John Higgins of 'Watchmen' on 'Razorjack': It's 'Completely Me' (Q&A)

The veteran artist tells THR after working with greats such as Alan Moore, he wanted to write and illustrate something that was all his own.
The veteran artist tells THR after working with greats such as Alan Moore, he wanted to write and illustrate something that was all his own.

John Higgins has worked on some of the biggest comic book titles of the past 30 years, including Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke and Judge Dredd. Now the veteran artist is stepping out front and center with a remastered version of his own creation: Razorjack.

Higgins wrote and illustrated the limited series, which is being reworked for release Sept. 18 by Titan Comics. The series centers on a villainous “queen of carnage” from another dimension (Razorjack), who makes her way to our world -- with two very different types of cops (Frame and Ross) on the case in a battle of good vs. evil. The release features restored art, fresh dialogue and two new short stories.

Ahead of his trip to San Diego Comic-Con to promote is work, the English creator speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about what he learned from working with greats such as Watchmen’s Alan Moore and what he hopes readers will take away from his new release.

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See a trailer for Razorjack at the bottom of this post.

For those wishing to meet the creator himself, Higgins will be at the Comic-Con panel “Launching at SDCC and Beyond!” on Friday July 19, at 12:00 p.m. in room 32AB. He will be signing advance copies of his book then as well as at 4:00 p.m. at Autograph Alley AA03.

The Hollywood Reporter: Where did your idea for this book come from?

John Higgins: From frustration! I have been fortunate to work with some of the best writers in the business, since I started my career as a comic book artist. Alan Moore through to Mark Millar -- and that is only the M writers, never mind the E's and the W's. 

As much as I love working on Batman, Judge Dredd or even the Watchmen, it has always been as an artist for hire. I had reached a stage when I needed to do something that was completely me, with no creative compromises. And from deep inside the darkest recesses of my mind arose Razorjack, a creature of pure evil with the body of a goddess and the head of the devil herself, she dug her claws into me and hasn't let go since.

Once you have the villain, then we need heroes, Frame and Ross, both cops and a mismatched team. He's a hard-bitten professional, and she a rookie who needed a mentor. We follow them as they grow from ordinary cops into something special. I like my superheroes, but even more I like normal fallible people we can identify with who grow to survive in extraordinary circumstances.

THR: How does working on your own creation differ from working on something like Watchmen?

Higgins: The frustration that Razorjack grew out of was not with the world-class stories I had the pleasure collaborating on with those creators. But I would always see a different way of doing the story, your mind never stops when you’re penciling or inking. I would see how the story, even if it only had a slightly different emphasis, would affect how you could break down the panels and the content in them. I feel I have learnt how to tell a story from the best creators -- whatever I manage to do is a direct result of very talented people being a source of inspiration.

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I love the team element when working on the big company regular books, such as the Watchmen. If such a book could ever be called regular. Maybe even more appropriate would be the Before Watchmen series for DC comics -- when you get a team of creators at the top of their game that inspires you to try harder.

That I did miss -- being part of a team on Razorjack, by being everything from the guy who makes the coffee in the morning to the cleaner at the end of the day, and everything in between. I wanted to have total control over my world and maybe make my life as an artist a little easier. Well, I got control, but it wasn't any easier. I was still driven to strive for excellence. But now, it was me as the pain-in-the-butt writer asking for images of worlds colliding. “Come on, don't cop out, make it bigger make it better!” Or the artist to the writer, “Stop giving me cliche, give me emotion, give me characterization!” Or the colorist, “Where is the background? How can I make the Hel' Dimension look hard and dark if you don't draw the effin' thing in?” Schizophrenic? Oh yeah. Thank God I didn't do the lettering as well.

The sense they can identify with and have empathy for the characters, that they care about, Frame, Ross and the others. When one dies, it affects them -- that the mix of story elements is different to anything they may have read before. But first and foremost, it is a rollicking adventure story that constantly surprises them.

The Hollywood Reporter: Was there anything that surprised you about making this comic -- either a story element or something that came up with the art?

Higgins: Ha! Definitely. I could never plot a story like a pro writer such as Alan Moore. He showed me, around the time he was working on Big Numbers, how he had plotted those particular books. He had plotted it like a spiral diagram and connected the characters at certain points as it revolved around the story. I know he was making a connection about the Mandelbrot set, which is what the diagram looked like. But to me, it showed he knew from the beginning to the end exactly were each character would be in the plot. Now that I have just written that statement, it does sound obvious; the writer does need to tell the artist exactly where it is going.

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So I might be talking like a complete novice writer here, but as a writer-artist, I liked the evolving dimension of the story, so the art affects the story as well as the story directing the art.

I had a very, very rough outline, not even sure if I had a definite end when I started writing the graphic novel. I wrote a bit, then I drew a bit, then I roughed out a scene as thumbnail illustrations, then I scripted that. And the characters started to tell me where they wanted to be. Some of the horror elements are from my worst nightmares, but I would never have sat down and written some of those scenes cold. But once Mister Kahn and Mister Jones started their murderous trail, I followed behind with shock and disgust etched onto my soul – evil bastards! So my Razorjack, my world, my characters story.

The Hollywood Reporter: Do you think this would make a good TV series or movie?

Higgins: Ha, of course. I am not sure any creator would say no to a live-action interpretation of their story! Oh, hang on -- Alan Moore. OK, maybe one. All I want to do is to entertain people. If Razorjack became a live-action platform, my story and characters could reach more people in just one hit than 20 years of publishing it as a comic book.

I am, at the moment, watching the DVD set of Supernatural and having a blast. It has all the elements I enjoy in action-adventure stories. I can see Razorjack fitting seamlessly into that episodic format, no problem.

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The Hollywood Reporter: What’s it like working with Titan Comics?

Higgins: I have worked at all the big companies, with all the pros and cons of doing so. Though some people would have you believe they are evil personified and stifle creativity, they are not. I have also worked with small independents with all the freedom of creativity I could ask for. So I know what I want from a publishing company, particularly when they are publishing my personal project.

Titan Comics have many of the necessary attributes of the biggest publishing companies, but you get the sense of an independent by its open-minded approach to the work and the energy it shows at all levels from all its departments. Titan people are committed to Titan, for what it stands for, which is bringing the best graphic series out to the readership.

This excellence is being shown in its new line of comic books -- the art, the story content and quality of printing -- so at every step, you feel the creative energy from everyone involved.

I was blown away by the quality of the design and printing values when I received the first copies of Titan's edition of Razorjack. I am proud to be with them at San Diego and can't wait to show people at SDCC 2013 my new edition of Razorjack from Titan comics.