I've been trying to get a review of this book written for about a month or so now, and the fates have variously conspired against me.
I did have a few hundred words written, but have somehow failed to save them, and it has since disappeared. But the main reason it has been difficult to review this book is because it is a very difficult book to review.
As most of you I’m sure will know, John Hicklenton was (I just wrote 'is' and had to delete it... see, already it’s getting hard to write this!) a comic book artist, probably best know for his work on Judge Dredd and Nemesis the Warlock. Indeed, it is one particular panel in the story The Two Torquemadas that, for me, sums up everything that is dark and lunatic and scary and disturbing and blackly funny about John’s work.
In 2000, John was diagnosed with MS, and he took his own life in Dignitas in Switzerland on 19th March 2010, proving to be as uncompromising in death as he was in his life and in his art.
And so it is with this weight of knowledge that the reader must approach 100 Months, John’s final work. Written, as it was, with the full knowledge that it was to be his swan song, his final testament. Indeed, John took his life only days after completing this book. Now you perhaps understand the reviews dilemma here!
This book cannot be viewed, in my opinion, as simply a book. No, it has to be taken, as I have said (and again, in my opinion), as Hicklenton’s final statement to, and on, the world.
And what has he to say about it/us?
On the whole, this is a bloody bleak read. It tells the tale of Mara, an Earth Godess, who’s face we hardly see, thus making her both everyone and no-one.
She is seeking out a creature called the Longpig. Longpig is a true grotesque. A repulsive and ugly beast who represents all that is worst in humanity, and eventually Mara and Longpig must meet and battle, a brutal and visceral battle, for the soul of the world.
As with all great Art, there is great ambiguity here. Hicklenton seems to have a low opinion of us as a race, ‘Shaven apes tearing up the image of god,’ and of the mess we are making of this planet, and who could blame him? But the book, which (at the risk of repeating myself) is not an easy read, ends on a note that may just be hopeful. Perhaps, if we are given another chance, we might not be so wasteful and arrogant..?
It is amazing to me that I’ve written this far and not yet mentioned the art. It is, as you’d expect, breathtaking. If you’re a fan of Hicklenton’s work, you’ll maybe have an idea of what to expect, but he manages to surpass any expectations. There are images where Mara travels across a landscape of bones and twisted bodies that stop the reader in their tracks, demanding that they dwell on the image and tease out each and every last detail. And there are also deeply disturbing illustrations too- blood and flayed skin are high on the agenda. It is not comfortable reading. It’s not supposed to be.
As I said at the beginning, this is a difficult book to review, and even now, I’m not sure I’ve managed to.
This book truly is the comic as sequential Art. It is disturbing, as I have already said repeatedly, but only because what Hicklenton is saying about us true. We are greedy and selfish and hateful, but as he points out, we ‘were meant to be more than this, warm with potential.’
I do think though, that Hicklenton has confidence in us as a race, and in our ability to perhaps one day overcome our shortcomings.
I hope he’s right.
Meanwhile- should you buy this book?
Absolutely you should.
Art from the book is featured in the exhibition ‘That’s Novel’ at the London Print Studio, 425 Harrow Road, London until 18th December 2010.
(Thanks to Phil for the Nemesis scan!)