Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #192 by Drew Barth

Undisputed Classics

Comics as a medium is old. The stories we tell about those older comics could likely fill up more pages than exist in comics. And even more pages could be filled by the comics that never existed but were talked about by masters of the medium in their idle chats with friends and publishers. But the world doesn’t revolve around comics, only the money they make for the people who barely touch them.

Diving into that aspect of comics is the classic graphic novel by Dylan Horrocks, Hicksville.

Hicksville feels like a high-water mark not only due to its usage of the medium, but also how Horrocks weaves a story. Starting with Leonard Batts attempting, and getting lost in route, to reach the titular Hicksville—the hometown of Dick Burger, the most famous comic creator living. But Hicksville isn’t apt to open itself up to Batts and his questions about Burger’s origins. What we do get is hints from friends, like fellow cartoonist Sam Zabel or former partner Grace Pekapeka, about something Durger had done in the past that has caused the town to shun his name. And in a town obsessed with comics, his crime was particularly heinous.

But the thing that makes Hicksville stand out is how it uses comics to tell its story. First serialized in Horrocks’ Pickle (made even more meta by Sam Zabel telling his portion of the story in his own issues of Pickle throughout), the story blends aspects of comics history with the fictional world Horrocks creates. There’s an odd sense of unreality as Hicksville the town feels like the kind of place that could exist—a small, closely-knit town off the coast of New Zealand—but is just unreal enough to fit in a comic world. From the difficulty of Leonard Batts attempting to find the town in the first place, it almost feels like it doesn’t exist at all. And yet, through the pages, issues of Pickle, and the integration of the story of The Captain, Hōne Heke, and Alfred at the most meta-narrative moments, and we have a world unfolding before us that tells a history of the comics world that could have existed.

More than anything, Hicksville is an examination of what could have existed. From the success of Dick Burger to the Hicksville lighthouse housing hundreds of volumes of comics that were only dreamed about by their original creators, it’s about this power of potential that comics hold. Even as the land is ever shifting and changing, the potential for something more still exists regardless of who happens to be holding the most power. Comic creators want to create, even if they’re stuck in the moral rut that can come with comics. And yet we keep wanting to make something with this medium that will resonate throughout history. 

Get excited. Get more. 

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Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida.