Image Comics recently released the twelfth issue of Spread (read our review here), a very different and fairly shocking written by Justin Jordan and illustrated by Jen Hickman. Justin and Jen were cool enough to take the time to answer a few questions for us about their work, this series and this specifically this issue.
Rock! Shock! Pop! -There are a lot of survival horror/end times style horror comics on the racks right now and while Spread certainly fits into that genre mold, it’s decidedly different – what do you think sets this series apart from the pack?
Justin Jordan - That is a very hard question to answer. I mean, there’s that we have shapeshifting monsters, obviously, but I think part of it is that it’s set a while after the end, and so the characters we see are mostly now people that have managed to survive in it for ten years.
I think (or hope) that sort of changes the dynamic. This more a Mad Max approach, despite being in the snow, than a Walking Dead approach. Which isn’t a knock on Kirkman’s book; we’re trying to do different things.
R!S!P! - Issue #12 deals with rape, which is a topic that is as difficult as it is unpleasant. But in the world you’ve created with this series, it doesn’t feel out of place that it would happen. Was it difficult ‘going there’ in this chapter?
JJ - Very.
I am not a fan of rape as drama. It’s not that it can’t be a valid storytelling choice, but it’s done so commonly and so thoughtlessly that I’d be happy to never see it again. Rape and sexual assault are astonishingly common. Sickeningly so. This is a thing that’s happened to some of my readers.
It’s not like being eaten by a giant red monster. So when you’re going into an area that’s an experience people deal with all the time and have dealt with, something that, as a man, I don’t have baked into the fabric of my experience.
That should give you caution, if you’re at all conscientious about what you create. But I did it, and that was on some level a selfish choice. Selfish, because I gave the authenticity of the story primacy over other concerns.
So it was hard. And it was hard to write, too. More so than I was expecting.
R!S!P! - Following up from that, do you feel that there are limits in terms of the content you’d be willing to tackle or is any and all subject matter on the table when dealing with a world like the one portrayed in Spread?
JJ - I’m not sure about all. I think what we saw with Molly is the worst of what we’ll likely see, although your mileage may vary there, as Jack eats some people next issue. There are probably limits to what I would show, or could show, you know?
R!S!P! - You say in your afterward for this issue that Molly is broken, that should be clear to anyone familiar with the character. But she’s also very strong, a real survivor. Obviously she’s very important to the story, was it always your plan for her to evolve this way or have your plans for the character changed as you’ve been writing the story?
JJ - Molly actually has pretty much gone the way she was meant to go from the start, which is kind of rare. But the broad path for the characters has been there from the start, and character is destiny, at least within fiction.
Molly, on a very real level, symbolizes the world of Spread – broken, but maybe not irretrievably. So what happens to Molly and where she goes is sort of a preview of what the story is about.
R!S!P! - You co-created the series with Kyle Strahm but issue #12 features Jen Hickman on art duties. What are your thoughts on her artwork and was it difficult or challenging in anyway working with someone other than Kyle on this issue?
JJ - Jen’s artwork is awesome. I’ve known Jen for a few years now, and I’ve wanted to work with her for a long time, so when I had an issue she was perfect for, she was my first and only choice. So it’s helpful she said yes.
I wrote the script with her art in mind, so it was fairly easy. The tricky bit, actually, was that there are characters who appear briefly before this issue and then in issue’s after, so getting all the design ducks in a row was probably the most complicated part, since issues 12 (and for that matter, 13) were being drawn while the previous arc was under way.
R!S!P! - You’ve written everything from Green Lantern to Superboy to more horror-centric books like The Strange Talent Of Luther Strode and of course Spread. What keeps you coming back to darkers material like those horror books? Do you find writing horror stories any more or less fulfilling than working on mainstream superhero books?
JJ - I think, to paraphrase Stephen King, I was just born with a love for blood and mayhem. It is more fulfilling than the superhero stuff, but that’s not, I think, anything inherent to the genres, but because my more horror oriented stuff is creator owned.
Which means we can do whatever we want, and that all the success or failure of it lies squarely with us. That’s inherently more (or at least differently) challenging and fulfilling than working on someone else’s property.
R!S!P! - You’ve said that after issue thirteen the book is going on a brief hiatus before returning with the next story line – without getting too spoiler heavy, obviously, what can readers expect from the next arc?
JJ - Civilization. You get to see what it takes to build an actual functioning society in the world of Spread. Shockingly absolutely no one, this isn’t necessarily a good thing for No and the crew.
R!S!P! - So you’re the first artist not named Kyle Strahm to tackle the interior of a full issue of Spread. Was it odd jumping in and filling in on a series so closely associated with a single artist?
Jen Hickman - I’m the second, actually. At the end of the first arc Liam Cobb drew another story (issue 7 I think) that falls outside the main plot events in Spread.
My style is pretty different from Kyle’s, though, so I had fun doing my own take on the characters and setting.
R!S!P! - You’re right, my mistake! You’ve drawn some horror comics in the past, most notably The Dead, did the grizzlier content of this twelfth issue of Spread make you pause at all? Any hesitations as to taking the job after reading the script?
JJ - The blood and guts and violent content was fun, and yeah, I’ve drawn a fair amount of gross stuff before- none of that was new territory for me. Reading the script initially hit me pretty hard, and it was for exactly that reason that I was really determined to do this issue. I like being challenged as an artist, and conveying the emotions that had hit me as I was reading the script was a big one.
R!S!P! - Your artwork kind of reminds me of P. Craig Russell in a lot of ways – who would you say have been your biggest influences in terms of style, technique and just plain awesomeness in terms of comic book illustration?
JH - I adored The Sandman when I was a high schooler, and I remember the chapter of it that Russell did very vividly! This makes me want to go give the series a reread- it has been a while! Becky Cloonan has always been someone I looked up to in comic books and her style definitely influenced mine, especially when I was first getting serious about drawing comics. I would like to say that Sergio Toppi is an influence of mine, but I don’t think I have the guts to try some of his more abstract page layouts and I’m pretty much over my ‘mimic Toppi’s decorative inkwork’ phase.
R!S!P! - How much input and influence did you have over the way that this issue’s contents played out? Obviously Justin Jordan wrote the story but in terms of collaboration did you have any suggestions that made it into the story or did you just illustrate the issue according to the script?
JJ - The latter. That said, Justin’s script left me a ton of breathing room to make artistic choices that dictated the way the story is received, the way it flows, the way it feels. For me it was the perfect balance between information about what needed to happen in the story and open air for me to bring my skills to the script and make something new of it.
R!S!P! - What draws you to horror and fantasy over, say, more mainstream superhero comics? Any aspirations to go mainstream and if so, what character/book would you want to go after?
I missed the bus on mainstream, I’m afraid. I didn’t grow up on it and I find it hard to relate to or care about caped vigilantes. I think comics as a medium is fantastically flexible and there are so many cool things you can do with it. Horror specifically is a tricky puzzle, because your toolset HAS to differ greatly from the toolset that, say, cinema gets to use. So you have to think about the genre in a new (and hopefully fresh!) way.
What gets me excited about new projects is whether or not they’re telling a story with an authentic struggle at their center. So yeah, if someone were to ask me on an Aquaman book that makes me reexamine the way I relate to the world, I would jump on it. But not because it’s Aquaman, who everyone knows is the best and most beloved superhero out there. I’d be in it for the story.
R!S!P! – I’d buy an Aquaman comic if you drew it. What’s next on the horizon? Any other projects in the works right now you’re keen to fill us in on?
JH - I don’t have a lot of big stuff I can talk about right now, unfortunately. There’s an anthology I’m jazzed about, the second volume of Horizon, it’s a themed book and this time around we’re drawing stories about grimoires. It should be kickstarting sometime in the spring, but that’s a ways off.
R!S!P! - Alright! Thanks to both of you for doing the interview and definitely keep us up to speed on new projects. Anyone not familiar with Spread should remedy that, especially if you dig horror comics. You can check out the Image Comics site for it here and pick up the trade’s here!