Interview: John Higgins on creating that "boo" moment in RazorjackA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
John Higgins is best known for his color work on Watchmen. In 2005 he was invited to return to the world of Watchmen to oversee the digital recoloring for the Absolute edition of the book. John has worked as an artist -- and sometimes writer -- on such diverse characters as Judge Dredd, Batman, and Jonah Hex. Just last week, the collected edition of John's bizarre and spooky Razorjack was released by Titan Comics. As you'll see in this interview, Higgins is more than just a colorist – his work Razorjack is totally fascinating, totally terrifying and totally unique.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: What is the plot of Razorjack?
John Higgins: A group of high school students inadvertently create a dimensional nexus that allows an alien god to fix her baleful eye on Earth, a place she never knew existed until now! And now she wants to cross over from her dimension to ours to destroy and lay waste to everything she hates, which is you and Earth and all living things on it. But due to interference by Frame and Ross, a couple of cops in the middle of a serial killer case, initially they have no idea what they are dealing with, she cannot cross over into our world. Now all she is striving for is for the day she can, and that day will come.
The story follows the continuous and murderous incursions of her Twist Bitches into our dimension trying to create that nexus or doorway. These twisted creatures whose general aspect is of a perfect and beautiful woman, but who have been harvested at their birth cradles from all of Razorjacks conquered worlds and genetically and psychologically twisted into cold killing machines. Mixing Alien, human and bio-mechanics, their sole purpose is to do Razorjack's bidding, which is to kill and keep killing until nothing remains alive. No character is safe; even heroes die in Razorjack's world.
CB: Tell me about the character Razorjack.
Higgins: She is your worst nightmare, Freddy Kruger mixed with the Alien Queen from Aliens. Once she has invidiously entered your mind - after reading this collected edition of Razorjack - you will not be able to close your eyes without her image tickling the retch response of your body. She is horror personified. There is nothing anyone can do to stop her, just possibly slow her down. She is implacable in her pursuit of total and utter destruction of all living things in all dimensions. Thank god we have heroes such as Frame and Ross.
When I was trying to create the first image of Razorjack, it was one of those moments when you had worried it over and over in your mind and nothing seemed to work. I then went to bed with it still percolating in my brain and she appeared fully formed in my nightmares, ready to go and cause mayhem in the wider omniverse. The next day with my very first complete depiction of the evil bitch -which appears on the cover of Titan Comics collected edition - she made her first appearance. I wanted that sense of the armoured might of the SWAT team passing through what appears to be a vulnerable naked female, but the expression on her face belies that she might be anything but vulnerable. I like that dichotomy, which is why I made Razorjack and her Twisted legions all female. In this world the female is deadlier than the male.
CB: This is a galaxy-spanning epic. How did you approach creating all the different places that the book takes us?
Higgins: I wanted to create an alien place just a small believable step away. For the mind to take that initial step I wanted to give little visual hooks that would draw you in. Without giving too much away, there are 12 dimensions that are strange and twisted versions of the core dimension which is our dimension. So any version not in the core dimension will have aspects of what we recognize as normal. To pervert what is normal into some twisted version can make a more disquieting alien world. Think of walking through a familiar graveyard at twilight, the light and the shadows start to merge, you can't fully focus on shapes and out of the corner of your eye you catch something that makes your heart beat faster. From familiar into the unfamiliar. The surrealists, Salvidor Dali, Margritte did this with their paintings. There is something unnerving when you view one of their pictures. That was what I tried to do, so be unnerved be very unnerved entering into Razorjack's world.
CB: What was the fan reaction when this original series was released?
Higgins: Probably "what the fuck!" as it is different to the usual comic book story which is what I had intended. So I was satisfied with the reviews and feed back at the time which has been was very positive. When I have talked to returning readers at cons and expos, they indicate that the multilayer approach I took to the story telling worked. I personally enjoy reading writers who use that form of storytelling. It might make more demands of the reader but is a more fulfilling read. Writers such as Alan Moore with the Watchmen, which is six major story lines crossing and interweaving and then reaching a common conclusion. It is a form of storytelling that is not linear. It can be complex and involved and makes demands of the reader, but with a clarity that unfolds as you go through it, with a satisfying conclusion when all the strands come together. It's a literary juggling act.
CB: How did you approach creating the remastered version of this collected edition?
Higgins: I worked very closely with Titan Comics editors to ensure this new edition had a fresh approach to the presentation of the art, new lettering and the one part I felt I had to stand back from was the dialogue. We brought in Mike Carroll to cast his expertise and considerable talent as the new kid on the block comic writer, who seemed to appear on the scene fully formed and an immediate overnight success, with writing on Judge Dredd regularly and the series Jennifer Blood for Dynamite Entertainment, with many new projects coming out from the big publishers. But before his appearance in comics Mike has and still has a wealth of experience in writing SF novels. Definitely check out his Super Human series for Penguin USA. Mike's input has put a clarity on the interplay between characters which drives the story forward in a way that entertains and informs. He seems to know more about my world than I do!
Mike also wrote "A Glimpse" - the new story of a Twist Bitch incursion into our dimension, which is a chilling story with a wonderful SF premise and a moving denouement on the very last page.
To me this incarnation of Razorjack is my "Absolute Razorjack"
So it is my story and my characterization and the end result with Mike's polishing of the dialogue is as scintillating and as satisfying to me as the remastered Absolute Watchmen I was involved in colouring digitally for the 21st Century with DC comics in 2005. It is still the same, just better.
CB: You've gotten to work with several brilliant creators throughout your careeer. How did working with people like Alan Moore influence your approach to this book?
Higgins: All the world-class writers I worked with showed me how the best do it. I aspire to reach their heights. I feel I am a story teller and not a writer, I write but I prefer to have the pictures next to the words. When I took over the writing chores on "Curse of the Crimson Corsair" in Before Watchmen from Len Wein, whom did I call for advice but Mike Carroll, because he is a top writer and a top bloke. So I have learnt from the best such as Alan Moore and Garth Ennis to name just two, and I still want to learn from the best. I feel I can structure a story as well as anyone, I feel I can create characters and introduce story elements that can stand comparison with the best. But I know the right editor can make a good story a great story, and I feel the editors and Mike Carroll have done it for me and this edition of Razorjack.
CB: This is a very dark vision; how did you approach creating this bizarre fictional world?
Higgins: I am the biggest wuss when it to comes to horror, seriously! My other better looking half and colourist Sally Jane Hurst laughs like a drain when I am hiding behind a cushion watching any horror movie. We are enjoying the Supernatural TV series on DVD at the moment and most of it I watch from my usual hiding place from behind a cushion. I do believe, being so affected by horror as entertainment makes me better in the process of telling and depicting horror, I feel close to my audience because I still enjoy being scared for fun.
I am writing and drawing to scare myself first and foremost, trying to create that "boo" moment. You know, when you walk into a darkened room, the seconds before you switch on the light your mind adds those creaking floor boards together with the window rattling and suddenly you're not alone! That is what I try and do with everything I write. I like the idea of the ordinary Joe, the guy in the street being completely part of the action as the hero or the victim, so we can all identify with the characters, because it is me and you.
CB: Do you have plans for future volumes or new stories?
Higgins: Definitely, already with Mick Carroll and a number of other creators, I have a wealth of Razorjack related art and Razorjack novels and even a music sound track waiting to hit the audience. I have a lot in the can so to speak, and Mike and I have already talked on doing a new series of Razorjack related stories. So pleased tell Titan Comics there is a need for more twisted tales of horror and destruction from Razorjack's world.
CB: How do you approach creating your own stories versus doing your own part of a collaborative effort?
Higgins: As I am a storyteller and not a writer, I find it hard to separate the images from the writing, they go hand in hand from day one, they certainly did with Razorjack. So when I get a finished script to work from it is a different set of creative muscles, it is not so intense and is rather relaxing. Working with Mike on "A Glimpse", because it was a Razorjack story using my characters, half of the design had been already done, so I could relax into the storytelling and just have fun.