He will be taking part in a panel devoted to him on Saturday, 31. October (Yes, on Halloween), and will have several comics signings and other activities on Friday and Saturday.
Honoring our guest and preparing our audience for this historical event, I'm glad to have the opportunity to publish this great interview on The Cult of Ghoul blog.
The interview was conducted by the well known Serbian translator and comic books fan, Draško Roganović. Previously it was only published in Serbian, in the fanzine EMITOR. This is the first time this interview is made available online, and in its original English form.
Many thanks to Draško Roganović for sharing this with us!
Since the interview is really long and thorough, I decided to divide it into two parts. Here comes part I:
* Draško Roganović: I’d like to thank you, Mr. Delano, for agreeing to do this interview
* First off, bit of an odd question to ask a professional comics writer, but: do you even read comics? If so, which ones? Any other writer in the field that you admire or enjoy his/her works?
- I have enjoyed reading some comics from time to time over the last 20 years or so, but I would have to admit, a little shame-faced, perhaps, that I am far from a dedicated consumer of the medium. Then again, these days I am not a dedicated consumer of any medium. Perhaps I read too many books as a young person, sickened myself with The Word. Or maybe, as one becomes a producer, the need to consume withers away. Who knows…? Maybe I’m just arrogant and lazy. I am encouraged by the relatively recent move towards the publication of comics in an “original graphic novel format” from major companies such as DC Vertigo. It has for a long while been my contention that – for mature readers at least – this is the best way to present graphic fiction and to make it available to a wider mainstream audience through both high-street and online booksellers. Most of the miniseries I have written would, I feel, have benefited (and indeed were conceived and created in the expectation of it) from presentation as OGNs rather than, to my mind, irritating monthly “pamphlets” punctuated with inappropriate advertising and available only from “specialist” retailers.
* Unlike most of the writers in your line of work, you don’t have the default “loved comics since i was a child” secret origin. Do you think that lack of hero worship is what kept you, for better or for worse, from becoming like the rest? Apart from John Constantine, who you can’t seem to shake off, will we ever see you take on a character who wasn’t created by you? (though, one can argue that
- Not having a background in comics “fandom” (unlike many of my contemporaries) has probably been more of an advantage to me than otherwise. There is a distinct whiff of incest pervading sections of the medium that I have occasionally found distasteful – inevitable, to some degree, in any genre creativity, I guess, but in comics this is often suggestive of lack of experience of the wider world, rather than a selective devotion to the strictures of a particular art-form. That said, my general ignorance and inattention to ongoing developments in the medium doubtless means that I have overlooked many exciting and worthwhile works.
Spider-man…? It might offer marginal amusement, I suppose, but the pain (not least the creative constraints that inevitably accompany a “high-value property”) would outweigh the pleasure. I have written a few “company-owned” characters in the past – usually as a result of an inability to say “no” and when offered the liberty to employ them as a medium through which to express my own current preoccupations - and have usually been able to find an angle with allows me to sustain my interest long enough to achieve a, hopefully, satisfactory outcome, and I would never rule anything out completely. Generally though, my continuing interest, such as it is, is in the development of original works.
* You entered the field of comics as a bit of a late bloomer, at the tender age of 29 (if my research is correct), almost accidentally. Was being an outsider beneficial, did it provide a different perspective, giving you a chance to develop your individual writing style early?
Apart from Alan Moore’s helping hand, who else influenced the way you were writing comics, when you started? Which authors are you influenced by now?
- Hah! 29 might seem a late age to start a career to one still young, but 25 years on, it feels like I was barely off the teat.
Whatever a writer’s history and origins, however, he must have an interest and awareness of the “mundane” world if his voice is to be genuine and his fiction have any ring of truth. Like teachers, I believe, writers should be forced to suffer a few years toil at the “real-world” coal-face before being allowed to put pen to paper.
Alan Davis – with whom I worked on Captain Britain, one of my earliest attempts at strip work – taught me a lot about visual story-telling, the scope and limitations of the comic medium. I have learned a few tricks from working with David Lloyd, also, on books such as Night Raven, The Horrorist and The Territory. Nor can the astute but relaxed editorship of Karen Berger be discounted as influential.
* It wasn’t long before you “revolutionized the medium” with your work on Hellblazer, promo pieces claim you “helped usher in Vertigo”... Do you “accept the blame”, so to speak, do you feel your work had an impact on an entire industry?
- Hmmm… I’ll accept my share of the blame, I guess, along with contemporaries at Vertigo, such as Morrison and Milligan – but if anyone must be cursed with the title of revolutionary it is
* Before you became a professional writer, you were driving cabs, experimenting with drugs, and even done a bit of wheeling and dealing on the grey market. Has any of this given you an insight, outlook that you think you otherwise wouldn’t get? How much of your work derives from that?
- As I hint above, a writer without insight and experience of the world about which he writes will pretty soon find himself with nothing left to say. The “world” and the human relationship with it, is the raw material for all fiction, processed by the writer through the lens of his imagination – the quality of his understanding, therefore, influencing the integrity of his work. My own success, or failure, in that endeavour must necessarily be adjudicated by others.
* Now for a standard, comic-booky question – What if Jamie Delano hadn’t become a writer?
- A scary thought: without writing as a means through which to – as Story Johnson puts it in Outlaw Nation, I believe – “make sense of the senseless”… attempt to make impotent the bad craziness of human existence by imagining its worst outrages and containing them on a page, I would probably have turned inwards, inhabiting a much darker and more intense reality than that which I currently enjoy. It’s possible I would have found an outlet for the intrinsic “anger” that I suspect sustains me, through some species of political activism or radical journalism… or maybe I’d have learned how to make bombs. As it is, I’m an ineffectual scribbler… a quiet family man, tending slow-growing cacti as a hobby and helping to school (indoctrinate) my grandchildren in the skills that I hope that they may yet need in order to “change the world”.
* Do you feel you’re still an outsider in the field of comics?
- Heh. I generally feel like an outsider in which ever field you put me. Kind of like it that way. Never been a “joiner”. I’m not with any special interest group, or, in general terms, against any either – and I resent being told I must choose. My philosophical approach to existence… politics… culture… is phenomenological. Call me an unhealthy pervert, but I really prefer just to watch and take notes, and hope to see the funny side.
* Will we ever see a Jamie Delano novel? Your narration (evident from your work on Hellblazer, Outlaw Nation) always had that descriptive, but not overly verbose prose quality, and you yourself claimed that you started writing with novels in mind.
- A completed novel would be a long-standing ambition/expectation fulfilled. I’ve started a couple. Don’t know why I never finished them. I suspect maybe I have too much emotionally invested in the idea to want to risk fucking it up. Comics seem far more disposable, somehow – there’s always another chance to do it right… so far, at least. It’s a counter-productive hang-up that I should develop a strategy to combat. I’m needlessly precious about it – after all, a novel is only another string of words…
* Do you do a lot of experiments with your storytelling techniques? How do you approach writing a comic?
- I’m not consciously experimental when composing a story. Structures usually suggest themselves as the work gets underway. Characters and their need for drama, either of situation or ideas, drive the development of any story for me: it’s an instinctive rather than conscious process. A story is kind of like a hopeful journey. The starting point defined, the route and even the final destination are infinitely variable, the writer shepherding his unruly flock of players in a desperate search for coherence. Sometimes this is achieved, to a greater or lesser degree: sometimes the whole sorry crew is just left stumbling about in the mire of unrealized potential.
For me, all scripts begin with a mood and the germ of an idea which must be encouraged into a full blown disease, revealed in the void of a blank PC screen. These days, the hardest part is removing myself from all the more preferable distractions which detain me, and isolating myself long enough in my grubby, stale tobacco-smoke imbued, office to get the computer booted-up and a calming cannabis cigarette rolled to accompany the large mug of espresso I still imagine that I require to fire my tired brain. If I am able to quickly achieve the required fine chemical balance, and get my fingers into keyboard thinking mode, then all will be well, and some species of story will begin to appear on the page. More spliffs… more coffee… and the momentum will become feverish, the characters will take over and the story will write itself. Later, I will feel like shit from caffeine and THC overdose, but retire content that WRITING has been done. If every attempt were productive, then perhaps the industrial injury required would be worth it. More likely though it will take a week of false starts, coughing and jangled nerves at least before the magic fingers dance.
* You have been working on several screenplays. What are the chances of seeing them realized anytime soon?
- Currently slim to nil, I suspect – although there is some interest in developing several of my previous works for the screen, I am involved in these in only an executive capacity. I have enjoyed experimenting with movie writing though, and may do more of it in the future.
* Your views on writing and writers are especially bleak – the writer as a dysfunctional alien to our world, a scrupleless, social parasite, feeding off of other people’s misery (not to mention his own), for survival and enjoyment. What brought out this attitude? When did it become apparent to you?
- My family and people that know me might well characterise me as someone who has always had a needlessly cynical propensity to dwell on the dark side of human existence as opposed to cherishing its more uplifting tendencies. I suspect my posture is self-defensive, the tactic of a secret, wannabe optimist desperate to avoid disappointment.
* Your works have always been fueled by the local and global political events and injustices, which is evident even in your rare forays into superhero comics. For you, is writing more about telling a story, or conveying a message?
- As I have said, writing for me is a means of making sense of the senseless, a vain attempt to reduce the struggle of existence in a chaotic world to manageable proportions… the madness simplified, encoded in human-scale dramas constrained on a comic-book page. I hope that the stories I tell are more about providing access to arguments than proselytizing a “message”… although, as individuals, my characters are often entrenched in their own worldviews.
* Over the decades John Constantine has been your on-again, off-again soapbox, personal demon and Freud’s couch all rolled into one. Why keep coming back to him? Has your relationship and attitude changed in the past two decades?
- My relationship with
Why keep coming back to him? I can’t help it. And, perhaps if I’m honest, I take a dubious pleasure in re-asserting some kind of “ownership” from time to time. While the character is strong and multi-faceted enough to support the visions of multifarious other creators and, as a professional writer, there is little profit in resenting the creativity of others, I have to admit to a certain, deep-buried, indulgent, possessiveness.
* Did you ever think of Hellblazer as a horror title? In hindsight, would you do anything different with the character, if you could go back and change it all?
- By nature of its supernatural themes and the extremity of its drama, I guess you’d have to say that Hellblazer is overtly a horror title. That said, horror fiction has always offered opportunities through which creators can explore more mundane concerns, codifying social and political trends through the conventions of the genre.
As a writer I am never content with the body of my work. I’m acutely aware that stories could always have been more successfully realized. It’s frustrating as hell, and of course you’d do it differently another time around. But what’s done is done, for good or ill, and I wouldn’t change a word now.
* Have you been reading Hellblazer over the years, and if so, does it feel strange reading someone else’s interpretation of the character? Is there someone you would like to see take on J.C. as his (or her) mouthpiece?
- I’ve looked at it from time to time but, for reasons suggested above, I haven’t immersed myself too deeply in the varied continuity. It could feel a little weird, assimilating another’s take on the character, but you need to maintain some detachment. I tend to think of
* Your very strong critique of Thatcher’s rule is one of the things that set Hellblazer apart from other comics. How are things in the
- Improvement…? Jesus – compared to the way we live now the Thatcher era was positively cozy. All the shit we feared she was preparing the ground for has come to pass with a vengeance. Unbridled globalised Capitalism… a full-blown surveillance society… steady erosion of civil liberty and the right to dissent under the pretext of defence against “terror”… The 21st Century has started out ugly and I don’t see a whole lot of prospect for improvement. For the sake of my grandchildren I might wish to be proven wrong… but the world is generally going the dismal way I imagined it would thirty years ago.
* What is your most personal work during your Hellblazer run?
- I think probably Hellblazer #35 “Dead-boy’s Heart”, a story detailing a formative episode from a pre-teen John Constantine’s life, makes best contact with that intrinsic “truth” that as a writer I search for.
* As the series progressed, your stories became more complex, subtle, introspective. Do you feel that you’ve grown as a writer during your time spent writing Hellblazer?
You have some recurring motifs, such as The Golden Child, a physically, mentally and even morally superior, almost perfect twin that emphasizes the protagonist’s imperfections, flaws and the downside of humanity (Adam and Ethan in 2020 Visions, John Constantine’s stillborn twin). Does the concept fascinate you?
- I hope that I’ve grown as a writer throughout my career – across all my work, as well as within the realm of Hellblazer – otherwise I’d feel I’d wasted my time. One practices one’s craft constantly in the (doomed) pursuit of perfection, learning, inevitably, along the way to tolerate, and even love, the flawed reality.
Perhaps this sense is the root of the Golden Child concept you accurately identify as significant in my work.
* Just like Alan Moore, you too have “met“ John Constantine in real life?
- We passed once on the street – in
* During your early issues of Hellblazer, you were experimenting with adding “backmatter”, little fake newspaper articles or song lyrics from
- I’m not sure. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Possibly laziness… or crude pragmatism. Starting out, pent up inventiveness feels undammed… but it quickly becomes apparent that an ongoing monthly series requires all the creativity one can muster just to sustain its continuity. Potential material is hoarded, rationed… squandering it on amusing but unnecessary adornment soon seems profligate.
* By creating Chas, the grumpy but faithful cab-driver you’ve given
- Chas is kind of my mildly subversive take on the classic hero’s sidekick. He is the butt of
The most ugly crime of the movie “
I’m pleased the character achieved recognition with a National Comic Award – thanks for that information.
Making Chas a taxi driver was probably in part an homage to my previous existence, but also a pragmatic decision to provide the character with an appropriate milieu with which to facilitate his dramatic function.
I understand that a miniseries featuring Chas as lead character is due soon from Vertigo. I’m interested to see how the story treats with him. I know it’s going to look good: Sudzuka is drawing it.
* In The Horrorist, we see
- I guess The Horrorist is female largely because I wanted to play the story as a literal dark romance – explore Constantine’s pseudo-sexual desire to “feel the pain” again through the medium of an obsessive, irresistible lust for the cruel edge of suffering personified in flesh and blood form – and it would have added a needless layer of complexity if the romance was to be gay.
* In the end,
-Empathy is a writer’s stock-in-trade, honing our capacity for it a pre-requisite for the sincere practice of the craft. Empathizing too frequently with the harsher realities of the human experience can leave the psyche feeling a little raw. As with paramedics, emergency workers, magicians, etc., writers can tend to develop a defensive callousness in their attitude to the world in general, their “compassion” increasingly professional. It’s no bad thing to undergo an emotional skin-peel from time to time, I guess.
Hmmm. I don’t know if that answers your question, or not… or even makes sense. You decide.
Universal empathy…? Sounds like an evolutionary ideal… but imagine the excruciating terror humanity would undergo achieving it.
TO BE CONTINUED