By John Hicklenton
Not so much a graphic novel as an illustrated longform poem; 100 Months is John Hicklenton’s final act, his legacy, his fuck you to the Multiple Sclerosis that he refused to let win and his impassioned farewell to the world.
When Hicklenton travelled to the Dignitas clinic to end his life earlier this year, it wasn’t the act of a desperate man, longing for release, it was, or at least it seemed to most of us reading about Johnny’s last days, the act of a passionate, determined individual, insistent that his illness would not have the final hand, that he would call time on his own life. As he said to Pat Mills:
“MS, you have a week to live. You’ve met someone you shouldn’t have fucked with.“
And 100 Months is his legacy. The final work of a great artist. An artist perhaps, no screw perhaps, Hicklenton was an artist criminally under-rated in comics. His work was too visceral, too extreme, too disturbing for too many eyes.
(Hicklenton absolutely lets loose with his visceral style throughout 100 Months – but to describe it as too disturbing? Not at all – it’s brutal certainly, but there’s a beauty and enormous skill in what he does. From 100 Months by John Hicklenton, published by Cutting Edge Press)
I first saw Hicklenton’s artwork in the Pat Mills’ written Nemesis The Warlock. It was stunning; vile, disturbing, absolutely visceral and yet just so powerful and so simply gorgeous. And my god, did it have impact. Over the years Hicklenton seemed to appear less and less on my radar, until eventually the first I saw of him in many years was on “Here’s Johnny“; the impassioned and brutally forthright documentary that saw the artist discuss his ongoing battle with Multiple Sclerosis.
Again, as Pat Mills says in his introduction:
“British and American editors, aware of the conservative nature of their industry, felt they had to tame him upon occasion. And when he proved to be untameable, turned to lesser, safer talents.”
It’s a terrible shame that Hicklenton couldn’t find more receptive eyes for his artwork. But if he had been able to end his days drawing Dredd, as Mills suggests he’d have been perfectly happy to do, he would never have felt the need to create 100 Months. And I’d much rather have this than another Dredd tale – and I hope Hicklenton himself realised that in the months before his death.
(Hicklenton’s Armageddon bringing Goddess Mara, about to bring bloody vengence to Earth. From 100 Months by John Hicklenton, published by Cutting Edge Press)
100 Months takes all of Hicklenton’s passion and his fire and his beautiful, dark, disturbing imagery and blasts it across these landscaped, fully painted, panel-less pages.
Mara is Satan’s daughter, a being so ruthless even Satan himself fears her. He casts her out to wander across the world, to unleash a brutal and bloody vengeance – to bring “… an end to this golden age, the worship of flesh and the coin”.
In quick succession she evokes the abused spirit of the Earth and the spirit of love and peace of a crucified saviour at Golgotha as she rails against this world, a world consumed by greed and capitalism, unable to see anything of the simple peace and beauty that should exist.
(Mara’s visit to Golgotha and Christ emphasises the route this world has taken – “worship of coin and the swine” – rather than adopting the teachings of compassion, love and understanding. From 100 Months by John Hicklenton, published by Cutting Edge Press)
Her killing spree is unrelenting, massacring a bloody path across the world. Her goal is clear, she will face the Longpig God of this world and strike him down, and she will kill every last follower of his tenets; these people, worryingly very similar to you and I, who follow these teachings of selfish greed, without care for others or the planet we stand upon.
Tellingly, one of her last meetings before coming face to face with the Longpig is with a Priest, who not coincidentally, has perhaps the most human form af any in 100 Months. I don’t know this, but I’d hazard a guess that Hicklenton’s Priest and the Longpig whom the Priest considers his God are very striking representations of his thinking on the dangers and the greed of organised religion.
Mara is the oncoming Armageddon, she is Shiva, the destroyer of worlds. Across 100 Months she turns the very ink red upon the page and Hicklenton unleashes some of his very best work detailing this striking Goddess, body wrapped in black, face often shrouded to hide her grim and fearful visage.
Through it all there’s no escaping your awareness that the artist knew his death was near as these pages were made. It adds such poignancy and fearsome passion to the work. Just as Mara rages against the world, one imagines that Hicklenton was raging as well; against the world, against his approaching death.
100 Months is a beautifully brutal and blood-stained piece of wondrous poetry, illustrated by someone who was taken from us too soon, with far more to say than he was ever allowed in this life.
Incidentally, the title 100 Months comes from a Prince Charles quote concerning the time left to the world in the face of catastrophic climate change. I doubt he’d appreciate his words being used here, but there’s a part of me thinks it would be a better world if he did.
John Hicklenton – a terrible loss to comics. 100 Months is his lasting legacy, the truest nature of the man coming through his art, pure, brutal, beautiful. He should still be here, he should have been allowed this whilst he was with us.
You can read Pat Mills’ words in the heartfelt tribute he wrote following Hicklenton’s death here on the FPI blog.