Johnny Hicklenton was that rare thing in comics – a man who could still shock, even when he wasn’t trying.
Even after a career of drawing grotesque, devious and downright evil-lookin’ art that managed to cleave the audience of 2000 AD down the centre, Johnny still had a couple of shocks up his sleeve.
Firstly, he suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. Secondly, he faced it down and refused to let it beat or intimidate him.
But the biggest shock, is the fact that he died last week.
Born in Guildford, thanks to night school lessons he passed his Art A-Level early in 1984 at the age of 16 before working in a garage, an office and a bingo hall bar while producing a portfolio. He ended up working on Nemesis the Warlock for 2000 AD, in which Pat Mills’ warped writing met Johnny’s insane artwork. It was a shock then and still is now – how many so-called ‘shocking’ artists can say that about their work 25 years on? My favourite was his Black Widow story for the Megazine – there was something even more disturbing, so shocking sensual and intense about his work when it was so garishly coloured. His return to the Meg a few years ago was not treated kindly, which is a real shame when he himself was so positive and happy about it. I hope his passing at the very least provokes a re-evaluation of what was a brave, stunning and utterly unique career.
I interviewed Johnny in late 2007 for the Judge Dredd Megazine. He was a thoroughly nice guy – good to talk to, open to difficult questions, interested in what I had to say about his work. For such a pleasant, open, positive guy to create work that, even when he was trying, was often difficult to look created a curious contrast that was really fun to encounter and even more fun to write about. It remains the one thing I’m most proud I wrote.
We didn’t discuss his MS. I’d like to tell you that this is because he wanted the article to be about his work, rather than his illness. I’d be lying. He just never mentioned it. In a way, I’m glad he didn’t. Because then the feature was just about his artwork, and why he produced these amazing images that divided and provoked in equal measure.
We meandered off the subject quite a bit, talked about reporting, him asking me why I did what I do, discussing the nature of revenge and retribution. He offered to draw a cover for the magazine I produce, The End is Nigh, but it never came to be. That’s my real regret – he sounded like he would have enjoyed it.
After we had talked, he sent me an image he said had been inspired by our chat. I really don’t recall it straying into such odd territory, and it still freaks me out now. But I think it shows how his imagination worked, his own particular take on reality. I’ve enclosed it below.
So long, Johnny. I’ll leave the last word to you…
‘I really think it’s very important to me that I meet my own standards, but those standards have been raised by the readers. At the end of the day we can all be those two Muppets who sat in the theatre box and shouted at everything, but always you’ve got to check yourself because you can get so convinced that you’re doing the right thing and start taking a long and comfortable walk up your own rectum, and I never want to do that.
‘Now I’ve got the most beautiful wife, a beautiful life, I love drawing Dredd and have wonderful people around me – I ain’t going anywhere.’