of my favourite things about creating this with John was those jokes we’d throw in that then later became the plot. Then in later issues when we’d had enough pub chats and phone calls that we had a fair idea of what was going down we’d start changing things to surprise each other.

3. Were there any characters who surprised you by going Let England Shake when you expected Uh Huh Her?

DC: Back to The Sisters for me. They were a one off joke, inspired by a band on the Brighton circuit in the early 2000s but we introduced them into the story in a way that meant they had to be something. Working out what that was was one of the hardest things but I think how their story evolved feels like it always had to be that. It’s this terrible little tragedy that’s at the heart of Hitsville.

4. Who is your favourite?

JR: I’ve had a soft spot for Ruthie (pipe-smoking bass player from The Carrie Nation’s Revenge) since I doodled her for a flyer for my old band. She’s got attitude a-plenty, as can be seen on issue 3’s Bowie-inspired front cover. Her tweedy style has since been stolen by Philomena Cunk, of course.

I also feel a mixture of paternal affection and guilt towards poor, sad Gwillum. The things we’ve put him through. And to think he started out as a lame joke about Lord of the Rings!

DC: John Riordan. And Greg Pastis. Men of very different temperament.

JR: Less different than you think.

5. INCORRECT. The answer is “Illogical Volume”. Try again.
Who is your favourite?

JR: Never heard of him.

DC: I think he’s like the Scottish Bobsy or summat… the worst kind of Bobsy.

JR: Geological valium? Nope, not ringing any bells.

6. Thank you. Now the series has finished there are a few other music themed fantasy comics series out there in the world, but that wasn’t necessarily the case when you started.

Did you have any particular model in mind when you started? A comic – or book, or greeting card message, or bewildered friend – that you looked at and thought “Yeah, we’d like Hitsville UK to be a bit like that”?

DC: I mean the obvious antecedent is Deadline. What young people today don’t understand is that you never got to hear music. You’d have to read it. I remember reading an interview with Jane’s Addiction in Deadline and then guessing that I’d like them, then traveling to a different town to spend my weeks wages on a cassette hoping that I was right. And those free cassettes you got sellotaped to the front were an absolute godsend.

The other influence is the Beano, which beyond The Bash Street Kids I never liked but I did enjoy the Beanotown concept and liked it when characters wandered into each other’s strips. That was key to Hitsville for me, any one of those characters should be able to carry a book on their own and are kind of invading each other’s stories. Really though there was also an arrogance there. I don’t feel there’d been a decent comic about music and wanting to do that right was a big motivator. John’s different styles and his lettering and use of colour I think really achieved that. Waffling on but the final thing is that Hitsville is quite autobiographical for me, the whole teenage years in small town England and then my 20’s in Brighton where I was working in radio, working in venues, had mates in bands and running sound systems and raves. It was trying to get that feeling. The sheer overwhelming importance of 2 minutes 30 seconds of sound to your life.

JR: Not a lot to add to that. I was maybe a couple of years too young for Deadline, I picked it up a bit towards the end but missed the glory years. But the great pop ‘stylists’ of Deadline have had a huge influence on my style, or at least the style I was going for in Hitsville. Jamie Hewlett, Philip Bond, Glyn Dillon, the Worthing massive. In a funny way I think missing most of Deadline when it came out has made those artists more mythic for me, then seeing how their work and influence filtered into comics and pop culture more broadly. I don’t know whether Hitsville is exactly autobiographical for me, but the experience of playing in bands in my 20s and 30s, doing gigs in toilet venues in London, that certainly went into it. Also, just that thing of really really caring about this stuff, to an almost embarrassing degree – as Dan says, those two, three minute pieces of concentrated audio pop art, and the weird people who are obsessive and deluded enough to make them.

7. Reading the whole series together, it strikes me that the early issues are far more compressed than the later ones, and that having Nazis as villains starts to feel a lot heavier in the later volumes than it did in the beginning.

Was the evolution of the series’ style and tone the deliberate result of fiendish science, like Neil Young’s 2016 live album EARTH, or did it just flow out naturally maaaaaan, like the 28 minute version of ‘Love and Only Love’ from Neil Young’s 2016 live album EARTH?

JR: Listen, the first thing I want to say is that the Alt-right stuff is not our fault, and is definitely not the result of some Grant-Morrison-gone-horribly-wrong wank sigil attempt to make our comic popular undertaken eight years ago. It’s funny (or not) – like other things mentioned above, Aryan 51 started off as a joke and by the time the last issue came out had been lent genuinely sinister weight by our genuinely sinister times.

I’m not all that familiar with Neil Young’s oeuvre but, as one who imbibed the punk manifesto (many years after the fact) I am suspicious of long guitar solos. If I had to nominate a really great wig-out it would be Pavement’s live version of ‘Type Slowly‘, which you can find on the 1997 Tibetan Freedom Concert compilation. What was the question? Oh yes, fiendish science, 100 per cent.

DC: I think somewhere we twigged that maybe we should stop putting 12 panels on a page and let the damn thing breathe.

8. If you could walk in the shoes of any one musician, who would it be and could you still get me some milk on your way home?

DC: Kate Bush’s wellios. Specifically during the mushroom trip of ‘Kite‘.

And yeah, I would filch a pint of gold top from a doorstep on my way back for you.

JR: Damon Albarn’s knackered old desert boots. I know he rubs people up the wrong way and sometimes comes across as a bit of a knob, but he’s written so many amazing tunes and is probably the musician who’s given me the most. Milk would presumably be delivered in the form of the cute, animated carton from ‘Coffee & TV‘.

9. What was the best song you heard between starting the series in 2011 and its conclusion in 2018?

JR: Crikey, saving the easy questions to last, eh? Off the top of my head, ‘I Love You Honeybear’ by Father John Misty. There’s something about its combination of swooning romance, bleak humour and doomed fatalism that seems very now.

DC: I’ve discovered I’m really into songs where the band members introduce themselves by name and give their star-sign. There aren’t that many I can find though. If any of your readers have any suggestions maybe they’d be kind enough to leave them in the comments?

JR: Give us one example, Dan.

DC: I’m pretty much stuck listening to ‘Semicircle Song by the Go! Team, ‘Sweet Songs’ by Jusjus and ‘Russel Grant Hairdo Mistake’ by the Fall, I mean, that’s kind of the opposite, it’s 15 minutes of Mark E. Smith slagging off every ex-member of the Fall for having a stupid star sign “typical-uh piiii-cese-uh“.

10. What’s next?

DC: A collected edition of the series, hopefully. We’re shopping it around to publishers but if that doesn’t happen we’ll probably do a kickstarter.

JR: We’ve also got a great idea for a second series of Hitsville but there’s no way we could carry on self-publishing. If we were to do another series we’d need an actual publisher.

The other thing I want to do is a big thing on William Blake, but that’s currently in deep research mode.

Thanks for the questions, Allegorical Vellum. Did we pass?

Well readers, did they…?

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